Identifying every NHL team's biggest need with the draft and free agency approaching

Identifying every NHL team’s biggest need with the draft and free agency approaching

The NHL Draft is less than a week away, free agency is set to open July 13, and the offseason trades are already coming.

Every team has some pressing need to address before the 2022-23 season opens, and the time to act has come.

What is the one thing each team must accomplish during this offseason, whether it’s in the draft, through free agency or with a trade? The Athletic asked the writers who know the teams best. Here’s what they said.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are in serious need of a top-four defenseman after trading away Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. Cam Fowler can’t do everything for them, Kevin Shattenkirk is best suited for a third-pairing role at this stage of his career, and Jamie Drysdale is still learning how to handle the chore of playing big minutes night after night. They could also use another scoring winger in the worst way, but shoring up the blue line should be the first order of business.

— Eric Stephens

Arizona Coyotes

If you add the players traded away at the deadline to the ones on expiring contracts (including Phil Kessel, Anton Stralman, Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson), the Coyotes have a need for more serviceable NHL players and the cap room to accommodate any team trying to dump a high-salaried, underperforming player. That was last summer’s blueprint, and it isn’t changing now.

— Eric Duhatschek

Boston Bruins

Center. Even if Patrice Bergeron returns, the Bruins need help in the middle. Bergeron will be 37 and coming off elbow surgery. Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle are the second- and third-line centers. Haula is unrestricted at the end of 2022-23 and not guaranteed to return. Meanwhile, whether prospects Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka can become full-time NHL centers is unknown.

— Fluto Shinzawa

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres re-signed Craig Anderson to a one-year deal with a $1.5 million cap hit this week. But general manager Kevyn Adams was quick to point out that the signing won’t prevent them from making another move in net. Anderson is 41, and the Sabres’ only option behind him at the moment is Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who has promise but remains unproven. Buffalo needs to find another reliable goalie who can play a starter’s share of games, because there’s no guarantee Anderson or Luukkonen will be able to do that this coming season.

— Matthew Fairburn

Calgary Flames

This depends on how free agency goes. If Johnny Gaudreau stays in Calgary, then the biggest need would likely be filling out the defense group and depth forwards. If Gaudreau leaves, the focus would shift to finding a way to replace his skill level and offensive production — or at the very least finding a replacement who can get close to it. In other words, the Flames will need to find a new top-line player.

— Hailey Salvian

Johnny Gaudreau (Derek Leung / Getty Images)

Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes have struggled with scoring through their past two playoff runs and could use a power-play weapon/scoring winger as they gear up for 2022-23. It seems unlikely that will happen in free agency considering their cap space predicament, so that piece might be best acquired in a trade.

— Sara Civian

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks need just about everything short of a No. 1 defenseman, a No. 1 left wing and a No. 1 right wing. But more than anything, they need picks, prospects and young players. Stan Bowman left the cupboard pretty bare, so Kyle Davidson’s focus will be on piling up futures in the hope that some of them will pan out. Oh, and a goalie or two would be good, considering they don’t have any NHL goalies under contract for next season.

— Mark Lazerus

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado just won the Stanley Cup, so its 2021-22 roster didn’t finish with many needs. This offseason’s needs will depend on which free agents general manager Joe Sakic decides to re-sign. Forwards Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Darren Helm, Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm are free agents, as well as defensemen Josh Manson, Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray and goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

— Peter Baugh

Columbus Blue Jackets

Zach Werenski is the Blue Jackets’ clear-cut No. 1 defenseman, and he’s on an island until they sort out the right side of their blue line. Andrew Peeke played above his head to pair with Werenski last season, but that’s not seen as a long-term fix. The Jackets may have addressed this in last year’s draft by selecting Corson Ceulemans late in the first round, but he’s probably a couple of years away. Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean and Nick Blankenburg can all play the right side, but the ideal playing partner for Werenski is most likely not currently with the organization.

— Aaron Portzline

Dallas Stars

The Stars need to add scoring, which is a broad objective that can be addressed through different avenues. They’ve already done that in coaching by hiring Pete DeBoer, but they now need to add players as well. This includes forwards and defensemen. Given the Stars’ tight salary-cap situation, it will mostly come through bargain deals or internal options with a handful of promising prospects.

— Saad Yousuf

Detroit Red Wings

Left-side defense. There’s certainly a case for a No. 2 center, but Detroit could be replacing nearly the entire left side of its blue line, with only Jordan Oesterle currently under contract. Top prospect Simon Edvinsson is expected to challenge for a roster spot, but even then, significant minutes are available on a blue line that desperately needs to improve.

— Max Bultman

Edmonton Oilers

Probably goaltending, and that’s particularly the case if Mike Smith’s career is over. Smith was excellent down the stretch and had his moments in the playoffs, but he is considering hanging up the pads at age 40. The Oilers have limited cap space, and Smith has just a $2.2 million hit, so finding an ideal replacement could be difficult. Edmonton has shown interest in pending unrestricted free agents Darcy Kuemper and Ville Husso before.

— Daniel Nugent-Bowman

Mike Smith (Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

Florida Panthers

Until a few days ago, it was a coach. Now Paul Maurice is officially in the fold. Maurice has coached more NHL games than all but three other people, without much playoff success, and the Jets were a mess by the end of his time in Winnipeg. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, beyond the requisite roster tweaks you see from teams in the Panthers’ position, you have to assume Bill Zito would like to start talking extensions with Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.

— Sean Gentille

Los Angeles Kings

The top need is a left-side defenseman, just slightly ahead of another top-six scorer. With Drew Doughty and Sean Walker returning from long-term injuries, the right side of the defense is loaded, but the left is thin beyond Mikey Andersson.

— Eric Duhatschek

Minnesota Wild

Besides awaiting a decision from Marc-Andre Fleury that will determine whether the Wild need to pursue a second goalie, they need goal scoring. With limited cap space, that likely will need to come internally, though. There’s some hope that Marco Rossi can step in and provide a Calder Trophy-contending season. And there’s a wing and a prayer that several players who had career seasons won’t regress. But the reality is it won’t be easy to replace the production of Kevin Fiala, who was traded to Los Angeles after a career-best 33-goal, 85-point season, when you’re a team that can’t throw around money this offseason … and the next two, for that matter.

— Michael Russo

Montreal Canadiens

Cap relief. The Canadiens will listen to proposals regarding just about anyone under contract not named Suzuki or Caufield because they need to create some financial oxygen with the state of Carey Price’s knee still up in the air. Regardless of what happens with Price, players under contract — led by defenceman Jeff Petry — are available. The question is whether there is a market out there for many of them with practically the entire league needing to count every dollar.

— Arpon Basu

Nashville Predators

Another high-impact forward. Make it two if Filip Forsberg ends up elsewhere. The Preds could also use defensive help, but the biggest problem last season was finding two other top-six forwards to go with Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund. Philip Tomasino is rising. But a significant production void remains.

— Joe Rexrode

New Jersey Devils

Goaltending is high on the list after this past season’s disaster between the pipes, and a high-end winger is right up there, as well. How the organization views Mackenzie Blackwood at this point determines the exact order. Maybe it’s fair to say (1A) goaltender and (1B) winger.

— Shayna Goldman

New York Islanders

The Islanders were too slow and plodding on defense last season, and assuming Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene aren’t coming back, they’ll need some fresh young legs on the back end. In a perfect world, they will find a puck-moving, offensive defenseman to play with emerging youngster Noah Dobson.

— Kevin Kurz

New York Rangers

To keep as much of the Eastern Conference finalist team together for next season and beyond. The Rangers brought in lots of help at the trade deadline, and they can’t keep most of those reinforcements. The challenge is to boost their depth, especially at forward, and not take a step backward.

— Arthur Staple

Ottawa Senators

There is a healthy debate in Ottawa right now as to whether the Senators need a top-six forward or a top-four defenceman. In reality, both are pressing needs. The Senators appear set on the left side of their defense with Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson, but they could probably use a steady and reliable right-handed defenceman in their top four. Up front, the team has decided to move Tim Stützle to the centre-ice position, which has created an opening for another top-six winger.

— Ian Mendes

Philadelphia Flyers

If the Flyers are intent on trying to turn around their team quickly, they desperately need an infusion of high-end talent. Sean Couturier is coming off back surgery, and even though he’s a great player, he’s not one who truly scares defenses. And now Claude Giroux is gone and unlikely to return via free agency. They need game-changers — offensive weapons who can spearhead a power play and create matchup issues. Whether they can get one (or more) is another story, as those types of players are not easy to find.

— Charlie O’Connor

Pittsburgh Penguins

Either re-signing No. 2 center Evgeni Malkin and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang to team-friendly new contracts (both are pending UFAs) or replacing one or both players without overspending on the open market. The Penguins will find neither option is easy.

— Rob Rossi

Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks need to score more goals next season. They could use an elite goal scorer but may not have the cap flexibility to land one. If not that, a couple of top-nine forwards who can help improve the depth behind Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier combined with William Eklund’s ascension or a couple of rookies from last year making a leap might get San Jose closer to a league-average offense.

— Corey Masisak

Seattle Kraken

Top-six forwards and goaltending. The Kraken were 29th in goals scored last season. As for goaltending, it’s a layered discussion. It starts with finding a stopgap measure now that Chris Driedger is out for most of the regular season. Another component is finding a goaltending coach who can help fix what proved to be a major challenge last season.

— Ryan S. Clark

St. Louis Blues

The Blues’ biggest need remains a top-four left-shot defensemen. They addressed it at the trade deadline last year by acquiring Nick Leddy from Detroit, but Leddy is set to become a UFA and there’s no guarantee he’ll be re-signed. If Leddy does leave in free agency, the Blues could revisit options such as Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun or Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov. They’ll need someone to play with Colton Parayko or Justin Faulk.

— Jeremy Rutherford

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning firmly believe they’re “not done,” saying they’ll have a chance to compete for Cups in coming years. They don’t need much, especially if they can retain UFA Ondrej Palat after already re-signing Nick Paul. GM Julien BriseBois said he has talked to Palat’s agent, along with Jan Rutta’s, and that both want to stay. Other than that, bringing in some speed for depth up front could help.

— Joe Smith

Toronto Maple Leafs

With Jack Campbell a UFA and Petr Mrazek likely also on the outs, finding a way to add two quality goaltenders despite limited cap space stands as the biggest priority. Given a thin free-agent crop in goal, Kyle Dubas has his work cut out.

— James Mirtle

Vancouver Canucks

Cap space. There are, of course, obvious needs on Vancouver’s roster, with the back end, in particular, sticking out as a weakness. But Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have repeatedly emphasized the importance of freeing up money. After all, without cap space, the club won’t have the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities on the trade market and/or free agency anyway. Look for the Canucks to potentially shop some of their top-nine talent to create that cap room.

— Harman Dayal

Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas’ biggest offseason need is cap space. The Golden Knights are already pressed against the salary ceiling with an $85.2 million projected cap hit for next season and still hope to sign pending UFA Reilly Smith and their four key RFAs to contract extensions. Vegas already shed $5 million by trading Evgenii Dadonov to Montreal and will likely be looking for at least one more cap-shedding maneuver this summer.

— Jesse Granger

Washington Capitals

They desperately need a No. 1 goalie. RFAs Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek have been given ample opportunity to establish themselves but, to date, have not. The Caps can’t afford to wait any longer. GM Brian MacLellan, it seems, has two options: (1) Sign a starter from a weak pool of unrestricted free agents or (2) swing a trade. The second option seems to be the best route but, unfortunately for MacLellan, he’s not the only GM of a good team in need of help between the pipes.

— Tarik El-Bashir

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg’s biggest need is for Rick Bowness to generate buy-in such that Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele remain part of the team’s long-term plans. Dubois has reportedly communicated an intention to test the 2024 UFA market, while the contracts of Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Connor Hellebuyck all expire that same summer. If the Jets sign Dubois for the short term and don’t make any drastic changes, then they need top-six forward depth, particularly on the right side, a little sandpaper, a backup goaltender (who could well be UFA Eric Comrie) and a plan for their crowded defense corps.

— Murat Ates

(Top photo of Toronto goalie Jack Campbell, an unrestricted free agent: Mark Blinch / NHLI via Getty Images)

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