As all of you hockey fans know, the NHL season kicks off this week. There are going to be all sorts of surprising teams, for both the good and bad. A main example being last years New York Islanders. These types of things make predictions tough, but I am going to do my best to predict what will happen this season in the Pacific Division.
Calgary Flames: Before last season began, the Flames were expected to be a strong team. I’m not sure anyone pegged them at 107 points however. Because of this, expectations rose by the day as this team stayed hot all season long. Unfortunately for them, they failed to live up to those expectations in the playoffs, and were upset in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche.
Additions: Talbot, Lucic
A couple of Oilers cast-offs. Cam Talbot was a huge part of the Oilers success in 2016-2017 when they finally made the playoffs. He was considered a top tier goalie at the time but has fallen off big time ever since. A large chunk of that is probably fair to blame on the Oilers as a whole, so it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back. Milan Lucic appears to be too slow for the game now. Flames fans can pray and hope for the Lucic of old to re appear, but it isn’t going to happen.
Departures: Smith, Hathaway, Neal
Nothing of significance here for the Flames. Mike Smith was horrible all of last season until the playoffs, where it should be noted he played exceptionally well. They chose not to re-sign him, and basically did a goalie swap with the Edmonton Oilers. James Neal was traded to the Oilers for Lucic, in a trade that early on seems like a rare win for Edmonton. Garnet Hathaway was nothing more than a role player who signed with the Washington Capitals.
The Flames will be a strong team again this season. However, I don’t believe they will be as good as last. The goaltending is still a question mark, although David Rittich did play well for a good portion of the year. The blueline is pretty strong, led by Mark Giordano. Giordano had a career year last season with an outstanding 74 points in 78 games. He is no doubt one of the best defenceman in the league, but it is important to note he is nearly 36 and may regress a tad this season. Up front, the Flames are stacked. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk are some of the top young players in the league. Factor them in amongst the other skilled forwards they have and it’s easy to say they are one of the best offensive teams in the league. I am predicting Calgary will finish 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season.
San Jose Sharks: Another outstanding regular season by the San Jose Sharks. You’d think eventually they would fall off the map somewhat, but they continue to dominate year in and year out. Unfortunately for them and their fans, they have never been able to get over the final hump. This year was no different, although it was certainly close yet again. They made it to the Western Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the future Stanley Cup winning St. Louis Blues in six games.
Arrivals: Brodzinski, Prout
Who and who? Neither Jonny Brodzinski or Dalton Prout will add much for the Sharks, but they are both players who can be called up and fill a hole for the big club when there are injuries. It’s never a bad thing to have depth.
Departures: Pavelski, Donskoi, Nyquist, Ryan, Braun
A tough offseason for San Jose. Joe Pavelski has been one of the faces of the franchise for many seasons, and still has elite level skill. They no doubt wanted to bring him back, but unfortunately were outbid by the Dallas Stars. They will miss him both on the ice and in the locker room big time. Joonas Donskoi had some flashes of brilliance during his team in San Jose. The biggest problem with Donskoi is that he tends to be very streaky. Nyquist was a rental they acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the deadline. Justin Braun is a bottom pairing defenceman and Joakim Ryan a depth defenceman. They will be fine without them.
Obviously, the loss of Pavelski is huge for San Jose. He was one of their best players and was their leader. They do still have tons of skill and although they’ll miss him, they should be fine. Logan Couture has been given captaincy and has no doubt learned a lot from Pavelski over the years. On the back end, they have what most would agree to be the two most lethal offensive defencemen in the game with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Karlsson has struggled health-wise the last couple of seasons but is reported to be healthy coming into camp this year and should have a monster season if he can continue to remain so. Goaltending was the major issue with this team last year as neither Martin Jones or Aaron Dell both had save percentages below .900%. Those numbers simply won’t cut it in today’s NHL. Jones should have a bounce back, but nothing is guaranteed. Because of Jones being a question mark, factored in with the loss of Pavelski, I am predicting the Sharks to finish 3rd in the pacific this season.
Vegas Golden Knights: After an insane first NHL season, Vegas proved that they were no fluke. They had another outstanding season, finishing with 93 points. Their season ended in one of the most thrilling playoff games of all time. Up 3-0 in the third period, Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major on a very questionable call. San Jose scored four goals on the powerplay and took a 4-3 lead. Somehow Vegas was able to regroup after the major collapse and tied the game up with under a minute remaining. It wasn’t meant to be though, as they eventually lost the game 5-4 in overtime. A controversial and devastating way for a season to end.
Because of trades and signings from the past season, Vegas was unable to do much of anything this offseason due to their salary cap situation. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as they have a great team and are happy with their core.
Departures: Miller, Haula, Bellemare, Gusev, Carpenter
Colin Miller and Erik Haula were both traded so that Vegas could be back under the salary cap. They are both good players that Vegas likely would’ve preferred to keep if possible. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a hard-working veteran player and was a great leader for Vegas. He signed in free agency with the Colorado Avalanche. Nikita Gusev wanted a pretty high paying contract for a player who has never played an NHL game, so Vegas traded him to the New Jersey Devils. Ryan Carpenter is a fourth line forward who they won’t have trouble replacing.
Losing Colin Miller and Erik Haula certainly isn’t ideal for Vegas. However, they have so much talent at the forward and defence positions that they will be just fine. They had some new faces last season in guys like Pacioretty and Stastny. Now that they can come into this season more comfortable, it should only benefit the team. In net, Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best in the business and there is no reason to think that won’t continue to be the case. I believe Vegas is going to come flying into this season given how they were knocked out last year. It without a doubt left a bad taste in their mouths, and they will be as motivated as anyone this season. I am predicting Vegas to finish 1st in the Pacific this season.
Arizona Coyotes: A pretty solid season for Arizona. Although they missed the playoffs, they were pretty competitive all season finishing with 86 points. It should also be noted that they had terrible injury luck last season, with many of their top end players missing large chunks of the season.
Arrivals: Kessel, Soderberg
The Coyotes major problem last season was goalscoring. They certainly did what they could to fix that issue, adding one of the elite goal scorers in the league in Phil Kessel. In the past two seasons Kessel has put up 92 and 82 points. He may see a bit of a decline in those totals due to playing on a less skilled team, but he will still benefit them big time. They also acquired Carl Soderberg who should be able to chip in with 40-50 points.
Departures: Galchenyuk, Cousins, Archibald, Panik, Connauton
Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Kessel. He is a skilled player who has yet to live up to his expectations, although Pittsburgh may be the right team for him to have a breakout season. Regardless, Kessel is already proven and this trade should make Coyotes fans very happy. The rest of the players on this list are all fairly replaceable guys, and it shouldn’t impact the Coyotes with them gone.
As mentioned, this team battled tons of injuries last season. They also had a very strong and very unexpected season from goaltender Darcy Kuemper. If he can continue that play and Antti Raanta is able to stay healthy, they will have one of the better goalie duos in the league. Clayton Keller is entering his third year and should have a big bounce back season as he experienced a bit of a sophomore slump, managing only 47 points. I think if the goaltending holds up this team should compete this year. I am predicting Arizona to place 5th in the Pacific this season.
Vancouver Canucks: This is a team with no apparent sense of direction over the last few years. They have some outstanding young talent in Boeser, Petterson, and Hughes, but instead of getting a few more high picks and really stacking up they continue to sign older veterans and always remain a middling team. Last season was no different as they finished fifth in the Pacific with 81 points. Not good enough to grab a playoff spot, not bad enough to grab a lottery pick.
Additions: Miller, Ferland, Myers, Benn
Here they go again. J.T. Miller was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay Lightning where Vancouver gave up a first and third round pick. Miller is a good player, but that is likely to high of a price to pay for him for any team, let alone a team who should be drafting and developing young players at this time. Micheal Ferland and Tyler Myers were both signed as free agents. Again, they are both solid players, but don’t make a ton of sense for Vancouver. This isn’t a team that is ready to be a contender yet, and with the dollars and term they gave both of these players it has the potential to make it tough to sign a few of their younger players to extensions in the upcoming seasons. Jordie Benn is simply a guy who you can throw onto your third pairing for a year or two to give your young guys a bit more time to develop in the minors.
Departures: Hutton, Granlund, Pouliot
Nothing of significance here whatsoever. All three of these players moved on with different teams in free agency.
This team is very confusing. They have one of the most electric young superstars in the game in Elias Pettersson, which alone makes them an exciting team to watch. Aside from that, it could be another long season in Vancouver. There are simply to many holes in this roster to compete. And until the management comes up with a better game plan for what they want to do, they could continue to be in this position for a long time. I’m predicting the Canucks to place 6th in the Pacific this season.
Anaheim Ducks: Anaheim regressed big time this past season. For years and years, they were a powerhouse in the Pacific division, one that other teams feared to play. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. It happens with all teams that are dominant over a long span like Anaheim was. Your core gets older and begins to slow down. That really has begun to happen with Anaheim in players like Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, and even Ryan Getzlaf this past season.
Nothing more than a depth move here as Anthony Stolarz was already sent to the minors a week ago. However, goaltending depth is never a bad thing and it is important to note John Gibson has struggled to stay healthy in the past.
Departures: Perry, Welinski, Megna, Dotchin
The biggest move the Ducks made this season was buying out the contract of Corey Perry. Perry was a fan favorite and a superstar caliber player for the Ducks for many seasons. However, age and injuries have taken their toll on the former Hart trophy winner, and Anaheim could no longer keep him and his contract around if they wanted to try and improve their team. The other three players are all depth guys who the team moved on from.
This team could be in trouble for a few years. They are currently in a transition period, but it does look like they could be a team to watch out for in a few years. Young prospects such as Troy Terry, Sam Steel, and Max Comtois should have Ducks fans very excited for what’s to come. Factor that in with the fact they have John Gibson, who is only 26 years old and one of the best in the business, the future looks bright for Anaheim. Unfortunately for them and their fans however, this looks like it could be a long year. I am predicting the Ducks to finish 7th in the Pacific.
Edmonton Oilers: This is a depressing one to do. I’ve had the poor fortune of this tire fire of an organization being the team I cheer for. Remember when the Oilers drafted first overall in 2010? How about 2011? 2012?! This team had everyone extremely excited and felt like they could build a dynasty that they once had back in the 80’s. It didn’t work and they still continued to struggle big time. Fast forward to 2015. Yet again, a first overall pick, but this one landed them Connor Mcdavid. This seemed to finally turn the page for the Oilers, as they made the playoffs convincingly during the 2016-2017 season. However, since then they have been back to being the same, miserable Oilers. Last season, despite their top two forwards in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for a jaw dropping 221 points, they were still only able to finish with 35 wins.
Arrivals: Smith, Neal, Granlund, Jurco, Nygard, Haas
The Mike Smith signing in Edmonton was met with quite a bit of skepticism, and rightfully so. Smith had a horrible season with the Flames last year, posting a save percentage below .900. He has a good track record throughout his career, but he is also 37 years old now. Edmonton will need a bounce back from him if they have any chance this season, as Mikko Koskinen didn’t look to be the answer for them last year. James Neal struggled big time for Calgary last season with just 19 points in 63 games. Trading for someone with his cap and those numbers may seem crazy until you realize they were able to get rid of Milan Lucic for him. Neal at least has a chance of a bounce back 20 goal season, whereas Lucic simply doesn’t. Even if Neal doesn’t work out in Edmonton, his contract is much more buyout friendly than Lucic’s. This trade should be well received by Oilers fans. Marcus Granlund and Tomas Jurco will likely both get a shot in the bottom six in Edmonton, and possibly play even higher up the lineup due to Edmonton’s depth chart. Both Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas were brought over from Europe, so not much is known on either of them. The one thing new General Manager Ken Holland said he liked about these two was the speed they could add to the team. Perhaps one of them at some point could earn their way into Edmontons top six.
Departures: Sekera, Lucic, Rieder, Rattie
A few changes here for the Oilers. Andrej Sekera was a very solid defenceman for them during his stint as an Oiler. Unfortunately for him, he had two very serious injuries in a torn ACL as well as an Achilles tendon rupture. This left the Oilers with no choice but to buy him out. Milan Lucic as previously mentioned was shipped out for James Neal. Tobias Rieder scored zero goals last season and Ty Rattie wasn’t much better despite getting some playing time with McDavid, so neither will be missed.
This team without a doubt has some major holes. They have the worst lineup of wingers in the NHL. They have an okay blueline at best along with questionable goaltending. Center ice is the one position they excel at, with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Last season Leon Draisaitl did spend most of his time on the wing with McDavid, but it hasn’t yet been stated who will play with who this year. Another new addition to this team is Dave Tippett. Tippett has a reputation of getting a lot out of teams with relatively weak rosters. This is why I do believe Edmonton will improve this season. Maybe it’s just my fan bias coming out for this one. I just think any team with a player as good as Connor McDavid has a shot any year. I am predicting the Edmonton Oilers to finish 4th place in the Pacific this season. Again, keep in mind I am an Oilers fan, so this one may be a tad biased.
Los Angeles Kings: Much like Anaheim, this team was a powerhouse for a longtime in the Pacific. They were also extremely successful, with two Stanley Cup wins in 2012 and 2014. That window of success appears to have closed, with their core starting to slow down. Last season was a major struggle for the Kings, as they finished with just 71 points.
The Kings didn’t do much of anything this offseason, adding just Joakim Ryan. He will likely be a guy who comes in and out of the lineup with some of their younger players this season.
The Kings decided to buyout the contract of Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf was once one of the better defenceman in the league, but the game appears to be to fast for him now. He has yet to sign with another team and it may be the end of the road for him.
This seems like it could be a repeat of last year for the Kings. They are an old and slow team. They do still have some huge names. Kopitar, Quick, Doughty, Carter, and Brown all come to mind. Perhaps they all have bounce back years and bring the Kings back to the playoffs. That seems very unlikely however, which is why I am predicting the Kings to finish last for the second straight season in the Pacific.
1) Vegas Golden Knights
2) Calgary Flames
3) San Jose Sharks
4) Edmonton Oilers
5) Arizona Coyotes
6) Vancouver Canucks
7) Anaheim Ducks
8) Los Angeles Kings