The NHL has more year-to-year stability than some of its fellow North American sports leagues because its hard salary cap impedes player movement — and most of its biggest stars lock in maximum-length extensions when they have the opportunity.
Cores tend to stay together and teams spend much of their time building the edges of their roster rather than making profound changes. The contenders often stay contenders, while the bottom feeders languish for extended periods of time.
But just because the competitive sands can be slow to shift doesn't mean they don't shift at all. Not every team that made the playoffs last season will do so in 2023-24.
Below are the best candidates to take a step back.
The Wild have become infamous in recent seasons for making early playoff exits, but even making the postseason could be a struggle this season.
While Minnesota is coming off a 103-point campaign, no Western Conference playoff team scored fewer goals or produced a worse goal differential than the Wild (+21).
This team was extremely reliant on goal suppression to succeed, and it will be tough to replicate that formula in 2023-24. Last season the Wild had a team save percentage of .919, way above the NHL average of .904.
It will be hard to match that performance with their current tandem of netminders. Filip Gustavsson broke out with a .931 save percentage in 2022-23, but his career mark at the NHL level prior to the season was .905 — and he never topped .915 in an AHL campaign.
Meanwhile, Marc-André Fleury is entering his age-39 season, and it's more likely his production will decline than improve.
Having top-notch goaltending is essential to the Wild because they lack firepower and their possession game is suspect. Last season they were one of two playoff teams to post an expected goal percentage below 50% during 5-on-5 play (49.86%).
After an offseason that saw Minnesota lose top-four defenseman Matt Dumba and fail to make significant additions, it's easy to envision this squad struggling to match its prior success.
The Islanders were the other playoff squad to fail to earn its fair share of expected goals at 5-on-5, which is a tough place to be when your team's top-of-the-lineup finishers don't match up to the powers of your conference.
New York is exactly the type of team that needs to play a tight, organized game to succeed. If the Islanders fail to drive play consistently, they are unlikely to win with power-play excellence or by outperforming expected metrics.
Like the Wild, the Islanders were able to get by in 2022-23 largely due to their goaltending, as Ilya Sorokin was the team's clear MVP.
Sorokin has established himself as an elite goaltender who's not a bad bet to repeat his excellent season, but that might not be enough this time around.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres looking like good bets to make the playoffs after missing by a narrow margin last season, the Islanders are more vulnerable to having their place snatched than anyone else in the Eastern Conference.
The Jets didn't engage in the full teardown that seemed likely at one point during the offseason, but Winnipeg still looks in danger of taking a step back. The club locked up franchise cornerstones Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele on the eve of the new season, but this core hasn't done much to inspire confidence in recent years.
Although they got a solid return in the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal, it weakened the Jets in the immediate term — particularly down the middle, where they'll likely rely on Gabriel Vilardi as a second-line center. Vilardi is a talented young player, but there isn't much proof of concept for that at the NHL level.
Beyond the departure of Dubois, Winnipeg's roster is fairly similar to the one it iced in 2022-23, but that group made the playoffs by just two points.
That scenario seems unlikely for a team that projects to be a middle-of-the-pack outfit.
From a raw statistical standpoint there isn't much the Kraken did in 2022-23 that suggests they'll be on the outside looking in this season. Seattle was an excellent possession squad that produced a solid goal differential (+33) despite getting horrific goaltending (.890 team save percentage).
That said, the Kraken are a regression-to-the-mean candidate as they jumped 40 points in the standings between 2021-22 and 2022-23 with a similar cast of characters. Adding Matty Beniers made an impact, but there are a number of players who broke out last season that might not sustain their newfound production.
The team also lost some important contributors like Carson Soucy, Daniel Sprong and Morgan Geekie, while the players it imported like Brian Dumoulin and Kailer Yamamoto don't inspire as much confidence. A Shane Wright breakthrough could make a big difference, but that's hard to count on considering the center is just 19 and didn't pop in his NHL cameo last season.
Seattle should get better goaltending than it did last season by default, but the team's projected tandem of Philipp Grubauer (who has an .891 save percentage in 91 games with the Kraken) and Joey Daccord (who has 19 NHL games under his belt with a -12.6 GSAA) still seem likely to stop pucks at a below-average clip.