2023 is almost upon us, and that fact has me looking ahead to the new year. Specifically, my focus is on the NHL and its teams as the calendar flips to January.
The NHL's All-Star Weekend festivities kick off on February 3. A month later, the NHL trade deadline arrives as all 32 teams attempt to bolster their themselves now and in the future.
At this point in the season, we have a decent idea of which teams are contenders and which aren't. However, there are some teams on both ends of the spectrum with something to prove the rest of the way.
With no further ado, here are the NHL teams with something to prove in 2023.
6) Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres currently sit in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, potentially leading some of you to wonder why they're on this list. However, there is something for Buffalo to prove here.
We've seen in recent years how the Sabres have collected young, promising talent. The team has long been due to turn that proverbial corner and become a contender again.
And finally, it seems this year is that turning of the corner. Tage Thompson has emerged as a legitimate star, and the team has played rather well. The question remains whether or not this progress is legitimate or not.
Are the Sabres actually turning the corner, and starting to compete again? Or are they the NHL's version of the 2021 Detroit Tigers, over-performing and due to come back down to earth? These next few months will answer these questions.
5) Detroit Red Wings
Speaking of Detroit, the Red Wings feature a bit higher in this list given what happened last season. At one point last season, the Red Wings sat third in the Atlantic Division. And then they collapsed, hard.
This season, they currently sit fourth in the Atlantic Division. However, they have been incredibly inconsistent. Their veteran offseason additions have worked out for the most part. It's the young promising hotshots that haven't had the best go of it.
Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic has not played well at all. Defenseman Moritz Seider has been okay, but a far cry from his Calder Trophy-winning performance last season. And Lucas Raymond has not shown that goal-scoring touch from a year ago.
The Red Wings must prove whether this season is the turning of the corner for them. Can they improve defensively and hold down a top-five division finish? Or will we see another complete free fall like the one we saw a season ago?
The Oilers are currently stuck in proverbial sports purgatory. Edmonton isn't bad enough to tank for Connor Bedard. They are on outside of the playoffs on a tiebreaker, after all.
However, they may not be good enough to make the playoffs, either. The Seattle Kraken are ahead of them in the playoff race in just their second year in existence. And the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators are breathing down their necks with the talent necessary to overtake them in the standings.
The Oilers made the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the Connor McDavid era this past spring. Was that appearance a complete fluke, or can Edmonton regroup and make another deep run? They have to figure this out and soon.
The New Jersey Devils took the league by storm earlier this season. They won an insane 13 games in a row, a franchise record. New Jersey held the NHL's best record at one time.
However, they have since cooled off. They are now second in the Metropolitan Division behind the Carolina Hurricanes. In their last 10 games, they are an abysmal 2-7-1.
The Devils must prove whether they are a contender or a pretender. Was their winning streak the product of a team simply getting hot, or was it the mark of a team showing they are ready to challenge the NHL's best once again?
The Lightning are not a bad team. Tampa Bay is still loaded with some of the best talent in the NHL today. However, it does look like they've lost a step.
Tampa Bay sits in third place in the Atlantic Division. However, they are 15 points behind the division-leading Boston Bruins. In contrast, they are 12 points ahead of the division-dwelling Montreal Canadiens.
The Lightning have had trouble this year in games they would have controlled in years past. For example, they've played the Red Wings twice and lost both games by a combined score of 11-6. In years past, the Lightning would've won both games.
Have three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances finally caught up to them? Or are the Lightning still a threat to win it all? We will find out over these next few months.
And finally, we reach the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Avalanche have been hit with a ton of injuries as of late. Beyond that, they haven't quite had that same step as they did in years past.
Colorado holds the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They are one point behind the Minnesota Wild for third place in the Central Division, so they are definitely in the thick of things.
As defending champions, however, the pressure is on. They have a lot of expectations, injuries or no injuries. For them, it's imperative to prove they aren't on the downswing. Colorado needs to prove they're still among the NHL's very best.