The attention tanking gets in the NHL is directly proportional to the prospect available at the top of the draft, which means last year all eyes were on which teams were in the hunt for Connor Bedard.
In 2023-24, there isn't a player of Bedard's calibre up for grabs, but that doesn't mean there aren't some teams that have more to gain from a dismal campaign than exceeding expectations by a modest margin.
As it stands, the biggest prize appears to be American center Macklin Celebrini, though the consensus on that could change over the course of the season. Whatever the case may be, there will still be a race to the bottom.
Here's a rundown of the likeliest participants:
1. San Jose Sharks (60 pts in 2022-23)
There isn't a single impact blueliner on the squad, and the crease remains unsettled with the newly-acquired Mackenzie Blackwood and incumbent Kaapo Kähkönen combining for minus-31.6 GSAA last season.
Luckily for the Sharks, they aren't trying to put a competitive team on the ice in 2022-23. This squad is in the midst of a deep rebuild and a getting a high draft pick means far more to San Jose than winning games in the near term.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (59 points in 2022-23)
Yes, the Blackhawks have Connor Bedard now, and he's likely to be very good right away. The addition of Taylor Hall is also meaningful.
Even if Chicago might be able to throw out a respectable first line, the rest of the team is a mess. Not one Blackhawks forward topped 40 points last year and the blue line outside of Seth Jones is unremarkable, especially offensively. None of Chicago's other projected top-six defensemen topped 13 points last season.
Starting goaltender Peter Mrázek also has a .893 save percentage since the beginning of the 2021-22 season — the second worst number among goalies with at least 50 games played.
It's tempting to think that Bedard will be able to elevate this roster, but Sidney Crosby's rookie year might be instructive. Sid the Kid produced 102 points in his rookie season while the Pittsburgh Penguins imported veterans like John LeClair and Ziggy Pálffy, but the team still produced the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
3. Anaheim Ducks (58 pts in 2022-23)
The Ducks were indisputably the worst team in the NHL last season. Not only did they finish with fewer points than any other squad, their goal differential (-129) was 13 markers worse than anyone else.
Based on that information there's an argument to put Anaheim at the top of this list, but the Ducks made meaningful additions in the offseason. Alex Killorn will help the team's offense while Radko Gudas and Robert Hägg solidify the defense corps.
Anaheim should get at least a slight bounce-back campaign from John Gibson in net as well considering he's coming off a career-worst season.
All of those avenues to improvement aren't likely to make the Ducks contenders, but they might avoid the very bottom of the standings.
Not much better
4. Philadelphia Flyers (75 points in 2022-23)
It's clear from their moves this offseason that the Flyers are not prioritizing 2023-24 wins. The team offloaded top-pair defenseman Ivan Provorov, jettisoned centre Kevin Hayes, and seemed to be shopping leading scorer Travis Konecny.
At full strength the Flyers' lineup is far from intimidating, and its hard to know what they'll get from the combination of Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. Both are expected back and would play major roles if healthy, but neither suited up in 2022-23 due to serious injuries.
The blue line looks thin in the wake of Provorov's departure and the goaltending tandem features Carter Hart— who has been approximately league-average over the past two seasons — and Cal Petersen, who spent most of 2022-23 in the AHL thanks to his brutal performance for the Los Angeles Kings.
5. Montreal Canadiens (68 points in 2022-23)
The Canadiens are a candidate to improve in 2023-24 because they should have more injury luck than last year — and they have enough young players that it's reasonable to project some internal development.
Despite the reasons for optimism, this squad could struggle to find secondary scoring outside of Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki while its ability to keep pucks out of the net is dubious. Montreal's blue line projects to be one of the least experienced in the NHL. While there's plenty of size on that unit, moving the puck could be an issue.
Even after acquiring Casey DeSmith in the Erik Karlsson deal, this team seems likely to receive below-average goaltending as well. The club's biggest offseason addition was Alex Newhook, and the 22-year-old has yet to establish himself as an impact player at the NHL level.
6. Arizona Coyotes (70 points in 2022-23)
The Coyotes have been a mainstay of rankings like this in recent seasons with just one playoff appearance since 2011-12.
To Arizona's credit, it has acquired a number of solid NHL players that should help the team improve on its 2022-23 performance including Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, Sean Durzi and Alex Kerfoot. The Coyotes are also likely to graduate promising youngsters like top prospect Logan Cooley and Dylan Guenther.
Even with all of that going for them, the Coyotes are still low on proven star-power and blueline talent — and their goaltending tandem of Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram has proven very little at the NHL level.
Arizona seems to be headed in the right direction, but 2023-24 expectations should remain in check.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (59 points in 2022-23)
The Blue Jackets were worse than a number of teams above them on this ranking last year, but there's reason to believe they'll be significantly improved in 2023-24.
Whether it's wise or not, Columbus is making an effort to accelerate its competitive timetable this season. Adding Damon Severson and Provorov to the blue line figures to be a massive upgrade — and that unit should get more than 13 games from Zach Werenski.
The Blue Jackets' forward group doesn't have a marquee addition outside of third-overall pick Adam Fantilli — but the pivot has a chance to make an instant impact.
Goaltending has a chance to be this team's downfall as Elvis Merzļikins is coming off an abysmal season. That said, the Latvian produced a positive GSAA in each of his three previous seasons with a total save % of .913.
Candidates to fall apart
8. Washington Capitals (80 points in 2022-23)
Washington produced the eighth-worst point total in the NHL last season, and there aren't too many reasons to expect a massive improvement in 2023-24.
A healthier John Carlson would help, but Washington is extremely reliant on players over 30 which opens the team up to more injury concerns than other squads. The team's signature offseason addition was Max Pacioretty, who played just five games in 2022-23 and 87 in the previous two seasons combined. As he approaches his 35th birthday it's possible he doesn't have much left to offer.
Trade deadline addition Rasmus Sandin looks like a helpful supplement to the team's blue line as well, but neither player is guaranteed to make a massive contribution.
As long as Alex Ovechkin is in town the Capitals are unlikely to overtly tank, but a few injuries to the team's rickety core could easily send Washington into a downward spiral.
9. St. Louis Blues (81 points in 2022-23)
The Blues have more young talent than Washington, but the team didn't come close to the playoffs last season and posted an ugly minus-39 goal differential. That squad also had Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev while the 2023-24 edition of the Blues looks thin up front — even with the addition of Kevin Hayes.
Add in an expensive defensive corps who are each at risk of age-related decline and a goaltender who has been well below average over the last two seasons, and it's tough to see a road to contention.
10. Detroit Red Wings (80 points in 2022-23)
Like the Blue Jackets, the Red Wings want to win some games in 2023-24. They've had an active offseason that's included a trade for Alex DeBrincat and Jeff Petry plus free-agent signings including J.T. Compher, Justin Holl, Daniel Sprong, Shayne Gostisbehere and Klim Kostin.
That's a significant influx of talent, but it's unclear whether the group will be able to elevate a core that has never come particularly close to reaching the playoffs.
It's also possible Ville Husso is a lemon between the pipes as he now has just one solid NHL season on his resume — and didn't peform well in his only year as a full-time starter. Backup goaltender James Reimer is 35 and just put together the worst season of his career.
Even though Detroit may have raised its floor with DeBrincat and a group of capable veterans, it is still at best the sixth-best team in its division on paper — and that statement implies a relatively harsh assessment of an up-and-coming Ottawa Senators team.