Did last year’s conference finalists improve? A look at the Lightning, Rangers, Avalanche, and Oilers
Hockey teams across the NHL are shifting from free agency to getting prepared for training camps in September. While there are a few notable free agents remaining, last year’s four conference finalists appear to be squared away for next season.
In the East, the New York Rangers battled it out for six games before the Tampa Bay Lightning prevailed. Meanwhile, the West saw the Colorado Avalanche demolish the Edmonton Oilers in a clean four-game sweep.
All four teams have experienced significant changes this summer, but will they better in 2022-23?
Tampa Bay Lightning offseason
Key Losses: Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat
Key Additions: Vlad Namestnikov, Philippe Meyers, and Ian Cole
The Tampa Bay Lighting put an emphasis on signing their key restricted free agents long-term in Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak. They also wanted to keep trade deadline acquisition Nick Paul around, but all those signings came at a deep cost.
Ryan McDonagh was traded to the Nashville Predators in a cap saving move. That was followed by Ondrej Palat leaving via free agency to the New Jersey Devils. Losing two top veteran performers is going to hurt but the Lightning are banking on the young players to take a larger role next season.
Outlook: Losing McDonagh and Palat will have an impact on the team come playoff time. That being said, Tampa is still one of the best in the East. They also acquired Brandon Hagel, who will play his first full season next season with the Lightning.
New York Rangers offseason
Key Losses: Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Alexandar Georgiev, and Tyler Motte
Key Additions: Vincent Trocheck, Jaroslav Halak, and Ryan Carpenter
Similar to the Lightning, the Rangers focused on their younger restricted free agents. Although they did not sign anyone of them long-term all are expected to play bigger roles. Look for Kaapo Kakko (2 years), Vitali Kravtsov (1 year), and Sammy Blais (1 year) to replace what the likes of Copp, Vatrano, and Motte brought last season.
The big focus for the Rangers was improving the second line center position by signing Trocheck. New York also signed a proven veteran backup in Halak to assume the role held last year by Goergiev. The addition of Carpenter will help with the team’s center depth.
Outlook: At face value it looks like the Rangers took a big step back, but if the kids continue to develop the free agent losses will not matter. Alexis Lafrenière, Filip Chytil, Kakko and Kravtsov are all expected to be key contributors in 2022-23. Trocheck over Strome is an upgrade. Plus the defense is packed with talent that’s only getting better.
Edmonton Oilers offseason
Key Losses: Duncan Keith, Zack Kassian, and Mikko Koskinen
Key Additions: Jack Campbell, and Mattias Janmark
The Oilers wisely focused on improving in goal and they did so by landing Campbell via free agency. Other key moves centered around keeping key trade acquisition Evander Kane and retaining Jesse Puljujarvi.
When it comes to losses, Keith’s retirements will obviously hurt from a leadership standpoint more than anything. Trading Kassian to the Coyotes was a cap shaving move that needed to be done, but he will be replaced by Janmark nicely.
Outlook: The Oilers will definitely be better because they finally have a real #1 goalie in Campbell. Will they be able to get back to the conference final? That’s a big ask since the Golden Knights are expected to be better this season (at least healthy) and even though the Flames lost Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk they’ll be competitive.
Colorado Avalanche offseason
Key Losses: Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Darcy Kuemper, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Key Additions: Alexandar Geoergiev
Heavy lies the head that wears the crown. The Colorado Avalanche are the defending Stanley Cup Champions but certainly suffered some big losses this offseason. Up front, they will be looking for players to step up and replace both Kadri and Burakovsky. It won’t be an easy task.
In goal, the Avs will hope that Georgiev, who has lobbied for two years to be a starter can assume that job. While Kuemper didn’t need to be outstanding for Colorado to win the Cup, he was still a solid veteran.
Outlook: The Avs used what cap space they had to re-sign key players like Josh Manson, Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, Darren Helm, and Andrew Cogliano. Of course, there’s only so much money that can around and Nathan MacKinnon is in line for a monster payday. That’s why the losses this offseason were so big. However, the Avs are deep enough to overcome them and make another run in 2022-23.