Living a life without fear is something everyone would love to accomplish. Just think of what it would be like to never freeze up in a crucial moment or not do something because the terror involved in doing it is far too much to comprehend.
NHL teams cannot feel fear, but those in charge of them can. After all, only one team can win the Stanley Cup and the 31 other teams must figure out what went wrong. Trying to change that narrative next year requires smarts, luck, and guts to do what's needed to make it happen.
Making roster moves believed to be daring, reckless or outright dumb requires courage, but even teams and GMs able to do that still have that little voice of trepidation in the back of their minds that whatever they do just might not work out.
We're going to look at each team and what their greatest fear is this offseason. First thing's first: you can't get ahead of next season without attacking the offseason first. We'll break things down by division to make it easier to find who you're looking for.
Boston Bruins – Aging
After being upset in the first round by Florida, Boston's offseason full of questions began immediately and without a lot of answers immediately present. The biggest issue is the age of the team. Patrice Bergeron will be 38 next season, David Krejcí will be 37 and Brad Marchand is 35. David Pastrnák is incredible and will be 27 next season. Having young players be a team's top players is all the rage and the Bruins buck that trend big time. If Bergeron and Krejci hang it up, they'll be younger, but they won't be able to replace that production with their own prospects.
Buffalo Sabres – Goaltending
The Sabres will be everyone's "it" team next season and the plan seems clear for them to accomplish that: Find consistent goaltending. They love rookie Devon Levi, but he's only played seven NHL games. The 21-year-old could be really good, but is that something GM Kevyn Adams is willing to wager immediately for next season? Buffalo has missed the playoffs each season since 2011 and they missed out by two points this season. They have to get there next season and finding good goaltending will allay most of the worries. But finding good goaltending isn't exactly easy and might require a trade to make it happen.
Detroit Red Wings — A Backup Plan
It's easy to pick on Ville Husso for not crushing it in his first season as Detroit's No. 1 goalie. His numbers didn't look hot, — 26-22-7 with a 3.11 goals against average and a .896 save percentage — but he had spells throughout the season in which he looked great. What would go a long way to helping him out, however, is finding a reliable alternative who can make it so Husso doesn't have to play constantly. The Atlantic is going to be a wicked division and flying into next season with one decent goalie and a prayer is a reckless gamble.
Florida Panthers — Expectations
The Panthers thought the pressure was high this season after winning the Presidents' Trophy last year. Guess what? They one-upped themselves by getting to the Eastern Conference Final and taking a 2-0 series lead over the Hurricanes. If they lose to Carolina, the pressure will be on to at least get back to the ECF. If they get to the Stanley Cup Final, then the pressure will be on to get back there no matter what. If they win the Cup? Nothing hurts, everything is golden and no one can hurt them because they did the thing…but they will be expected to go back and win it again. These are nice problems to have all things considered, but getting back to this point in the playoffs is a high bar to clear.
Montréal Canadiens — Maturity
There are a lot of young teams across the NHL and the Canadiens are under the radar as one of the youngest out there. They've got a lot of young talent and they dealt with a lot of injuries this season. The division will be really tough, but young talent can win a lot of games (just ask Buffalo) and the Canadiens will be in a similar position, particularly since they'll get another high pick in this year's draft. Nick Suzuki is young, but he's been a great leader for them already. With Juraj Slafkovský presumably healthy after losing this season to injury, and also getting Cole Caufield and Kaiden Guhle back, things are looking way up. Now they'll just have to be a bit more grown up to go with it.
Ottawa Senators — The Unknown
Fear of not knowing is a normal, healthy thing and not a reason to be concerned…unless it has to do with team ownership, then that's a little different. Such is the case for the Ottawa Senators who will have a new owner or ownership group in place in the very near future. The names are big and the money is even bigger, but what we don't know is how any of them will run the organization. Whether they're very hands-on or hands-off, who knows, but that's why there are a lot of reasons to be nervous. Whether it's Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg, Neko Sparks, or some combination of them together, we have no idea how they'll run a hockey team and that's reason enough to worry.
Tampa Bay Lightning — Hitting The Wall
The Lightning losing to Toronto in the first round of the playoffs could've been reason enough to worry about them had they not been to the Stanley Cup Final the previous three season seasons. They'll have a longer than normal offseason to rest, recover and prepare for the 2023-2024 season, but…what if that loss is a sign of things to come? The Lightning have played so much hockey the past three seasons and if they're out of gas, who could fault them? Of course, if they're running out of gas now while the rest of the division is picking up steam and improving, that's a big problem. There's a chance they'll lose Alex Killorn in free agency this summer just like they lost Ondrej Palát last summer and they won't have the cap space to really address it. But that won't matter much if they can't keep up with the new kids on the block.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Indecision
The Leafs getting bounced by Florida in the second round in five games is proving to be a turning point for the organization and the changes that are coming are just starting to be realized. They're not bringing back Kyle Dubas as GM and coach Sheldon Keefe's future is up in the air. There are also questions about whether they'll shake up their core of players as well. Once the Stanley Cup is raised, the offseason approaches at light speed and the Leafs will need to have all their decisions figured out with the staff before they get the roster work going. Any hesitation in doing so will hurt them and the competitiveness of the division will force them to not screw it up.