NHL Rebuild Rankings: Which Teams Are Closest to Contending?

The NHL trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and a lot of the teams are entering the home stretch of the 2022-23 season, looking to secure playoff spots and set themselves up for a Stanley Cup run. This is also the time of the year when the rebuilding teams have set themselves apart and have made it clear that they aren’t going to compete this season.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Brad Larsen Needs to Embrace Rebuild

“Rebuilding” and “retooling” are terms that are thrown around a lot in sports, especially the NHL. A lot of teams will say that they are doing one of the two when they aren’t competitive but how many of them have a plan in place? Moreover, which ones are on schedule or have the pieces to make them competitive soon? The eight teams that can be classified as rebuilding are the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Vancouver Canucks. Looking at these through five primary categories, the teams that are in the best shape to rebound are the Blue Jackets and the Canadiens.

Jarmo Kekalainen Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekäläinen, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2015 NHL Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Below is a chart that looks at the rebuilding teams and their building blocks, specifically, their prospect pool, draft capital, head coaches and general managers (GM), and players that will be an integral part of their rebound. The answers were provided by the team writers at THW.

Core Players / Building Block PlayersProspect Pool Ranking (according to THW)Projected First Round Draft Picks (in the next three entry drafts)Projected 2nd & 3rd Round Draft Picks (in the next three entry drafts)The Right Head Coach & GM in place
Columbus Blue Jackets56th48Yes
Montreal Canadiens512th56Yes
Arizona Coyotes38th418Yes
Anaheim Ducks43rd312No
Vancouver Canucks430th35Yes
Chicago Blackhawks 110th613Yes
Philadelphia Flyers224th45No
San Jose Sharks017th46Yes

Taking a deep dive into these teams, it’s clear why some are off to better starts in their rebuilds. With a lot of the focus shifting to the contenders at this point in the season, it’s important to take a look at the rebuilding teams. How did they get to this point, what do they have to build on, and where will they go from here?

San Jose Sharks – 8

The 2019 Western Conference Final was the end of an era for the Sharks. They were a perennial playoff team during the decade and reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 but the last run was in the 2018-19 season and the team never recovered afterward. They were a veteran-heavy team at the time and acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson to put them over the top but they lost to the St. Louis Blues in a six-game series. The subsequent offseason not only started their decline but set them back for years to come. Karlsson was signed to an eight-year, $11.5 million per year contract and they couldn’t afford to keep the other players on the roster around with one player taking up a significant amount of cap space.

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The Sharks haven’t made the playoffs since the 2018-19 season and have been one of the worst teams in the league as well. Moreover, because of the contracts given out, specifically to Karlsson and Brent Burns, it has been hard for them to rebuild. They traded Burns in the offseason to help start the rebuild but they are still the furthest team in the NHL from contention.

The biggest problem the Sharks face is that there aren’t any players currently on the roster who can lead the rebound. Karlsson is 32 years old and despite having a Norris Trophy-caliber season, he isn’t going to be a key part of this team when they turn things around. Logan Couture, arguably their best forward, is 33 years old and Tomas Hert will be 30 at the start of next season. The best players on the Sharks are entering the twilights of their careers and Karlsson, Couture, and Hertl are all under contract for the next five seasons, making them difficult players to move on from. By the time this team is competitive, the best players on the current roster will be complementary pieces at best. To make matters worse, they traded away Timo Meier, one of their best players in the prime of his career, at the trade deadline for an underwhelming return.

The Sharks also have an average prospect pool with a few players that can make an impact at the NHL level, but not many that can carry the team to the playoffs. William Eklund was their first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and has the ceiling to become a star but it’s still too early to tell what type of impact he’ll have at the NHL level. Otherwise, they don’t have a lot of elite prospects in the pipeline. This is part of the sacrifice they had to make when they acquired Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a top prospect in Josh Norris and a 2020 first-round pick that was used to select Jake Sanderson. They also didn’t help their prospect pool, especially the top tier, when they traded back in the 2022 Draft to acquire three selections instead of drafting with the 11th pick.

Logan Couture San Jose Sharks
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

A rebuild is inevitable at this point but there aren’t a lot of good directions for this team. The Sharks can try and trade Karlsson this offseason but he has a tough contract to move. With a no-trade clause and an $11.5 million per year cap hit, few teams can reasonably acquire him and fit him into their roster. As a result, a deal involving him will likely require the Sharks to take on a large percentage of his contract and receive an underwhelming return like the one they received in the Meier trade. They can also look to trade Couture or Hertl but they run into the same problems, albeit on a smaller scale. The bottom line is that they need young talent on their roster and in the prospect pool but don’t have the trade chips to acquire it.

The one positive for the Sharks is that they have the right head coach and GM in place for a rebuild. David Quinn coached the New York Rangers from 2018 until 2021 when the team was in the middle of a rebuild. He helped the young core develop and can do the same with the Sharks. GM Mike Grier was hired at the same time as Quinn and the two have been on the same page, indicating they are both in this rebuild together and prepared to patiently turn things around.

Philadelphia Flyers – 7

The Flyers have been an organization that wants to look competitive, especially from the perspective of former GM Chuck Fletcher and current head coach John Tortorella but is performing like a rebuilding team. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2020 and since then they have been one of the worst teams in their division in each of the past three seasons. A struggling team would suggest that the Flyers are ready to hit the reset button but instead, their offseason moves have reflected an urge to compete.

The results have left the Flyers with a depleted roster and a handful of aggressive moves that haven’t worked out. The decisions to acquire defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Anthony DeAngelo cost them valuable draft assets that could have helped them in the long run. Moreover, both players have underachieved and failed to live up to the expectations that Fletcher had when acquiring them, leaving the Flyers with two expensive players who have set the team back. Sean Couturier signed an eight-year extension in the 2021 offseason despite being 29 years old at the time and having only three 20-goal seasons in his career. Couturier is on injured reserve and has yet to play this season. The coaching hire didn’t help either as Tortorella is the type of head coach that isn’t suited for a rebuild and his style has particularly clashed with some players, specifically younger players on the roster.

Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers
Rasmus Ristolainen, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers can try to hit the reset button but it’s more complicated for them compared to the other teams in the NHL. For starters, their core, notably their young core isn’t great. Aside from Carter Hart and Travis Konecny, who is currently on injured reserve, they don’t have any building block players that will help lead them back to the playoffs. Granted, Hart as a goaltender saves them a few headaches as the team has a reliable player at arguably the most important position. Likewise, the Flyers also have a few young players that can emerge as core pieces for a rebuild including Joel Farabee, Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, and Cam York. However, they have proven thus far that they are complementary pieces and aren’t capable of carrying the team.

This leaves the Flyers with minimal avenues to improve their roster into a contender. They don’t have a core in place to make them competitive and the only options to add talent are through a blockbuster trade, free agency, the draft, or their prospect pool. Considering how the front office has tried to make big splash trades only to see them backfire, it’s unlikely they will go with that route moving forward. Free agency is also difficult because a lot of the star players on the market prefer to sign with contending teams, which the Flyers are not at the moment and haven’t been since the 2019-20 season. This leaves them with the draft and their prospect pool, both of which are also problematic for a hopeful rebuild.

The Flyers’ prospect pool is one of the worst in the league, especially among the rebuilding teams. Cutter Gauthier, who was their first-round selection in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft is an elite skater and can become a star in the NHL. However, the system drops off after him. The Flyers are projected to draft in the top five in the upcoming draft and can add another promising prospect but for a team deprived of talent, they are heavily reliant on only two prospects. Moreover, while Gauthier looks to be a star, he’s played this season with Boston College in the NCAA, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready for the NHL level.

Cutter Gauthier Philadelphia Flyers 2022 Draft
Cutter Gauthier, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Considering where the Flyers are in their rebuild, a team that is near the bottom of the NHL standings but without a plan to hit the reset button, the question is if they have the right GM and head coach in place. The short answer is no. On March 10, they fired Fletcher and promoted Daniel Briere as the interim GM. Fletcher’s final impression as the GM was an unwillingness to move assets at the 2023 Trade Deadline despite a few players entering the final year of their contracts. The urge to keep the team competitive despite having the second-worst record in the Metropolitan Division ultimately cost him his job. With Briere now leading the front office, the rebuild becomes more complicated and it’s unclear if he will want to bring in his own head coach or keep Tortorella behind the bench.

Then there are questions about whether Tortorella is the long-term solution as the head coach. A lot of signs point to him being safe after this season but can he coach a rebuilding team? The big issue is his style has clashed with a lot of the players on the team. Throughout this season, he’s benched or even scratched some of his best players. His style can turn the team into a hardworking and competitive one but only if the players are willing to rally behind him. Tortorella looks like he’ll be the Flyers’ coach for the foreseeable future and will have a chance to turn this team around. However, with a new GM, a new coach might come as soon as this offseason.

John Tortorella Philadelphia Flyers
John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers look like one of the furthest teams from contending. So, where do they go from here? The first thing is to find a new GM that is willing to kickstart the rebuild. Whoever takes over in the front office will have a lot of issues to address and will have to clean up years of poor management. The immediate solution is to look to trade away some of the veteran players on the team who can bring back a strong return, especially after failing to move them at the trade deadline. Kevin Hayes is 30 years old and will have three years left on his contract and is still playing at a high level, making him a valuable addition to a contending team. Ivan Provorov is arguably their best defenseman and can field a reasonable return in a trade. The positive of having a minimal number of building blocks is that anyone, except for Hart and Konecny, can be moved in the offseason for prospects or draft selections.

The next steps are to help develop their young players, notably the top prospects. Gauthier can lead a rebound but only if there are other young contributors on the roster. Likewise, the Flyers need to hit on their draft selections. The problem is that these are the necessary steps to a successful rebuild and they haven’t addressed them yet. The city of Philadelphia saw the Phillies reach the World Series and the Eagles reach the Super Bowl in a five-month span but they will have to be patient with their hockey team before they are back in Cup contention.

Chicago Blackhawks – 6

The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in the 2010s but since then they have started to decline. The star players that fueled the title runs started to lose a step or retire and the team couldn’t find reinforcements through the draft or their prospect pool. In addition, prospects like Dach were often rushed to the NHL and were unprepared for the speed and skill of the pro game, leaving a handful of the Blackhawks’ young players burnt out and playing a step behind.

Then came the Seth Jones trade in the 2021 offseason. It was a deal made by GM Stan Bowman and a front office that thought the team was ready to contend after a promising 2020-21 season but instead was still a few years away. The deal sent three draft selections to the Blue Jackets and Adam Boqvist, who was one of their top defensive prospects. When the Blackhawks fell apart in the 2021-22 season, they were forced to start over with a new front office and a roster that wasn’t prepared for a rebuild. So far, the new GM, Kyle Davidson along with first-year head coach Luke Richardson have gotten their rebuild off the ground, trading Brandon Hagel, Alex DeBrincat, Dach, and Patrick Kane for draft capital. However, the team is still a few steps behind because of the decisions made by the previous front office.

Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks GM
Kyle Davidson, Chicago Blackhawks GM (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The big problem surrounding the Blackhawks’ rebuild is that there aren’t a lot of core players on the roster. At 23 years old, Philipp Kurashev is a promising forward that can help the team improve in the upcoming seasons. Taylor Raddysh can also become a key player and 20-year-old Lukas Reichel has shown flashes in the eight games he’s played while the Jones brothers (Seth and Caleb) can lead the defense. However, these players are complementary pieces that can help the rebound but they can’t lead them back to contention.

This is a sacrifice that Davidson made in trading away DeBrincat and Dach, two players entering the prime of their careers, for draft selections. Similarly, Kane at 34 years old is at the end of his career but is still playing at a high level and could have been a player they could have built around. Instead, the Blackhawks are starting from scratch and are a few steps behind as a result.

The bright side for the Blackhawks is their prospect pool which has rebounded in recent years and is now one of the best in the league. The first-round selections in the 2022 Entry Draft that they acquired in the Dach and DeBrincat deals were used to select Kevin Korchinski and Frank Nazar. Korchinski is one of the best defensive prospects in the NHL and has noticeably impressed in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds as a two-way player and an elite puck handler. Both players are still at least a year away from joining the NHL roster but look poised to make an impact once they are ready.

Kevin Korchinski Seattle Thunderbirds
Kevin Korchinski, Seattle Thunderbirds (Brian Liesse / Seattle Thunderbirds)

This season meanwhile has allowed the Blackhawks to see what they have in some of their prospects with a lot of them getting called up from their AHL team, the Rockford IceHogs, to play a handful of games. Lukas Reichel has impressed during his time up in the NHL while Jaxson Stauber and Arvid Soderblom have both proved that they can potentially become part of the team’s goaltending unit moving forward. Additionally, the Blackhawks also have a lot of confidence in Drew Commesso, who has looked great this year at Boston University in the NCAA. That said, he is only 20 years old and goaltenders take time to develop, making the timeline tricky for the team to ultimately call him up to the NHL.

Along with a rebounding prospect pool, the Blackhawks have better draft assets than arguably any team in the NHL. The six first-round selections in the next three years can single-handedly turn the franchise into another dynasty. The surplus of selections in the second and third rounds that Davidson received in the recent trades has also given him the ability to add depth to the prospect pool and the NHL roster in the upcoming seasons. The question is if he can build off of a strong 2022 Draft class and continue to add talent to the team. Moreover, the Blackhawks know firsthand how easy it can be to ruin a prospect’s development and as a result, the new front office will likely preach patience with its current prospect pool.

Considering the Blackhawks are starting the rebuild from scratch, it’s too early to determine if Davidson or Richardson are the right people to turn this team around. Based on the moves that Davidson has made, he’s put this team on track to rebound in the upcoming years. Richardson has looked impressive behind the bench in his first season with the team as well, particularly as a younger head coach that can connect with the youth on the roster. Eventually, the Blackhawks will start to improve and the GM and head coach have thus far looked like they can lead the way.

Luke Richardson Chicago Blackhawks
Luke Richardson, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the early phases of the rebuild executed correctly, the Blackhawks now have to draft and develop their prospects. They don’t have a core in place at the moment but the expectation is for a young group of players to start impacting the NHL roster in the upcoming years.

Vancouver Canucks – 5

The Canucks were a borderline playoff team in the 2021-22 season and with a strong finish to the season, they looked poised to take the next step and make the playoffs this year. GM Patrik Allvin and the front office believed they had a team ready to contend but entered the season with question marks on defense. As a result, they struggled early on and fired head coach Bruce Boudreau, replacing him with Rick Tocchet. Boudreau helped the team rebound the previous season but his style lacked structure and exposed the weaknesses on the blue line.

The Canucks are in a unique situation since they are set up for a retool more so than a rebuild but they are in a good position to make an immediate rebound. This season can be seen as a bump in the road, especially when key players like J.T. Miller underachieved, making it easy to think that they will bounce back and help the team improve next year.

J.T. Miller Vancouver Canucks
J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The best thing the Canucks have going for them is that they have a core in place. Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, and Miller will remain in the top six and can carry the offense while Quinn Hughes has progressed into a reliable two-way defenseman. Granted, the decision to sign Miller to an extension in the 2022 offseason cost them Bo Horvat as they couldn’t afford to keep both players on long-term contracts under the salary cap. However, the Canucks have four players that they can build a contender around and with a strong offseason, they can easily take that big step in the Western Conference next season.

Along with the core, the Canucks also have complementary players to help the turnaround. Brock Boeser has stepped up this season on the wing and has particularly helped the offense as a passer. The Horvat trade allowed them to acquire 25-year-old forward Anthony Beauvillier, who has thrived on the wing in the new setting and can add a spark to the top six for years to come. The roster alignment explains why Allvin entered the trade deadline with the intention of retooling and not trading away all of his valuable players in a fire sale. Their talent level should allow them to quickly rebound, putting them a step ahead of the other rebuilding teams.

Anthony Beauvillier Vancouver Canucks
Anthony Beauvillier, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The pro-level talent is the best thing going for the Canucks but also arguably the only thing they have right. Their prospect pool is one of the worst in the league and without draft selections in the first round of the 2020 and 2021 Drafts, it looks poised to only worsen moving forward. They added Aatu Raty in the Horvat trade, adding a center with a high ceiling to their farm system. However, he has struggled to develop in the American Hockey League (AHL) and isn’t ready to take that next step to join the NHL roster, even at the start of next season.

The Canucks are built to win in the immediate future or at least rebound sooner rather than later. The question is if they have the GM and head coach in place to make that happen. The ownership was patient with former GM Jim Benning and will likely allow Allvin time to turn the team into a contender but the same can’t be said for the head coach with the team having three behind the bench in the past three years. For now, Tocchet looks like the right head coach to take the Canucks to the next level with a system that is fast-paced but also structured. However, if there isn’t progress starting next season and they continue to struggle, there will likely be a clean sweep of the front office and coaching staff.

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This offseason, the Canucks must figure out whether they will continue to retool, as they did at the trade deadline, or if they are ready to make moves to allow them to contend in the immediate future. While Allvin will look to trade Boeser, Garland, and Tyler Myers, he will also try to add talent to the lineup, particularly in free agency. The Canucks have a roster ready to take the next step but only if they can add defensive reinforcements and a reliable backup to help out Thatcher Demko, who has struggled this year and dealt with injuries. This team is in a unique position and can’t afford to enter a full rebuild but despite a rough season, they can rebound and emerge as contenders next year.

Anaheim Ducks – 4

The Ducks were Western Conference contenders in the early and mid-2010s but as the roster declined, they tried to keep their contending window open. Ultimately, they needed to hit the reset button and start to build a contender from the draft onward. In the 2022 offseason, the front office thought the rebuild was wrapped up and they signed Ryan Strome, John Klingberg, and Frank Vatrano hoping they could reach the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, their defense and goaltending were glaring weaknesses that they never addressed and they took a step back and are one of the worst teams in the NHL.

The bright spot of the team retooling is that they have a few building blocks already on the NHL roster. Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, and Mason McTavish are three of the best young forwards in the league while Jamie Drysdale has looked impressive on the blue line. The Ducks have the players to build around when their prospects are ready for the NHL and they can form one of the best teams in the Western Conference in a few years. The problem is that despite rebuilding, they have a lot of aging veterans on the roster as well. Starting this offseason, they need to figure out the long-term plans for John Gibson, Jakob Silfverberg, and Cam Fowler, all of whom are 30 years old or older and under contract next season.

Trevor Zegras Anaheim Ducks
Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Along with the building blocks, the big advantage the Ducks have is one of the best prospect pools in the league. Pavel Mintyukov and Olen Zellweger are the top two defensemen in the pipeline and can help turn around a defense that has been one of the worst in the league. Mintyukov has particularly impressed in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season as a two-way player and when he joins the NHL team, he can take the team to the next level. The prospect pool will also only improve with the team projected to draft in the top five of the upcoming draft and add a generational talent in the process.

The Ducks have a lot in their favor as a rebuilding team but what sets them back are the ones running the team. GM Pat Verbeek was hired in the middle of the 2021-22 season and didn’t have a lot to work with but didn’t help the team in the long run by adding players to the roster in the offseason. Specifically, the Klingberg acquisition backfired as they had to trade him away at the deadline because he was signed to a one-year deal, and they couldn’t afford to lose him in free agency for nothing.

Pat Verbeek Anaheim Ducks GM
Pat Verbeek, Anaheim Ducks GM (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Verbeek looks like he’ll remain the GM for the next few years but it’s unclear how long head coach Dallas Eakins will remain behind the bench. The Ducks play an undisciplined style and have one of the worst defenses in the league and a lot of prospects have struggled to elevate their play in recent years, a reflection of Eakins’ coaching style. It’s possible that he’s fired in the next two seasons and the Ducks, unlike the other rebuilding teams, will have to find the right coach to lead them back to the playoffs. Additionally, a coaching change can create an uncertain future and leave the rebuild in uncharted territory, making this offseason and the upcoming seasons intriguing for the organization.

Arizona Coyotes – 3

For years, the Coyotes were a team caught in the middle of both contending and rebuilding. They had a good enough roster to reach the playoffs but couldn’t make it far after that and similarly, they were always good enough to avoid the bottom of the standings. The decision to acquire Taylor Hall in the final year of his contract reflected the gap between where the front office thought the team was as a contender and where they indeed were in the Western Conference. He was added during the 2019-20 season and it allowed the Coyotes to reach the playoffs but they lost in the First Round in five games to the Colorado Avalanche and their star midseason addition left the team that offseason.

The Coyotes started to decline after the 2019-20 season and a rebuild became an inevitability when GM Bill Amstrong took over. In the 2021 offseason, they traded away Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland to the Canucks while allowing goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta to leave in free agency, setting them up for a disappointing season. After going 25-50-7 last season, they entered this year with their eyes on a rebuild. While the Jakob Chychrun trade forced them to give up one of their building blocks, it signaled that this team is starting over and in a full rebuild.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The decision to eventually move Chychrun, and similarly trade defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, leaves the team with more draft assets but an NHL roster without a lot of core players. Outside of Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse, and Christian Fischer, they don’t have many young players that can help bring the team back to contention. Nick Schmaltz can emerge as another core player but it’s more likely he remains a complementary piece on a competitive roster. Likewise, Karel Vejmelka has been a promising young goaltender but it’s unclear if he can carry the load and it’s more likely the team will add another goaltender to split starts with him in the future.

With only a few players on the roster that the front office can build around, the Coyotes are in the earlier phase of a rebuild. However, a lot of the optimism comes from the prospect pool and their draft capital. The prospect pool is one of the best in the NHL and was particularly strengthened by the 2022 Entry Draft where they selected Logan Cooley and Conor Geekie with the third and 11th picks. The question is what the timeline for Cooley and Geekie is and how that affects the rebuild. If both prospects are ready to make an impact two seasons from now, they can join a roster that has Keller, Crouse, and Fischer in the prime of their careers. However, a longer timeline will force Amstrong to once again make difficult decisions with his core players and possibly trade them to avoid losing them to free agency.

Logan Cooley Arizona Coyotes 2022 Draft
Logan Cooley, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Regardless of when their prospects are ready to make an impact, the Coyotes have the luxury of building a contender with the surplus of draft selections they possess in the next three years. They have four first-round picks in the next three drafts, one of which is projected to be a top-five selection in the upcoming draft. Considering how the 2023 Draft is shaping up, the player they select will likely join Cooley and Geekie as an elite prospect that can impact the NHL roster in a few years. Along with the first-round picks, the Coyotes have 18 selections in the second and third rounds in the next three drafts. They’ve accumulated the draft assets primarily from the recent trades and they give Armstrong the ability to start from scratch and build up a great farm system.

The next steps for the Coyotes are straightforward but not an easy task, as they have to have successful draft classes and develop those prospects. Armstrong is the right GM for this team and head coach Andre Tourigny looks like the one that can lead the team back to contention. The problem is that the Coyotes are behind schedule. After years of pushing off a rebuild, they finally decided to trade away some of their veteran players. To make matters worse, they moved their building blocks, including young and promising players like Chychrun. They are starting from square one and now need to take advantage of their surplus of draft selections and subsequent prospects. The expectation is for a more competitive team starting next season but if they fail to bring in young talent, they could be staring at another rebuild and a more difficult one in the process.

Montreal Canadiens – 2

The Canadiens’ collapse was unique considering the circumstances that created it. It was a combination of false hope from the front office and poor management combined with a Cup run in 2021, creating a difficult offseason for a team that believed it was a contender. They reached the Stanley Cup Final behind a remarkable playoff run where they were carried by goaltender Carey Price. While the team had a subpar regular season and only reached the playoffs because of the division, the seven-team all-Canadian one, it made it easy to think that they were ready to take the next step and win the Cup.

Montreal Canadiens Clarence S. Campbell Bowl
Montreal Canadiens pose with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs on June 24, 2021 (Photo by Shafique Bakush/NHLI via Getty Images)

That offseason, they lost center Phillip Danault to free agency, young forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was signed by the Carolina Hurricanes, and Price, who stepped aside from the team. It led to one of the worst seasons in the history of the franchise where they went 22-49-11 and fired both GM Marc Bergevin and head coach Dominique Ducharme.

The new regime that came in was forced to clean up the mess created by Bergevin but the bright spot was that it allowed the Canadiens to get a head start in their rebuild. Specifically, the disastrous 2021-22 season allowed them to hire the right GM and head coach in Kent Hughes and Martin St. Louis respectively to build the team from the ground up into a contender. Hughes hasn’t made any big splash moves since taking over but has methodically added youth to the roster and assembled a talented young team. St. Louis meanwhile is a young head coach who has notably connected with the younger stars on the roster, especially Cole Caufield.

Along with finding the right head coach and GM, the Canadiens have the building blocks in place to make them a contender in the future. Specifically, the young players are already making a significant impact on the roster and are the players that Hughes can build around. Along with Caufield, they have Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach centering the top two lines while the number one overall selection in the 2022 Entry Draft, Juraj Slafkovsky, is slowly maturing into an NHL-caliber scorer on the wing.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The forwards highlight the Canadiens’ youth movement but they also have multiple reliable young defensemen that might not become stars but are players that can help the turnaround. The surplus allowed Hughes to trade Alexander Romanov, a 22-year-old defenseman, during the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in a three-team trade to acquire Dach, who filled a need at center.

The prospect pool isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team but it’s better than a typical one since a lot of the Canadiens’ top prospects have already seen time with the NHL team in the past two years. The Canadiens being one of the worst teams in the league has allowed the prospects to be more NHL-ready than top prospects in other organizations around the league. Kaiden Guhle has taken on a big role with the team this year and the 21-year-old defenseman is progressing into a reliable skater who can impact the blue line for years to come.

Kaiden Guhle, Montreal Canadiens
Kaiden Guhle Montreal Canadiens (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Canadiens’ rebuild is off to a great start, arguably the best among the rebuilding teams. The question is what are the next steps and how do they address the goaltending? Hughes has the salary cap space to make a move this offseason but is one necessary and would it benefit the team in the long run? The likely answer is a small but not insignificant offseason where Hughes brings in veteran help at a reasonable price, specifically to help out the defense. Additionally, with the young players already on the roster, the priority will be to find players that complement the young core.

The goaltending question is more complicated and arguably the primary obstacle keeping the Canadiens from contending. With Price unlikely to return, the team will have to find a new primary starter who can start the majority of the regular season games. Jake Allen has proven that he can be a reliable backup or a goaltender capable of splitting starts but unfortunately he can’t be heavily relied on. Sam Montembeault meanwhile has shown promising signs in the net and at 26 years old can mature into the primary starter but he has struggled for the majority of his starts. Eventually, Hughes will have to address the position and while he might not sign a goaltender this offseason, adding one in the upcoming years will become a priority, especially as the rest of the roster progresses.

Columbus Blue Jackets – 1

This season can appear like a bump in the road for the Blue Jackets as everything that could go wrong did. After signing Johnny Gaudreau, arguably the best player available in the offseason, the team looked poised to take a big step forward and reach the playoffs. Unfortunately, a slow start to the season, a surplus of injuries, and the defense falling apart left them with the worst record in the Metropolitan Division and one of the worst in the league.

The bright side is that despite the awful season, the Blue Jackets are on track to contend soon, more than the other rebuilding teams in the NHL. GM Jarmo Kekalainen already mapped out a rebuild and put the pieces in place for the team to rebound after missing the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.

The biggest advantage that the Blue Jackets have is that they have a core in place. The Gaudreau signing didn’t pay off this season but he is an elite scorer whom they can build their offense around. Likewise, Patrik Laine is one of the best players on the wing and like Gaudreau, is signed to a long-term contract. They also have Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic playing big roles in the top six while defensemen Zach Werenski and Adam Boqvist, who both battled injuries this season, lead the defense and are great two-way players.

Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blue Jackets have the core in place to build a contender around but the depth, especially on defense along with the goaltending, is what is holding them back. Granted, both question marks are easier tasks to solve compared to other teams that are rebuilding but both issues have prevented the Blue Jackets from making the playoffs in recent years. For Kekalainen, these needs are likely what he addresses next in both the draft and the offseason.

Fortunately, along with having the players on the roster in place, the Blue Jackets also have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. This season, a lot of the younger players on the team have stepped up at the NHL level including Kirill Marchenko, Kent Johnson, and Cole Sillinger but the best prospects are still to come. Because of the Jones trade, the Blue Jackets had two first-round selections in the 2022 Draft and drafted two defensemen in David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk. Jiricek is projected to be one of the best young defensemen in the league while Mateychuk is a promising two-way player who has impressed in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Moose Jaw Warriors. While the defense has been a weak link for the team in recent seasons, they could have one of the best young defensive units in the league in a few seasons.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blue Jackets have the pieces in place to contend and have the right GM to continue to build a contending roster. Kekalainen has proven throughout his tenure that he can not only upgrade the team through trades but also develop talent through the draft and the farm system.

The only question mark is if Brad Larsen is the right head coach to lead the Blue Jackets back to contention. He has had a rocky tenure since he was hired in the 2021 offseason, especially with this season unraveling. However, his system is built to help the Blue Jackets become an elite team as they play a fast-paced game with quick puck movement, allowing them to overwhelm opposing defenses. Granted, the defense has struggled in his tenure and it’s prone to allowing quick scoring opportunities which could ultimately cost him his job. However, with the healthy blue line, the expectation is that the Blue Jackets will improve in their zone. Ultimately, it makes next season a pivotal one for him behind the bench as he hopes to keep the offensive-minded system but help improve a defense that has looked awful in recent years.

With the Blue Jackets ahead of schedule, the next steps are straightforward but crucial to their future success. They have to address the goaltending. Elvis Merzlikins has had a rough year but the expectation is for him to bounce back. However, he needs a reliable backup who can split starts in an 82-game season with him. 23-year-old Daniil Tarasov can be the answer but the young goaltender is still developing and it’s unlikely he can start 30 games next year and provide stability in the net while doing so. As a result, the team needs to find a backup in the offseason.

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Along with helping out Merzlikins in the net, the Blue Jackets need to find more reliable defensemen. While Jiricek and Mateychuk will eventually upgrade the unit, they are still at least one season away from joining the NHL team. Kekalainen will likely have to sign a depth player for the second or third pair but one that particularly can step up the defensive zone even if they struggle offensively.

That said, the Blue Jackets are ahead of schedule and the fixes are minimal at this point rather than bigger-picture problems. This season might have been a lost cause but they can be expected to compete soon.

Other Notes on the Rebuilding Teams

The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues were omitted from the rebuilding category. Both teams might be staring at an offseason where they will tear down their rosters as they started to do at the trade deadline. However, both the Blues and Predators have been playoff teams for each of the past four seasons and have the players in place to quickly rebound. It’s more likely both teams are in a retooling phase rather than a rebuild but after this offseason, that could all change.

The Senators, Detroit Red Wings, and Buffalo Sabres were also left off the rebuilding list. The Grind Line, a Red Wings YouTube show from THW, had a rebuild roundtable with the three teams. The discussion compared the states each of them is in but in the end, indicated that they have the pieces in place and are in the latter phases of rebuilding. All three have gone through rebuilds in recent years and are ready to take the next step to become contenders.

The projected draft picks in the chart at the beginning of this article include conditional first-round picks. Meaning, the selections can move to a later round or back to the team that traded them, to begin with, but are expected to remain with the rebuilding team.

Bo Horvat New York Islanders
Bo Horvat, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A lot of the conversations around these rebuilding teams were “If they get Connor Bedard” the team will immediately be a contender or at least out of the rebuilding phase. The problem is that by dropping Bedard onto some of these teams, he won’t improve them per se. He’s a generational talent and will make any team that selects him better but won’t transform them into a contender overnight. Unlike the NBA, a rebuild takes more than one player. Teams can’t just draft their way to the top. What makes NHL rebuilds unique is that they require front offices to draft great prospects, develop them into elite players, and then start to build around those star players.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are a model franchise, building a modern dynasty with a Stanley Cup title in 2020 and 2021 while appearing in the Final in 2022. What makes their success great is not how they drafted talented players at the top of the draft but were successful every step along the way. The rebuilding teams have to take note if they hope to eventually become contenders and hoist the Cup one day.

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