NHL front-office confidence rankings, 2023: How fans feel about every team

How confident are you in your team’s front office? That’s the question we ask every offseason, using the wisdom of the crowd as a guide toward revealing which front offices are doing the best job, and which ones aren’t.

Each front office has its ability graded in six categories: roster building, cap management, drafting and development, trading, free agency and vision.

This is the eighth annual version of the list. This year’s edition garnered over 11,000 responses from fans who graded their favorite teams and over 300 from more ambitious fans who voted for every team. Both opinions from the inside and the outside are valid and the differences between the two are always extremely fascinating.

According to the collective opinion of our well-informed subscribers, here’s how much confidence each team’s front office currently inspires.

(Note: Some comments have been slightly edited for style and clarity.)

Last Year: 11th

“Fitzy rarely makes a bad move. He has made some great under-the-radar deals such as Marino and Seigs. He also seems to get players to re-sign to team-friendly deals which indicates that he has his team buying in to the future and his vision of the team. Finally, his strength is upgrading the margins without sacrificing the future. That is what separates good teams from great teams.”

“Fitz has done a great job with long-term plan and execution. Last season the on-ice product finally mirrored offseason momentum. Long-term contracts for key players is spot on and has been shrewd with trades (Marino last offseason, Toffoli this offseason).”

After a few summers of promise, it finally happened: The Devils broke out. And they broke out big time. It’s been a long time coming and the end result is the coveted top spot of the front-office confidence rankings.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Devils have ranked pretty highly in years past despite a lack of results and it was because of how much promise the team showed. The cap sheet was clean, the prospect cupboard was full, the moves were savvy — all the stars were aligning for a big breakout. Now, the team finally has the results to show for it, delivering on years’ worth of hype.

The Devils have one of the best young cores in the league in both quantity and quality. It’s a core that’s locked up for a low price for a long time. It’s a core that will likely be augmented for years to come thanks to a strong development system and continuous strong work on the trade and free-agent market.

All of it stems from an incredible vision of how to build an elite contender, one that took a lot of patience to execute. The Devils are going to be a problem for years to come and it’s in large part due to how well run the organization currently is from top to bottom. A championship doesn’t feel far away for New Jersey.

Last Year: 4th

“Don Waddell and company (Tom Dundon, Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Tulsky, etc.) have consistently proven to be an elite management team. Through their willingness to spend big, always be in the market for trades, or simply knowing when to let go of a player, they have managed to move a team that had a decade of mediocrity to a perennial Cup contender with no signs of slowing down.”

“The Canes acquire and develop players that fit their system. They manage their cap well and do not give out bad contracts, especially with long term.  The Canes draft well and have a deep farm system. They are set up to win now and well into the future. Overall, an A+ operation.”

The Smartest Team In The Room once again finds itself in the top five, a byproduct of a process that is seemingly without flaw.

Almost every team has made a recent move or two that leaves us trying to understand how or why they did it. Anytime Carolina seemingly makes one of those moves it only takes a few months for the Hurricanes brass to be proven right. Remember the great goaltending debacle of 2021? The Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet and extension? The lesson is to just trust the process and if you find yourself disagreeing with what the Hurricanes are doing, it’s probably best to reevaluate your own processes — not question theirs.

Almost everything Carolina does turns to gold and it’s why the Hurricanes have been one of the league’s most successful teams over the last five seasons — and a favorite to win it all this season. The Stanley Cup has eluded the Hurricanes during this era, but every year they find a way to be right in the mix. That comes from a calculated process that always has the Canes on the right side of every move — whether that’s a trade, signing or draft pick.

They’re an elite team with a bright future that minimizes mistakes better than any other club in the league. It’s only a matter of time until they get rewarded for it.

Last Year: 2nd

“Brisebois has done an unbelievable job, including two Stanley Cups. The price has been very steep as it usually is to win the Cups, but the core is still intact to chase another ring. The Jeannot trade was way too steep, but the pedigree is there to trust the process. Would love another couple deep runs with this core before it gets ugly in the years ahead.”

“Most of JBB’s unpopular decisions are cap-related. His cap problems are success-related. So he’s had to make unpopular decisions because the team wins so much. Good problem to have, really.”

There is no fan base higher on their own team than the Lightning’s, and considering the run the team has been on over the last decade, it’s hard to blame them. For many, the Lightning front office remains the gold standard for the league with fans holding the utmost confidence for any decision the team makes.

The best example of the reverence that Tampa Bay’s front office holds could be seen in the immediate aftermath of the Tanner Jeannot trade. It’s a move that would’ve been immediately panned if any other team had made it, but because it was the Lightning, there were many caveats instead. “This looks like a massively stupid overpay … BUT … it’s the Lightning so maybe they know something we don’t.” Usually, they do.

Jeannot’s impact wasn’t immediately felt when he came to Tampa Bay, but neither was Brandon Hagel’s. One year later, he’s a 60-point player deserving of a big-boy extension. If the Lightning saw enough in Jeannot to trade that much, it’s possible a glow-up is still on the horizon.

Some of Tampa Bay’s decisions have seemed a bit more questionable of late and it’s not a surprise that the public’s perception of the team’s management has slipped a bit this season. Still, it’s hard to argue against this being one of the league’s most confidence-inspiring front offices.

Last Year: 24th

“I think there’s little doubt that Jim Nill is in the higher echelon of GMs in the league. From drafting steals to signing bargains, he has been on fire these past few years. But even the best have their faults.”

“The drafting and development has been exceptional. Trades and cap management have left something to be desired, but the consistent talent pipeline they have created makes those issues into minor nitpicks.”

One draft is all it takes. In 2017, the Dallas Stars picked Miro Heiskanen third, Jake Oettinger 26th and Jason Robertson 39th. Boom — three franchise players. It might be the single most impactful haul in draft history and the team is really beginning to reap the rewards of that. The Stars are a team that’s risen to contender status largely because of one draft that has allowed them to quickly transition from one era to the next without rebuilding. Getting Roope Hintz at No. 49 two years prior certainly helps, as does recent first-rounder Wyatt Johnston who impressed as a rookie last year.

Drafting and developing is where the Stars shine most here, which is funny when looking back at the 2017 version of this list that saw it as Dallas’ biggest weakness. This is still Jim Nill’s ship and he’s done a good job steering it since taking over in 2013, often having very strong offseasons each summer. It hasn’t resulted in a Stanley Cup yet, but the Stars feel closer than ever under this current regime. They have the 2017 draft to thank, a home run that many doubted would’ve been possible for this particular franchise. That’s something to keep in mind for other teams that may currently rank poorly there.

Last Year: 1st

“They deserve a lot of trust from fans. I am not sure they handled the roster/cap as well as they could have in the immediate wake of winning the Cup. Time will tell, but they became quite top heavy that summer. They absolutely have to figure out what is wrong with their development process. They simply cannot develop players who aren’t top-10 picks.”

“There are still some things I’d like to see them be better at (specifically drafting/developing outside the first round) but MacFarland/Sakic/et al haven’t given me any reason to not believe in the direction they’re taking the team.”

Last year’s top-ranked team and the 2022 Stanley Cup champions have taken a small step back in these rankings, dropping from first to fifth. It’s the first time the team has ranked outside the top three since 2018 when they landed 13th — a meteoric rise from 31st in 2017.

The drop is a result of the Avalanche being unable to adequately defend their title last season — a season that highlighted a major problem for Colorado: drafting and developing. Over the past few years, it’s been a minor qualm within the fan base; they’ve been happy with the direction of the team, but slightly concerned about the team’s draft record. This year it’s turned into a major issue, with the fans placing the team 28th in drafting despite being top 10 everywhere else. Ouch.

Those fans have a point, as the Avalanche have struggled to draft an impact player outside the top 10 since Will Butcher in 2013 — if you can even call him that. Alex Newhook, who was picked 16th in 2019, was supposed to be that guy and struggled to rise to the occasion last season in a bigger role. Now he’s off to Montreal and the Avalanche have a huge depth problem on their hands, a result of poor drafting over the last decade. Colorado has obviously hit on its superstar talents and that’s worth a lot, but internal support has been difficult to come by.

Thankfully, the team is pretty fantastic at doing everything else. Year after year, the team has had an elite roster led by those superstar talents and has done well on the trade and free-agent market to help them out. Colorado is very adept at finding underutilized players and turning them into impact players. Devon Toews, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Artturi Lehkonen, Evan Rodrigues — the track record is strong. It’s why they deserve some benefit of the doubt with Miles Wood, an extremely questionable free-agent signing who could very well pan out given which team is the one signing him.

Last Year: 31st

“Honestly, I stood by this front office after last season’s playoff miss when they were 31st in this ranking. It feels great to say ‘I told you so’ — aggressive pursuit of star players works pretty well when stars tend to be underpaid in this league. Frankly, I don’t even think this team has one bad contract on them — that’s what happens when you don’t overpay for middle-six wingers.”

“The FO proved a lot of people wrong this past season. Pickups like Hill and Barbashev are every bit as important as the splashes like Eichel and they seem to ‘win’ most trades.”

The schadenfreude everyone experienced last summer after Vegas missed the playoffs was delicious at the time, but the Golden Knights obviously got the last laugh. A Stanley Cup parade does wonders for fan-base confidence and it’s genuinely hilarious to look back at just how derided the front office was just a year ago. It’s enough for any team reading these rankings to not worry too much about a poor standing, especially if they’re part of a previously high-regarding front office. Recency bias is a helluva drug and this list is who’s who of “what have you done for me lately?”

For Vegas, that’s win a Cup. Enough said.

Getting there took a ruthless approach toward team building, one that valued star power above all else and treated the salary cap as a suggestion. It’s an approach that warrants a lot more leaguewide respect considering it led to a championship, with the public giving the highest marks possible to Vegas in roster building, trading and free agency. The Golden Knights are never shy about doing whatever it takes to field the best possible team and more often than not they make the right call on that front. The trade for Ivan Barbashev in particular was a master class.

If there’s one area of concern with Vegas, it’s the team’s draft record. Six years into the team’s existence, the team has drafted five NHL players — only one of whom, Nicolas Hague, is currently on the roster.

Last Year: 7th

“Zito has done a good job for the most part. Acquiring Tkachuk, Bennett, Reinhart and Montour in trades for reasonable prices, Verhaeghe in free agency, plus the extensions for those players set the team up for their Cup run. Of course, like any GM, he’s had a few head-scratchers, like the Chiarot trade and the cap mismanagement last year that forced the Staal brothers to play most nights.”

“Few front offices have done a better job of identifying players who were underutilized or underperforming and having them blossom once acquired than Florida. Bill Zito and his team have done masterful work since his hire in 2021.”

It’s a bit shocking the Panthers only rank seventh here given their run to the Stanley Cup Final and all the moves the team has made over the past few years to get there. Then again, it’s hard to argue much against the six teams ahead of them, which speaks volumes about how much savvier NHL front offices are getting year after year. It’s not 2012 anymore.

The big win is obviously the Matthew Tkachuk deal. It was a home run swing that took massive stones to pull off and Florida was handsomely rewarded for the risk with Tkachuk blossoming into a legitimate MVP-caliber player. He showed the potential for that in his final year with the Flames — he cemented it in his first season with the Panthers. All that for just $9.5 million for the next eight years — the best contract in hockey.

But even aside from Tkachuk, there’s a whole laundry list of players who found new life with the Panthers. Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe, Anthony Duclair, Gustav Forsling — when it comes to pro scouting there are few organizations that do things better than Florida. The Panthers get high marks in trading for a reason. Their grades for cap management should’ve been just as high considering no team spends their money more efficiently, but I digress.

Last Year: 14th

“I don’t think GMKA gets the respect he deserves outside of Buffalo for his rebuild of the entire organization. I considered the Sabres the worst-managed professional sports team in North America (maybe the world) in 2020. The three-year turnaround is nothing short of remarkable in my opinion.”

“I’ll admit to having been extremely skeptical of Kevyn Adams when he got the GM job, but honestly, he’s been making some really solid decisions and I feel like he has both a good vision and an understanding of how long it needs to take to get there.”

The Buffalo Sabres are hockey’s new “it” team, everyone’s second favorite club. So it should come as no surprise that they enter the top 10 in the front-office confidence rankings on the back of stronger relative support from the public rather than their own fan base.

This is Buffalo’s first foray into the league’s top 10 and it comes from the franchise finally doing things the right way. No rushing the rebuild, no quick fixes, no band-aid solutions — just patience and development toward finding the right pieces. The Sabres get top marks for their drafting and development and it’s what will make this franchise a future powerhouse. On the development front, the Tage Thompson story is one of the biggest wins in that realm in recent memory — one that’s worthy of a lot of cachet in that category. It’s hard not to have complete faith in a team’s development practices after seeing what they turned Tage into.

The other thing that really helps Buffalo is the team’s cap management. The Sabres haven’t been afraid to lock up their young players early to reasonable deals and it’s already paying dividends with how those players are evolving past those pay structures. It’s similar to how the Devils have operated and it’s paid off big time for them. The Sabres are looking to follow in those footsteps, right down to last year’s major breakout.

To get there, Buffalo will need to do a better job of finding strong, external solutions the way New Jersey has. Strong drafting and developing only goes so far and the Sabres’ work in trades and on the free-agency front does leave a bit to be desired at the moment. Maybe it’s the team being patient, but for now, it’s the difference between ranking eighth and somewhere in the top five.

Last Year: 17th

“Seem to have a clear vision, not sure how far we can get with the depth approach vs. having a true game breaker. I think over time the goal is to get one via free agency. Fans like me will just have to be patient I guess. The playoff run last year was electric though, Grubi is finally making the front office look good for signing him.”

“Fans want to see us push the chips in coming off last season’s success, but I think Francis wants to stay the course and build a roster well positioned for the long haul. I think as a team we overperformed a bit, and Ron is well aware. I’m trusting the process.”

Scratch Year 1 from the record. It was a blip where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. It was a mess of a year for the Kraken, one that had some wondering if they were missing the forest for the trees by being too invested in analytics. In Year 2, the Kraken did everything right to get back to where they should’ve been from the get-go and that has them regaining enough confidence to enter the league’s top 10.

Until they find superstar talent of their own, the Kraken’s M.O. has been patient depth, a slow build that creates internal competition and four lines that can play. There’s no wasted space in Seattle and that approach is a breath of fresh air that proved very difficult for even the most star-studded teams to stop. That started with more additions in the offseason with Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and then they followed it up by picking up Eeli Tolvanen on waivers.

Patience will continue to be the key in Seattle as the Kraken try to put themselves in the best position to be a long-term contender. They’re not there yet, but they’ll get there if they continue to make the right moves — and the right picks at the draft.

With that being said, the Kraken are far from a team without fault and it was a bit surprising to see them get a strong rating for free agency. That seems to be where Seattle makes some of its more questionable decisions, with Brian Dumoulin being the latest on that list.

Last Year: 20th

“There hasn’t been a game played under Kyle Dubas yet, but it’s like he parachuted onto a crashing plane, grabbed the yoke and has it climbing to cruising altitude. Now the plane he’s flying is old and falling apart, but he’s given the veterans an injection of optimism and vigor that should give those fatigued legs some hop. And hope.”

“Kyle Dubas came in and somehow undid the lasting errors of the Hextall regime, added the Norris winner, and created a roster capable of adding a couple years to the contending window. I don’t know what kind of wizard he is, but Toronto’s loss is Pittsburgh’s substantial gain.”

Kyle Dubas did not take long to put his stamp on the Penguins, a stamp that has 99 percent of Penguins fans surveyed more confident than they were last season. It’s hard to get 99 percent of anyone to agree on anything so that should tell you a lot about how excited the fan base is about Dubas’ first summer.

Of course part of the reason for more confidence is just how low the bar was for the previous regime — it was difficult to be worse. But Dubas has been so obviously better that it’s ignited a new sense of raw optimism within the fan base that was all but extinguished at the end of last season.

What has always been clear with Dubas, going back to his days with the Leafs, is that he has always had a crystal clear vision of what a contending team looks like for him. In just a few short months he has already implemented a lot of that in Pittsburgh and has completely transformed the team in his image, clearing out a lot of the previous regime’s dead weight, plugging much-needed holes and then trading for a superstar as the cherry on top.

The Erik Karlsson trade was a masterclass — a first-round pick plus a bunch of junk for last year’s Norris Trophy winner — but even before that, he was putting in the work to make the Penguins a better team. He solidified the bottom six with defensively strong players and made a big improvement on Brian Dumoulin by adding Ryan Graves (who fits like a glove next to either Karlsson or Kris Letang).

Some of the prices and term weren’t perfect, but the end result is a much-improved team for the twilight years of Pittsburgh’s Big Three. In Dubas, those three are in good hands.

Last Year: 10th

“Love to see a front office with a focus on the future. No chasing overpriced, aging free agents. No sacrificing draft picks or young talent for immediate success (while handcuffed by the cap). Excited to see this management start building toward a Cup window in a few years.”

“Cap hell sucks, but Billy & team have somehow been able to build a competitive roster AND stock the cupboard with lots of promising prospects. Future looks bright (even though perpetual disappointment is all but guaranteed as a MN sports fan).”

Wild fans love Bill Guerin, who has done a good job in turning a middling team around quickly into a true playoff team. But it’s more than that. In the meantime, they’ve also built up one of the league’s best prospect systems that should continue feeding talent onto the roster, creating sustainable long-term success. That’s hard to do when a team is winning, but the Wild are having their cake and eating it too. Hiring Judd Brackett certainly helps with that.

On top of strong work at the draft table, the Wild have also done well at making moves and managing the cap. The public may not see it that way thanks to the necessary dead weight of the Ryan Suter and Zach Parise buyouts, but the front office has done extremely well despite the dead weight and it speaks volumes that they have crafted a consistent playoff team under those constraints. Deals for Kirill Kaprizov, Matt Boldy and Joel Eriksson Ek stand out as being especially good.

It did mean losing Kevin Fiala, but they did get prospect Brock Faber and made up for it with other trades — namely swapping Cam Talbot for Filip Gustavsson. That might’ve been the best trade last season.

Last Year: 3rd

“I’m still confident that Yzerman is going to make more good decisions than bad ones, but the apparent strategy to improve the team’s depth and not aggressively chase elite talent makes it difficult for this fan to see the team becoming a true Cup contender in the next 3-5 years as the current top prospects enter their prime. I’m more and more worried about getting stuck in the mushy middle.”

“While I think they have drafted well since Stevie Y took over, I just don’t see the long-term vision in paying $20 mil in AAV in FA over the last two years for third-liners and depth D (Chariot, Holl, Copp, Compher, etc.). I know they have ample cap space but why tie it up on guys that don’t move the needle.”

Confidence in the Yzerplan is at an all-time low, especially from the public. It’s hard to build a true contender without the lottery luck to nab franchise players, but it feels wrong to attempt to turn the corner without them. That’s seemed to be Detroit’s plan the last two summers with the team making a lot of additions via free agency — many of which don’t look great (hello Ben Chiarot). A big-time trade for Alex DeBrincat signifies the team is gunning for a playoff spot this year which begs the question: Is this it?

For better or worse, this is the team, and while they will be augmented in the future by a strong prospect pipeline, the team is still missing true elite difference-makers — the ones that contenders are built around. Maybe it’s enough to be a playoff team, but it feels like it limits Detroit’s ceiling beyond that.

That brings about questions regarding the team’s vision, something that even the fans are relatively lower on than in years past. A 4.4 rating suggests high confidence in the Yzerplan and maybe that’s the only number needed, but the middle-of-the-pack ranking means they’re much less zealous than other fan bases.

This is a make-or-break year for the Yzerplan and the confidence that it’s instilled in the past. The Red Wings have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons and it doesn’t feel likely the streak will break this season.

Last Year: 5th

“I love where Blake has got the Kings after only three years of a serious rebuild. They’re deep everywhere except in net, and have a very bright future. The only big issue is that so few players of a once-heralded prospect pool have truly panned out … yet, anyway.”

“This is a big year for the team, and with some additional cap flexibility next year, the Kings should be entering a Cup window if the young players can take the next step and a goalie emerges.”

I was a bit shocked to see the Kings grade out this low after finishing fifth last year, especially from within their own fan base. It seems as if fans have soured a bit on the team’s long-term vision and whether the quick rebuild was fruitful enough to turn this team into a legit contender rather than just a playoff team.

The difference will come down to star power and while the Kings have done their due diligence with trades for Kevin Fiala and Pierre-Luc Dubois, neither grade out as franchise players. Those types were players they should’ve found in the draft, an area that once looked like a strength but is now viewed as a weakness.

At one point in time, the Kings looked like they had the league’s best farm system, but things haven’t quite panned out that way with a lot of their prospects struggling to look like true impact players. There’s still time for some, but picking Alex Turcotte fifth ahead of Moritz Seider, Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras and Matt Boldy in 2019 is really starting to stand out.

There are also still issues in net that the fans are worried about. The process there feels questionable and a number of them pointed out the awful Cal Petersen contract as one major reason to feel a little less confident about the team.

Last Year: 16th

“Rumblings in the media are that the team expects to be better this year, and I kinda think we still need another top-five pick. But there are almost no moves in isolation that look bad — a 1st for Chiarot? Turning Romanov (plus midround picks) into Dach? A 1st for taking on a year of Monahan? Those are all absolute wins.”

“I’m very excited about the Kent Hughes era. Drafting is slightly suspect, but development has made huge strides, and they’ve weaponized their cap space pretty expertly.”

I especially noticed what a great job Kent Hughes is doing for the Canadiens when I looked at each team’s contract efficiency last month. All the good deals were him. All the bad deals were Marc Bergevin. There’s a tidy split that shows how capable Hughes is — and what a mess he inherited.

In that vein, it makes sense as to why there’s such a strong dichotomy between outsiders and insiders here. From the outside, the whole team still looks like a mess that’s hard to trust, but that ignores who is responsible for it and how much smaller the mess has become. The current regime looks like they’re on the right track.

That’s especially evident with some of the trades the team has made. The Kirby Dach deal was a perfect buy-low move, and swapping Jeff Petry for Mike Matheson proved to be another savvy move. Getting Sean Monahan and a first for nothing wasn’t bad either.

If there are questions about the current regime, it’s at the draft table. Lane Hutson looks like he’ll be a home run, but there are many within the fan base who are skeptical about the decisions to take Juraj Slafkovsky at first in 2022 and David Reinbacher at fifth earlier this summer.

Last Year: 30th

“KD has torn the Blackhawks down to the studs, but he’s done it with conviction and vision. I appreciate that he’s not straying from his ideas and goals. The end product remains to be seen, but I fully buy into the process, and the patience has been particularly admirable.”

“It’s easy to say that tanking for Bedard was an easy choice. But Davidson’s plummet to a bottom-three team was as successful as it could be (and a bit lucky). Although many fans despise it, tanking that hard got us a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime player to build around, along with drawing key free agents to an Original Six franchise in the future to bolster the lineup.”

Apparently all you need to do to move up 15 spots in these rankings is draft a generational player. Who knew!

Kidding aside, the process of getting to that point was one that was meticulously crafted by Kyle from Chicago with the most brazenly shameless tank job in league history. The Blackhawks did excellent work to be as bad as possible and were rewarded for it in the best way possible. They do deserve kudos for that execution and it’s no surprise that they get high marks for their vision.

Having said that, some of their other marks seem a bit overzealous. It’s hard to give a 4.0 for roster building with this roster. Cap management means how a team spends money, not just that it has money — and spending $8 million combined on Nick Foligno and Corey Perry is not savvy spending. As for trades, the public has it right, as it’s been a consensus opinion over the last year that Chicago wasn’t getting a large enough return in almost any of its trades.

It’s fine to have a renewed sense of faith in a team if it’s being led by Connor Bedard and the plan that got him to Chicago. It’s another thing entirely to have faith in that team’s ability to build around him — just look at what Connor McDavid endured during his first few years with the Oilers.

It’s a step up from the Stan Bowman days, but I don’t think the Blackhawks deserve this much confidence … not yet.

Last Year: 22nd

“The hockey ops is doing their job with this rebuild in Arizona. They have gotten severely unlucky with the draft lottery but on the flip side, they may have gotten the best player in the Cooley draft. There is a long way to go without them being able to get a top-two talent in a draft but GMBA seems to know exactly how to build a sustainable winner. If the business side of this franchise can figure out the arena, this WILL be a destination spot and a winner of a franchise.”

“The tear down was the easy part. The focus now becomes execution of the draft picks (and the track history of our scouting department is extremely good) and development of prospects. The vision is becoming more evident as core players emerge and are added to the roster.“

Things are looking up in the desert and fans are cautiously optimistic that very bright days are ahead. The Coyotes have done well building things back up over the last few years as the league’s destination money-laundering outfit — now it’s time to reap the rewards. Fans are a bit more optimistic they’ll be able to do that, though it’s understandable why outsiders might be more cautious on that front given the Coyotes’ history with getting the most out of the draft.

The Coyotes are a team on the rise and made some decent additions in free agency that will be useful toward winning games next season and/or acquiring more futures at next year’s deadline. It’s been a slow process, but the vision is coming together for those that are paying attention. You’re forgiven if paying attention to Arizona has been low on your list over the last couple of years.

By far the biggest thing to be excited about is prospect Logan Cooley, who will be on the roster for this upcoming season. The Coyotes took a bit of a risk in drafting him over Shane Wright in 2022, but it’s a risk that looks like it will greatly pay off for them as he’s widely regarded as one of the best prospects.

Arizona was once the laughingstock of the league, but those days look like they’ll be ending soon. The Coyotes have their patient front office to thank for that.

17. Ottawa Senators

Last Year: 8th

“It’s infuriating that this far into a rebuild, Dorion decides to mortgage the future, deplete the prospect pool by trading all of our picks, yet we still haven’t made the playoffs. Meanwhile, Buffalo and New Jersey had the patience to stick with the plan and are starting to reap the rewards.”

“Dorion has mitigated a lot of the damage from this offseason, but I’m still less confident in him than I was at this time last year. The new ownership situation may pay dividends soon, but for now, our management finds itself in a precarious position of its own making.”

Remember Hot Dorion Summer? Good times.

While the public remains high on the Senators front office — mostly thanks to a strong draft grade — the fan base has become a lot more cautious. That likely has a fair bit to do with the DeBrincat Debacle over the last year, a predictable circumstance of a non-playoff team trading for a non-elite player. It was an interesting gambit, but one that didn’t work out in the short term and likely cost them in the long term. Ottawa did OK to salvage some value in a trade earlier this summer. Still, that value pales in comparison to what the Senators traded for him — for just one year of him to boot.

That probably colors a league-worst trade grade from fans and it probably doesn’t help that a team with goaltending issues traded one of the league’s best goalies away last summer for nothing … or the captain of the Stanley Cup champions for a highly touted prospect that hasn’t quite panned out.

The hope is that things might be different with Jakob Chychrun, but his early results with the Senators weren’t very promising. It’s hard not to agree with the fan base over public perception here. The latter views Ottawa as a team on the rise and the Senators still might be that, it’s just more difficult to see them reaching their full potential after how the last year has gone.

Last Year: 6th

“I understand the need to bring in veterans to help the young guys and bring some competency, but I’m worried about these long-term deals for guys who aren’t living up to them. But hopefully a new coaching staff will make a difference.”

“Overall, I’ve liked the trades that the Ducks have made, though for some I wish they could have gotten more. I’m less sold on their free-agent acquisitions, but I also understand the cost of attracting a free agent means more money and/or term than I’d like to give.”

It is sometimes very funny looking back at the rankings from a year ago and there is no funnier juxtaposition than last-place Anaheim ranking sixth and the Stanley Cup champions ranking 31st. At the time both seemed too extreme and this year we’re much closer to where both teams should be.

Last year there was a lot of optimism surrounding the Ducks after a busy offseason. While most of their moves seemed fine, none of them actually panned out and the team enters next season with far more questions than answers regarding how bright their future is. A new coach could help with that, but after last season’s disaster, the Ducks feel a lot more difficult to trust. I’m shocked the public was as kind as it was when it comes to roster building and free agency given what’s transpired over the last season.

In that regard, it doesn’t feel like the Ducks have learned the proper lessons there either — not after giving soon-to-be 34-year-old Alex Killorn a four-year deal worth $6.25 million per season. Hard to deserve above-average marks in cap management just because a team has a lot of cap space if it doesn’t use that space wisely. The Ducks rarely do. The Troy Terry extension is terrific, but realistically that was a lay-up.

Last Year: 27th

“No vision beyond slipping into the playoffs. How can a team with a forward group that thin be that close to the cap? Sweeney went for it and should have last year, but a mind-melting draft history and paying with futures to fix past free-agency blunders leaves the Bruins in a bad place moving forward.”

“The playoffs last year ended up being a disaster for the Bruins but it’s hard to blame the front office. They went all in and are going to have to pay the price in the coming years. They need to find a center to fill the missing gap but the roster isn’t catastrophic otherwise.”

There is no harder fan to please than a Boston sports fan, spoiled by two decades of parades. Every year the Bruins faithful seem to be much lower on their own team than the public and this year is no different. The fans see the front office as the 24th best while the public is much closer to average at 14th.

Obviously drafting and developing is always a sticking point with this club, but after a historic season, you’d think there’d be a bit more love elsewhere. Under different circumstances maybe there would be, but after a bitter first-round exit and a shaky offseason, it’s understandable that Bruins fans might feel a bit sour regarding those in charge.

The primary issue is the lack of a clear succession plan in the wake of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retiring. Boston still has enough talent to be a playoff team, but the team looks awfully weak down the middle and the front office did very little to address that this summer. Or in previous summers.

Boston did the right thing going all in last season and made some masterful moves that should’ve earned a better result. How the Bruins approached last season should give the front office a bit more benefit of the doubt here, but what they’ve done since does leave a lot to be desired.

20. Edmonton Oilers

Last Year: 23rd

“Ken Holland has weathered a storm of belligerent Oilers fans and come out on top. Two years in a row this team has lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winner, and we were the only team who gave Vegas a run for their money. We’ve improved steadily every year under his reign, and I suspect this year we make our way to the finals.”

“I’m not sure whether they’re making better decisions, but they’re definitely making fewer obviously dumb decisions. Given the history of the Oilers over the last 15 years, I’ll take it and be happy.”

Over the last year, there are two major moves that stick out for the Oilers — for different reasons.

On one hand, the Mattias Ekholm trade was an absolute home run. The Oilers acquired the exact type of high-end, all-around defenseman the team has desperately needed for over a decade. On the other hand, there’s the Jack Campbell deal which has added $5 million of dead weight onto the team’s cap sheet for four more years.

It’s the latter move that resonates more with fans when asked to rate how confident they are with the Oilers and during the Ken Holland era, there have been some doozies. When the Oilers make a mistake it tends to be a big mistake. Just look at the Darnell Nurse contract.

But those mistakes have been few and far between lately and the Oilers do seem to be on the upswing in terms of smart moves. The Ekholm trade was a signifier of that, but the team also adding Nick Bjugstad at the deadline and Connor Brown during free agency lends further credence to a new narrative.

There are more wins than losses lately and it’s why the Oilers are closer than ever in the McDavid era to a Cup.

Last Year: 12th

“Things clearly didn’t work out last season but instead of trying to tweak a few things and run it back out again next season the front office owned the failure and started the retool immediately; hopefully saving us 1-2 years of rebuilding in the process.”

“I think Armstrong generally does a very good job. The defensive group, and their corresponding cap hits, are appalling though. Making three first-round picks, particularly with Dvorsky falling, is a good start to refreshing the roster.”

Everything changed when the Blues let Alex Pietrangelo walk in 2020 and the current state of the team points back to that moment. Very few could’ve imagined such a dramatic downfall after the team’s surprising success during the 2021-22 season, but the writing was on the wall for a decline. That’s left many people far less confident with the ones in charge going forward as the Blues enter their retooling era.

The team’s low standing seems to be a product of the team’s drop in the standings and while there were plenty of $6.5 million mistakes along the way, it feels like there should be more confidence in the Blues after last season. Not less.

Yes, the results didn’t go as expected and maybe St. Louis could’ve done more toward building a more sustainably competitive team. But in the face of that, it was commendable that the front office made the tough decision to sell at last year’s deadline, making the most out of a tough situation.

No fan base enjoys their team being a surprise seller after entering the season with lofty expectations, but it shows the team’s brass is realistic about where the team fits in the league-wide hierarchy. That’s a useful skill that warrants confidence in those in charge.

Last Year: 9th

“I have always respected Jarmo’s willingness to take the big swing, however, this offseason appears a little wild and desperate. Objectively, the team is better on paper, but these moves made the vision a little more short-sighted than it had been before last year’s collapse.”

“Jarmo clearly identifies needs to fill the roster and a willingness to acquire players by any means possible to fill those needs, but the fit of those players within an overall vision and cap management leaves something to be desired.”

I was surprised the Blue Jackets ranked so high last year and after dropping 14 spots, that feeling hasn’t gone away. Last season was that bad.

Long term, the accidental tank was the best thing that could’ve happened to the team as Adam Fantilli has the potential to be a franchise center. It’s no shock the Blue Jackets rank well by drafting and developing (perhaps not high enough) but their grades elsewhere look far too rosy. The team’s cap efficiency is among the league’s worst — a bottom-tier roster that costs top dollar — and it’s difficult to agree with the team’s vision based on that fact. A team that has dedicated $6.75 million per year for the next three years to Erik Gudbranson and Andrew Peeke should not be getting Cs in roster building and cap management from the public.

Maybe things will be better this season under a new coach. The future does look brighter, too. But it still looks like there will be a lot of headaches along the way thanks to some avoidable mistakes over the last couple of years.

Last Year: 25th

“With Barry Trotz being the GM now, it brings a certain breath of fresh air to the outlook. Then when you look at some of the decisions made in free agency you realize that the same questions of ‘why did you do that?’ are still lingering in the air.”

“Trotz is rebuilding in his image and he’s saying the right things about ‘swinging for the fences’ and developing a more offensive style. But I’m still wary of his years as head coach when it was all about grit, grit, grit and character. Him as GM is a big unknown.”

Barry Trotz hasn’t been shy about putting his stamp on the team yet. It’s certainly different enough that fans are more confident, but the results so far have been a mixed bag. Finding a taker for Ryan Johansen was good, as was adding Ryan O’Reilly at a reasonable price. New coach Andrew Brunette is a nice addition, too. But buying out Matt Duchene looked like a questionable move, especially if some of those savings were used to overpay Luke Schenn.

The most promising thing about Trotz isn’t about something he necessarily did though, it’s about something he said about the draft. “Take some high-end swings on some guys. I can find you third-line, fourth-line guys, no problem. Go get me some guys that get people out of their seats.” That’s a strong philosophy that warrants confidence, especially considering Nashville’s impending turn toward a rebuild.

Last Year: 32nd

“It’s still early in the tenure of the Keith Jones and Daniel Briere front office but, so far, they’ve shown competence, understanding and a willingness to take risks and be creative. Most of the moves that Briere has made seem like they would have never even entered Chuck Fletcher’s headspace.”

“It’s a new regime for the Flyers, and perhaps my ratings reflect the past 18 years of the franchise (post-lockout year). But until I see otherwise the team will not get the benefit of the doubt. The hiring of Briere and Jones is trading in 70-80s era Flyers for more recent ones.”

The question that needs to be answered here is whether this really is a brand new era of orange … or if it’s the same old orange that’s plagued this franchise. No front office goes to the alumni well more than the Flyers do and in that sense, the new regime is nothing new.

But the early sense is that things are trending up for the Flyers and at the very least the franchise is moving in the right direction. Not shying away from Matvei Michkov at the draft is by far the team’s biggest win and showcases that the team finally has a vision worth executing. The Flyers are committed to a rebuild, a proper one, and put in some good work this summer toward that goal — namely moving on from Ivan Provorov.

It’s way too early to put the Flyers’ new shade of orange in the league’s top half, but for now, the progress does feel more promising. The Flyers were at the lowest possible point in terms of fan-base confidence just a year ago and they’re showing now that darkness doesn’t have to last long. Change is a good thing.

Last Year: 13th

“This team went from a committed rebuild in 2017 to a “contender” with one of the oldest rosters in the league in less than five years. It’s rinse and repeat for the Rangers since the 90s, no patience to build a strong contender, but rather try to rush and buy their way in.”

“Would love to see some smarter draft decisions and better prospect development. Last few years have produced some duds and some middle-of-the-path guys, but no one game-changing has come up through our own system.”

The vibes in New York are very off lately, understandably so after watching the Devils leapfrog the team’s rebuild last spring. Both the public and the team’s fans are much less confident than they were a year ago as it’s starting to feel like the Rangers will peak as a good, but not great team. A Stanley Cup feels farther away than it did a year ago.

Part of that comes from the team’s young players not progressing as expected. The Rangers unsurprisingly rank in the league’s bottom three for drafting and developing which feels high considering how their back-to-back top two picks have turned out so far. A jump from one or both of Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko would be monumental for this franchise’s future — and their standing on this list.

Aside from that it does feel like the team’s fans are being a little harsh on the club. Winning isn’t easy and development isn’t linear. The Rangers are still in a solid position and had a quietly decent offseason. But whether it actually pans out all depends on whether their young players finally do.

Last Year: 19th

“I know nothing can happen until Ovechkin breaks the record. Until then we’re in purgatory, half in but relying on guys who’ve lost a step and not building on the youth.”

“The deadline selloff was encouraging, but the moves made since then reek of a team destined for the mushy middle. They’re doing just enough to pretend like they want to contend for the end of Ovechkin’s career, but they’re on the wild-card bubble at best. Best case scenario, we get to cheer for lottery balls while watching a new goal-scoring record.”

After missing the playoffs last season it seems as though the Capitals are a bit stuck now. There’s a bit too much talent on the roster to fully commit to a rebuild and that’s likely not the goal anyway with Alex Ovechkin chasing the all-time goals record. But this team is also not quite good enough to compete for a playoff spot anymore either. The core is old, incapable and expensive and there aren’t enough young players ready to take over. The newly minted Tom Wilson extension will only add to that going forward.

The Capitals are in a similar spot to where the Sharks were a few seasons ago: at the end of their contention window with a lot of money on the books and not much up-and-coming talent to look forward to. There are going to be a lot of lean years going forward, but with a focus on Ovechkin’s chase for 894 it’s hard to really fault or credit whatever Washington does in the short term. Whether they can be trusted in the long term is the more important question, one the public is much less keen on.

27. Toronto Maple Leafs

Last Year: 18th

“My confidence in the front office decreased significantly with the way it handled the Dubas situation and its subsequent handling of this summer’s free-agency period. It will need to do a lot to regain the high level of confidence I had in years prior.”

“It feels like confidence in the team’s decision-making process is at an all-time low. Going from a front office that had a consistent and understandable process to one that seems more disjointed and unpredictable so far is scary and unfamiliar.”

This is familiar but forgotten territory for Leafs fans. Things were supposed to be different under the Shanaplan, but one chaotic week in May changed everything.

The Leafs moved on from Kyle Dubas after a very public contract negotiation turned sour and it’s that one move that many Leafs fans surveyed view as the team’s worst. In a summer where the new regime signed Ryan Reaves to a three-year deal at $1.3 million per year, that’s saying something.

Dubas was not without his faults, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have done that. There was always a clearcut process that’s already immediately apparent in Pittsburgh and it’s no shock to see the two teams move in opposite directions on this list as a result. He wasn’t perfect in Toronto, but he was able to limit and learn from mistakes better than most with a clear vision of how to build a contending hockey club.

The current vision is not something Leafs fans trust with 77 percent of fans being less confident in the team than they were a year ago. That likely falls more on Brendan Shanahan who made the one change this summer that many considered the least of the team’s worries.

The Leafs will still be a contender next season and there’s time for Brad Treliving to win the fan base over. Getting Auston Matthews extended for another four years should help with that, but his early work has been a bit more erratic than what fans have been used to.

Last Year: 26th

“It’s been the same management team since 2011, and I don’t hate the management, but I wonder if it hasn’t become complacent. If there’s a vision for the team, they’re not sharing it and I can’t figure out what it is. It’s been mediocre with great goaltending for a while.”

“What is the plan? Clearly not a contender, but they won’t rebuild (based on PLD return). Keeping Scheifele and Hellebuyck for what, a run at 7-8th place and a first-round exit?”

The Winnipeg Jets made one of the league’s biggest trades this offseason, a trade that revealed the team’s vision — or lack thereof.

In moving Pierre-Luc Dubois the Jets were faced with a crossroads: make an NHL trade and try to salvage whatever window is left with their core, or make a futures-oriented trade signaling the start of a new era. With Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck a year away from free agency and the current version of the team looking unable to reach the next level, the path seemed obvious.

That’s not the path the Jets chose though, and it’s difficult to be confident in the same regime that’s been in charge for over a decade under those circumstances. In a vacuum, the Dubois trade was pretty tidy for the Jets and the team itself should still be capable of making the playoffs. But higher aspirations look out of reach with this group which is what makes Winnipeg’s chosen direction so disappointing.

You gotta know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. The Jets seem content with holding on to a losing hand.

29. San Jose Sharks

Last Year: 29th

“Grier is new and placed in a terrible position with the long-term contracts on the books in San Jose. He has been able to stabilize the cap issues but the return on his trades of Burns, Meier and Karlsson have been underwhelming at best.”

“Trying not to pass judgment too quickly but the decisions to value cap space over more valuable assets for a team that seems years and years away is confusing. We basically turned Burns and Karlsson into salary dumps instead of retaining more salary to get better assets.”

Over the last calendar year, the San Jose Sharks traded Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Timo Meier — three top-tier players. Context is obviously key, but what the team got in return was far from inspiring and it’s why the Sharks rightfully have the lowest public score when it comes to trading. Some fans viewed the deal favorably and liked that Mike Grier stood his ground with regard to salary retention, but the reality is that the Sharks got very little for the reigning Norris Trophy winner.

The teardown part of the rebuild is supposed to be the easy part and in a sense, the Sharks did do well to create a clearer cap picture going forward. Whether that should’ve been the priority for them given how much work lies ahead is the issue and speaks to a worrisome vision from the front office.

If they’re struggling this much to competently tear things down, how much faith can be reasonably placed in building things back up?

Last Year: 21st

“It’s a testament to how bad Jim Benning was that the current regime is a marked improvement. Still not close to good enough though and they are completely wasting the primes of the two best young players the team has had in the past 15 years.”

“It’s the same trash over and over. Crafting a team by cutting corners to make the playoffs, not building a team to be good for a long time and win a Stanley Cup. The owner just wants playoff money over everything.”

The Canucks drop nine spots from last year, back into the bottom rung of the league the franchise is all too familiar with. Things were supposed to be different with the new regime, but the rankings suggest more of the same.

But the tide does seem to be turning with 74 percent of Canucks fans feeling more confident than they did a year ago. While the fan rankings rank 27th overall, the average score of 3.1 is much more promising than the days when Jim Benning and company would be closer to the 1-2 range.

Part of that is fan-base optimism during free agency. In the past this is where Vancouver struggled most, overpaying the wrong players in a misguided quest to scratch its way into a playoff spot. This year the Canucks made some savvy additions at decent prices that should actually bolster their depth. A step in the right direction.

There are still some questionable decisions that lead to the team’s deserved spot in the bottom three (the J.T. Miller extension being one of them), as well as organizational culture issues brought to light with the entire Bruce Boudreau saga. It’s still not good enough to inspire confidence or even much optimism. But it’s better and that’s a start at least.

31. Calgary Flames

Last Year: 15th

“The promise of Conroy’s first press conference has whittled away from a summer of inaction. No clarity on any of the team’s remaining six pending UFAs despite the promise of not going through the Gaudreau situation again.”

“New front-office staff deserve a chance but it sure looks like perpetual mediocrity remains the goal.”

It’s always difficult to judge new front offices that haven’t really done anything of note yet. In this context though, not doing anything is something of note. Many Flames fans were cautious in evaluating the job of new GM Craig Conroy while also being quick to point out that he should’ve been a lot more active this summer. The Tyler Toffoli trade was a start, albeit not a great one. But a still unclear future for Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Noah Hanifin isn’t ideal.

What it shows is a lack of direction for the Flames. In their defense, maybe it is in the team’s best interest to be a little patient here. As poorly as last season went, there’s still enough talent on the roster to be competitive next season, making it prudent to not completely rush into a rebuild. Especially if they want to see how things go with a new coach.

That patience can be a very dangerous thing though in this specific circumstance. It delays the seemingly inevitable and if all does go well on the ice this year it could mean the front office locking itself into a group that’s unlikely to contend long-term. Calgary has the chance to cash in on some coveted assets and doing so is likely the savviest decision. While wanting to win is understandable, the worry is that it ends in a first-round exit and an eight-year overpayment on Lindholm.

Calgary’s long-term future is at stake this season and it doesn’t feel like there are many who are confident the Flames will make the right decision for it.

32. New York Islanders

Last Year: 28th

“’Too Long and Too Much Money,’ isn’t just a Lou quote, it seems to be a theme for this team.”

“There seems to be a sense among a lot of people that follow the sport that Lou always has something up his sleeve. I really never understood it. In fact, what’s up his sleeve is usually a 6-7 year deal for a depth player that won’t age well.”

The shine has finally worn off on Long Island as the Islanders plummet to last place after falling to 28th a year ago. Across the board, there is very little faith in the Islanders in any department and that likely stems from a rocky season from the front office.

Aside from the Ilya Sorokin extension, there hasn’t been a lot to like from the Islanders’ decision-making brass of late. Lengthy extensions to Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield look iffy, as does signing a 35-year-old backup for four more seasons at a not-insignificant price. The Bo Horvat trade was a gamble that could still pay off, but Lou Lamoriello’s own admission that the deal was too much money and too long was something that was supposed to be evident in the back half — not immediately.

It’s death by a thousand cuts, a slow bleed-out for an aging group that has a lot of money tied up to a bubble team. But even when the Islanders were at the top of their game there was evidence that this would be the end result. Trading Devon Toews for two seconds is not emblematic of a front office with a strong vision or process. Each move since has been further confirmation of that.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic. Photos: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Brett Carlsen / Getty Images)

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