The 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs have come to an end with the Colorado Avalanche as the Stanley Cup Champions, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
This year’s playoffs had a plethora of amazing moments from nerve-racking overtime games to breathtaking goals, capped off with one of the most exciting finals in recent seasons. Despite the finals ending only a couple of days ago, it’s still fascinating to look at which playoff teams will likely be back in 2023 and which teams might find themselves on the outside looking in.
Let’s start with the Stanley Cup-winning, Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have a busy offseason ahead of them with their list of notable players entering free-agency. The list includes Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Darren Helm, Andrew Cogliano, Josh Manson, and Darcy Kuemper. There’s also Artturi Lehkonen who will be a restricted free-agent. All of these players made key contributions during Colorado’s run to their Stanley Cup victory. The good news for Colorado is they’ll have at least $25 million in cap space to use when resigning these players. Based on their breakout seasons, Kadri, Nichushkin, and Kuemper will most likely be top priority for Joe Sakic to resign. Lehkonen has proven to be a clutch performer in the playoffs which is invaluable to teams seen as cup contenders.
Of course, there’s still the main core of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, and Makar who will remain one of the best cores in the NHL. While Colorado might be looking at a slightly different team by October, it’s safe to say they’ll remain the top choice to head back to the finals throughout the 2022-23 season.
There’s also the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were just two wins away from the first three-peat since the 1980s Islanders. The most notable free-agents for the Lightning are Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta. The Lightning are over the cap by $1 million meaning they’ll have to make some trades if they wish to keep either one. The biggest question for Tampa will be regarding the overall health of the team. The Lightning players have faced considerable wear and tear on their bodies without much time to rest between each season. Despite their questionable health heading into next season, the Lightning have proven to be a team to never bet against.
The Lightning have become known as a team that never really goes away. If they can find a way to stay healthy they’ll have a shot a four straight appearances in the finals.
Another potential Cup contending team out of the West are the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers had their most successful season in years with an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl put up astonishing playoff numbers, combining 65 points between the two of them. While McDavid and Draisaitl lit up the scoresheet almost every game, they were backed up by the best depth the team has seen in a long time. Evander Kane led the playoffs with 13 goals until MacKinnon scored his 13th during the last game of the finals. Zach Hyman also proved to be a great offseason signing with his 11-goal playoff performance. In order to get back to a Conference Final, Edmonton will need more defensive stability and consistent goaltending.
If Edmonton can find a solid goalie and defenseman this offseason, they’ll have a good shot at making another deep playoff run.
The East boasts plenty of powerhouse teams but all eyes will be on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite another heartbreaking loss in the first round, it can be argued that the curse would’ve been broken had the Leafs faced any other team in the East. The Leafs came this close to knocking off the defending champs with an opportunity to close out the series in game 6 but lost the game in overtime. Tampa would go on to win game 7 in Toronto, and the Leafs fail to make it past the first round yet again.
But it felt like this year had somewhat of a silver lining. The team fought tooth and nail all the way to the end, but it didn’t feel like they chocked. It looked more like the Lightning doing what they’ve done for two seasons in a row, and this time their opponent happened to be the Maple Leafs. Toronto can still take some positives away from the series including the performances from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Both players took big steps in their leadership on and off the ice. The Maple Leafs look like another team that is just one or two trades/signings away from making some real noise in the playoffs. If the team can avoid making any panic decisions during the offseason the Leafs could see the second round of the playoffs in 2023.
There are a few other teams that could make a return to the playoffs like Carolina, New York, and Calgary, but there are teams that might not be part of the last 16 teams standing in 2023.
One of these teams could be the Boston Bruins. The Bruins lost in the first round to Carolina in 7 games and it might seem impressive they took the Canes nearly to the brink, part of it was due to Carolina not being able to win a single road game for their entire time in the playoffs this season. The Bruins will most likely be in numerous headlines during the offseason wit hall the rumors going around the team. Headlines have already been made with the surprising decision to fire Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy who seemed to be a good fit for the team. A result of his firing are rumors that David Pasternak might want out of Boston if Don Sweeny remains the General Manager. Sweeny recently signed an extension so it doesn’t appear he’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.
Jake Debrusk has also been involved in plenty of trade rumors, and could very likely get dealt during the offseason. Then there’s Patrice Bergeron who just played through the last year of his contract. There are rumors of him signing a 1-year extension with the team which would ad some much needed relief to Bruin fans. It feels like the end of an era is approaching Boston, and the team could struggle next season without having Debrusk or Pasternak.
The final team getting looked at are the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have been going through a rebuild, and this past season has shown that they might be ahead of schedule on said rebuild. Going into the season basically no one saw the Kings as playoff contenders, yet they almost made it passed the first round against the Oilers, losing in 7 games. The Kings have a wealth of promising prospects in their system who are ready for full-time NHL play. With the amount of young players that will be in the lineup for next season the Kings could be an exciting team looking to return to their glory days, or the team could struggle if the youngsters are unable to produce at the rates they’ll be expected to.
Another question mark could be with the goaltending. Jonathan Quick could see a decrease in his performance due to age, and Cal Peterson struggled to remain consistent throughout this past season. The Kings will be looking to prove their playoff appearance this year wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
It’ll be interesting to see what these teams do during the offseason and how it’ll effect their playoff hopes for next season. The Avalanche winning the Cup shows how important the mixture of veterans and young skilled players can be to a teams success in the postseason. The Avalanche are also an example of how important trade deadline acquisitions are to teams going on successful runs. It’s likely there will be other General Managers who are going to try to replicate exactly what Sakic did while building the Avalanche to their Stanley Cup victory.
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