Hockey fans, Christmas morn is right around the corner. Oct. 4 is the official start to the regular season, but the Preds will have to wait until Oct. 5 to get things going. Regardless, it’s almost here and that means it’s preview season. Today, we dive into the Pacific. Pun intended.
Vegas Golden Knights
Hot take alert: This expansion team is going to stink out loud. An unprecedented opinion, I know. In all seriousness, they are going to be even worse than I thought they were — and that’s saying something.
General manager George McPhee went heavy on the defense in the expansion draft which wouldn’t be bad except for the fact that none of them are very good. One of the guys that could’ve contributed was Alexei Emelin and he’s a Predator now. Many of them are free agents after this season, so he presumably took them with the intention of trading them for assets at the trade deadline. Again, the problem with that is they aren’t very good. I’m a big fan of Shea Theodore’s, but outside of that I just wonder what they’re doing on the blue line.
If the defense isn’t great, then the offense needs to provide as much support as possible. However, the offense in Sin City is about what you’d expect that of an expansion team to be. Live look at me trying to figure out how Vegas is going to score:
I know there were some in Smashville crying about losing
Real Deal James Neal while keeping Calle Jarnkrok (it was the right call), but imagine being the Florida Panthers. They exposed — and Vegas picked — 26-year-old budding star Jonathan Marchessault. In the 2016-17 season, he scored 30 goals. The Panthers lost a 30-goal scorer in the prime of his career on the final year of his entry level contract in which he was only getting paid $750,000. Between him, Neal, David Perron, and Erik Haula, they won’t be totally miserable on offense.
Now we get to what I believe is the strength of this Vegas team: the guys wearing the big pillows. The Penguins allowed Marc-Andre Fleury to leave and get another shot at a starting job with Matt Murray taking over in Pittsburgh. That’s a pretty damn good goalie to be picking up in an expansion draft. Backing up Fleury will be former Avalanche net minder Calvin Pickard — who Joe Sakic inexplicably get plucked by the Golden Knights. Pickard is a good young goaltender with a lot of talent. He’s also on the last year of his deal, is getting a measly $1,000,000 to stop pucks this season, and is used to playing behind a trash pile of a team. As bad as the team in front of them may be, these two could steal some games and frustrate opposing offenses.
Summary and Predicition: This is an expansion team. They are obviously going to be miserable. They will finish 8th in the Pacific, but the key for them will be if they can play an entertaining style of hockey and keep games close so the people in Las Vegas enjoy watching the product.
New blood: C Sam Gagner, D Michael Del Zotto, G Anders Nilsson
See ya later, alligator: G Ryan Miller
The Golden Knights are an expansion team. What the Canucks’ excuse if for being trash, I’m not sure. Perhaps, as a team, they decided they just wanted to go for it in 2016-17 and try to get exactly 69 points in the standings. If so, mission accomplished. Nice! Other than that, I’m not totally sure what they are doing. They don’t seem to be making moves to be a rebuilding team, but they don’t seem terribly interested in improving their current roster to get into the playoffs. Bad contracts and a lack of cap space probably have a lot to do with that.
You can boil the Canucks’ issues last season down to two things:
- Not scoring (2.21 gf/g)
- Getting scored on…often (2.96 ga/g)
That is a goal differential of -61. Only Arizona and Colorado were worse in the Western Conference. As far as putting pucks in the net goes, that should be helped a little by the addition of Sam Gagner in free agency and the continued development of Bo Horvat. Of course, the Sedin twins are still there and are going down the Shane Doan path of being too loyal for their own good. Get out of there, fellas! Go win a Cup! The biggest key to Vancouver improving up front, is Loui Eriksson earning his $6 million dollar paycheck. In 65 games, he had just 24 points and is on the wrong side of the age curve. Ultimately, they might be able to score a few more goals than they did a year ago, but the goal horn in Vancouver should remain pretty silent in 2017-18.
The defense is equally as bad — hence the nearly three goals against per game last year. Alex Edler is … still there … I guess. Chris Tanev … hits people. I will say that I think Ben Hutton can develop into a solid defenseman for them and Michael Del Zotto — while not great — is definitely an upgrade. Like the offense, I don’t see this unit making any notable steps forward this season. Still a lot of parking cones out there for the Canucks.
I will give Vancouver this: they did try to improve their goaltending situation. They brought in Anders Nilsson who started only 23 games in Buffalo last year but posted a 2.67 GAA and a .923 save percentage. Can he handle a starter’s workload? That’s to be determined. If Nilsson can translate that to 50 or 60 games, Vancouver will be much better in net. As far as their back-up situation goes, it’s not terrible. They still have Jacob Markstrom. He has very similar numbers to Nilsson in that he only started 23 games, posted a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save percentage. They won’t be terrible between the pipes, but there’s not a proven starter there.
Summary and Prediction: This team will earn a few more points that last year, but they will still make fans in Vancouver yearn for the days when they were calling for Roberto Luongo’s head and rioting after a Stanley Cup Final loss. The ‘Nucks will finish 7th in the Pacific.
New blood: C Derek Stepan, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, G Antti Raanta
See ya later, alligator: RW Shane Doan, RW Radim Vrbata, D Connor Murphy, G Mike Smith, G Chad Johnson
There was plenty of movement in the southwest this off-season. Frankly, I kind of liked these moves the ‘Yotes made. They were a terrible team last year, but they had very few actual NHL players. The offense will be a struggle at times this season, but I think their defense and goaltending will be much improved. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Arizona might be fun to watch this year.
The offense is the biggest question for the Coyotes. Despite their age, Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata were still contributing something. As a matter of fact, Vrbata was the team’s leading scorer with 20. The team’s second-leading scorer was defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and he only had 39 points. They couldn’t buy a goal. I know they’re trying to wait on some of their young offensive talent like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair to fully develop, but they will need some help. That’s why they brought in Derek Stepan from the New York Rangers. That will by no means solve their problems, but he is a very good center so it’s an okay starting point.
I am a big fan of their defense after they traded for the Blackhawks’ Niklas Hjalmarsson for multiple reasons. First of all, they stripped Chicago of a great defender. Second of all, he provides a great boost to Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the Arizona blue line. Outside those two, they have 20-year-old Jakob Chychrun who should end up being a very good player. Add in Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers and you have a decent blue line. With the lack of offense in Arizona, they need a solid blue line to keep the score low. They have that going into the 2017-18 season.
In net, the decided to put their faith in former Ranger and Henrik Lundqvist back-up Antti Raanta. He started 26 games in 2016-17, won 16 of them, and had a stellar GAA (2.26) and save percentage (.922). I believe Raanta is a starting caliber goalie in the NHL. If he proves me right, which would be a rare occurrence, Arizona should be fine in net because Louis Domingue is a competent back-up as long as Raanta stays healthy.
Summary and Prediction: This team won’t be making the playoffs this year. Their are too many other good teams in their division and their conference. They will finish 6th in the Pacific. That said, they will be better and are headed in the right direction under new head coach Rick Tocchet. I’d encourage you to check in on them from time to time this season. It could be an promising season for them.
Los Angeles Kings
New blood: C Michael Cammalleri, D Christian Folin, G Darcy Kuemper
See ya later, alligator: G Ben Bishop, D Brayden McNabb
Your older brother’s Kings appear to be long gone. Gone are the days when teams feared the Kings late in the season because they are getting on a roll headed into the playoffs. All that said, there is a chance they can sneak into the postseason this year. Keeping pucks out of their net was never a problem last year, but keeping pucks out of their opponents’ nets was a big issue.
The Kings averaged just shy of 2.5 goals per game a year ago. The only really consistent offensive force was Jeff Carter, who potted 32 goals. Other than that, a lot of their forwards underperformed. Anze Kopitar took a huge step backwards as he scored just 12 goals and amassed only 52 games. Tyler Toffoli, who scored 31 goals in the 2015-16 season, found the back of the net 16 times. Marian Gaborik simply isn’t the player he once was and Dustin Brown is his same ol’ sad self. What did they do in the off-season to rectify these issues? Brought in Michael Cammalleri — a player who has sorely underperformed the last two seasons! Problem solved! A lot of players will need bounce back years for the Kings to get back to the playoffs.
As I mentioned earlier, defense was never an issue for the Kings. Perennial Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty is still there along with Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin. They will be fine again this season. Unfortunately, they can’t each score 30 goals for the team too. This defense is plenty good enough to win, but they just can’t get enough help from the offense.
In a similar boat is goaltender Jonathan Quick. After getting hurt in the first game of the seaon last year, he only started 16 more games at the end of the campaign. Still, he showed flashes that he was healthy and back to his usual self down the stretch. To get a more experienced back-up, they got Darcy Kuemper in free agency. Again, the goaltending in Hollywood is perfectly fine, but that doesn’t matter if you keep losing 2-1 or 1-0 games.
Summary and Prediction: Too many players need to return to form for the Kings to have success. The offense will continue to be as exciting as watching paint dry, but their defense and goaltending will keep them in the playoff race until the bitter end. The Kings will finish 5th in the Pacific and miss the postseason in the final week of the season.
San Jose Sharks
New blood: None (couldn’t find a matching blood type, I guess)
See ya later, alligator: C Patrick Marleau, D David Schlemko
*Rinse and repeat the opening line for the Kings* These Sharks are not to be feared like those in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I still think they’re a good team. To me, they just don’t come off as a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup. I may be in the minority there, but I just think there are three other teams better than them in their own division. It would be a tall task for them to get to get through the Western Conference.
The Sharks were right around the league average in goals per game last year at 2.70. They lost long-time Shark Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs — a key piece of the offense last year as he scored 27 goals. Take away his 27 from last season’s total and San Jose’s goals per game drops to 2.37, which is well below they league average. I realized that’s over-simplifying the issue and there are way more variables that need to be considered there, but I just wanted to demonstrate how huge of a loss Marleau is on the ice. Obviously his impact in the locker room will be missed too. Still there is Jumbo Joe Thronton, who signed a one-year $8 million deal after Marleau split to Toronto. The catch there is that he is coming off knee surgery since he played the entire first round of the playoffs on a torn ACL and MCL — looking at you Lebron #PleaseLikeMySport. I have some very good news for fans in the bay area: Reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture all still play for the Sharks. As long as you have those players with Jumbo Joe distributing the puck, you will score enough goals to win. The Sharks will look for a solid full season from Tomas Hertl and Mikkel Boedker to make up for Marleau’s departure. Not making a move to bring in another forward is curious, but the Sharks have over $8.7 million in cap space to make an upgrade as they see fit.
On defense for the Sharks is Brent Burns, who won the 2017 Norris Trophy. We could end the analysis with that, but I love all 9 of my readers so I will continue on. Burns led the team in scoring with 76 points as a defenseman. His offensive success doesn’t get in the way of his solid defensive play either. Accompanying Burns on the blue line is the underrated Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He is as good at suppressing shots and scoring chances as almost anyone in the league. Veterans Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, and Justin Braun return to round out a pretty damn good defensive corps. The offense may have lost a little, but the defense will remain a strength of San Jose.
In net, Martin Jones is back to be the last line of defense. Jones had a solid 2016-17 season. He posted a 2.40 GAA and a .912 save percentage in the regular season but stepped his game up in six playoff games. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough run support. Aaron Dell had a phenomenal year backing up Jones, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue into the 2017-18 campaign. The Sharks have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. Like their state rivals, the question will be whether they can light the lamp enough to help out their goalies.
Summary and Prediction: The Sharks are still a very good team, but it’s a tough road to the Stanley Cup Final for them with plenty of strong teams in the West. They will come in at 4th in the Pacific and win a wild card spot. As it stands, I just don’t think they have enough offense make a deep run. It’s a shame. Sports fans in the bay area just never get to see a team win a title.
New blood: D Travis Hamonic, G Mike Smith, G Eddie Lack
See ya later, alligator: G Brian Elliott, G Chad Johnson, D Derek Engelland, LW Lance Bouma
Now we’ve reached the teams I’m really excited to talk about. The Flames are a very good hockey team with two big questions. It’s an exciting time in Calgary. Their blue line is not at the same caliber of a certain team in gold, but it is still extremely talented. Johnny Gaudreau — though he went through a slump last year — is still an electrifying player with the puck on his stick. Let’s check out an up and coming team in the Pacific Division.
The Flames’ offense is solid. It’s not the 2009-10 Washington Capitals at all, but they have a nice balance of top 6 talent and depth. Johnny Gaudreau failed to hit 20 goals last season, but still led the team in points with 61. Sean Monahan sniffed the 30 goal mark with 27, and Mikael Backlund chipped in with another 22. Hockey’s version of a swarm of gnats is Matthew Tkachuk, my new favorite pest in the NHL. That is until he is an ass to one of or multiple Preds, then I’ll hate him with the fire of 10,000 suns. Michael Frolik, Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and Troy Brouwer rounds out a very deep top 9. to paraphrase Butch Jones, “Calgary can go very deep with depth.” They didn’t go out and add more offense in the summer, but they didn’t really need to.
I love this defensive group for the Flames. Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie led a group that was very good already. Then, they went and added Travis Hamonic in a trade with the Islanders. That makes a top four that can all move the puck and skate very well. In particular, Hamilton, Giordano, and Brodie can all chip in on offense. This defense is one of the top groups in the West. You could make a case that Anaheim and Nashville are both better, but these guys aren’t far behind at all.
Holy goalie turnover, Batman! The Flames jettisoned both their starting goalie AND their back-up to bring in two new ones. Eddie Lack — whose coach called him out in Carolina for not being able to stop the puck (aka his job) — will play behind 35-year-old Mike Smith. Smith had a GAA of 2.92 a year ago, but his .914 save percentage was a little better. I’ll give him a bit of a break there because he played behind an awful Coyotes team last year and had flashes of brilliance while getting bombarded. Still, he is in his mid-30s and it’s tough to predict what you’ll get out of goalies at that age. Will rookie Jon Gillies push them for playing time? The Flames need to figure out their goalie situation. This is a playoff team, but their Stanley Cup dreams can get torpedoed by poor play in net.
Summary and Prediction: I think this is certainly a playoff team. Even average goaltending will be sufficient with the players they have in front of them. My second biggest question about this team is whether they can get by the Ducks in the playoffs. In 2015, they lost 4-1 in a series with Anaheim. Last season, the Flames were swept by them. The Ducks physical style of play provides a tough challenge in a seven game series for the Flames. Calgary will finish 3rd in the Pacific, but I don’t see them overcoming Anaheim this season, especially when Anaheim has a much better goaltending situation.
New blood: G Ryan Miller
See ya later, alligator: D Clayton Stoner, D Shea Theodore, G Jonathan Bernier, C Nate Thompson
Yes, this team is back for the 2017-18 season. They are still alive despite the fact that Colton Sissons beat them with a club in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. And they could very well be back there again this season. The Ducks are just as talented as they were a year ago. Their core veterans are back along with some good young players entering their prime. It should be another exciting season followed by crushing playoff disappointment for fans in Anaheim.
The offense will look pretty familiar as the Three Stooges will still be acting like douchebags on the ice. Unfortunately, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry are all pretty talented. The question there is when will their age catch up to them? You saw it a little with Perry last season, but when will you see real drop-off in production from all three? Whenever that is, it’s softened a little because the Ducks have some good young players led by Rickard Rakell (33 goals last year) and Jakob Silfverberg (23 goals) there to pick up the slack. They also retain Patrick Eaves — who in a stunning season last year scored 32 goals. Eaves was acquired from the Stars at the trade deadline and put the biscuit in the basket for them 11 times in 20 regular season games. All that after not scoring more than 20 at any point in his 12 seasons. Note to self: e-mail Gary Bettman reminding him to pee test Eaves every week. A consistent offense won’t change much — if at all — in 2017-18.
The Ducks lost promising young defenseman Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights, but that shouldn’t faze them because they have a lot more where he came from. Cam Folwer and Sami Vatanen headline a great young blue line that also features Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour. They are all in their early-to-mid 20s, skate well, and fit the type of hockey in today’s NHL. Kevin Bieksa may not see the ice much in 2017-18, and that’s bad news for every team Anaheim will play.
Anaheim has a great goaltender in John Gibson. He was a horse for them last year. At just 25-years-old he started in 49 games, had a minuscule 2.22 GAA, and a stellar .924 save percentage. He hasn’t even hit his prime yet, which is a scary thought for all the teams competing with the Ducks in the West. When Gibson needs a blow, they can turn to veteran Ryan Miller — who proved he still had some gas left in the tank with the Canucks. At least enough to show he can be a very capable back-up. With Gibson leading the charge and Miller there to give him some rest from time to time, the Ducks have one of the better goaltending situations in the league.
Summary and Prediction: As much as I hate to admit it, this team of insufferable pricks will challenge for the Pacific Division crown and the Western Conference yet again. It was a tough call, but I have them at 2nd in the Pacific. I could end up being wrong, but for reasons we’re about to discuss I have the Oilers edging them out. Yes, there was also some probably some personal bias in that pick. Screw off, Corey Perry.
New blood: LW Jussi Jokinen, C Ryan Strome
See ya later, alligator: RW Jordan Eberle, LW Benoit Pouliot, C David Desharnais
Connor McDavid, Connor McDavid, and Connor McDavid. That’s all you need to know about the Edmonton Oilers. He is a generational talent and can do things like this:
Is there even a point to trying to defend Connor McDavid anymore? pic.twitter.com/pIRDb2EUOQ
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) September 28, 2017
Annnnd he can make the most beautiful man in Nashville look slow.
— Paweł Milczarski (@pmilczarski) February 26, 2017
He is a generational talent. A freak of nature. Jesus on skates. He had 100 points last year and beat out Sidney Crosby for the MVP. He is 20. No, that is not a typo. He is 20 and he may be the best player in the NHL already. It’s tough to put into word exactly how good he is. He has speed, hands, strength, and hockey IQ unlike any player seen in a very long time. The scary thing is he isn’t alone. Leon Draisaitl — now a very rich man — had 77 points and is an old man at the age of 21. Two player with a combined point total of 177 have a combined age younger than Jaromir Jagr (no offense, Jags). They also have the talents of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, and Patrick Maroon — a player with a sudden influx of goals after playing on a line with Draisaitl and McDavid. Who’d have thunk it? They did lose 20-goal scorer Jordan Eberle in a trade with the New York Islanders, but they got Ryan Strome in return and signed Jussi Jokinen in the off-season. Both guys provide depth to an already dynamic offense that averaged just over three goals per game in 2016-17.
If you’re looking to poke hole in this Oilers team, the blue line would be where you look. Oscar Klefbom is a great young defenseman and Adam Larsson — while being a HORRIFIC return for Taylor Hall — is still an above average player in this league. Andrej Sekera is a fine defenseman as well, and Kris Russell is decent despite not being close to worth the $4 million dollars per year he carries to the bank while laughing hysterically. This defensive corps isn’t bad, but nothing jumps out at me outside of Klefbom. A good offensive team can beat this defense, but they also need to find a way to score on Cam Talbot after that.
Cam Talbot was an iron man in goal for the Oilers a year ago. He started 73 games. For those unaware that’s all but nine games in the season. That is an insane number. He was still able to hold up for a 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage. As impressive as that is, you have to assume that will take its toll on him at some point of another. In order for the Oilers to make a deep playoff run, they MUST give more reps to back-up Laurent Brossoit in order to keep Talbot fresh so he hasn’t played a full 82 games by the second round of the playoffs. It’s tough to expect him to be able to stop pucks at a high level when the Oilers work him into the ice. Give the man a rest here and there. You don’t need elite level goaltending every night when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are making teams look stupid on a regular basis.
Prediction and Summary: This team is young. Some may say too young to win big. I say that’s beyond stupid. It’s impossible to be too young in the NHL these days as long as that youth is plenty talented. I’d say talented is an understatement for McDavid and Draisaitl. Beware the aquatic fowl in California, but McDavid leads Edmonton to their first division title since 1991-92.
- Edmonton Oilers
- Anaheim Ducks
- Calgary Flames
- San Jose Sharks
- Los Angeles Kings
- Arizona Coyotes
- Vancouver Canucks
- Vegas Golden Knights