Offseason Priorities for the NHL's Most Disappointing Teams

Adam GretzApril 9, 2023

Offseason Priorities for the NHL's Most Disappointing Teams

0 of 5

    ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 02: The puck drops in front of St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) after he makes a save during a game between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues on April 02 2023, at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis MO (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    There have been some major surprises in the NHL this season, with the New Jersey Devils and Seattle Kraken leading the way. But if you have positive surprises, it probably means that you have some disappointing teams that failed to meet expectations.

    Those are the teams we are focussing on here.

    We are going to look at five of the NHL's biggest disappointments this season and what their top priority for the offseason needs to be.

    That priority could range from a front office change to improving a position, to ensuring a key player is put in a place to have a better season next year.

    Regarding what qualifies a team as a disappointment, we are looking at five teams that made the playoffs a year ago, should have been reasonably expected to make the playoffs again, and are either already eliminated or desperately fighting to get in.

St. Louis Blues: Fix the Goaltending

1 of 5

    ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 02: St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) stops the puck that was rolling into him during a game between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues on April 02 2023, at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis MO (Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    For the second time in the past 12 years, the St. Louis Blues find themselves outside the playoffs. Their disappointing 2022-23 performance saw them part ways with three Stanley Cup-winning veterans in Ivan Barbashev, Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko.

    Despite those trades, the Blues do not look like a team on the verge of a rebuild.

    They still have a strong core of players led by Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. They're armed with three first-round picks (their own, plus picks from the O'Reilly and Tarasenko deals) to deal from.

    The first priority this offseason for the Blues should be finding a way to replace Jordan Binnington as their starting goalie.

    Goaltending has been their biggest weakness this season—by far—as Binnington has continued a steady downward decline since helping lead the Blues to their 2019 championship. His save percentage has dropped each season he has been a starter, going all the way down to .893 this season. Of the 51 goalies who have appeared in at least 25 games this season, that ranks 41st in the NHL.

    Along with not stopping enough shots, Binnington has also been a source of frustration for his repeated meltdowns on the ice with opposing players. He nearly got into a fight with Marc-Andre Fleury and was ejected from that game and had his coach call him out following an ugly loss in Pittsburgh.

    Between his inconsistency in stopping the puck and the way he always seems to be at the center of chaos, he is simply not a goalie the Blues can trust. That is a bad sign for a team that still has four more full years invested in him at a $6 million per year salary-cap hit.

    If they want to compete again anytime soon, they need better.

Washington Capitals: Get Center Help

2 of 5

    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) fires a shot during the Columbus Blue Jackets game versus the Washington Capitals on March 21, 2023 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.   (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Better injury luck next season would go a long way for a Capitals team that lost Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha and John Carlson for significant portions of the 2022-23 season.

    A better year from prized free-agent signing Darcy Kuemper would also help.

    But even if those two things happen, the Capitals might still need to do something about their center depth because there are serious questions about their top-two players at the position in Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

    The issue for Backstrom is one of health.

    He is 35 years old this season and has missed significant time the past two seasons because of injury, and he has not been the same impact player he was at his peak even when he has been on the ice. His days as an elite player and a top-tier center for a Stanley Cup contender are probably in the rear-view mirror.

    Kuznetsov, meanwhile, has not really been a top-tier player for a couple of years now and has had a brutal 2022-23 season. He entered play on Saturday with just 12 goals, while also having some of the worst defensive impacts of any forward on the team. With Backstrom's health being uncertain and Kuznetsov's play not being where it needs to be, the Capitals need help down the middle.

    Kuznetsov had been mentioned in trade speculation prior to the 2021-22 season, and it might be time for the Capitals to revisit that.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Get a New General Manager

3 of 5

    MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JULY 07: Ron Hextall of the Pittsburgh Penguins attends the 2022 NHL Draft at the Bell Centre on July 07, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Where to even begin here.

    If you wanted, you could focus on individual positions for what the Pittsburgh Penguins need.

    They need a third-line center and improved play from their bottom-six.

    They need more defensive depth.

    They need goaltending help.

    But even more than all of that, they need a general manager who can adequately address all of those areas. Ron Hextall is not that general manager. He has proved that emphatically in his more than two years on the job.

    All of those positions listed above? The Penguins needed help at all of them before the season. They were not addressed.

    They needed help at all of those positions leading up to the trade deadline. They were not addressed.

    Not only were they not addressed, but pretty much every move Hextall has made over the past year has not only backfired, but also saddled the Penguins with more bad contracts on aging, declining players.

    They have more than $14 million in salary-cap space next season committed to Jeff Carter, Jeff Petry and Mikael Granlund, taking up valuable space that could have helped retain pending free-agent Jason Zucker and really helped build a serious contender around Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

    The Granlund trade should be the final strike against Hextall, as his acquisition at the deadline not only added another player over the age of 30 signed for more than $5 million per year, but he also did not address a single one of the Penguins' needs. Even worse, he is not really productive at this stage of his career.

    They need a general manager who can maximize what is left of the Crosby, Malkin and Letang era.

Florida Panthers: Fix the Defense

4 of 5

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA - MARCH 18: Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Florida Panthers defends the net with the help of teammate Brandon Montour #62 against the New Jersey Devils at the FLA Live Arena on March 18, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

    When it comes to disappointments there has perhaps been no team that has disappointed more than the Florida Panthers.

    The Panthers were the best regular-season team in the league a year ago, winning the Presidents' Trophy with the best record in the NHL and becoming the first team since the 1995-96 season to average more than four goals per game over an 82-game season.

    Then they went out and added a superstar in Matthew Tkachuk to their lineup in the offseason.

    While Tkachuk has played at an MVP level, the Panthers have fallen from the top of the league all the way down to the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference, where they enter the final week of the season without having a playoff spot locked up.

    The Panthers did lose a lot of talent from last year's team, trading Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar for Tkachuk, and also watching Mason Marchment and Claude Giroux leave in free agency, but they can still score goals like a contender, averaging more than 3.5 goals per game, good enough for top-five in the league.

    The problem has been the fact they can not really stop anybody.

    It has been a combination of bad goaltending and bad defensive play that put them in this position. They seem locked in with their goaltending situation as Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight are signed long-term for big money, and the offseason goalie market is thin anyway. That means they have to focus on improving their defense.

    If they do that, they still have the offense and the core players to seriously compete. They just need help stopping teams.

Calgary Flames: Get Jonathan Huberdeau Back on Track

5 of 5

    CALGARY, AB - MARCH 28: Calgary Flames Left Wing Jonathan Huberdeau (10) gets ready for a faceoff during the second period of an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the Los Angeles Kings on March 28, 2023, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Flames had one of the wildest offseasons in the NHL this past summer, losing Johnny Gaudreau in free agency, trading Matthew Tkachuk and still putting together a roster on paper that looked like it could be a contender.

    They received Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in the trade for Tkachuk, giving them another superstar forward and a top-four defenseman, and then added Nazem Kadri in free agency.

    Combined with a deep defense, a strong goalie, a Stanley Cup-winning coach and a roster full of strong complementary players, it looked like the playoffs were still within reach. Maybe even a serious Stanley Cup consideration.

    But like the Panthers, they have fallen off in a big way and are in a fight just to make the playoffs.

    The biggest issue here has been the simple fact that Huberdeau has not scored the way he did in Florida. If the Flames are going to compete again in the near future, they have to get him back on track.

    They not only paid a steep price to get him, but they also signed him to a massive long-term contract extension that will pay him $84 million over the next eight seasons. That is more than $10 million per season against the cap. They need him to be a star.

    During the four years between 2018-19 and 2021-22 only three players in the league recorded more total points than Huberdeau's 346 (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Kane), placing him among the league's elite.

    This season that has dropped all the way down to only 54 points in 76 games. Not good enough for what the Flames need, and certainly not good enough for what they will be paying him.

    If he is not a star, they do not have a chance to compete. Will it take a coaching change? Was it all just a fluke down year? Is he primed for a big bounce-back year? Whatever it is, the Flames need to figure it out to avoid another down year during the 2023-24 season.