Everyone wants to end things the same way.
Each of the NHL's 32 teams entered the 2021-22 season hoping to wrap things up with a Stanley Cup hoist and a championship banner raise. But soon enough, the handshake lines will be cleared and those same 32 teams will be busily preparing to get things going again for the 2022-23 season.
Step No. 1: Win the offseason.
The teams that succeeded this time will endeavor to keep things going for another 82-game run. Meanwhile, those that struggled will explore options via trades, free-agent signings and perhaps even leadership changes that'll reconfigure the mix to an elite level.
The B/R hockey team took a look at where each organization stands and put together a list of the half-dozen most likely to make progress this summer on the way to opening night in October.
Take a look at what we came up with and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Pat Verbeek was an energetic and productive player across more than 1,400 NHL games.
So don't expect him to change that approach now that he's a general manager.
The 58-year-old took over in that spot with the Anaheim Ducks in February and got right to work with deals that saw Josh Manson, Richard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm heading out of town. Those deals and others gave the Ducks nearly $40 million in salary-cap space to play with.
Verbeek has five unrestricted free agents to decide upon and a productive young core that includes 21-year-old Trevor Zegras and 24-year-old Troy Terry returning for next season. Throw in the four first-round picks on the board over the next two drafts alongside the aforementioned cash to spend and there's little doubt the new executive will be working overtime for the time being.
Considering Anaheim was 10th overall in the league through Jan. 1, it may not take much to get things to a point where playoffs will be a priority before next offseason gets underway.
If the Buffalo Sabres were a stock, it'd be a prudent time to buy low.
The team hasn't seen the playoffs since 2011 and haven't won a series since 2007, but given a recent run of successful draft picks and a league-best $43 million in salary-cap space, it wouldn't surprise many if they were in contention for a postseason berth by the time the 2022-23 regular season ends.
Buffalo was 16-9-3 in March and April. That pace that would amount to 102 points over 82 games.
The Sabres will choose ninth and 16th in this summer's draft and GM Kevyn Adams can certainly use the money on hand to retool a roster that's got 10 unrestricted free agents on the horizon. Given the results in the homestretch of last season, it won't take a major rebuild to get Buffalo back to relevance.
"You can't hit fast forward," Adams said. "You can't say we're going from here to here. It's a process.
"This is about us getting better. We're not satisfied right now. We played some really good hockey at the end of the year."
Careful when walking near the Detroit Red Wings organization this summer.
It's an active construction zone.
GM Steve Yzerman got started on things at the close of the regular season by letting coach Jeff Blashill go, and he could be in the market for a taskmaster replacement type with a winning pedigree.
On the ice, bolstering the team's blue line is a high personnel priority along with adding to an offense that was only 25th best in the league. Team captain Dylan Larkin has one season remaining on a five-year deal worth $30.5 million and needs an extension, too, and Yzerman has just shy of $36 million in cap space for next season to work with as he clicks off the agenda items.
Winger Tyler Bertuzzi has been the subject of trade rumors and has one year remaining on a deal that'll pay him $4.75 million. Moving him could be a sign that Yzerman is anxious to get started.
First things first, the New York Rangers aren't quite through with 2021-22.
They're a game up on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and would surely be happy with an extended playoff stay that ends in a ticker-tape parade through Lower Manhattan.
But once the revelry subsides, it'll be time to get things set up for an encore.
The Rangers have a cadre of young, skilled players under contractual lock and key from recent drafts and four of their top veteran forwards—Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow—are signed through the next four seasons.
Vezina Trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin is on the books for three more seasons as well, so GM Chris Drury can use the $13.4 million in salary-cap space to tinker with complementary pieces and make the team a bona fide title contender before the puck drops on 2022-23.
The Philadelphia Flyers could use some good news.
The team suffered through one of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2021-22, including prolonged losing streaks and a coaching change. But one big move this offseason could change things.
The Flyers are among the perceived favorites to land big-ticket free agent Johnny Gaudreau this offseason, and his arrival would add a proven veteran coming off a career-best 40-goal, 115-point season.
The 28-year-old is a native of nearby Salem, New Jersey, he grew up as a Flyers fan and told a Philadelphia sports radio station a few years back that he'd be interested in one day playing in the city.
The team isn't exactly flush with cap space, and Gaudreau is likely going to command far more than the $6.75 million he made last season. But if GM Chuck Fletcher finds a way to get it done, it'll be a successful summer for he, Gritty and the rest of the Orange and Black faithful.
File this one under "We'll See."
Barry Trotz became the highest-profile coaching free agent at the instant he was fired by New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello in May. So, given his pedigree of 914 wins with three teams and a Stanley Cup championship with the Washington Capitals in 2018, it's no shock that he'll be in great demand.
And no surprise that the team that lands him will be a guaranteed offseason winner.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the 59-year-old has been in contact with several teams including the Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers, Vegas Golden Knights, Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars.
But it may not happen overnight.
"From what I understand, guys, Barry Trotz has let it be known to teams that he's not in a hurry to make his choice," Friedman said. "He won't make his decision until he's sure it's right for himself and his family."
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