2020-21 West Division Preview

Photo: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

As the realigned divisions are set and with the 2020-21 season just two and a half weeks away, NoVa Caps continues with their division previews. Today, we look at the West Division:

San Jose Sharks

2019-20 Result: 29-36-6 (last in the Western Conference, eighth in Pacific Division)

2019-20 Leaders:

  • F Evander Kane (21 goals)
  • D Erik Karlsson (33 assists)
  • F Timo Meier (49 points)
  • G Martin Jones (.896 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • G Devan Dubnyk
  • C Ryan Donato
  • F Patrick Marleau
  • F Matt Nieto

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • C Joe Thornton
  • G Aaron Dell
  • C Melker Karlsson
  • D Tim Heed

2020-21 Outlook: After posting an NHL-worst .9012 five-on-five save percentage, the Sharks acquired Dubnyk, who is coming off of his worst season since 2013-14 as he went 12-15-2 with an .890 save percentage, a 3.35 goals-against average, and a shutout in 30 games with the Minnesota Wild last season. He also lost the starting job to Alex Stalock. Meanwhile, Martin Jones has finished each of the past two seasons with an .896 save percentage.

The Sharks also brought in some reinforcements on offense after they averaged 2.57 goals-per-game last season, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the fourth-lowest in the NHL. Donato recorded 14 goals and 23 points in 62 games with the Wild last season. They also lured a pair of former forwards back to the team in Nieto, who posted eight goals and 21 points in 70 games with the Colorado Avalanche last season, and Marleau, who scored 11 goals and 22 points in 66 games with the Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins. No one finished with 50 points or more last season.

The Sharks core is getting older as captain Logan Couture is 31, Kane is 29, Marleau is 41, Karlsson is 30, defenseman Brent Burns is 35, and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 33. In addition, Karlsson has missed at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons due to injury and suffered a broken thumb that forced him to miss the final month of last season. Meanwhile, Burns’ production dropped from a career-high 83 points in 2018-19 to just 45 last season, where he posted a career-worst -22 rating.

Last season began the rebuild for the Sharks and there is no reason to expect them to be any different this season with many of their core players aging and a paltry goaltending tandem. They will likely be at or near the bottom of the division.

Los Angeles Kings

2019-20 Result: 20-35-6 (14th in Western Conference, seventh in Pacific Division)

2019-20 Leaders:

  • C Anze Kopitar (21 goals, 41 assists, 62 points)
  • F Alex Iafallo (17 goals, 43 points)
  • F Dustin Brown (17 goals, 35 points)
  • C Jeff Carter (17 goals, 27 points)
  • G Calvin Petersen (.922 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • D Olli Maatta
  • C Quinton Byfield

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • D Ben Hutton
  • F Trevor Lewis
  • D Paul LaDue
  • F Tim Schaller
  • D Joakim Ryan
  • C Brad Morrison

2020-21 Outlook: The Kings appeared to take a step in the right direction towards the end as they finished the season on a seven-game winning streak and have one of the NHL’s best prospect pools, which only improved with the No. 2 selection of Byfield, who recorded 32 goals and 82 points in 45 games with the OHL’s Sundbury Wolves last season and should slot behind Kopitar as their second-line center.

The Kings are expected to bring in the youth movement this season with forward Gabriel Vilardi, who recorded three goals and seven points in 10 games with the club towards the end of last season; defenseman Kale Clague, who recorded eight goals, 25 points, and a -14 rating in 49 games with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, and defenseman Mikey Anderson, who posted three goals, 15 points, and a -10 rating in 53 games with the Reign, expected to make the jump to the NHL. In addition, we could see the keys to the crease handed over to Petersen, who recorded a 5-3-0 record with a .922 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average in eight games and appeared to grab the No. 1 job from Jonathan Quick towards the end of the regular season.

The Kings did not lose anything significant this offseason but added Maatta, who recorded four goals, 17 points, a 48.57% Corsi-for percentage, and a 46.8% expected goals-for percentage in 65 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, in an effort to help guide the young defenseman coming in and improve a defense that was 14th in the NHL with an average of 2.99 goals-against per game.

The Kings need the young forwards to blossom if they want their average of 2.53 goals-per-game (30th in NHL) to go up from last season and the future appears to be bright in Los Angeles but they will need to be patient before getting into the postseason race.

Anaheim Ducks

2019-20 Result: 29-33-9 (13th in Western Conference, sixth in Pacific Division)

2019-20 Leaders:

  • C Adam Henrique (26 goals, 43 points)
  • C Ryan Getzlaf (29 assists)
  • G Ryan Miller (.907 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • D Jamie Drysdale
  • D Kevin Shattenkirk
  • C Derek Grant
  • F Vinnie Lettieri

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • D Michael Del Zotto
  • C Devin Shore
  • D Erik Gudbranson
  • D Matt Irwin

2020-21 Outlook: The Ducks had a quiet offseason with no significant losses, but they did add a couple of significant pieces to the backend with the free-agent signing of Shattenkirk, who posted eight goals, 34 points, a +22 rating, a 53.33% Corsi-for percentage, and a 55.63% expected goals-for percentage, and the selection of Drysdale, who recorded nine goals, 47 points, and a +9 rating in 49 games with the OHL’s Eerie Otters, with the sixth overall pick in the draft. The Ducks averaged 3.17 goals-against per game last season, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the sixth-highest in the NHL.

In addition, they also brought back Grant, who posted 15 goals and 25 points in 56 games with the Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers last season, to add to their center depth.

The Ducks are getting older with Getzlaf 35, Henrique and forward Jakob Silfverberg 30 but they have some nice young pieces with center Troy Terry (who posted four goals and 15 points in 47 games last season), forward Max Comtois (five goals and 11 points in 29 games), and center Sam Steel (six goals and 22 points in 65 games). However, they must continue to blossom for the Ducks to improve upon their average of 2.56 goals-per-game (third-worst).

The Ducks are also looking for a bounceback year from goaltender John Gibson, who posted a 20-26-5 record, a career-worst .904 save percentage, a careeer-high 3.00 goals-against average, and a shutout last season. He recorded a save percentage of at least .917 in four straight seasons before 2018-19.

Even if Gibson bounces back, the Ducks will likely finish at or near the bottom of the division with an aging core and a weak offense.

Arizona Coyotes

2019-20 Result: 33-29-8 (11th in Western Conference, fifth in Pacific Division), lost in five games to Colorado Avalanche in first round

2019-20 Leaders:

  • F Conor Garland (22 goals)
  • C Nick Schmaltz (34 assists, 45 points)
  • G Darcy Kuemper (.928 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • F Drake Cagiulla
  • C John Hayden
  • F Tyler Pitlick
  • F Johan Larsson
  • GM Bill Armstrong

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • F Taylor Hall
  • C Derek Stepan
  • C Carl Soderberg
  • F Vinnie Hinostroza
  • F Michael Grabner
  • C Brad Richardson

2020-21 Outlook: The Coyotes had a tumultuous offseason as they forfeited their 2020 second-round pick and their 2021 first-round pick for violating the NHL’s combine testing policy. As a result, they did not have a pick in the first three rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft. They will not sign their fourth-round pick in forward Mitchell Miller after reports emerged that he bullied a disabled teenager in high school. In addition, Hall left the team as an unrestricted free agent and they did not adequately replace him with the additions of Cagiulla, Hayden, Pitlick, and Larsson, who combined for just 26 goals last season. The Coyotes averaged only 2.71 goals-per-game in 2019-20, 23rd in the NHL.

The Coyotes recently traded Stepan to the Ottawa Senators for a 2021 second-round pick to salvage something out of what has been a miserable offseason.

Despite the turmoil within the organization, the Coyotes still have a chance at a postseason spot this season with one of the NHL’s best goalie tandems in Kuemper and Antti Raanta, who helped the Coyotes finish fourth in the league with a .9293 five-on-five save percentage. Kuemper was one of the best goalies in the league last season when he posted a 16-11-2 record, a .928 save percentage, a 2.22 goals-against average, and two shutouts.

In addition, the Coyotes still have one of the NHL’s deepest bluelines that limited opponents to an average of 2.61 goals-per-game. With captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson staying in the desert, their defensive prowess should continue next season.

The Coyotes have a chance to grab the final Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the division with the three California teams behind them but they need a bounceback season from forward Phil Kessel, who disappointed in his first year with the team as he posted just 14 goals, 38 points, and a -21 rating in 70 games. He posted at least 59 points in each of the previous six seasons.

Minnesota Wild

2019-20 Result: 35-27-7 (10th in Western Conference, sixth in Central Division), lost in four games to Vancouver Canucks in Stanley Cup Qualifiers

2019-20 Leaders:

  • F Zach Parise (25 goals)
  • D Ryan Suter (40 assists)
  • F Kevin Fiala (54 points)
  • G Cam Talbot (.919 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • G Cam Talbot
  • D Ian McCoshen
  • C Nick Bonino
  • C Nick Bjugstad
  • F Marcus Johansson
  • C Marco Rossi

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • G Devan Dubnyk
  • C Ryan Donato
  • C Eric Staal
  • C Luke Kunin
  • C Alex Galchenyuk

2020-21 Outlook: The Wild made a few notable trades to tinker their forward depth after the team averaged 3.16 goals-per-game last season, 12th in the NHL. They traded Kunin to the Nashville Predators for Bonino, who had a nice season in 2019-20 where he posted 18 goals, 35 points, and a +17 rating. The Wild also got younger as they traded Staal to the Sabres for Johansson, who recorded nine goals, 30 points, and a -12 rating in 60 games last season. They also acquired Bjugstad, who was limited to just 13 regular-season games last season, from the Pittsburgh Penguins but has the potential to be a steal as he has recorded two seasons with at least 19 goals and 43 points, respectively, and only gave up a conditional seventh-round pick to get him.

The Wild will also have Kaprizov, who recorded 33 goals and 62 points in 57 games with the KHL’s CSKA Moskva last season, finally coming over and expected to make an impact at the NHL level. The 23-year-old was the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

The team made a change in goal with Dubnyk out and Talbot, who recorded a 12-10-1 record, a .919 save percentage, and two shutouts with the Calgary Flames last season, in after signing him as an unrestricted free agent. The Wild also expect to have Kaapo Kahkonen, who posted a 3-1-1 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.96 goals-against average, come in to work in a tandem with Talbot.

The Wild have a deep defense with Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and Jonas Brodin to serve as a solid top-four and Carson Soucy, who recorded seven goals, 14 points, a +16 rating, a 46.76% Corsi-for percentage, and a 51.33% expected goals-for percentage last season. The team went 8-4-0 after head coach Dean Evason replaced Bruce Boudreau last season.

With the California teams expected to be the bottom dwellers in the division, the final Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the division will come down between the Coyotes and Wild. After seeing how they played under Evason and the drama in Arizona over the offseason, the Wild could be very competitive this season.

Vegas Golden Knights

2019-20 Result: 39-24-8 (third in Western Conference, first in Pacific Division), lost in five games to Dallas Stars in Western Conference Final

2019-20 Leaders:

  • F Max Pacioretty (32 goals, 66 points)
  • F Mark Stone (42 assists)
  • G Robin Lehner (.920 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • F Tomas Jurco
  • D Alex Pietrangelo
  • D Carl Dahlstrom
  • C Dylan Sikura

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • D Nate Schmidt
  • C Paul Stastny
  • D Deryk Engelland
  • C Nick Cousins
  • F Brandon Pirri

2020-21 Outlook: After a promising end to last season, the Golden Knights traded Stastny and Schmidt to make room under the NHL salary cap to sign the prize of the free-agent class in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who recorded a career-high 16 goals, 52 points, a +11 rating, a 53.13% Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.42% expected goals-for percentage with the St. Louis Blues last season. He also finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting as the NHL’s top defenseman.

After trading Stastny, the hope is that center Cody Glass can establish himself as a full-time NHL center. The 21-year-old posted five goals, 12 points, and a -7 rating in 39 games last season. Though, Chandler Stephenson flourished with Pacioretty and Stone in that place as the three combined for a 69.3% expected goals-for percentage in 221.5 minutes together as a trio last season.

The Golden Knights arguably have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL with Lehner, who took the No. 1 job in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where he posted a 9-7 record with a .917 save percentage, a 1.99 goals-against average, and four shutouts after going 3-0-0 record with a .940 save percentage, a 1.67 goals-against average, and one shutout in three regular-season games with the team, and Marc-Andre Fleury, who is coming off of his worst season since 2005-06 but still went 27-16-5 with a .905 save percentage, a 2.77 goals-against average, and five shutouts.

The Golden Knights’ top-six forward group which features Pacioretty, Stone, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith is as good as any in the NHL. The team averaged 3.15 goals-per-game last season (14th) but finished last season with a 54.76% Corsi-for percentage (first), a 56.07% expected goals-for percentage (first), and a 56.49% scoring chances-for percentage (first), which suggests that they were unable to cash in on many of the plentiful opportunities they generated.

This team may also very well have the top defensive pair in the game with Pietrangelo expected to skate aside Shea Theodore, who had a breakout performance in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he recorded seven goals, 19 points, and a +7 rating in 20 games. Rookie Zach Whitecloud also cemented his spot in the lineup after recording two goals, three points, and a +1 rating during the postseason and Engelland retired. The Golden Knights finished last season with an average of 2.94 goals-against per game, 13th in the NHL.

This is a team that will compete for the top spot in the division as well as the Stanley Cup this season.

Colorado Avalanche

2019-20 Result: 42-20-8 (second in Western Conference, second in Central Division), lost in seven games to Stars in second round

2019-20 Leaders:

  • C Nathan MacKinnon (35 goals, 58 assists, 93 points)
  • F Mikko Rantanen (0.98 points-per-game – 41 in 42)
  • D Cale Makar (38 assists, 50 points)
  • G Pavel Francouz (.923 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • F Brandon Saad
  • D Devon Toews

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • D Nikita Zadorov
  • D Anton Lindholm
  • F Vladislav Namestnikov
  • F Matt Nieto

2020-21 Outlook: The Avalanche had a breakout season last year despite being without a lot of significant producers for long periods of time. They improved already one of the NHL’s best defenses by adding Toews, who recorded six goals, 28 points, a +1 rating, a 49.79% Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.18% expected goals-for percentage in 68 regular-season games last season.

The Avalanche added more depth to an offense that was fourth in the NHL with an average of 3.37 goals-per-game with the acquisition of Saad, who recorded 21 goals and 33 points in 58 games with the Blackhawks last season.

This is perhaps the deepest team in the NHL but the keys for them are going to be to stay healthy after they were among the league leaders with 223 total man-games lost due to injury, especially from their goaltenders. While they were third in the NHL with a .9316 five-on-five save percentage last season, goaltender Philipp Grubauer missed a lot of time due to injury but was solid when healthy as he went 18-12-4 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average, and two shutouts. Francouz burst onto the scene last season where he went 21-7-4 with a .923 save percentage, a 2.41 goals-against average, and one shutout. Both of their goalies excelled when healthy but they were forced to go with their third-string in Michael Hutchinson for the final three-plus games of the postseason. He performed admirably with a .910 save percentage and a 2.75 goals-against average but they need both Grubauer and Francouz healthy in order to take the next step after losing in Game 7 of the second-round in each of the past two seasons.

The Avalanche arguably have the best top-line in the NHL with MacKinnon (a Hart Trophy candidate as league MVP last season), Rantanen, and forward Gabriel Landeskog and were able to finally able to get depth scoring behind them last season as 10 players hit the double-digit goal mark. Makar won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. The Avalanche should be in the Presidents’ Trophy race for the league’s top record and are legit threats to win it all this season.

St. Louis Blues

2019-20 Result: 42-19-10 (first in Western Conference, first in Central Division), lost in six games to Canucks in second round

2019-20 Leaders:

  • F David Perron (25 goals)
  • C Ryan O’Reilly (49 assists, 61 points)
  • G Jordan Binnington (.912 save percentage)

Key Offseason Additions:

  • D Torey Krug
  • F Kyle Clifford

Key Offseason Subtractions:

  • D Alex Pietrangelo
  • D Jay Bouwmeester
  • G Jake Allen

2020-21 Outlook: After finishing first in the West during the regular season, the Blues saw a big change on the blueline as their captain in Pietrangelo signed with the Golden Knights and they brought in Krug, who posted nine goals, 49 points, a -4 rating, a 55.46% Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.01% expected goals-for percentage in 61 games with the Boston Bruins last season. They did not undergo any other changes on defense and should still be a very good defensive team after averaging just 2.68 goals-against per game last season (fifth).

The Blues also added some grit with the signing of Clifford, who recorded seven goals, 17 points, and a -7 rating in 60 games with the Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs last season.

The hope for the Blues is that forward Jordan Kyrou, who recorded four goals and nine points in 28 games last season, can grab their opening on right-wing in their middle-six forward group. However, this offense has plenty of depth after they averaged 3.14 goals-per-game, tied for the league average. That should only improve with a full season of forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who was limited to just 10 regular-season games after undergoing surgery on his shoulder on October 24, 2019, though there is some concern he could miss additional time at the start of the season.

The big question in St. Louis is in goal after trading Jake Allen to the Montreal Canadiens and Binnington, who posted a 30-13-7 record with a .912 save percentage, a 2.56 goals-against average, and three shutouts during the regular season, went 0-5-0 with an .851 save percentage and a 4.72 goals-against average during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The backup is expected to be Villie Husso, who has yet to make his NHL debut and went 16-17-2 with a .909 save percentage, a 2.56 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 42 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage last season.

Despite losing Pietrangelo, the Blues got a respectable replacement in Krug and still have depth at forward and on defense. Krug, as well as a healthy Tarasenko, should definitely help a power-play that already ranked third with a 24.3% efficiency during the 2019-20 regular season. While there are questions in goal, the Blues will likely slot in behind the Avalanche and Golden Knights and make the postseason.

Breakout Candidates

Soucy — Wild

The 26-year-old turned out to be a solid third-pairing defenseman who could produce offensively and make an impact defensively. The Wild have a deep defense but after it disappointed, they could want to mix the pairings up which could be in Soucy’s favor. If not, he will get favorable matchups being sheltered on the third-pairing.

Garland — Coyotes

The 24-year-old forward led the Coyotes in scoring his rookie season and could get more responsibility with Hall and Stepan out of the picture. He is projected to get more time in the top-six and power-play. Garland could thrive with a bigger role after he led the team in goals.

Steel — Ducks

The Ducks are getting older but have a few youngsters sprinkled throughout their lineup, including Steel. The 22-year-old recorded six goals and 22 points this season but his production could go up if he plays in the Ducks’ top-six forward group more regularly. He recorded 11 points in 22 NHL games during the 2018-19 season, showing some promise.

F Adrian Kempe — Kings

The 24-year-old was on pace to reach a career-high with 38 points a season ago and has scored at least 11 goals in each of the past three seasons. With the Kings expected to inject some promising youth into their lineup, Kempe’s production could benefit and he could take more of a leadership role with four seasons in the league under his belt.

Standings Predictions

  1. x – Avalanche
  2. x – Golden Knights
  3. x – Blues
  4. x – Wild
  5. Coyotes
  6. Kings
  7. Ducks
  8. Sharks

* x – denotes postseason teams

Other Division Previews

North Division

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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1 Response to 2020-21 West Division Preview

  1. Diane Doyle says:

    On the Blues, Tarasenko is still not healthy. He needed shoulder surgery again and now gets evaluated in February.

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