The NHL regular season begins on Wednesday, October 4. As the season quickly approaches, hockey fans are building up their excitement.
Over the last number of days, I have previewed teams in 3 of the 4 NHL Divisions. Now, it is time to preview and predict the Pacific Division. In 2016-17, the Pacific Division got 4 teams into the Stanley Cup Playoffs – Anaheim, Edmonton, San Jose, and Calgary.
The Pacific Division saw Edmonton surge back into the playoffs after an eleven-year hiatus. Anaheim has won the Pacific Division 5 years in a row. Will the Ducks be able to win the Division again? What new teams could emerge from the Pacific this year? How will the Vegas Golden Knights perform in their first NHL season?
Here is how I am looking at the Pacific Division clubs during the preseason:
PROJECTED STANDINGS FINISH IN 2017-18:
1. ANAHEIM DUCKS*
2. EDMONTON OILERS*
3. CALGARY FLAMES*
4. SAN JOSE SHARKS
5. LOS ANGELES KINGS
6. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
7. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
8. ARIZONA COYOTES
*denotes playoff teams
Analysis: The Coyotes are in the middle of a rebuild, but they are grooming a great crop of young players. At forward, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, and Tobias Rieder all have promising futures for the Coyotes. The Coyotes added former Ranger centreman Derek Stepan in the offseason to bolster their depth up the middle. They also brought in veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in a trade from Chicago and defenseman Jason Demers from the Florida Panthers. The Coyotes sent veteran goaltender Mike Smith to Calgary in exchange for a conditional pick, so Louis Domingue and Antti Raanta will likely split goaltending duties for the club in 2017-18. Rick Tocchet is the new bench boss in Arizona this season, and will bring a Stanley Cup winning pedigree to the team. This team is young, and they still do not have all of the pieces in place to come close to the playoffs. The goaltending is the biggest question mark heading in to the season, and the Coyotes will also likely struggle to score goals consistently.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Analysis: The Golden Knights are the new kids on the block this year. Their team is comprised of a lot of players that Vegas chose from other clubs during the expansion draft. Former Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will lead the way in net for the Golden Knights in their first season. Former Capitals GM George McPhee is the man in charge for assembling the Golden Knights now and into the future. McPhee acquired some quality young defensemen in the Expansion Draft period with players like Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, and Colin Miller. In addition to some young defenseman, the Golden Knights also acquired goal-scoring forward James Neal from the Nashville Predators during the Expansion Draft. While Neal can score goals, he might be the only forward the Golden Knights have that can do so consistently. The Golden Knights are still short up front and on the blueline, but they still have a boatload of draft picks in the next couple of NHL Drafts. It will take a few years for the Golden Knights to become competitive, but McPhee turned the Washington Capitals into a strong contender for many years while he was in Washington D.C.
Analysis: The “R” word (rebuild) has finally been accepted in Vancouver and the Canucks are busy injecting more young players into their lineup. Travis Green, who formerly coached in Utica, is the Canucks new bench boss. The Canucks are transitioning from the Sedins carrying the load offensively to young players like Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Markus Granlund carrying the offensive load. The Canucks will have Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as their new goaltending tandem this season. The Canucks have a few holes defensively, and the jury is still out on goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks will likely be improved from their 69-point finish last season, and they should be able to score some more goals. However, they will fall short due to defensive shortcomings and uncertainty in net.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Analysis: The Kings were without star netminder Jonathan Quick for most of 2016-17. The offense was dry last year, as Jeff Carter was one of 2 Kings skaters to record over 20 goals. The Kings must win a lot of close games to have a shot at the postseason. With so many shortcomings up front, the Kings will still probably struggle to score goals. With Jonathan Quick back and healthy, the Kings should improve on their 86-point total from last season, but they will still likely fall short of the postseason.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Analysis: The Sharks have a veteran group with a lot of experience. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all over the age of 30. Martin Jones is one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL, and he earned his new 6-year extension he earned back on July 1. With the league getting faster and younger, one can only wonder when the youth and speed will catch up to the older Sharks veterans. For now, the Sharks will likely remain in playoff contention, but I do not see them winning the Pacific Division.
Analysis: Calgary had a very good offseason. They sent a boatload of draft picks to the New York Islanders and acquired defenseman Travis Hamonic. They also made a deal with the Coyotes and acquired veteran netminder Mike Smith. Hamonic will add to the Flames already deep defensive core, and Smith should bring the Flames more stability in net. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are exciting young forwards for the Flames, but the Flames are still a little bit short up front in goal scoring. The Flames have a good defensive core, and they will have a motivated Mike Smith in net. I like their chances of another postseason appearance, but I think they will fall a little short in winning the Pacific Division.
Analysis: The Oilers had a busy offseason, as they had to hand huge contract extensions to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers have a very potent team up front. Connor McDavid will likely be in line for another Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in 2017-18. The Oilers will be without the services of veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera until January as he is recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Oilers have enough scoring power to compete for the top spot in the Pacific Division, and they could even become one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Goaltender Cam Talbot played in 73 games for the Oilers last season, and the Oilers likely want to get Talbot’s appearances down some. The Oilers have a fun exciting young team that can score goals, but there are question marks that remain on defense.
Analysis: The Ducks have won the Pacific Division 5 years in a row, but they have hit road blocks in the playoffs in recent years. The Ducks strength is their defensive core. This group is young and very good. Defensemen Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Josh Manson are all 26 years of age or younger. John Gibson is the workhorse in net for the Ducks and has given the Ducks hope for the future, barring that he can remain healthy. Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are a big 1-2 punch up the middle for the Ducks, and they will both carry the load offensively for the club. The Ducks are deep and do not have many holes in their lineup. They are complete on their blueline, up the middle of the ice, and in net. I cannot go against the Ducks and see them taking the Pacific Division for the 6th year in a row in 2017-18.
OTHER PRESEASON PREDICTIONS
By: George Foussekis