Do you smell that? It’s the smell of freshly zambonied ice, a cold Miller Lite draft, and freshly printed pages in the game program. Training camps around the NHL are underway and the regular season is so close I can taste it. Now, pump your brakes. Before I can talk about the best team in the world, we have to talk about the other teams. Today, we take a peek at the Pacific Division, in which some teams got some shiny new toys this offseason.
2017-18 record: 31-40-11
GF/G – 2.66 (27th)
GA/G – 3.21 (T-26th)
PP – 21.46% (9th)
PK – 78.26% (21st)
Key additions: LW Antoine Roussel, C Jay Beagle, LW Tim Schaller
Key losses: LW Daniel Sedin, C Henrik Sedin
G – Brock Boeser (29)
A – Alex Edler (28)
P – Brock Boeser (55)
GAA – Jacob Markstrom (2.71)
Sv% – Jacob Markstrom (.912)
This is going to be one of the worst teams in the NHL. That might be tolerable for the fan base if the team had some semblance of direction. Instead, it’s a flaming turd on wheels with no one in the driver’s seat.
The Canucks lost the Sedin twins to retirement, and that will hurt. Despite their age, Henrik and Daniel were still very productive. Both players hit the 50-point mark last season, and Daniel even scored 23 goals. This is a team that struggled to score goals a year ago and will struggle to score again this season. A full season of the best head of hair in the NHL in Brock Boeser along with Bo Horvat will help, but it won’t be enough. In a couple of curious moves, the Canucks signed fourth line grinder Jay Beagle to a deal worth $12 million and signed human skidmark Antoine Roussel to a deal also worth $12 million. A better use for that $24 million would have been almost anything. Nothing against Beagle and everything against Roussel, but these two guys are not what Vancouver needs right now. The Canucks need cap space, youth, skill, and draft picks. The two aforementioned players are none of those.
This defense is a mess too. The best player on this blue line is Alex Edler, who isn’t getting any younger at 32-years old. He’s paired with Chris Tanev, another serviceable first pairing defenseman. Former Predator Michael Del Zotto is also in Vancouver, but he struggles in his own end despite being able to chip in on offense. This group doesn’t exactly strike fear into opposing offenses.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson might be one of the worst goaltending tandems in the entire league. On his own, each player may be an okay backup, but neither is cut out to take the reins in the crease as a starter. Goaltending will remain an issue for the Canucks in 2018-19. Teams will be able to light the lamp against Vancouver.
Look, there really is not much to say about this team. They are horrible. They’ll finish last in the Pacific Division and will at least be in the running to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Fans in Vancouver may want to take this season off.
2017-18 record: 36-40-6
GF/G – 2.85 (20th)
GA/G – 3.21 (25th)
PP – 14.76% (31st)
PK – 76.73% (25th)
Key additions: C Kyle Brodziak, LW Tobias Rieder
Key losses: N/A
Goals – Connor McDavid (41)
Assists – Connor McDavid (67)
Points – Connor McDavid (108)
GAA – Cam Talbot (3.02)
Sv% – Cam Talbot (.908)
The Edmonton Oilers were a HUGE disappointment last season. After getting to Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs in 2017, the team was abysmal and missed the postseason entirely last year. I’m not sure things will be much improved in 2018-19.
Edmonton has the second best hockey player in the world, in my opinion, in Connor McDavid. He can do anything he wants on the ice, and no one can stop him. He has speed, he has skill, he has intelligence, and he’s about all the Oilers have up front. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Oilers’ forward depth is only slightly north of zilch. Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are talented players, but those two are the only guys Edmonton can count on for scoring outside of McDavid. Milan Lucic, who is getting paid $6 million for the next five seasons, put up 34 points. I’d expect him to have somewhat of a bounce back year because his shooting percentage was a measly 6.8% — easily the lowest of his career — but outside of the four players I just named it’s tough to find consistent scoring on this roster.
The situation on defense is slightly better. Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Matt Benning are all decent young players. Adam Larsson has been a good defenseman for the team, even though he is part of one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Of course, there is also Kris Russell weighing things down in the defensive end. He is lauded for his shot blocking ability, but people seem to forget that if you block the puck a lot that means the other team has the puck in your zone a lot. I realized that is rocket science, and Edmonton has yet to figure that out. Outside of Russell, this is a decent group but not enough to buoy a poor offense.
Part of the Oilers’ regression in 2017-18 was a brutal season from Cam Talbot in goal. It looked like Edmonton running him into the ground finally caught up to Talbot as he had a goals against average above three and a save percentage below .910. That will sink any team’s season, but especially one that already struggles in the offensive end. Talbot will need to find his form from 2016-17 in order to get the Oilers back into playoff contention.
If the Oilers miss the playoffs again with Connor McDavid leading the way, the city of Edmonton might burn down. Those people have nothing else to do up there besides visit the shopping mall and watch hockey, so they take things pretty seriously. Get the fire extinguishers ready in Edmonton.
Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 record: 45-29-8
GF/G – 2.91 (17th)
GA/G – 2.48 (1st)
PP – 20.42% (T-17th)
PK – 85.00% (1st)
Key additions: LW Ilya Kovalchuk
Key losses: N/A
Goals – Anze Kopitar (35)
Assists – Anze Kopitar (57)
Points – Anze Kopitar (92)
GAA – Jonathan Quick (2.40)
Sv% – Jonathan Quick (.902)
After getting outclassed in nearly every way by team that was just faster and more skilled than them in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, the Kings went out and got younger and sleeker by signing *checks notes* Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Kings made the playoffs thanks to an incredible year from Anze Kopitar, great defense, and terrific goaltending. Kopitar won the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, and he was in the running for the MVP. Dustin Brown turned back the clock for a 60-point season after looking like his career was on its last legs after a handful of subpar seasons. Even with great seasons from those two, the Kings still struggled to put the biscuit in the basket. The team had just three players who cracked the 20-goal mark, and that came back to bite them against Vegas in the first round. The Golden Knights scored seven goals in four games and still swept the series. Los Angeles scored three goals in those four games and was shutout twice. The addition of Kovalchuk may help out, but he is 35 and doesn’t exactly move like he did back when the Devils gave him a ludicrous contract before he bolted to the KHL five years ago.
The Kings still have one of the best to ever do it on defense in Drew Doughty, and he just got a massive payday. Starting in 2019-2020, he’ll be making $11 million per year. He’ll probably be worth every penny too. Doughty was the team’s third leading scorer last season and consistently shuts down the opposing team’s top players. Beside him is Jake Muzzin, who has emerged as a good No. 2 defenseman along side Doughty. Like his defensive partner, Muzzin plays well at both ends of the ice. The second pairing is where the problems start to kick in. Alec Martinez had a down year last season, and Dion Phaneuf is past his prime. Expect that first pairing to play a lot of minutes.
In net is where the Kings really excelled last season. Every goalie that played for Los Angeles in 2017-18 had a save percentage of over .920. Jon Quick is back and remains a tough goalie to solve. The fancy stats folks don’t love him, but he seems to get results every season. One of the most athletic goalies in the NHL, my groin muscles hurt watching him play in net. Jack Campbell will back him up this season, but he only played in five games last year. He’ll get more action this season, so we’ll see how he handles a larger role.
The Kings’ best seasons appear to be behind them. They could very well prove me wrong, but I just don’t feel comfortable picking them to finish above some of these other teams in the division.
2017-18 record: 44-25-13
GF/G – 2.87 (T-13th)
GA/G – 2.63 (4th)
PP – 17.76% (23rd)
PK – 83.21% (5th)
Key additions: D Andrej Sustr, C Brian Gibbons, RW Carter Rowney
Key losses: RW Chris Wagner
Goals – Rickard Rakell (34)
Assists – Ryan Getzlaf (50)
Points – Rickard Rakell (69)
GAA – Ryan Miller (2.35)
Sv% – Ryan Miller (.928)
The Ducks will be without Ondrej Kase to start the season. The The Ducks will be without Corey Perry for five months. The Ducks may be without Ryan Kesler to start the season. Oh, and Patrick Eaves is still trying to come back after battling a mysterious illness. Yikes.
This Anaheim Ducks team has several aging core players, and some of those players are falling apart. After an embarrassing showing in the first round of the 2018 playoffs for Anaheim, they’ll try to redeem themselves this season, but it’ll be a challenge. The team will have leading scorer Rickard Rakell, male pattern baldness victim Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, and Adam Henrique. However, there is a serious drop off in production after that. I don’t think the Ducks can really count on the likes of Nick Ritchie and Andrew Cogliano for consistent scoring.
If Anaheim does survive these injuries and make the playoffs once again, it’ll be because of the defense. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour all make up a very young and very talented top four on the back end. For Anaheim to overcome the early rash of injuries, those four will have to chip in with some offense and continue playing sound defense. I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility.
Last season, the Ducks had arguably the best goaltending duo in the entire NHL. Both John Gibson and veteran Ryan Miller were outstanding between the pipes. The most lukewarm of all my lukewarm takes last season was that Gibson should get some consideration for MVP after helping carry the Ducks through the first part of the season as they dealt with a bevy of injuries. Anaheim is in the same position going into 2018-19, so we’ll see if he is able to do it yet again.
I really don’t think Anaheim can overcome all these health issues for the second season in a row. The Ducks will miss the postseason for the first time since 2011-12. It’s a shame. As a Preds fan, I do love to hate them in April and May.
2017-18 record: 37-35-10
GF/G – 2.66 (T-26th)
GA/G – 3.02 (19th)
PP – 15.99% (T-28th)
PK – 81.78% (7th)
Key additions: RW James Neal, D Noah Hanifin, C Elias Lindholm, C Derek Ryan, D Dalton Prout
Key losses: D Dougie Hamilton, LW Micheal Ferland, RW Troy Brouwer
Goals – Sean Monahan (31)
Assists – Johnny Gaudreau (60)
Points – Johnny Gaudreau (84)
GAA – Mike Smith (2.65)
Sv% – Mike Smith (.916)
I had a really difficult time placing the Flames this season. I think they have a decent roster but I’m not sure how all these changes will play out this season.
The Carolina Flames… I mean, the Calgary Hurricanes… I’m sorry, the Calgary Flames made a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Hurricanes AND hired their former head coach, Bill Peters. I don’t think it’s any secret that I am Real Deal James Neal’s No. 1 fan. I think he’ll do some great things for the Flames. I also like the additions of Derek Ryan and Elias Lindholm. Those two won’t light up the scoreboard, but they will add some depth scoring to an offensive group that already has Johnny Hockey, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mikael Backlund. It’s not the strongest top few lines in the NHL, but it’s probably good enough to get this team into the playoffs.
Trading Dougie Hamilton for Noah Hanifin seems like a bit of a wash for the Flames, but I still like their top four defensemen. Hanifin, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Travis Hamoic make up a pretty damn capable group. The bottom pairing of Dalton Prout and Michael Stone is a pretty big liability, but Peters will likely shelter those two as much as possible while feeding his top four the big minutes.
Mike Smith had a decent first season in goal for the Flames, but the problem is that Calgary couldn’t find a reliable backup option to save their lives. It was a Russian nesting doll of backup goalies for Calgary in 2017-18, and each one got worse. The Flames will roll with Jon Gillies to start this year, but they may look for other options if he can’t get the job done in the early going. I guess the Flames could play Smith for all 82 games, but he may not appreciate that too much.
I actually have the Flames snagging a wild card spot this season. Could Bill Peters and the goaltending situation tank that prediction for me? Yes, but I’ll be damned if I bet against Real Deal James Neal.
2017-18 record: 29-41-12
GF/G – 2.54 (30th)
GA/G – 3.12 (T-22nd)
PP – 16.87% (26th)
PK – 79.46% (19th)
Key additions: C Alex Galchenyuk, C Vinnie Hinostroza, LW Michael Grabner
Key losses: LW Max Domi, RW Tobias Rieder
Goals – Clayton Keller (23)
Assists – Clayton Keller/Derek Stepan (42)
Points – Clayton Keller (65)
GAA – Antti Raanta (2.24)
Sv% – Antti Raanta (.930)
This is it. I’m calling my shot, folks. The Arizona Coyotes are #actually good and will make the postseason by finishing third in the division this season.
I’m not sure the Coyotes have that one guy who will take over games on offense — though Clayton Keller may evolve into that guy after an exceptional rookie year — but I really like this lineup from top to bottom. This is a lineup with youth and skill from top to bottom with some more proven veteran players sprinkled throughout. Though he won’t quite be healthy in time for the team’s first game, I fully anticipate Alex Galchenyuk will thrive outside of Montreal this season. I’m also a big fan of the addition of Vinnie Hinostroza from Chicago. That kid had 25 points in 50 games last year, and he looks ready to bloom. Much of this lineup is under 25, bit all those young players went through early struggles before finishing the season out very strong a year ago. Players like Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer, and the currently injured Christian Dvorak will all be better for it.
The Coyotes have one of the most underrated defensemen in the entire NHL in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. That guy should get more consideration for the Norris Trophy than he does, but he plays in Arizona so he won’t. That’s not a knock. That’s just sad reality. Fellow defenseman Alex Goligoski tallied 35 points last year as he keeps up his reputation as a strong offensive defenseman. Kevin Connauton is a steady player on the back end, but I really like Niklas Hjalmarsson. He won’t light up the scoresheet, but he will play some lockdown defense. That’s what he did in Chicago before they traded him away for some reason.
With goaltender Antti Raanta hurt to start last season, the Coyotes lost their first 12 games. Why? because they couldn’t buy a save from any of their backup goaltenders. When Raanta came back, he was nearly unbeatable. He posted a 2.24 goals against average and a .930 save percentage last year as Arizona went on a nice run to end the season. Darcy Kuemper returns to back him up, and I’m willing to give him a break for his 10 awful games with the Yotes last year. His career numbers indicate that he’s a perfectly fine backup goaltender.
I will likely regret the hell out of this pick just 20 games into the season, but I’m a man of conviction and dammit I like this roster. The Coyotes are going to the playoffs. Get wild, Glendale!
Vegas Golden Knights
2017-18 record: 51-24-7
GF/G – 3.32 (T-4th)
GA/G – 2.78 (8th)
PP – 21.37% (11th)
PK – 81.43% (10th)
Key additions: C Paul Stastny, LW Max Pacioretty, D Nick Holden
Key losses: D Luca Sbisa, RW James Neal, LW David Perron, LW Tomas Tatar
Goals – Wiliam Karlsson (43)
Assists – Jonathan Marchessault (48)
Points – William Karlsson (78)
GAA – Marc-Andre Fleury (2.24)
Sv% – Marc-Andre Fleury (.927)
The Vegas Golden Knights were THE story in hockey last season, and part of me loved it while a more petty part of me hated it. Can they keep it up this season?
The additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty will make an already impressive offense even better. Those two should compliment Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, and William Karlsson quite nicely. Am I still baffled by this offense? You betcha. I don’t really think Erik Haula is a guy that can consistently sniff 30 goals. I don’t think William Karlsson is a consistent 40-goal scorer. The guy scored on 23.4 percent of his shots last season. Holy shit! That’s almost impossible. I’m going to say that doesn’t happen again. Still, there is talent up front and the style that the Golden Knights play helps maximize that talent.
Defensively, the Golden Knights lost Luca Sbisa, but I don’t really think they will miss him too much. The golden boy (no pun intended) on this blue line is Shea Theodore. He is a great young player who will lead this team for years to come. Brayden McNabb returns and will remain a stalwart on this back end. The biggest punch to the gut that this defensive unit must absorb is a 20-game suspension to Nate Schmidt to start the season for violating the league’s substance policy. That may put a wrench in the gears for Vegas on defense in the early going because Schmidt was a beast for this team last year (hmmmm…).
Marc-Andre Fleury reminded people that he was still a damn good goalie after being exposed in the expansion draft by the Penguins. He missed some time with injury, and that may have been the only thing preventing him from winning the Vezina Trophy over the big Pekka. In the playoffs, Fleury was even better. He helped carry a Vegas team that struggled to score at time all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Fleury will probably have to replicate that success for the Golden Knights to find their magic again in 2018-19.
I still have some questions about this team, but I do think they are the second best squad in the Pacific Division.
San Jose Sharks
2017-18 record: 45-27-10
GF/G – 3.07 (12th)
GA/G – 2.79 (9th)
PP – 20.62% (16th)
PK – 84.82% (2nd)
Key additions: D Erik Karlsson
Key losses: D Dylan DeMelo, LW Mikkel Boedker, C Chris Tierney
Goals – Logan Couture (34)
Assists – Brent Burns (55)
Points – Brent Burns (67)
GAA – Martin Jones (2.55)
Sv% – Martin Jones (.915)
That key additions sections is all you need to know about the 2018-19 San Jose Sharks.
Before we talk about that insane blue line in San Jose, we must first talk about the forward group. The core of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton are all back. They’ll provide both production and leadership. Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, and Timo Meier will help round out a solid top six forward group. Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc will provide additional depth. This may not exactly be the most flashy group of scorers that the league has to offer, but they always find a way to get the job done. Of course, this offense is also driven by the talented group of defensemen that just got a whole hell of a lot more talented.
The Sharks missed out on the John Tavares sweepstakes, but they continued to go big game hunting. They were finally able to make a big move by prying Erik Karlsson from the Senators. Karlsson is a top five defenseman in this league, and that makes two on the San Jose roster between he and Brent Burns. Karlsson can do things on the ice that few others can, and he now resides in the Western Conference. Karlsson has put up at least 60 points in his last six remotely full seasons of NHL play. Burns has eclipsed 60 points in his last four seasons. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is vastly underrated and a great defender in his own right. Throw in Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon, and that is trouble for opposing teams. From defender no. 1 to defender no. 6, I’d say San Jose has the best group in the league.
Martin Jones had a fine 2017-18 season, but this may be the weakest link in the chain of this team. Jones is a good starting goaltender, but he’s not dominant. Neither is his backup Aaron Dell. Assuming opposing teams can actually get behind that San Jose defense, they may be able to capitalize on the chances they get. Again, this is not to say Jones is bad. I’m just not sure he is good enough to take this team all the way to a Stanley Cup.
To me, the Sharks are clearly the best team in the Pacific. They should be atop the standings for most of the season.
Final Pacific Division Prediction
- Golden Knights