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The Exit Interview: What’s Next for the Teams Eliminated in Round 1?

Courtesy of Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

A few weeks ago, 16 of the best teams in the NHL began their quest for the greatest prize in hockey: the Stanley Cup. Now, as the summer months are rolling in, the playoffs are in full swing. With round one over, eight teams have been eliminated from the running: the Washington Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Nashville Predators. Now that these teams’ seasons are over, what is next?

First up are the Washington Capitals, who were eliminated by the New York Rangers 4-0 in the first round. Since their elimination, the Capitals have been active in the trade market. With four free agents on the main roster and a handful of others that are not, the Caps are sure to have a busy offseason figuring out extensions and trades. Along with these free agents, the Caps also have to address their goaltenders’ futures. During the season, backup goalie Charlie Lindgren took the starting role from Darcy Kuemper and ended up having an excellent season. The Caps' general manager, Brian MacLellen expressed interest in keeping Kuemper around and stated that they do not intend on buying out his contract. However, an extension on Lindgren’s contract is not out of the question. 

Courtesy of Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Next are the Vegas Golden Knights, who were eliminated by the Dallas Stars after a grueling seven game series. The reigning Stanley Cup Champions were frustrated by their early exit, but they know that they put up a good fight. The Golden Knights are hungry to get back to winning, as alternate captain and center Jack Eichel stated in his exit interview: “We want to get back to that point. It should fuel everyone.” However, the Golden Knights are in a little bit of a tough spot. With limited salary cap space due to the acquisition of Noah Hanifin in March, they could potentially lose Jonathan Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson. Marchessault, who was a member of the Knights’ original roster and winner of the Conn Smythe trophy last season, has mentioned that he “would love to stay” with the team. Whether both of these players stay or go depends on if the Knights’ general manager, Kelly McCrimmon can find some wiggle room in the cap. 

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Next are the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in a five game series. After a frustrating season of injuries, the Lightning put up a good fight, even though it was upsetting to be eliminated in round one for the second year in a row. The Bolts are not dwelling on that, though. Rather, they are more focused on keeping important players around before their contracts run out, especially Steven Stamkos. The superstar right winger has been with the Lightning for 17 seasons, the captain for 10 seasons, and was instrumental in their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2020 and 2021. Stamkos’ eight year contract that he signed back in 2016 is coming to an end. The Lightning’s general manager, Julien BrieseBois says that right now it is a “top priority” to keep Stamkos for as long as they can and as long as he is able to play.

Courtesy of Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times

Then, there are the Winnipeg Jets, who were eliminated by the Colorado Avalanche in a five game series. The Jets put up a good effort against the Avalanche, leading the league’s playoff statistics early on. However, this was not enough to stop the Avs’ momentum. The Jets are looking to undergo big changes during the offseason. Their head coach, Rick Bowness, is retiring after 38 seasons with the NHL, making him the longest tenured coach in NHL history. Bowness has led the team to the playoffs the past two seasons and will be missed. Defenseman Josh Morrissey stated, “He empowered our group to be better, to be more of a team…and that every cog in the wheel is equally important.” The Jets are looking for a replacement, though it is unclear who that will be. 

Courtesy of Yahoo Sports

The Los Angeles Kings was eliminated by the Edmonton Oilers, being another team that was eliminated in a five game series. It is not clear what the Kings are looking to do in the offseason, however it is clear that people are unhappy with their mediocre style of play and that some changes need to be made, as it has been 10 years since the Kings have won a playoff round. Regarding their leadership, it is not likely that the front office is changing anytime soon. Regarding the players, like the Golden Knights, the Kings have little salary cap flexibility. This fact has left them with some difficult decisions, including the future of center Pierre Luc-Dubois. Rumors have been floating around about Dubois’ future, from whether his contract will be bought out or whether he will get traded to teams such as the Montreal Canadiens or the Washington Capitals. Dubois’ no-movement clause begins July 1, so it is possible that a trade could happen in the meantime.

Courtesy of Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated in a tough, seven game series against the Boston Bruins. Not wanting the infamous curse to return, the Maple Leafs put up a good fight against the Bruins, but it was not enough. Fans have been quick to point fingers at the Leafs’ head coach, Sheldon Keefe for failing to lead his team to a successful postseason run. It is possible that a fresh face behind the bench could be what the Leafs need for postseason success, but it is more likely that they will look to trade players instead. A big trade might also bring a breath of fresh air to the team. The Leafs could trade right winger Mitch Marner because he has lots of value and could bring the team massive return, though it is unlikely that this trade will happen. Though everything is up in the air, in order for the Leafs to have future postseason success, it is clear that big changes need to be made. 

Courtesy of Frank Franklin II/The Canadian Press/AP Photo

Lastly, the Nashville Predators were eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in a six game series. After not making it out of the first round again, the Predators are eager to improve and add more “serial winners” to their roster. But, before they can look to add more players to the roster, the Predators have to clear up their goaltender situation. Their starting goalie, Juuse Saros, has a year left in his contract. Rumors were floating around before the March trade deadline that Saros would be traded. Additionally with the success of backup goalie, Yaroslav Askarov, Saros’ future is even more unclear. Thus the Preds have two options: they can have Saros and Askarov have equal net time next season, or they can trade Saros to give them five million dollars worth of room in their salary cap to their star players, such as Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg. 

Courtesy of Bob Frid-USA Today Sports

Though their playoff runs may have come to an abrupt end, it looks like these teams are going to be very busy during the offseason. It will be exciting to see how these teams use this time to regroup and get stronger for next season!

Edited by Breanna Ebisch

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