Jump to content

NHL free agency 2023: What’s every team’s biggest need ahead of July 1?

Recommended Posts

NHL free agency is less than 24 hours away, slated to open at noon ET on Saturday.

Who’ll be shopping for what when the bell rings? The Athletic asked its NHL staff.

Here’s each team’s biggest need.

Anaheim Ducks

A defenseman or two: When you’re the worst defensive team of the salary cap era and there are just two known entities returning from last season in Cam Fowler and Jamie Drysdale, you need lots of help. This isn’t to say the Ducks should be foolish with their $39 million of cap space and sign a couple of veteran blueliners to long, expensive contracts when you’ve got the young cavalry (Olen Zellweger, Pavel Mintyukov, Jackson LaCombe, etc.) eventually riding in on rookie deals. You don’t want to block all the fine prospects, but you also don’t want to throw them all into the deep end right away. Still, a couple of targeted vets with plenty left in their games on say three-year deals to boost the top six would help make them more competitive in Greg Cronin’s first season. Would Scott Mayfield, Carson Soucy or Connor Clifton work? How about Radko Gudas? — Eric Stephens

Arizona Coyotes

Scoring: Only Clayton Keller scored more than 25 goals last season for the Coyotes, so if the goal is to be marginally improved overall, they’ll need more players with a finishing touch around the net. But don’t expect them to spend big, or even medium, on free agents. A better bet would be absorbing a too-expensive player from a cap-strapped team. If the Coyotes wade into free agency at all, it’ll be for a modest add for a modest price. — Eric Duhatschek

Boston Bruins

Forwards: With only six forwards under contract, the Bruins will need a mix of targeted free agents and prospect promotions to fill out their bottom six. Even after placing Mike Reilly on waivers to be bought out on Friday, they could still trade one of their left-shot defensemen for a forward, as well. — Fluto Shinzawa

Buffalo Sabres

A top-four defenseman: The Sabres have three strong, young defensemen in their top four, but they could use a steadier partner for Owen Power on the second pair. They haven’t yet made a trade for a defenseman, so this remains their biggest short-term need heading into free agency. A trade might yield a more high-impact player, but Scott Mayfield and Carson Soucy are two attractive options on the free-agent market. — Matthew Fairburn

Calgary Flames

Youth, cheaper contracts and depth: General manager Craig Conroy told the media after the draft that he’d be very unlikely to make any big splashes in free agency. The Flames want younger players in their lineup, and most of them will likely come in-house. The team only has a bit over $2 million in cap space, which would take them out of the race for any major free agent. On top of that, the team will probably focus its efforts on re-signing Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm and trading Noah Hanifin. — Julian McKenzie

Carolina Hurricanes

Forward depth: The Hurricanes are more likely to tackle their biggest need, a goal scorer, via trade. So Carolina’s focus on July 1 will probably be adding a bottom-six winger, even with Friday’s news that Jesper Fast is likely to re-sign. But unless the Hurricanes see someone they really covet — as they did last year when they attempted to sign Mason Marchment at the start of free agency — they may wait for the market to cool down and look for bargains. — Cory Lavalette

Chicago Blackhawks

A depth defenseman on the right side: Honestly, the Blackhawks have no needs in free agency. They wanted someone to play with Connor Bedard, a little leadership and a little grit, and they got that via trades, acquiring Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, and Corey Perry. There’s a bit of a shortage on the right side of the blue line after letting Caleb Jones walk, so it’s conceivable they look for a little depth there. But the reason GM Kyle Davidson let Jones walk is he wants to clear room for a bevy of defense prospects, including Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser and Isaak Phillips. It should be a quiet Canada Day for Chicago. — Mark Lazerus

Colorado Avalanche

A top-six wing: With the addition of Ryan Johansen, the Avalanche have a potential second-line center, but the team still needs another player to join the top-six group. Pending UFA Evan Rodrigues is likely out the door — teams will offer him more lucrative deals than the Avalanche will — but his signing last summer could be a blueprint for Colorado this summer. Rodrigues didn’t like how the market shaped up so he took a cheap deal in Denver, where he posted strong numbers. Perhaps the Avalanche can let the market develop and another free agent will do something similar to Rodrigues and choose to play with a star-studded Colorado roster. — Peter Baugh

Columbus Blue Jackets

A veteran depth goaltender: This has changed dramatically over the past couple of days. Before the Blue Jackets knew they’d select an NHL-ready center in the draft — Adam Fantilli went No. 3 overall to Columbus on Wednesday — they figured to hit the market (free agency or trade) looking to add a top-six center. But now they’ve got Fantilli, Boone Jenner, Cole Sillinger, Sean Kuraly, Dmitry Voronkov and Jack Roslovic at center ice, and the last thing they’d do is sign a player who would block Fantilli or Sillinger from meaningful minutes. So, if Columbus spends at all in free agency, it could be to a veteran goaltender on a two-way contract, one who could play in Columbus if Elvis Merzlikins or Daniil Tarasov struggle or suffer injuries as they did last season. — Aaron Portzline

Dallas Stars

A defenseman: The Stars’ defensive core got exposed in the conference finals against the Golden Knights, who have arguably the best blue line in the NHL. Miro Heiskanen is elite and Thomas Harley is promising, but behind them, the Stars have a few guys (Esa Lindell, Nils Lundkvist) that need to bounce back and then they still need to try to make one external addition to bolster the group. — Saad Yousuf

Detroit Red Wings

Top-six scoring: After trading away Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana, the Red Wings are going to have to go to free agency (or trade) to replace them and boost a bottom-10 offense. And while the trade route has the better options (headlined by Alex DeBrincat and Travis Konecny, among others), free agency is possible if Detroit is willing to pay up for a proven (albeit aging) winger such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Killorn or others. The question they’ll have to answer revolves around those players’ respective ages and how much term to give, though, and their answer could ultimately swing some outcomes on July 1. — Max Bultman

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards, forwards, forwards: The Oilers are down to eight signed forwards after dumping off wingers Kailer Yamamoto and pending RFA Klim Kostin to the Red Wings at the draft. Re-signing Ryan McLeod and Raphael Lavoie, who is coming off his entry-level deal, makes it 10. They want to carry 13. It’s possible pending UFAs Mattias Janmark and Nick Bjugstad return. The former is likelier than the latter. Aside from that, the Oilers will be hoping they can sign veterans on low-cost, prove-it-type contracts like Connor Brown and Jonathan Toews (if he wants to continue his career). — Daniel Nugent-Bowman

Florida Panthers

Defensemen: The Panthers were always going to need another blueliner or two. Their lack of true, quality depth there came back and bit them in the Final. That’s only more true now that we know Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour will miss time recovering from their injuries. Trading for Noah Hanifin, a no-doubt top-four guy who wants out of Calgary and is close friends with Matthew Tkachuk, would be a great start. — Sean Gentille

Los Angeles Kings

A (No. 1) goaltender: Right now, the Kings have the returning Pheonix Copley and … and … Erik Portillo? No offense to the 31-year-old journeyman, who found a new lease on his NHL career, or the 22-year-old Swede who has yet to make his debut after three seasons at Michigan, but they need a goalie. They know they need one. Everyone knows they need one. But while trading for big-moneyed Connor Hellebuyck is no longer feasible, there will be free-agent options. The door may not be closed on re-signing pending unrestricted free agent Joonas Korpisalo, and Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta could also be available. Alex Lyon, Laurent Brossoit and Alex Nedeljkovic might be on the more affordable side. How about a Martin Jones reunion? Jonathan Quick still wants to give it a go. — Eric Stephens

Minnesota Wild

What do you think? For the 23rd straight year, the answer is centers. But with what cap space? The Wild have $7.2 million in space and three unsigned restricted free agents in Filip Gustavsson, Brandon Duhaime and Calen Addison. They will be banking on Marco Rossi to make the team and an impact. — Michael Russo

Montreal Canadiens

A scoring winger: I don’t think the Canadiens will be active in free agency at all, largely because the need they have is not available and they already have a full roster under contract. In fact, they need to shed players, not add. So while they could generally use a scoring winger, they’ll have to address that via trade more so than free agency. — Arpon Basu

Nashville Predators

A depth piece down the middle: Without the versatile Matt Duchene, who is being bought out by the Predators, the need for a depth center is even more acute. The Predators’ center-ice corps currently consists of Thomas Novak, Cody Glass, Juuso Parssinen and Colton Sissons. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row lineup. But since the Preds are pivoting to a revamp, there probably isn’t much of a will to add a proven scorer down the middle. Someone like Nick Bjugstad might provide depth and insurance at a reasonable cost, though. — Eric Duhatschek

New Jersey Devils

Goalie depth: At this point, the Devils don’t need much in free agency besides to fill out a few depth slots — maybe an extra bottom-six forward or an extra defender for a little extra security when/if Ryan Graves walks. That puts the focus back on goal: Do the Devils upgrade there, and how much? There are some free agent options, like Antti Ranta as a solid 1B/backup. Or maybe management realizes the best options actually come via trade (whether they go big or with a Logan Thompson-like option). — Shayna Goldman

New York Islanders

Defensive depth: It’s more likely than not that the Islanders will lose Scott Mayfield as a free agent, so he’ll have to be replaced. The Islanders’ defensive depth even with Mayfield isn’t great, which means that Lou Lamoriello will need to add one, if not two, defensemen to fill out the top six. — Kevin Kurz

New York Rangers

A backup goalie: It’s not like they can avoid this issue, though they do have journeyman Louis Domingue signed after he spent all of last season in the minors. Veteran Jonathan Quick’s name has been mentioned to fill this spot, and if he can regain his pre-2022-23 form at 37, he might be a decent option. Jaro Halak, who backed up Igor Shesterkin last season, could also be in the mix at age 38. — Arthur Staple

Ottawa Senators

Goaltending: There is a solid argument to be made that Ottawa’s priority in free agency should be adding some quality middle-six forwards — especially if Alex DeBrincat is no longer part of the equation. But in reality, Ottawa’s gaping hole in net should be a bigger concern. The Senators need to find a capable partner for Anton Forsberg and they might be able to find him in free agency. Joonas Korpisalo and Tristan Jarry might be suitable fits, provided Ottawa doesn’t hand out too much term on a new contract. — Ian Mendes

Philadelphia Flyers

A bottom-of-the-lineup veteran center: The Flyers aren’t expecting to be especially active in free agency this year — GM Daniel Briere said as much after the draft ended Thursday — but they could use a cheap bottom-six center to provide some support for a relatively youthful group down the middle. Right now, their top five NHL center options are Sean Couturier (coming off two back surgeries), Morgan Frost, Noah Cates (who was mostly a wing before last season), Scott Laughton (who fits better in an NHL lineup at wing) and Elliot Desnoyers (who isn’t a lock to stick at center or make the Flyers out of camp). They could use a quality piece on a short-term deal to help Couturier with faceoffs and tough shifts. — Charlie O’Connor

Pittsburgh Penguins

Bottom-six depth: It seems increasingly likely that GM Kyle Dubas is eager to spend cap space — rare for the Penguins — on improving their bottom six. It was an anchor last season, likely the biggest contributing factor to ending the Penguins’ 16-year postseason streak. The Penguins need better — and different players — in their bottom six. They have cap space to add a couple, and Dubas is reputable for identifying those types of players. — Rob Rossi

San Jose Sharks

Scoring help on the wing: Obviously for San Jose, the focus is on the long-term. But that’s probably not something that’ll be addressed in free agency right now. So it’s in the Sharks’ best interest to look for some scoring help on the wing in a pretty weak class. San Jose, at the very least, can offer bigger roles and minutes to players than they’d get on a contender. And they could obviously flip them at the deadline for future assets. — Shayna Goldman

Seattle Kraken

Star-level talent: Free agency is a tough spot to shop for significant talent upgrades, especially this year, but that’s really all the Kraken require. This is a deep team with enough internal options that even if Carson Soucy departs in unrestricted free agency (as expected), there are appealing in-house options to replace him, like Ryker Evans. What the Kraken really need is to level up with star-level talent, which might not be doable on the open market this year. Keeping their powder dry and waiting for the right trade option to strike is probably their best move this summer. — Thomas Drance


St. Louis Blues

This sounds crazy, but none: This doesn’t mean that the Blues are Stanley Cup contenders. They’re not. Their roster could use plenty of upgrades. But in terms of needs, that the Blues could legitimately fill in free agency, there are none. The trade for Kevin Hayes was the last little bit of detail for a roster that appears set. They don’t have much cap room left if they did want to make an addition. So unless there’s a trade coming, this is it, which should make free agency fairly quiet in St. Louis. — Jeremy Rutherford

Tampa Bay Lightning

Round out forward group: Tampa’s really tight to the salary cap, which is why restricted free agent Ross Colton was moved. Now the attention turns to Alex Killorn before he hits the UFA market. If the Lightning can’t retain their mainstay winger, it’s another replacement they’ll have to search for with very little to spend. There are only eight forwards under contract (plus RFA Tanner Jeannot) for next year at the moment. — Shayna Goldman

Toronto Maple Leafs

A No. 2 center and an impact defenceman: Here’s the problem with the need at center: There just aren’t many great options available in free agency. Ryan O’Reilly is tops, but he’s 32 and will be pricey. The Leafs may have to find another way to upgrade that No. 2 spot, which would allow John Tavares to move to the wing. Upgrading on defense will be more doable for the Leafs, whether it’s a big fish like Dmitry Orlov in free agency or someone like Chris Tanev in a trade. There are options, plenty of them, to be had. — Jonas Siegel

Vancouver Canucks

Penalty killers and depth: The Canucks have been abysmal on the penalty kill — verging on historically bad to open two consecutive seasons — and need new personnel to see if they can get a different result. In particular, the Canucks require a lynchpin third-line-caliber defensive center and a top-four-caliber defensive defender (ideally two, but at least one). They need those roles filled both at five-on-five and on the PK, but the PK has absolutely sunk them and has to be addressed in free agency. — Thomas Drance

Vegas Golden Knights

Depth forwards: The Golden Knights will return nearly the same roster from their Stanley Cup run, sans Reilly Smith who was traded this week. They don’t have much cap space to add but also aren’t really looking to add anyway. Vegas’ biggest need in free agency is a depth forward or two who can start in the AHL but play minutes with the big club in relief when needed. The Golden Knights were very healthy through the playoffs but will likely need to lean on depth at some point next season. — Jesse Granger



Washington Capitals

A top-six forward: The Caps would like to bolster their top-six forward corps. As things stand now, though, the team’s proximity to the salary cap ceiling won’t allow them to make a big splash. How tight is it? Per CapFriendly, they’ve got 17 players under contract for next season and about $7.3 million in cap space. GM Brian MacLellan could create some wiggle room via a salary dump but, at the moment, he’s not eager to do it. So what does that mean for fans? Temper your expectations. — Tarik El-Bashir

Winnipeg Jets

Backfilling for blockbusters: If Connor Hellebuyck is moved, as expected, the Jets will be desperate for goaltending. If he isn’t moved, the Jets still need someone to back him up or take over for him at the trade deadline. At the same time, it’s possible that Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele are both moved, both net goaltenders, and the Jets biggest needs end up at center. Cole Perfetti and Gabriel Vilardi will each get an opportunity, but both players are too young and inexperienced to bank on, while Adam Lowry would not be ideal in the top six. Vladislav Namestnikov could help up front, while the goaltending market is highlighted by Semyon Varlamov, Tristan Jarry and Joonas Korpisalo, among others. Plenty of moving parts, plenty of work on the way.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...