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

Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The Pacific Division will be an intriguing division to watch this season. It features the NHL’s best player in Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, possibly the best team in the Vegas Golden Knights, and the newest team to the NHL in the Seattle Kraken. Outside of the positives, the only two teams that participated in the 2021 NHL playoffs from this division were the Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers.

The primary storyline this season is whether or not Seattle can mimic Vegas’ success in their first season, and if the overall weakness of this division paves the way for the Kraken to make the playoffs in their inaugural season.

We’ll be taking a look at each division and projecting how the standings may pan out based on Goals Above Replacement (GAR) projections, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey. To read more about GAR and other advanced analytical terms, check out our glossary.

A few notes on the methodology for these posts: the projections are based on the active roster for each team as CapFriendly shows them. Players who did not participate fully last season do not have GAR projections, due to a lack of playing data from 2021. There are no goaltending GAR projections available, so we used the goaltenders’ 2021 season goaltending GAR as a benchmark.

Anaheim Ducks (2021 Season GAR: 18.2, 2021 Finish: 8th in the West Division)

The Ducks were effectively non-competitive in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, finishing the 56 game campaign 17-30-9. The Ducks appear to be committed to the rebuild and have seen flashes of the future in center Trevor Zegras and defenseman Jamie Drysdale. Here are the player GAR projections for the Anaheim Ducks this season:

John Gibson, one of the league’s premier goaltenders, will likely continue to lead the Ducks in overall player value during the 2021 regular season. Based on these projections, and barring major breakout seasons from Zegras and Drysdale, the Ducks are likely still on the path for rebuilding during the 2021 regular season.

Calgary Flames (2021 Season GAR: 87.3, 2021 Finish: 5th in the North Division)

The Flames narrowly missed a playoff spot in the North Division in 2021 to the eventual Stanley Cup Finalists in Montreal, posting a 26-27-3 record in their 56 game campaign. The Flames underperformed expectations last season after finishing third in the Pacific Division in the 2019-20 season.

The Flames have a solid core in Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm, but they took a hit this off-season when Seattle selected former Norris Trophy winning defenseman (and Calgary’s then-captain) Mark Giordano.

The Flames added Blake Coleman in free agency, which should bolster Calgary’s defensive play and penalty kill performance. Calgary’s even strength defensive GAR and shorthanded defensive GAR both finished in the top five in the NHL last season. Here are the player projections for the Flames this season:

The big question mark for the Flames this season is overall depth. They have solid talent at the top of the lineup, at both forward and defense, but their bottom six and third defensive pairing could be exploited. Calgary could jump back into a playoff spot if Sean Monahan can return to his 2018-19 form, where he posted 82 points in 78 games.

Edmonton Oilers (2021 Season GAR: 95.6, 2021 Finish: 2nd in the North Division)

The Oilers made some waves this offseason, with general manager Ken Holland attempting to make some moves to add talent around his mega-star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They brought in a solid two-way forward in Zach Hyman, traded Ethan Bear to Carolina in return for Warren Foegele, and traded defenseman Caleb Jones to the Blackhawks to bring the decorated (and expensive) defenseman Duncan Keith.

The Oilers, as well as McDavid himself, carry a lot of expectations for a deep playoff run. McDavid and Draisaitl are one of the best one-two punches in the NHL, but they haven’t gotten past the second round in the McDavid era. Will this be the year for the Oilers? Let’s take a look at their GAR projections:

The key factor for the Oilers’ success this season will be in net. Will Mike Smith, who turn’s 40 during this season, be able to have a repeat performance from last year? Only nine forwards are expected to be above replacement level. Duncan Keith may be relied upon more for veteran leadership and experience, but the Oilers may have trouble if he’s going to be on the ice for 20-plus minutes.

Los Angeles Kings (2021 Season GAR: 37.1, 2021 Finish: 6th in the West)

The Kings are looking like a team on the rise after a rebuild kicked off following their first round sweep at the hands of the Golden Knights in the 2018 playoffs. They’ve added solid contributors for their top six in Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, and could potentially see the second overall pick from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in Quentin Byfield crack the NHL roster this season. The Kings boast one of the best prospect pipelines in the NHL, and could be back in playoff contention as early as next year. Here are the projections for the Kings:

The Kings have an interesting lineup, considering they do not have any players below replacement level, but currently do not have any skaters that are at the top echelon of GAR in the Pacific. Cal Petersen is a solid goaltender, and has taken the reins from Jonathan Quick as the franchise goalie. The Kings could have one of the stronger performances in defensive GAR, as they have former Selke Award winner Anze Kopitar and a very solid two-way center in newly acquired Phillip Danault. The biggest question for the Kings is where the offense comes from, since only four players last season cracked the 30-point mark (Kopitar, Doughty, Brown, and Iafallo).

San Jose Sharks (2021 Season GAR: 23.6, 2021 Finish: 7th in the West)

The Sharks are a team with a bevy of talent still on the roster, but most are expensive, aging veterans. On top of that, they’ve had a black hole in net for the past few seasons, and have played their way to the bottom of the standings.

The Sharks are in an interesting spot; they have rebuilt their goaltending by adding Adin Hill and James Reimer, who are both coming off of solid campaigns. If the Sharks can put a good season together, the Pacific Division is questionable enough for them to sneak into the playoffs. On the other side, they have some intriguing assets to part with, such as Tomas Hertl or Timo Meier, that could help jump-start their rebuild. Here’s the Sharks’ projections for the 2021 season:

The tough pill to swallow for the Sharks is that they’re paying $30,471,667 in cap space for a defensive corps where the top performer in GAR is Brent Burns with 3.2 GAR. Karlsson, Burns, and Vlasic are all being paid beaucoup bucks for the next several seasons, and Karlsson is the youngest at 31. Burns is 36, and Vlasic is 34. Karlsson’s contract expires at the end of the 2026-27 season, Burns’ contract expires at the end of the 2024-25 season, and Vlasic’s contract expires at the end of the 2025-26 season. Overall, there isn’t a ton for Sharks fans to be too excited about this season, but the talent and history of production is there.

Seattle Kraken (Inaugural Season)

The Kraken’s first season will unfortunately be measured against Vegas’ historical inaugural season. As a result of Vegas’ success in getting many of the league’s general managers to pay a premium to keep an asset in the expansion draft, Vegas built a championship contender, immediately.

Following the expansion draft, many questioned the Kraken’s choices in draft selections, specifically passing on star players like Vladimir Tarasenko. After the free agency period started, the Kraken started adding solid contributors like Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, and the jewel of the goaltending free-agent class in Philipp Grubauer. The Kraken enter the 2021-22 season with what will likely be one of, if not the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. Here’s the Kraken’s projections:

The Kraken’s roster ended up being quite solid in terms of GAR, and could definitely contend with the Golden Knights at the top of the division. It’ll be interesting to see how Yanni Gourde produces in a top line role after getting more third line deployments with Tampa Bay.

Vancouver Canucks (2021 Season GAR: 47.5, 2021 Finish: 7th in the North)

The Canucks are coming off of a very disappointing season, considering that they had advanced to the second round of the 2020 NHL playoffs in the bubble and fought the Vegas Golden Knights to a game seven in that series. The Canucks had a very interesting offseason, trading former-Capital Nate Schmidt to the Winnipeg Jets for a third round draft pick, and completing one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer by adding Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from Arizona in return for moving the contracts of Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and Loui Eriksson plus a 2021 first round pick, a 2022 second round pick, and a 2023 seventh round pick.

Outside of those major moves, the Canucks have yet to reach an agreement on new contracts for important restricted free agents Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The Canucks don’t sniff the playoffs without those two players. We’ve included those two players in the projections for the Canucks, since it’s still likely they’ll be signed before the season kicks off. Here are the Canucks’ projections:

It will be interesting to see if Ekman-Larsson will be able to return to his prior form as a very solid top-pairing defenseman. If he doesn’t, the Canucks just handcuffed themselves to one of the worst value contracts in the league until the 2026-27 season ends. The real win of the trade with Arizona was getting another goal scorer in Conor Garland. That allows more goal scoring to be spread out among their top two lines, with Garland and Boeser getting split up. This should definitely help Vancouver’s offensive output.

Vegas Golden Knights (2o21 Season GAR: 114.9, 2021 Finish: 2nd in the West)

Vegas has yet to know the pain of missing out on the NHL playoffs, and it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll feel that pain this season. Odds are, in the comparably weaker Pacific Division, that the Golden Knights will somewhat easily glide to a Pacific Division title. The question for Vegas this season will be whether or not they can elevate their play in the playoffs to make it to the Stanley Cup for the first time since their inaugural season.

Vegas was pretty quiet this off-season until they traded the reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks for a bag of pucks. They also acquired Evgeni Dadonov from the Ottawa Senators to shore up offensive depth up front. Here’s Vegas’ projections for this upcoming season:

The weight of Vegas’ season is now on Robin Lehner’s shoulders, taking the reins from Fleury as the team’s franchise goaltender. Fleury truly was the backbone of the Golden Knights throughout the past few seasons, so we’ll have to see if Lehner can do that too. The good news for Vegas fans is that they still have immense star power in Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Alex Pietrangelo. On top of that, they have one of the best defensemen that isn’t a household name in Shea Theodore, who could really explode this season to put himself in Norris conversations.

2021 Pacific Division Standings Projections:

  1. Vegas Golden Knights (114.7 GAR)
  2. Seattle Kraken (106.2 GAR)
  3. Vancouver Canucks (89.8 GAR)
  4. Edmonton Oilers (86.4 GAR)
  5. Los Angeles Kings (77.6 GAR)
  6. San Jose Sharks (67.9 GAR)
  7. Calgary Flames (67.8 GAR)
  8. Anaheim Ducks (49.5 GAR)

Related Reading:
2021 Pacific Division Preview

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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