Once the 2018 season officially comes to a close, there will be plenty of speculation for what all 31 National Hockey League (NHL) teams should consider to upgrade their respective rosters this offseason. Even if a team advances to as far as the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals there's still going to be needs for roster improvements in certain areas. In an era of a salary cap, it's very hard to ice a team, even an elite one, without having at least one noticeable flaw.
Considering the big name skaters that will be available during this year's unrestricted-free-agency, and with a potential Expansion Draft looming in the near future, this offseason should make for a number of appealing headlines. All-Stars such as the New York Islanders' John Tavares, and the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson, will be linked to a handful of teams that are all looking to upgrade their rosters long term. Plus, teams such as the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres could take a direction towards selling off notable skaters such as Mats Zuccarello and Ryan O'Reilly.
TheSportster addresses the biggest roster upgrades that all 31 NHL teams need to make this summer, and name a player each team should acquire.
31 Anaheim Ducks - Calvin de Haan
For the sixth straight season the Anaheim Ducks clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and earned over 100-points in the NHL’s Western Conference standings. The Ducks made a key trade for New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique during the early stages of the 2017-2018 campaign, but had to part ways with one of the team’s top three defensemen in Sami Vatanen.
The Ducks are deep at the center and right wing position, but the team’s blue line will have question marks come this offseason.
Anaheim will lose defenseman Francois Beauchemin to retirement this summer, and could potentially opt to not re-sign another defenseman in Kevin Bieksa. The Ducks will look to upgrade the team’s defense-core next season and could offer a contract to 2018 UFA defenseman, Calvin de Haan. De Haan would be entering the prime of his career (age 27), after spending parts of his first four NHL seasons with the New York Islanders.
30 Arizona Coyotes - Craig Smith
It was another dry season in the desert for the Arizona Coyotes, which meant missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth straight season. There are a few areas on the ice where the ‘Yotes need to upgrade, but more so on offense.
Arizona’s top-two goal-scorers were centers in the likes of Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan, and left winger Max Domi finished third on the team, but the Coyotes could still use another winger to contribute in the goals column. If the Nashville Predators find themselves in need of moving around players this offseason, an affordable winger in Craig Smith could flourish out in Arizona. Smith, 28, is coming off of a 51 point season (25G-26A), and an opportunity to play alongside Domi could take Smith’s play to another level.
29 Boston Bruins - John Carlson
For the first time in four seasons the Boston Bruins met the 50-win mark during the regular season, and proved that Beantown was another top force to reckon with in the NHL. The Bruins added depth to their roster at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline by acquiring forwards Rick Nash and Brian Gionta, and the team’s top-two leading scorers this past season were from the winger position (Brad Marchand & David Pastrnak).
The Bruins could look to upgrade with an offensive-defenseman this offseason.
While defenseman Torey Krug was fourth on the team in scoring (14G-45A –59P), Boston could use help on the blue next season with a defenseman such as Washington Capitals’ John Carlson. The 2018 UFA is fresh off of a career high 68 points this past season, and would add an uncanny dynamic to an already Cup contending Bruins squad.
28 Buffalo Sabres - Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Similar to the Boston Bruins, there’s another Atlantic Division team who could use an all-star caliber defenseman come next season. Most would think that the Sabres would have gone after a big named blue liner when the team traded forward Evander Kane (San Jose Sharks) at the 2018 Trade Deadline, but that wasn’t the case.
While the Sabres would ideally like to select the 2018 projected number one overall draft pick, Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo should still consider upgrading by acquiring Oliver-Ekman Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes. Center Ryan O’Reilly will more than likely be on the trade block this offseason, as well as Kyle Okposo, and both could be assets in a multi-player deal to send Ekman-Larsson east to Buffalo. The Coyotes will be active this offseason, and have the room to take on contracts from both Buffalo skaters mentioned above.
27 Carolina Hurricanes - Anton Khudobin
When the Carolina Hurricanes signed UFA goaltender Scott Darling last offseason, most would have thought the Hurricanes upgraded between the pipes for 2018 NHL campaign. Though, the ‘Canes struggled this past season in net with the dual-tandem of Cam Ward and Darling.
While the team was outside the top 15 in goals for and goals against, the Hurricanes should focus on upgrading in goal for the second straight offseason.
Ward will become a UFA, and there’s not much to choose from in free agency, but perhaps the Hurricanes should reacquire Anton Khudobin. The former seventh-round draft pick is fresh off of a solid season in net with the Boston Bruins – and at the very least Khudobin has proven to be reliable with at least an average team playing in front of him.
26 Calgary Flames - John Tavares
The Calgary Flames showed sparks of hope at times this past season, but Calgary was average at best and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh times in the last nine seasons. Keep in mind that the Flames do not have a first or second-round selection entering the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so the front office will more than likely look to upgrade via UFA.
Calgary scored in bunches this season, but struggled to score consistently; and the club also finished with one of the worst power plays in the league (29th – 16.6%). UFA John Tavares would be ideal for almost every to team to sign, but Calgary has the salary cap space and Tavares would boost the Flames’ performance level in various areas, especially down the middle of the ice.
25 Chicago Blackhawks - Ryan O'Reilly
For the first time since 2007-2008 the Chicago Blackhawks were unable to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring. Chicago not having a chance at hoisting Lord Stanley for the fourth time in less than a decade will more than likely mean that drastic changes are on the horizon for the Original Six franchise.
It’s no secret that an NHL playoff contender can never have enough depth on defense and at the goaltending position. Due to injuries the Hawks struggled in both of those areas this past season, perhaps Chicago will look to add a talented skater on the offensive side of the puck. After finishing third in the NHL for scoring during the 2016-17 campaign, the Blackhawks dropped all the way down to 21st this past season. Due to the Hawks’ salary cap restrictions this upcoming offseason, look for the Hawks to make part ways with one of their veteran skaters to acquire forward Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres.
24 Colorado Avalanche - Thomas Hickey
One for the more exciting teams this past season was the Pacific Division’s Colorado Avalanche. Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon led the Avs back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with his career 97 points on the year (39G-58A). The Avalanche didn’t struggle to score either, as the team found the back of the net 255 times to finish tenth in the NHL for scoring.
Colorado could upgrade its roster by acquiring a veteran skater such as unrestricted-free-agent, Thomas Hickey.
The current New York Islanders defenseman would be a nice complement to an up-and-coming Avs team, really solidify the team’s top-two defense-pairings. There will be a number of teams interested in signing the Calgary, Alberta native, but the Avs may be the most appealing to Hickey.
23 Columbus Blue Jackets - Matt Duchene
Speaking of a team that’s on the rise – the Columbus Blue Jackets of the Eastern Conference has proven that they’re a team to be reckoned with the years to come. Columbus is already set between the pipes with two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, and the team’s blue line in front of him doesn’t need to be the front office’s primary focus to improve this offseason.
After their first-round playoff loss, the Jackets could still improve down the middle of the ice with a top center; as all Stanley cup caliber squads need at least one elite center. Columbus could look to acquire Matt Duchene from the Ottawa Senators this offseason, and trade young assets in return for the former first round draft pick (2009). The upgrade for Columbus, and change of scenery for Duchene, could pan out to be lightning in a bottle for head coach John Tortorella and company.
22 Dallas Stars - Erik Karlsson
It’s been ten years since the Dallas Stars last made a significant run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (2008 lost in Western Conference Finals), and it’s time for Dallas to upgrade its blue line with one of the NHL’s top stars this offseason. The Stars have been too one-dimensional over the past handful of seasons, while Dallas has relied heavily on offensive minded skaters such as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
There’s going to be a number of teams calling the Senators about Erik Karlsson, but the Stars may be the right fit for the Swedish superstar.
By adding the two-time Norris Trophy winner, the Stars would add unique dynamic to both their offensive and defensive strategies; plus take pressure off of the Dallas’ top guns mentioned above.
21 Detroit Red Wings - Jake Allen
As the Detroit Red Wings enter year two of a long awaited rebuilding phase, Hockeytown will have a few areas to evaluate in order to upgrade the team’s roster this offseason. UFA John Tavares’ name will be thrown in the rumor mill for the Original Six franchise to land and build around moving forward, but if the team were to lose defenseman Mike Green – then the Wings will need to upgrade in the defensive zone.
With that being said, that also means that the Wings should look to upgrade by acquiring a goaltender. Detroit could look to strike a deal with a team that also failed to make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen was inconsistent this past season, but perhaps a chance of scenery would be a nice fit – and adding Allen would upgrade Detroit’s status in the blue paint.
20 Edmonton Oilers - Rick Nash
Where to begin?
It’s not often that arguably the NHL’s best all-around player (Connor McDavid), and his team, comes nowhere near making a bid for Stanley Cup Playoffs come season’s end. Though, that was the case for the Edmonton Oilers and McDavid in 2018.
Edmonton will more than likely look to restructure its offense to build a more balanced offense, and the Oilers could upgrade at the winger position by signing UFA, Rick Nash. The three-time 40-goal-scorer will have a number of suitors come July 1, but Nash may be intrigued by the idea of finishing out his career as an Oiler – and alongside McDavid. The six-foot-four winger would bring a number of characteristics that have been absent from Edmonton’s lineup since the McDavid era began in 2015.
19 Florida Panthers - Michael Grabner
The Florida Panthers never seem to post consistent and back-to-back successful seasons. But while the Cats didn’t make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Florida was the NHL’s best team since the all-star break and finished just one point shy of a playoff berth.
There’s still room to grow in South Florida, and the Cats could be on the verge of being a potential Atlantic Division champion come 2019 if the team upgrades in the special teams department.
The Panthers are youthful and talented on both the offensive and defensive side of the puck, but the team could consider acquiring a depth player such as Michael Grabner to benefit the team’s penalty kill. Grabner would add a dynamic veteran presence, which would complement the team’s speed up front as well.
18 Los Angeles Kings - Alexander Ovechkin
The Los Angeles Kings are limited to make roster changes due to the salary-cap space the team has entering the 2018 offseason, but it could be time for the Kings to part ways with some key skaters and draft-picks to acquire one of the NHL’s purest goal-scorers of all time.
Los Angeles has size and skill at all positions, and there’s no need to upgrade in the blue paint, but the Kings could look to strike a blockbuster deal with the Washington Capitals and acquire Alex Ovechkin. Obviously this will depend on how Washington's season ends, as you can't imagine the Caps sticking with the status quo if they once again bow out early in the playoffs.
The Ovechkin trade talks have been circulating for a handful of years now, but with what should be a very active offseason – the Kings should look make the franchise’s most notable trade since it acquired Wayne Gretzky back in 1988. The Russian superstar would take the opposition’s focus off of Kings such as Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, and open up a plethora of offensive options.
Ovi, was born to play in the City of Angels.
17 Minnesota Wild - Alex Galchenyuk
The Minnesota Wild had a well-balanced team in 2018, and Minnesota was surprisingly led by veteran Eric Staal in scoring (42G-34A – 73 PTS). The Wild have been attempting to build a Stanley Cup contending team over the past few seasons, as the State of Hockey seems to always be busy during the offseason and at the NHL Trade Deadline. Still, the Wild were average in the special teams department this past season, and also allowed six shorthanded goals on the year.
One skater that may be on the market come July is Montreal Canadiens’ winger, Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens’ winger/center recorded a notable 24 points on the power play last season, and Galchenyuk also played in all 82 games for Montreal – staying healthy and on the ice has been an ongoing problem for some of the Wild’s top skaters in recent memory.
16 Montreal Canadiens - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
While the Montreal Canadiens may not be able to land the big fish among centers in John Tavares, they have to do whatever it takes to upgrade their glaring hole down the middle. They simply can't go another season forcing Jonathan Drouin to play center and having Phillip Danault in a top six role. The Habs and Oilers both need significant shakeups to their roster and this could be a match made in heaven. Nugent-Hopkins may not be the ideal no.1 centre but he's still better than what the Habs have and would be a huge upgrade. In return, the Habs can send a natural winger to Edmonton, perhaps a Max Pacioretty who's on the final year of his affordable cap hit of $4.5 million.
15 Nashville Predators - Patrick Maroon
The Nashville Predators have proven that there’s not much to upgrade for its roster, especially since the team went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season (lost to Pittsburgh in six games) and won the NHL’s 2018 Presidents' Trophy (league’s best overall record).
Even with their success, the Predators may consider adding a player that offers size and offensive production for the team’s bottom six forwards.
Forward Patrick Maroon was acquired by the New Jersey Devils at the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline and proved his value with a Stanley Cup Playoff caliber squad (3G-10A –13PTS) in just 13 games played down the stretch of the regular season.
There’s more to Maroon’s play than just the stats, his presence on the Preds’ power play, while screening opponent’s goaltenders, would offer more offensive options to an already deadly power play.
14 New Jersey Devils - Erik Karlsson
One of the better feel good stories of the year was the New Jersey Devils’ run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils proved that they could rebuild and put a competitive squad on the ice in the blink of an eye, and Jersey’s Team will be eyeing down some of the league’s top available skaters during the 2018 offseason.
At this point in time, the Devils may consider parting ways with draft picks, or prospects, to acquire the top missing piece to its’ puzzle moving forward. Enter, Erik Karlsson. The Devils acquired a top defenseman in Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks) last season, however the Finnish native is not the caliber defenseman that should be logging the most ice team on a nightly basis for the team. The Devils need a number one defenseman to upgrade its roster, and Karlsson would be the jackpot for a team with plenty of salary cap space to afford the former Norris Trophy winner.
13 New York Islanders - Philipp Grubauer
The New York Islanders’ main focus this offseason will be re-signing the league’s top unrestricted-free-agent, John Tavares. Though, the team still needs to upgrade at various positions on the ice; especially between the pipes.
None of the Isles’ current goaltenders are the answer moving forward for New York, and the team could consider acquiring Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals. Grubauer, 26, is set to become a restricted free-agent this offseason, but the Capitals may have to part ways with the German native; who proved he’s capable of being a starting NHL goaltender this past season.
New York would be acquiring a lost cost goaltender that also has the potential to stabilize the Islanders' ongoing goalie dilemmas.
If the Islanders are unable to re-sign Tavares, they’ll need a fresh goaltender that’s willing to take on a challenge such as the one that the Orange and Blue could face next season.
12 New York Rangers - Evander Kane
For the first time in recent memory, the New York Rangers made it clear this past season that the organization was going to rebuild and by parting ways with large (player) contracts in order to acquire youthful assets for the future. The Broadway Blueshirts have plenty of room to upgrade their roster this offseason, but it will be interesting to see if New York’s front office actually sticks to its word and avoid signing big-named UFA’s.
However, there is a (somewhat) star caliber skater that’s a UFA this upcoming offseason that could benefit the Rangers’ offense long term in the Rangers’ new era – Evander Kane. While fans will be calling for John Tavares’ name come July 1, Kane may be the better bargain for the direction that the team is trending towards.
11 Ottawa Senators - Tyler Bozak
Where to begin with the Ottawa Senators? Ottawa is more than likely going to enter a fire sale this offseason, and it would be hard to believe that all-star defenseman Erik Karlsson will actually want to stay with the organization moving forward in the process. It’s also going to be a challenge to convince available (UFA’s) to sign with the team this summer as well.
While Ottawa could upgrade at center, and try to sign John Tavares, the team may have to settle and acquire UFA (Toronto Maple Leafs) Tyler Bozak come July. At the age of 30, Bozak would be given an opportunity to take his personal game to another level – considering his role would increase in Ottawa. Chances are that Bozak would be intrigued to stay in the Atlantic Division and haunt the Leafs, too.
10 Philadelphia Flyers - Rick Nash
It seems that every offseason the talk in the City of Brotherly Love surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers is that the team should upgrade its goaltending situation. Well, the Flyers had a trio of goalies this season (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth & Petr Mrazek), and the team may consider moving forward with one of them as a starter.
The Flyers are deep down the middle of the ice, and may want to upgrade at wing.
UFA Rick Nash would’ve have made for a great Flyer in the past, yet the power-winger still could if the Flyers decided to offer him a contract this summer. Nash would be key in numerous areas on the ice for the Flyers, especially with his size and commendable two-way play. Adding Nash to Philadelphia’s power play would be intriguing, and boost a man-advantage that ranked 15th this past season.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins - Lee Stempniak
As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the Pittsburgh Penguins – the Steel City will always be in the hunt and contention to lift another Stanley Cup banner to the rafters. The Penguins proved again this past season that they’re not slowing down, or trending in the wrong direction either.
Pittsburgh could look to upgrade with a solid two-way veteran forward, and one that’s affordable. The Pens will be limited with who they can add via UFA, but a reuniting an old flame with forward Lee Stempniak may not be a bad idea. The 35-year-old coming back to Pittsburgh and playing with a championship caliber squad could be lightning in a bottle and benefit both parties next season. Stempniak would help round out the team’s bottom six forwards, and potentially help the team’s penalty kill.
8 San Jose Sharks - John Tavares
San Jose could be on the verge of losing an offensive threat this offseason in UFA Evander Kane, and a future Hockey Hall of Famer with Joe Thornton. While the Sharks will more than likely push hard to re-sign Kane, the team could part ways with Thornton and would have to upgrade with the team’s top six forwards.
San Jose could look to acquire UFA John Tavares to replace the Jumbo Joe’s uncanny presence down the middle of the ice. The blockbuster deal would arguably be the team’s biggest transaction since the Teal Acquired Thornton back in 2005-06. Tavares would add a dynamic to the Sharks that would take their Cup contending status above and beyond what it’s ever been over the last decade, which speaks volume to the fit the former Islander would have with San Jose.
7 St. Louis Blues - Ryan O'Reilly
One of the more disappointing stories of the 2017-18 season was the Western Conference’s St. Louis Blues. St. Louis had been a notorious Stanley Cup Playoff caliber team for the last decade or so, but the Blues underachieved and missed out on the postseason this year. The Blues found themselves in the basement this past season for the league’s power play rankings (30th), and in general could have used more offensive support in the goal column.
St. Louis should upgrade on offense with a skater such as Buffalo Sabres’ forward, Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly had a commendable season by finishing the year with a career high 15 power-play goals. The Sabres finished with the NHL’s worst record this past season (25-45-12 –62pts), and the Clinton, Ontario native would be a great fit with St. Louis’ roster moving forward. Perhaps the Blues would throw in Jake Allen as a part of the deal, too…
6 Tampa Bay Lightning - Artem Anisimov
The Tampa Bay Lightning set a franchise record this past season by finishing the campaign with 113 points in the league’s standings. Tampa had offensive fire power from a number of skaters, which also included youngsters Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point. While the Bolts upgraded the team’s blue line by acquiring former New York Ranger defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh in the last calendar year, the Lightning still struggled as a unit on the defensive side of the puck.
Tampa won’t have much room to work with in relation to the team’s salary cap situation entering the offseason, but the team should look to add a two-way forward.
The Lightning already have a knack for adding former, or current, New York Rangers – perhaps the Bolts would consider parting ways with a couple of their depth forwards to at least get a player such as Artem Anisimov from the Chicago Blackhawks (former Ranger 2008-12).
5 Toronto Maple Leafs - Chris Tanev
The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the Auston Matthews era (2016) by making back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff appearances. After clinching a wild card spot in the playoffs last season, the Leafs finished in third for the Atlantic Division’s standings this past season.
Toronto is headed in the right direction under head coach Mike Babcock’s guidance, but there’s still room to upgrade for this potential Cup contender come next season. The Leafs have the offensive support with their three-headed young monster in Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner; but Toronto could add a dynamic defenseman to the mix moving forward. The Vancouver Canucks may be interested in making a deal with the Leafs, by sending defenseman Chris Tanev to the Eastern Conference. Tanev, 28, is in his prime and could blossom with a Leafs team that’s only on the rise.
4 Vancouver Canucks - Mats Zuccarello
It seems that ever since the Vancouver Canucks parted ways with goaltender Robert Luongo back in 2014 that the team’s current state has only gone downhill by the season. The team will also lose Henrik and Daniel Sedin to retirement this offseason, too. While there’s plenty of room on the Canucks’ roster to upgrade, Vancouver is more than likely going to attempt a transaction for a productive forward via UFA.
Evander Kane has been linked to the Canucks since the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline back in March, but Vancouver should also consider upgrading the team's depth and offense by acquiring Matz Zuccarello from the New York Rangers. The five-foot-eight forward would bring an energy level up front that will be necessary to boost a team that's already said goodbye to two future Hockey Hall of Famers -- in the Sedin twins.
3 Vegas Golden Knights - Max Pacioretty
The NHL probably can’t stop smiling at the fact that it has one of the best stories in all of professional sports with the success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights won the Pacific Division in its first season, and recently swept the Los Angeles Kings in Round One of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, come next season, the Knights will have to upgrade and sign a big-named skater to continue its success story.
Even if the team doesn’t lose James Neal to UFA, the Knights should try to acquire Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty.
It seems that every media outlet points first to the fact that Vegas has a full roster of players that “weren’t wanted,” and that’s why the team has been so dominant. Pacioretty and the Habs don’t want each other – so send him the Vegas in return for more draft-picks and let him thrive in Sin City like every other under-valued skater that came before him.
2 Washington Capitals - Dougie Hamilton
Entering the 2018 offseason the Washington Capitals will have three UFA that are defenseman, which also includes a top free-agent in John Carlson. The Capitals are going to need to upgrade its blue line regardless if the Red, White and Blue lose Carlson this summer or not.
Keep in mind that the former first-round draft pick in Carlson is coming off of a career season, while notching 68 points on the year (15G-53A). Washington may want to consider striking a deal with the Calgary Flames and acquiring Dougie Hamilton. In doing so, the Caps would more than likely have to part ways with a big name from their offense, but perhaps that’s a necessary move considering the team has yet to officially move past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1998.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Joe Thornton
Regardless of how far of the Winnipeg Jets advance into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, the Jets are hands down a favorite to win the Stanley Cup next season. With that being said, the Jets will still need to upgrade and add depth to its roster to have the best opportunity at hoisting Lord Stanley at some point in the near future.
Winnipeg has a nice mix of talented youth and veterans in all areas on the ice, but the Jets should upgrade its roster by signing UFA – Joe Thornton. Thornton’s storied tenure in San Jose with the Sharks could come to end this summer, and if Big Joe wants a legitimate shot at winning a Cup – a marriage in Winnipeg would be ideal for both parties.