2021-22 Pacific Division Preview

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With training camps for the 2021-22 NHL season to open later this week and preseason set to begin over the weekend, it is time to preview each of the four divisions. NoVa Caps begins their annual season previews by division beginning with the Pacific Division.

Seattle Kraken

2020-21 Result: N/A

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Joonas Donskoi (17 goals)
  • C Yanni Gourde (17 goals, 19 assists, 36 points)
  • C Alexander Wennberg (17 goals)
  • LHD Mark Giordano (22:57 average TOI/game)
  • G Philipp Grubauer (31 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Grubauer, Wennberg, LW Jaden Schwartz, RHD Connor Carrick, LW Marcus Johansson, G Chris Driedger, RHD Jamie Oleksiak, LHD Adam Larsson, C Ryan Donato, C Riley Sheahan, LHD Gustav Olofsson, G Antoine Bibeau

Key Offseason Subtractions: G Vitek Vanecek, RW Tyler Pitlick, LHD Kurtis MacDermid, LHD Gavin Bayreuther, RW John Quenneville

2021-22 Outlook: Despite passing on some big names in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the Kraken appear poised to make some noise in their inaugural season after signing Schwartz, Larsson, Wennberg, and Grubauer in free agency.

General Manager Ron Francis appears to have built this team with a “defense first” approach as they enter the season with arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL in Grubauer (a Vezina Trophy finalist last season when he went 30-9-1 with a .922 save percentage, a 1.95 goals-against average, and seven shutouts with the Colorado Avalanche) and Driedger (who earned a .933 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average in 35 games with the Florida Panthers over his first two NHL seasons).

They also have a strong backend projected to be anchored by former Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano (who shows no signs of slowing down at age 38 after earning nine goals, 26 points, a +5 rating, a 53.12% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, and a 52.63% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage in 56 games last season) and Adam Larsson (recorded four goals, 10 points, a +2 rating, a 46% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.12% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.53% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 regular-season games with the Edmonton Oilers). Behind them are 6’7”, 255-pound Jamie Oleksiak and 6’5”, 211-pound Carson Soucy. Haydn Fleury and Vince Dunn round out the expected blueline.

The Kraken have a pretty good forward group led by Schwartz (who earned eight goals and 21 points in 40 games with the St. Louis Blues last season and has hit the 55-point plateau five times in his nine-season NHL career), right-wing Jordan Eberle (16 goals and 33 points in 55 games with the New York Islanders and has earned no lower than 16 goals in each of his 11 NHL seasons), center Yanni Gourde (has earned at least 10 goals and 30 points in four straight seasons but will not be ready until at least November after undergoing shoulder surgery in July). Though their center depth of Gourde, Wennberg, and Jarred McCann is pretty good for an expansion team, the position is without a doubt the roster’s biggest weakness, especially with Gourde out to start the season.

Expecting the Kraken to reach the bar that the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights set for an expansion franchise would be unfair. With that being said, they expect to compete, especially with the goaltending tandem they have. In a weak Pacific Division, expect the Kraken to compete for the second- or third-seed in the race but you never know how a group playing together for the first time will pan out. The loss of Gourde for a little while will hurt but the Kraken have plenty of forward depth to figure it out.

Expect the team to make some trades prior to opening night as they currently have 15 forwards and 10 defensemen capable of playing with the big club.

Anaheim Ducks

2020-21 Result: 17-30-9, last in West Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Max Comtois (16 goals, 33 points)
  • C Richard Rakell (19 assists)
  • LHD Hampus Lindholm (22:02 average TOI/game)
  • G John Gibson (nine wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Mason McTavish, RW Buddy Robinson, RHD Greg Pateryn, RHD Brogan Rafferty

Key Offseason Subtractions: Fleury, LW Danton Heinen, C Carter Rowney, RW David Backes, LW Andrew Agozzino, RHD Andy Welinski

2021-22 Outlook: The Ducks had a quiet offseason, losing a couple of depth pieces in Fleury and Heinen and adding Robinson and Pateryn to the mix for depth. They also drafted McTavish third overall in the 2021 NHL Draft but it is unknown whether he will be ready to make an impact at the NHL-level this season.

The Ducks also brought back their captain in Ryan Getzlaf and will likely be one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL again this season after averaging a league-worst 2.21 goals-per-game in 2020-21. The Ducks had just two players with over 10 goals last season (Comtois, C Adam Henrique: 12) and one with over 30 points (Comtois). The hope is that Comtois, center Trevor Zegras, and center Sam Steel keep taking strides this season.

The Ducks have some talented defensemen in Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Jamie Drysdale, Josh Manson, and Kevin Shattenkirk but the unit’s average of 3.16 goals-against per game average was the ninth-highest in the NHL last season and adding just Pateryn will not change that number significantly.

One key for the Ducks this season will be the bounce-back ability of Gibson, whose save percentage has dipped in each of the past three seasons to a career-low .903 last season after setting a career-high in the category (.926) in 2017-18.

After barely making any changes over the offseason and in fact getting worse, expect the Ducks to be at the bottom of the Pacific.

San Jose Sharks

2020-21 Result: 21-28-7, tied for sixth in West Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Evander Kane (22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points)
  • C Tomas Hertl (43 points)
  • RHD Brent Burns (26:09 TOI/game)
  • G James Reimer (15 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Reimer, G Adin Hill, C Nick Bonino, LW Alexander Barabanov, C Andrew Cogliano, RW Nick Merkley

Key Offseason Subtractions: Pateryn, Donato, G Martin Jones, G Josef Kosenar, LW Patrick Marleau, C Alexander True, RHD Christian Jaros

2021-22 Outlook: There is some drama in San Jose brewing after word got out regarding Kane’s off-ice issues and Hertl being mentioned in trade rumors. While NHL announced this week that they found no evidence that he gambled on games, the damage may be done with his teammates. Kane will not participate in the team’s training camp as the league is conducting an investigation on “additional unrelated allegations” besides the one that he bet on NHL games.

The Sharks made over their goaltending tandem after trading Kosenar to the Coyotes as part of a deal to acquire Hill, who went 9-9-1 with a .913 save percentage, a 2.74 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Arizona Coyotes last season, and buying out Jones’ contract and bringing in Reimer, who went 15-5-2 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average with the Carolina Hurricanes last season.

They made a couple of minor tweaks up front but nothing that should drastically improve their average of 2.61 goals-per-game (25th) from last season. Though, losing Kane (which many players reportedly want) would make them even worse. Center Logan Couture, who earned just 17 goals and 31 points in 56 games last season, and right-wing Timo Meier (12 goals and 31 points in 54) will need to bounce back if the Sharks want to take advantage of a weak division.

The Sharks did not make any changes to their blueline, which features aging Brent Burns (36 years old) and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic (34 years old) in addition to Erik Karlsson (who has struggled to stay healthy in the past few seasons), that averaged 3.50 goals-against per game (tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the second-worst) last season. Though, getting Jones out of the crease should help.

The Sharks have a few issues to sort out and the on-ice product itself is not that impressive. While Hill is an upgrade over Jones, he has just 49 games of NHL experience and has a .909 save percentage in his career. The Sharks are still rebuilding and will likely stay in the bottom-tier this season.

Los Angeles Kings

2020-21 Result: 21-28-7, tied for sixth in West Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Dustin Brown (17 goals)
  • C Anze Kopitar (37 assists, 50 points)
  • RHD Drew Doughty (26:23 TOI/game)
  • G Jonathan Quick (11 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Philipp Danault, RW Viktor Arvidsson, LHD Alexander Edler

Key Offseason Subtractions: MacDermid, C Matt Luff

2021-22 Outlook: Besides the Kraken, the Kings might have had the best offseason in the NHL after adding Arvidsson (who has scored at least 29 goals three times in his six-season NHL career but has taken a step back in the past two seasons as he has 25 goals and 107 games over that time), Danault (one of the NHL’s best defensive centermen coming off of a great 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs), and Edler (eight assists, a -8 rating, a 45.21% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.54% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 41.73% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 52 games with the Vancouver Canucks).

The hope is that a host of young players are ready to take the next step for the Kings. These include right-wing Gabriel Vilardi, who earned 10 goals and 23 points in 54 games last season; center Trevor Moore, who tallied 10 goals and 23 points in 56 games; center Jaret Anderson-Dolan (seven goals, 11 points in 34 games); defenseman Tobias Bjornfot (one goal, six points, -3 rating, 46.58% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 45.35% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 44.55% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 33 games); right-wing Arthur Kaliyev; and center Quinton Byfield. After Kopitar, the next highest point scorer on the Kings, who finished 27th with a 2.54 goals-per-game average last season, was Brown (31).

On defense, the Kings are banking on continuous improvement from Mikey Anderson (one goal, 11 points, even rating, 48.91% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.56% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, 44.88% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games) and Matt Roy (two goals, 10 points, even rating, 46.25% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 42.73% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 42.55% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 44 games). Olli Maatta, Drew Doughty, and Sean Walker also need to bounce back for the team, who averaged 3.02 goals-against per game last season (11th-most).

The Kings are handing the keys to the crease to Cal Petersen, who went 9-18-5 with a .911 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average while starting over half (32) of the team’s games last season.

After making some roster upgrades, the Kings could sneak into a Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Pacific Division but will need their young players to make an impact.

Vancouver Canucks

2020-21 Result: 23-29-4, last in North Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Brock Boeser (23 goals, 49 points)
  • LHD Quinn Hughes (38 assists, 22:48 average TOI/game)
  • LW J.T. Miller (46 points)
  • G Thatcher Demko (16 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Jason Dickinson, LW Conor Garland, LW Phil Di Giuseppe, LHD Oliver Ekman-Larsson, RHD Tucker Poolman, RHD Luke Schenn, LHD Brad Hunt, G Jaroslav Halak, C Justin Dowling

Key Offseason Subtractions: Edler, Rafferty, G Braden Holtby, LHD Nate Schmidt, C Jay Beagle, RW Jake Virtanen, C Jayce Hawryluck, C Travis Boyd, LW Jimmy Vesey, LW Loui Eriksson, RHD Jalen Chatfield, RW Kole Lind, LW Antoine Roussel

2021-22 Outlook: The Canucks made plenty of changes this offseason after falling short of expectations last season as they cleared out several expensive contracts and high picks to acquire Ekman-Larsson, who recorded three goals, 24 points, a -17 rating, a 47.91% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 42.02% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 43.74% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 46 games with the Coyotes last season. They also added some defensive depth in Poolman, Schenn, and Hunt while parting with Schmidt after allowing an average of 3.34 goals per game last season (sixth-most).

The Canucks also made a change in net as they bought out the final season of Holtby’s contract and bringing in Halak, who went 9-6-4 with a .905 save percentage, a 2.53 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Boston Bruins last season, to back up Thatcher Demko (16-18-1, .915 save percentage, 2.85 goals-against average, one shutout).

They tried to address their third-line center vacancy by acquiring Dickinson, who earned seven goals and 15 points in 51 games with the Dallas Stars last season after earning at least 21 points in each of the previous two, and the one at second-line right-wing by grabbing Garland, who earned 12 goals and 39 points in 49 games with the Coyotes. The Canucks had five players with a points-per-game average of 0.70.

The Canucks have yet to accomplish their biggest task of the offseason as restricted free agents center Elias Pettersson and defenseman Quinn Hughes remain unsigned.

They addressed some major needs but their defense is still average at best. The COVID-19 pause for three weeks was a major hurdle for the Canucks last season and they should be better this season but maybe not good enough to crack the top-eight in the Western Conference.

Calgary Flames

2020-21 Result: 26-27-3, fifth in North Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Johnny Gaudreau (19 goals, 30 assists, 49 points)
  • RW Elias Lindholm (47 points)
  • RHD Chris Tanev (21:44 average TOI/game)
  • G Jacob Markstrom (22 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Pitlick, Welinski, C Blake Coleman, RW Trevor Lewis, LHD Nikita Zadorov, G Daniel Vladar, LHD Kevin Gravel, RHD Erik Gudbranson

Key Offseason Subtractions: Robinson, Giordano, C Derek Ryan, LW Josh Leivo, LW Joakim Nordstrom, RHD Michael Stone, LHD Nikita Nesterov, LW Dominik Simon, LW Zac Rinaldo

2021-22 Outlook: The Flames did not make any major changes over the offseason as their lone significant addition was signing Coleman, who tallied 14 goals and 31 points in 55 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, after they averaged 2.77 goals-per-game (tied for 19th). They also brought in Pitlick and Lewis to help up front.

The loss of Giordano hurts but they acquired Zadorov, who earned a goal, eight points, a +1 rating, a 44.76% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 44.9% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 43.14% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games with the Chicago Blackhawks last season, to mitigate the hole. The Flames added Gravel and Gudbranson to give them some other physical options.

Gaudreau, left-wing Matthew Tkachuk (16 goals, 43 points in 56 games), and center Sean Monahan (10 goals, 28 points in 50 games) all disappointed last season and it will be critical for the Flames that all three have bounceback years.

Despite a strong start, Markstrom did not live up to the hype in his first season in Calgary as he finished last year with a .904 save percentage, his lowest since the 2014-15 season. They acquired Vladar, who is 2-2-1 with an .886 save percentage and a 3.40 goals-against average in five career NHL games with the Bruins (all last season) but has recorded a save percentage of at least .921 in four of five AHL seasons (including a career-best .936 in 2019-20) and a goals-against average of 2.73 at the most (including a career-best 1.79 two seasons ago).

Having their top players turn in better performances this season will be crucial for the Flames but after losing their captain and not having enough forward depth, it may be tough for them to crack the top-three even in a wide open division.

Edmonton Oilers

2020-21 Result: 35-19-2, second in North Division; swept by Winnipeg Jets in first-round of 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Connor McDavid (33 goals, 72 points, 105 points)
  • C Leon Drasaitl (84 points)
  • LHD Darnell Nurse (25:38 average TOI/game)
  • G Mike Smith (21 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Ryan, LW Zach Hyman, LHD Duncan Keith, LW Warren Foegele, LW Devin Shore, RHD Cody Ceci, LW Brendan Perlini

Key Offseason Subtractions: Larsson, RW Alex Chiasson, LW Dominik Kahun, C Jujhar Khiara, LW James Neal, C Tyler Ennis, RHD Ethan Bear, LHD Caleb Jones, C Gaetan Haas, LHD Dmitry Kulikov, RW Patrick Russell, LHD Slater Koekkoek, LW Joakim Nygard

2021-22 Outlook: After just one Stanley Cup Playoff win in the past four seasons, the Oilers made some changes but not where they needed to the most: goaltending. Mikko Koskinen earned an .899 save percentage and a 3.17 goals-against average in 26 games during regular-season and Mike Smith turned 39 in March.

After acquiring Keith (recorded four goals, 15 points, a -13 rating, a 44.84% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.88% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.07% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games last season) from the Blackhawks, they lost Larsson in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

The Oilers had an active first day of free agency as they acquired Hyman, who earned 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season; Foegele (10 goals and 20 points in 53 games with the Hurricanes) from Carolina for Bear; and Ceci (four goals, 17 points, a +18 rating, a 48.31% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.67% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.34% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 53 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins).

On top of goaltending, with defenseman Oscar Klefbom out for the season again, defense is a concern in Edmonton after Larsson left as Keith, Ceci, and Darnell Nurse are not known for their strong defense.

The Oilers have McDavid and Draisaitl but they accounted for 64 (nearly 35%) of their 183 goals last season, suggesting that they lack scoring depth. Hyman and Foegele should help but will it be enough?

Vegas Golden Knights

2020-21 Result: 40-14-2, second in West Division; lost in six games to Montreal Canadiens in Stanley Cup Semifinals

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Max Pacioretty (24 goals)
  • RW Mark Stone (40 assists, 61 points)
  • RHD Alex Pietrangelo (24:26 average TOI/game)
  • G Robin Lehner (13 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Nolan Patrick, C Brett Howden, RW Evgenii Dadonov, G Laurent Brossoit, LW Sven Baertschi

Key Offseason Subtractions: G Marc-Andre Fleury, LW Tomas Nosek, C Cody Glass, RW Ryan Reaves, LHD Nick Holden

2021-22 Outlook: The Golden Knights made some changes to their bottom-six forward group and goaltending this offseason as they acquired Patrick, who scored four goals and nine points in addition to a horrid -30 rating in 52 games with the Philadelphia Flyers; Howden, who is coming off a down season where he recorded a goal and seven points in 42 games with the New York Rangers but posted 15 goals and 42 points in 136 games over the previous two seasons; Dadonov, who recorded 13 goals and 20 points in 55 games with the Ottawa Senators last season and three straight seasons with at least 25 goals with the Florida Panthers from 2018-20; and Baertschi, who earned five goals and 14 points in 24 games with the AHL’s Utica Comets and hit the 14-goal, 29-point plateau in three straight seasons with the Canucks from 2015-18.

Dadonov was brought in after the Golden Knights have struggled to finish on the plentiful amount of scoring chances they generate over the past two seasons.

After trading Fleury, the Golden Knights signed Brossoit, who went 6-6-0 with a .918 save percentage, a 2.42 goals-against average, one shutout in 14 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season.

This team has one of the best top-six forward groups in the NHL led by Stone and Pacioretty (though, they could use a center) that will be supported by an even deeper bottom-six group and a solid defensive core led by Shea Theodore. The Golden Knights just lost Holden from a group that won the Jennings Trophy last season, though losing Fleury will also hurt in that department.

With an even deeper offense, one of the NHL’s deepest blue lines, and a Vezina Trophy nominee from a few seasons ago in Lehner, the Golden Knights could be favorites to win the Presidents’ Trophy this season after tying for the title last season.

Breakout Candidates

Garland – Canucks

Garland mostly played with center Nick Schmaltz and left-wing Clayton Keller in Arizona last season but is projected to skate alongside center Bo Horvat, who earned 19 goals and 39 points in 56 games last season, and left-wing Nils Hoglander, one of the league’s top rookies from 2020-21, in Vancouver. Garland has shown some scoring potential before as he scored 13 in 47 games in his rookie season in 2018-19 and 22 in 68 the next. Garland has tallied 39 points in each of the past two seasons and was on pace for 65 over an 82-game season last year.

Hyman – Oilers

Over the past two seasons, Hyman has averaged 0.73 points-per-game and 0.77 points-per-game, mostly playing next to center Auston Matthews in Toronto. It looks very likely that he will be playing with either McDavid or Draisaitl in Edmonton, which could boost that average. If he stays healthy this season, look for a big year from Hyman.

Fleury – Kraken

It is unclear who will slide into the right-side on the second-pairing in Seattle next to Vince Dunn but Fleury could be the favorite. Even though the 25-year-old is a lefty, he has played on both sides and the Kraken may put him there for balance. Fleury has not gotten enough opportunity the past three seasons playing on a deep Hurricanes defense but notched four goals and 14 points in 45 games in 2019-20. After getting traded to the Ducks last season, Fleury posted two goals and three points in 12 games, two more than he earned in 35 games with the Hurricanes.

Vilardi – Kings

After earning three goals and seven points in 10 NHL games at the end of 2019-20, the 22-year-old netted 10 goals and 23 points in 54 games last season and that production could go up after the acquisitions the Kings made over the offseason. Without Jeff Carter in Los Angeles, Vilardi could get even more responsibility and better line mates after averaging just 14:45 per game last season. He earned nine goals and 25 points in 32 games during his first AHL campaign in 2019-20.

Standings Predictions

1. x – Golden Knights

2. x – Kraken

3. x – Kings

4. Oilers

5. Canucks

6. Flames

7. Ducks

8. Sharks

Related Reading:
Projecting The Pacific Division Standings Using Goals Above Replacement (GAR)

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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