Another summer has come and gone. With that, it’s time to turn our full attention to the 2022-23 NHL season. There are no shortage of storylines.
We are beginning our month-long series looking at some of the biggest stories of the upcoming season. Today, we are going to look at the three teams that have the most to lose this season should they not win the Stanley Cup.
Setting the Scene
No matter their best intentions, 31 teams will fall short of their ultimate goal. For a vast majority of those teams, that’s to be expected. Either they are expected to lose or are on their way up for future seasons. This piece is not going to focus on them.
This piece is going to look at the teams who if they lose early in the playoffs, major change could come. The 2022-23 season has to produce something tangible showing good progress or else upper management and others will be sent packing.
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These teams have one thing in common. Their range of outcomes is among the most extreme in the NHL. If they have success, it sets them up for years to come. If they don’t, it’s time for a new plan with a change of leadership. Where better to start than what many think is the center of the hockey world?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Like it or not, the Maple Leafs are the most fascinating team to watch in 2022-23. What excuse can they use this time if they lose? Losing is simply not an option for them.
Many Maple Leafs’ fans are feeling good about themselves entering the new season. And why not? They pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning to the limit last season before losing Game 7 by just a single goal. In the eyes of the team, they think they’re close.
That’s what makes the goaltending decision fascinating. In a make or break season, the Maple Leafs turn to Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov in the hopes that they can finally push them into the second round and beyond.
With that, GM Kyle Dubas has put himself on the line. If this move works, he becomes a folklore hero. If not, he’s looking for another job. Should that happen, a new leader could come in and decide to make major changes to the roster.
The 2022-23 season for the Maple Leafs will be remembered as either the season that started their dynasty or put an end to one of the most underwhelming playoff runs in NHL history. A 19th straight failure staring at them in the face makes this team the one with the most to lose. The ramifications either way will be felt for many years to come.
New York Islanders
Just two seasons removed from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Islanders came into last season thinking they can build off of that success. But the early schedule thanks to the new building and key injuries were just too much to overcome.
Many thought the Islanders would use this offseason to add key pieces to get themselves back in the best in the East conversation. In that respect, they vastly underwhelmed. While there’s still time before the season begins, there’s no denying they missed out on quality talent and now face several questions.
Among those questions, what happens to GM Lou Lamoriello if the Islanders have another flat season? He put himself on the line by relieving Barry Trotz of his coaching duties and hiring Lane Lambert. With an aging core still in place and a very tough division to play against, the 2022-23 season could be the last one for the Islanders before they decide a different direction is needed.
Who would have thought? If things go a certain way in 2022-23, both Dubas and Lamoriello could be out of their current positions after the season.
The third team to make this list is the Winnipeg Jets. They are different than the Maple Leafs and Islanders in that wholesale changes would come on the roster if they fall short more than with management and staff.
The Jets hired Rick Bowness in the offseason in the hopes of bringing a veteran presence and stability to a team that is facing several questions. Pierre-Luc Dubois’ future is clearly in question after signing just a one-year contract. Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele each have two seasons left on their current deals. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have big decisions to make in the coming years.
When three of your best offensive players have questions surrounding their future at the same time, a bad 2022-23 season will only make things worse for the Jets. Dubois rumors will only get louder. Then they’d have to deal with the chatter around Wheeler and Scheifele going into their final season under contract. With their current core and future direction of the team on the line, the Jets are among the teams with the most to lose this season.
An Honorable Mention
If we had to choose a fourth team for this, it’s the Vegas Golden Knights. They always have pressure to win given who is on their roster.
Jack Eichel is healthy and ready to prove a point. He has to show everyone that the trade was worth it for the Golden Knights. If they don’t make the playoffs again, wholesale changes could be coming from top-to-bottom. Perhaps Phil Kessel and his championship pedigree will get them over the top.
The Maple Leafs immediate and long-term future is on the line. The Islanders could be looking at wholesale changes should they fall short. And the Jets are facing a life with a new core soon should they miss their goal. It’s for these reasons that they are the teams with the most to lose in the 2022-23 season.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.