6 Improved NHL Teams From 2023 Offseason

Labor Day has come and gone in the United States and Canada. Summer may be coming to a close, but that means the 2023-24 NHL season is right around the corner. It wasn’t as active a summer as expected, at least trade-wise. But plenty of teams made moves to improve their rosters. In no particular order, let’s look at some organizations that made notable improvements this summer.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Reilly Smith
  • Acquired Erik Karlsson
  • Signed Ryan Graves to a 6-year deal
  • Signed Matt Nieto to a 2-year deal
  • Signed Noel Acciari to a 3-year deal
  • Signed Lars Eller to a 2-year deal
  • Re-signed Tristan Jarry to a 5-year deal
  • Signed Andreas Johnsson to a 1-year deal
  • Signed Alex Nedeljkovic to a 1-year deal

Key Departures:

  • Jan Rutta, Mikael Granlund, Jeff Petry, Jason Zucker, Casey DeSmith 

The Penguins’ 16-year playoff streak ended in 2022-23. It was obvious changes were coming this summer, especially with Kyle Dubas taking over the front office. He wasted no time making moves, starting with acquiring Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick. He’s been one of the best second-line wingers in the NHL for quite some time and should be a slight upgrade on Jason Zucker, who signed with the Arizona Coyotes in free agency.

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Forward depth, especially in the bottom-six, was the Penguins’ biggest issue a season ago. Dubas left no stone unturned in that regard, signing Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, Matt Nieto, and Andreas Johnsson to short-term deals. Defense shouldn’t be an issue either, as Ryan Graves will solidify the group defensively while Erik Karlsson adds a dynamic offensive threat they lacked previously. 

Overall, the Penguins added 8.2 wins to their skater group while losing 5.1 wins. A three-win improvement over 2022-23 would put them at 97 points and likely in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. And that’s without factoring in potential rebound years from Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedeljkovic in net, though that’s less of a certainty. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Notable offseason moves: 

  • Signed Michael Bunting (3 years)
  • Signed Dmitry Orlov (2 years) 
  • Signed Tony DeAngelo (1 year)
  • Signed Caleb Jones (1 year)

Key Departures:

  • Jesse Puljujärvi, Paul Stastny, Shayne Gostisbehere, Calvin de Haan 

The Hurricanes have long been one of the savviest offseason teams, and 2023 was no different. They completed their work in free agency, with Dmitry Orlov and Michael Bunting being their most notable signings. Let’s start with Orlov, who should have the biggest impact on the Hurricanes’ roster. 

Orlov finished the 2022-23 season with 36 points in 66 games — a 45-point pace over 82 games. Even though that would’ve been a career-high in points, by all accounts, it was a down year for the Russian defender. He finished with a wins above replacement (WAR) of minus-0.3, meaning he was just below replacement level. 

Dmitry Orlov Carolina Hurricanes
Dmitry Orlov with the Boston Bruins (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Part of that was likely playing for a weak Washington Capitals team, but he didn’t fare much better after getting dealt to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline. Still, the Hurricanes are a defenseman’s dream for a rebound year. Their system should cater to his skill set, and I’d expect him to bounce back on the best blue line in the NHL, especially since he’ll be in a second-pair role. 

The same arguments apply to Tony DeAngelo as well. He struggled during his one season with the Philadephia Flyers, but he was solid in 2021-22 with the Hurricanes, posting a WAR of 2.6. He’ll play a third-pair role, get power-play time, and should have some of his defensive flaws sheltered in Carolina. 

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Up front, Bunting fits how the Hurricanes play offensively to a tee. He doesn’t generate much of anything off the rush, but the Hurricanes barely play off the rush to begin with. They’re a grit-and-grind forechecking team, something he does very well. Caleb Jones is an underrated third-pair defenseman and is a luxury to have as a seventh defender. All in all, it was another excellent offseason for the Hurricanes. 

Detroit Red Wings

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Jeff Petry
  • Acquired Alex DeBrincat
  • Acquired and signed Klim Kostin (2 years)
  • Signed J.T. Compher (5 years)
  • Signed Justin Holl (3 years)
  • Signed Christian Fischer (1 year)
  • Signed Shayne Gostisbehere (1 year)
  • Signed James Reimer (1 year)
  • Signed Daniel Sprong (1 year)

Key Departures

  • Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nedeljkovic, Filip Zadina, Pius Suter

The Red Wings’ overall roster construction is questionable. But when it comes to the 2023 offseason, general manager Steve Yzerman fared relatively well. Though it wasn’t close to Yzerman’s first move, acquiring Alex DeBrincat from the Ottawa Senators for Dominik Kubalík, a prospect and a couple of draft picks was a good bit of business. Signing him to a four-year extension at a cap hit of $7.875 million was even better. 

But beforehand, Yzerman was active in free agency, signing multiple players to improve the Red Wings’ roster. The most notable was bringing in J.T. Compher on a five-year deal. He’ll add some depth down the middle and should be one of the team’s best defensive forwards. Justin Holl had an up-and-down tenure in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, but he can be effective in a third-pair role if that’s how the Red Wings use him. 

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat with the Ottawa Senators (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

And putting Holl into a third-pair role shouldn’t be an issue since Yzerman acquired Jeff Petry from the Montreal Canadiens at a double-retained cap hit of $2.4 million. Petry showed signs of decline this past season with the Penguins, but at $2.4 million per year, he should provide the Red Wings with positive value and allow Holl to play a suitable third-pair role. 

Other notable short-term deals include Daniel Sprong, who produced at a 26-goal, 57-point pace this past season, and Shayne Gostisbehere, who struggles defensively but can create offense from the back end. Overall, the Red Wings added nine wins to their skater group while losing 1.9 based on 2022-23 WAR. Are they seven wins better than a season ago? They will need Ville Husso and James Reimer to rebound in net. Otherwise, they won’t come close. But it is an improved roster despite having flaws in its makeup, especially defensively.  

Vancouver Canucks

Notable offseason moves:

  • Signed Carson Soucy (3 years)
  • Signed Pius Suter (2 years)
  • Signed Ian Cole (1 year)
  • Signed Teddy Blueger (1 year)

Notable departures

  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Travis Dermott, Ethan Bear

We’ve talked about only Eastern Conference teams, but let’s swing out west for a moment. The Canucks had a relatively quiet offseason, but that’s probably a good thing, given the tumultuous 2022-23 season they had. And quiet doesn’t necessarily mean bad because GM Patrik Allvin did well to shore up the team’s depth, a significant issue for them a season ago. 

The Canucks’ blue line was a mess in 2022-23, but Allvin added some defensively sounded blueliners in Carson Soucy and Ian Cole. Soucy excelled in a third-pair role for the Seattle Kraken and is an excellent rush defender. He might play a bit higher up the lineup for the Canucks, but there’s potential to succeed in a bigger role. Cole is still a solid defensive defenseman and should boost the Canucks’ third pair. 

Carson Soucy Seattle Kraken
Carson Soucy with the Seattle Kraken (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Pius Suter comes in on a two-year deal worth $1.6 million annually. He’s been an underrated defensive forward since making his NHL debut three seasons ago after spending time developing in his native Switzerland. His offensive metrics suggest he may also have more to give in that department. 

Overall, the Canucks added a net of 1.7 wins to their skater group this offseason. Two extra wins won’t be enough to get them in the playoffs, but keep in mind, that’s without factoring in a healthy Thatcher Demko. It’ll be tough to make up as much ground as needed to be in a playoff position in a highly competitive Pacific Division. But this Canucks team should be close to in the mix for a wild-card spot after a solid offseason. 

New Jersey Devils

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Tyler Toffoli
  • Acquired Colin Miller
  • Signed Tomáš Nosek (1 year)
  • Signed Erik Källgren (1 year)
  • Re-signed Jesper Bratt (8 years)
  • Re-signed Timo Meier (8 years)

Key departures

  • Ryan Graves, Damon Severson, Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich, Mackenzie Blackwood, Tomáš Tatar

The Devils have gotten crowned offseason champs by the media a couple of times over the last few years. I wouldn’t go that far for 2023, but it was another good summer for general manager Tom Fitzgerald and his front office. 

The coup was acquiring Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames for Yegor Sharangovich and a 2023 third-round pick. Toffoli is coming off a career-best season that saw him total 34 goals and 73 points in 82 games. He’s unlikely to repeat that performance, but if the Devils get 25-30 goals and 55-60 points from him, it’s a win. 

Another sneaky under-the-radar move from Fitzgerald was acquiring Colin Miller from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a 2025 fifth-round pick. Miller is a third-pair defenseman at this point of his career, but a very good one at that, and he can play higher up the lineup if needed. He finished last season with a goals above replacement (GAR) of 11.2, ranked in the top 30 among NHL defensemen. That should help the blow of losing Ryan Graves and Damon Severson this summer. 

Tyler Toffoli Calgary Flames
Tyler Toffoli with the Calgary Flames (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though the Devils made a couple of additions, much of their offseason success was due to some subtractions. Miles Wood is not the player he was before hip surgery, while Mackenzie Blackwood struggled to stay healthy over the last two years. Sharangovich showed promise in previous years, but swapping him for Toffoli is a significant upgrade. The Devils may miss Tomáš Tatar, but a prospect like Alexander Holtz breaking out could change that quickly. 

To cap things off, the Devils got two of the league’s most notable restricted free agents — Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt — signed to new eight-year extensions; Bratt at $7.875 million annually and Meier at $8.8 million. They should once again be one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams, especially if Toffoli produces at a 30-goal pace. 

Chicago Blackhawks

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Taylor Hall
  • Acquired Nick Foligno
  • Acquired Corey Perry
  • Signed Ryan Donato (2 years)
  • Drafted Connor Bedard 1OA

Key departures

  • Anders Bjork, Jujhar Kaira, Anders Bjork, Jonathan Toews

Make no mistake about it. The Blackhawks will not be playoff contenders in 2023-24, but the team should see some improvement. It starts with drafting Connor Bedard first overall. It’s hard to project an 18-year-old rookie’s impact, but he’s a borderline generational prospect that should provide an immediate upgrade offensively. 

To support Bedard, GM Kyle Davidson acquired Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno from the Bruins. Hall is not the player he was a few seasons ago with the Devils, but he’s still a high-end playmaker who excels off the rush. The Blackhawks’ offense should improve if Hall finds himself on the first line with Bedard and Lukas Reichel. 

Connor Bedard Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks’ Connor Bedard (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Foligno will help the team’s bottom-six, but so should Corey Perry and Ryan Donato, who will likely even play top-nine roles in their first seasons with the Blackhawks. Overall, the organization added 4.8 wins (Bedard excluded) this offseason. They won’t come close to sniffing the playoffs, but they should take a bit of a step forward.

Eastern Conference Continued to Widen the Gap

As has been the case for the most recent offseasons, the Eastern Conference seems to have widened the gap with the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference, specifically the Metropolitan Division, should be a gauntlet in 2023-24. Some of the best teams in the NHL reside in the Metro, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they produced a Stanley Cup champion by next June, given how much better the division got this summer. 

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Advanced stats from Evolving Hockey