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Pacific Preview: Battle of Alberta back to life but California teams haven’t faded yet

This is one part of a four-part, division-by-division series breaking down what each NHL team did over the off-season and projecting where they stand in the context of their division in 2017-18. I’m doing standings predictions from bottom to top. Also, give your predictions and rationales in the comments so we circle back and see what we got right and missed on at the end of the season. 

The Pacific Division may not be as deep as the Central Division, but it’s top heavy, and winning it isn’t going to be easy. The Oilers and Flames have brought the Alberta back to life for the first time in years, while the California teams are still kicking around. A sportsbook like Heritage Sports suggests any of those four teams could come out on top, making the Pacific difficult to predict.

8th: Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights are set to become the NHL’s first new franchise since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the league together at the turn of the century. And if we can learn anything from that crop of expansion teams in the 90s we all vaguely remember, it’s that things aren’t going to be pretty for a few years.

The one thing Vegas had on Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, and Minnesota is significantly more favourable expansion draft protection regulations on the other 30 teams. The Golden Knights were actually able to stock up on some pretty decent players rather than exclusively journeymen, but George McPhee opted to largely make decisions for the future of the roster. He spun deals to not take certain players in exchange for draft picks, and many of the players Vegas did select in the expansion draft are soon-to-be free agents who can be shipped off for more picks come the trade deadline.

The recipe for long-term success for an expansion team is to be bad off the hop. Obviously you want the team to be worthwhile to watch so you can capture the interest of your new fanbase, but striving to be a middling team right out of the gate isn’t prudent. The Golden Knights will be looking to pick at the top of the draft over the next couple of years to give them homegrown star-calibre talent that can lead the franchise sooner rather than later.

They’re already a pretty ugly roster with no chemistry whatsoever and they’ll be even worse down the stretch when solid veterans with ending contracts like James Neal, David Perron, and Brayden McNabb are dealt for draft picks. 

7th: Vancouver Canucks

Last year’s record: 30-43-9 (69 points)

Last year’s stats: 47.9 CF% (26th), 44.7 GF% (27th), 7.0 SH% (22nd), 92.4 SV% (15th)

Notable additions: Anders Nilsson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner, Alex Burmistrov, Patrick Wiercioch.

Notable subtractions: Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin, Philip Larsen.

The Vancouver Canucks, who finished 29th in the NHL last season, got a little bit better this summer. They didn’t get good enough to make the playoffs, but they got good enough to not finish in the league’s basement.

The Canucks made some nice additions this season, signing Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto to multi-year deals and a couple of wild cards in Alex Burmistrov and Patrick Wiercioch to one-year deals. But like I said, it still won’t make the Canucks a playoff team. The Sedins are 37 years old and aren’t capable of carrying a first line in the NHL anymore. Unfortunately, they’re still Vancouver’s best forwards and will be played as such. The team’s blueline is solid, but lacks a true top pairing, and goaltending is a bit of question mark.

But after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the late-90s, the Canucks front office has finally admitted the team is going into a rebuild. Obviously this is something that really should have started a few years ago because the team’s decline was obvious, but you can somewhat empathize with why the Canucks avoided selling the present for the future. It’s difficult to pack in and blow it up when you have Henrik and Daniel Sedin, a couple of franchise legends, still under contract and it’s hard to sell a tank and rebuild effort to a fanbase that can see the shell of a competitive team.

The Canucks aren’t going into a full scale burn it to the ground and pick first overall until it works kind of thing, but we’ll be seeing more deals with the future in mind. Last year, Jim Benning pulled off a couple of excellent trades, sending Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen away at the deadline for good prospects. We’ll also see an increased emphasis on opportunities for young players, though Vancouver’s aggressive approach in free agency will ensure prospects aren’t thrown into the deep end without a lifejacket. 

Oct 15, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Coyotes center Dylan Strome (20) takes the ice to start the game against Philadelphia Flyers at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

6th: Arizona Coyotes

Last year’s record: 30-42-10 (70 points)

Last year’s stats: 45.0 CF% (30th), 44.2 GF% (28th), 7.3 SH% (21st), 92.5 SV% (13th)

Notable additions: Jason Demers, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Adam Clendening, Emerson Etem.

Notable subtractions: Shane Doan, Mike Smith, Teemu Pulkkinen, Anthony DeAngelo, Connor Murphy, Chad Johnson, Josh Jooris, Radim Vrbata, Peter Holland, Alex Burmistrov, Jamie McGinn.

I can’t think of a time in my life that the Arizona Coyotes have been this interesting. This summer, John Chayka put forward a massive effort to push the team in a forward direction, acquiring strong veteran players in Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Jason Demers who all became casualties of teams who needed to shed salary. These three will help insulate a roster that boasts an insane amount of young talent.

Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller are the two biggest prospects joining the Coyotes this season, but Christian Dvorak, Brendan Perlini, and Lawson Crouse also have interesting upside. Beyond them, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, the veterans of this group, are only 22 years old. Hjalmarsson and Demers will help turn a disaster of a blueline into a solid one, giving Arizona options in their top-four next to Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski. They also upgraded in net, sending Mike Smith to the Flames and replacing him with Antti Raanta, who was trapped behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York.

There’s been a lot of change over the past year and a bit since Chayka took over. The team has moved on from long-time head coach Dave Tippett and franchise veterans like Shane Doan and Mike Smith. But there’s actually hope for this team now. Not only do the Coyotes have exciting young talent, they also have good veterans to insulate them as they adjust to the NHL game. It probably isn’t going to come together this year, but it won’t be long before the Coyotes are pushing for a playoff spot.

Apr 8, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) celebrates his goal in the overtime period of the game against the Chicago Blackhawks with Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar (11), center Jeff Carter (77) and center Jonny Brodzinski (76) at Staples Center. Kings won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

5th: Los Angeles Kings

Last year’s record: 39-35-8 (86 points)

Last year’s stats: 54.9 CF% (1st), 48.9 GF% (20th), 6.3 SH% (30th), 92.0 SV% (21st)

Notable additions: Mike Cammalleri, Darcy Kuemper.

Notable subtractions: Ben Bishop, Matt Greene, Brayden McNabb, Devin Setoguchi, Teddy Purcell, Rob Scuderi, Jarome Iginla.

The Los Angeles Kings dynasty crashed just as quickly as it rose. Between 2012 and 2014, this team was a juggernaut. They were big, strong, deep, produced dominant underlying numbers, could score, and were impossible to score on. Even if they were an eighth seed, you expected the Kings to make trouble in the playoffs. And they did, winning two Stanley Cups in three seasons.

But then they got old. Dean Lombardi showed loyalty to his guys, giving virtually everyone on the roster a long-term contract, pushing the team into a cap hell that made it impossible for them to augment and change their roster with the rest of the league. In 2015, the Kings missed the playoffs, but their underlying numbers suggested it wad bad luck. In 2016, they returned to the dance, but got destroyed by the Sharks, looking nothing like the juggernaut from previous years. Then, in 2017, they came up short again, spending all year looking like a shell of their former selves.

As a result, the Kings fired Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter, but they’re still stuck in the same spot. They’ll roll into 2017-18 with a similar roster to the one that’s disappointed the past three seasons. The only major addition they made was Mike Cammalleri, who was bought out by the Devils.

Otherwise? It’s the same old, expensive Kings. Assume Anze Kopitar’s 2016-17 season wasn’t an indication of a steep decline, the Kings have a solid forward group with him, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. But there isn’t much depth beyond that. They also have a strong top-half of a blueline led by Drew Doughty, but again, there isn’t much depth. Having Jonathan Quick back should help things out in net, but he won’t be enough to compensate for the roster’s ills.

The Kings will likely be in a similar place this year a they were last. They’ll outshoot their opponents, but struggle to score. That said, the Kings are working under a new coach in John Stevens this season, and a new voice or system could give them some life. Still, based on this old, worn down, top-heavy roster, I can’t imagine the Kings are going to be anything more than a team that competes for a wild card spot. 

4th: San Jose Sharks

Last year’s record: 46-29-7 (99 points)

Last year’s stats: 51.1 CF% (8th), 52.8 GF% (10th), 7.9 SH% (14th), 92.5 SV% (12th)

Notable additions: Brandon Bollig, Antoine Bibeau.

Notable subtractions: Patrick Marleau, David Schlemko.

This is where the Pacific Division starts to get really tight. The San Jose Sharks have been a very good team for a very long time, but they’re also old and in decline coming into the season with an average age just a shade under 30.

The Sharks didn’t do anything to get better this off-season, making only minor additions that clearly don’t offset the loss of franchise staple Patrick Marleau, who left the team in free agency. They also lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft, but the boast a deep enough blueline that it won’t be a difficult issue to overcome. Otherwise, it’ll be the same old Sharks that we’ve come to know heading into 2017-18.

The keys to an improved season for the Sharks will be internal progression. Mikkel Boedker rebounding from his terrible debut season or a breakout performance from former top pick Timo Meier would be huge for the team as it looks to replace Marleau’s offence on the wings. Also, fully healthy and productive seasons from Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture are important for San Jose’s forward depth. 

After going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, the Sharks looks burnt out in 2016-17. They didn’t have a bad season by any stretch, finishing third in the Pacific Division, but come playoff team, they got ran over by a big, fast, and energetic Oilers squad. This year, after having a much longer summer to rest, the Sharks could enjoy a bounce-back showing not unlike the 2015-16 season after they missed the playoffs.

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames goalie Mike Smith (41) guards his net during the warmup period against the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

3rd: Calgary Flames

Last year’s record: 45-33-4 (94 points)

Last year’s stats: 50.5 CF% (10th), 49.3 GF% (15th), 7.6 SH% (16th), 92.0 SV% (22nd)

Notable additions: Travis Hamonic, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack, Spencer Foo.

Notable subtractions: Lance Bouma, Deryk Engelland, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Brandon Bollig, Alex Chiasson.

After a strong second half of the 2016-17 season and a busy off-season, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the Calgary Flames. But there’s also reason to be skeptical. The Flames had one glaring issue last season: goaltending. More than likely, it seems that could be an issue again in 2017-18.

The Flames acquired Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson to solidify their goaltending last summer, but neither were successful. They were good enough to get the Flames into the playoffs, but the team got bombed out by the Anaheim Ducks in four games. Elliott and Johnson each posted a .910 save percentage in all situations, ranking the Flames in the bottom third of the league.

This summer, they tried to address the need again, acquiring veteran Mike Smith from the Coyotes and Eddie Lack from the Hurricanes. Lack was solid in Vancouver once upon a time, but has been terrible the past couple years in Carolina. That isn’t a very good safety net for Smith, who’s 35 years old, hasn’t had a save percentage above .916 since 2011-12, and has played in just 87 games the past two seasons. I mean, to be fair to Smith, he’s played on horrid Coyotes teams the past few seasons which will effect his numbers, but the Smith/Lack tandem doesn’t seem like the solution to a problem.

The other major move the Flames made this summer was acquiring Travis Hamonic from the Islanders, which really solidifies their top-four defencemen. Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton are one of the league’s best pairs, but TJ Brodie was trapped playing with mediocre partners and his game was dragged down because of it. Adding Hamonic gives Calgary one of the better bluelines in the NHL, which could help compensate for their likely-to-be-bad goaltending.

Up front, it’s the same group as last year, as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will produce most of the offensive production while the 3M line continues to be thoroughly solid at driving play. The wild card that can turn this forward group from a solid one into a very good one is Sam Bennett, the fourth overall pick from the 2014 NHL draft who’s still figuring things out. Bennett had a disappointing 26-point season in 2016-17, but could enjoy a breakout if given better wingers.

The Flames made it work last year with poor goaltending, so if Smith and Lack don’t work out they’ll likely still be good enough to make the playoffs again. But being able to keep the puck out of the net is what’s stopping this team from being a true contender.

May 3, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Anaheim Ducks celebrate an overtime winning goal by Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg (33) against the Edmonton Oilers in game four of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2nd: Anaheim Ducks

Last year’s record: 46-23-13 (105 points)

Last year’s stats: 49.7 CF% (19th), 53.1 GF% (8th), 7.8 SH% (15th), 93.0 SV% (5th)

Notable additions: Ryan Miller, Dennis Rasmussen, Derek Grant.

Notable subtractions: Clayton Stoner, Shea Theodore, Simon Despres, Jonathan Bernier, Nate Thompson, Emerson Etem.

When fully healthy, the Anaheim Ducks are a damn good team. They have top level talent at each position, led by an elite offensive duo in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, one of the game’s best two-way forwards in Ryan Kesler, a stacked blueline that can move the puck and play hard in the defensive zone, and a very good goalie. But they aren’t fully healthy.

The Ducks head into the 2017-18 season with a lot of wear and tear after a gritty playoff performance. They’ll be without Kesler until Christmas, which is a massive blow because it puts Antoine Vermette into a key shutdown role. They’ll also be without Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm to start the season, which thrusts old man Francois Beauchemin and rookie Brandon Montour into the top four.

I don’t think these injuries are going to derail Anaheim’s season, but in a division with four good teams battling neck-to-neck for the top seed, the Ducks are being put at a disadvantage.

This summer, the Ducks didn’t make any game-changing additions, save for the acquisition of a very good, veteran backup goalie in Ryan Miller. They navigated through the expansion draft without losing an established young player like Vatanen or Rickard Rakell like many expected they would at this time last year by giving Vegas stud prospect Shea Theodore in exchange for taking Clayton Stoner’s contract. Losing Theodore is unfortunate, but it isn’t the end of the world when you have as much young talent on the blueline as Anaheim does.

Like I said, there are injury issues here that’ll likely slow the Ducks down enough to prevent them from winning the division again, but there’s enough talent and depth on this roster that making the playoffs for a sixth-straight season seems certain.

Apr 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a short handed goal in the third period against the San Jose Sharks in game two of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1st: Edmonton Oilers

Last year’s record: 47-26-9 (103 points)

Last year’s stats: 49.9 CF% (18th), 54.3 GF% (7th), 8.3 SH% (9th), 92.7 SV% (7th)

Notable additions: Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Strome, Yohann Auvitu, Kailer Yamamoto.

Notable subtractions: Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Tyler Pitlick, David Desharnais, Matt Hendricks, Andrew Ference, Jonas Gustavsson.

The Edmonton Oilers enjoyed a breakout season last year. They put up 103 points, their best total since the 80s, and made the playoffs for the first time since their magical run in 2006. The Decade of Darkness is over and now the Oilers are looking to take the next step. Last year, making the playoffs was the goal and everything else was gravy. Now, anything short of a Stanley Cup Final appearance will be a disappointment.

Over the summer, the Oilers dealt Jordan Eberle, who fell out of favour after going completely invisible during the playoffs, to the New York Islanders, for the younger, cheaper, more versatile Ryan Strome. They also bought out Benoit Pouliot and replaced him with Jussi Jokinen, who was bought out by the Florida Panthers. Based on the moves they made, you can’t really say the Oilers have a stronger roster this season than they did last. In order for this team to take a step forward, they’ll have to rely on internal progression, which is certainly a realistic thing considering the young talent on the team. 

The Oilers have a strong forward core anchored, of course, by the league’s best player. So long as Connor McDavid is healthy, the Oilers will have a chance to win any game. That’s the reality of a game-changing talent. Leon Draisaitl anchoring his own line will also give Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a chance to increase his production in a more sheltered offensive role. The blueline is a little bit of a question mark, especially with steady Andrej Sekera set to miss a couple months of action. The key for this group is for Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson to step up as a true number one pairing. In net, the Oilers are set with Cam Talbot, but they can’t ask him to play 73 games again.

This is a team that has the upside to come out of the Western Conference. But in a tough West loaded with good teams, nothing is a given. The team boasts solid depth and a lot of size and skill, but the Oilers need Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot to be as good as they were last season in order to become the class of the West.

Previously in this series…

Central Division Preview

Metropolitan Division Preview 

  • OKG

    Way too much Oilers slant. I see a team that was nothing more than goaltending and one scoring line. Larsson and Klefbom a true top pair? Uhmmm they are an average second pair by wvey metric. Strome younger and cheaper and more versatile than Eberle? Sure but not BETTER.

    Oilers coming out of the west? They’ll need a lot to go right to scrape into the playoffs again. I have them at 90 points and 10th place in the west behind San Jose Calgary Anaheim Dallas Chicago Nashville Winnipeg Minnesota and a “Quick” L.A.

    • Southboy

      In his defense he never said they ‘were’ a true top pair, only they needed to become one. Also as a Flames fan, when i sit down and look at their roster, they actually have 1 amazing line, and 2 pretty good lines. ( Drai as 2 and RNH as 3 is pretty strong depth ) ahead of our forward depth. Defense is where we are ahead. Than goaltending goes to the Oilers untill Smith shows us otherwise.

      • oilman3

        Good to see that some Flames fans can actually look at things objectively. What you said is pretty bang on in my opinion. @OKG, seriously? They’re going to go from 103 points to lucky to make the playoffs? Based on what? I love how so many Flames fans think they will always progress, but any success the Oilers have is luck and won’t be repeated. Take off those ugly red goggles.

        • OKG

          Teams that ride hot goaltending often have bad years the next. Even when they look like sure bets to the untrained masses.

          2014 Colorado Avalanche – 112 pts
          2015 Colorado Avalanche – 90 pts

          2015 Montreal Canadiens – 110 points
          2016 Montreal Canadiens – 82 points

          2014 Boston Bruins – 117 points
          2015 Boston Bruins – 96 points.

          2016 Florida Panthers – 103 pts
          2017 Florida Panthers – 81 pts

          Oilers fans are going to be homers but realistically speaking they’re a mediocre talbot away from missing the playoffs. And realistically speaking Talbot is bound to regress to his mediocre 2015-16 self.

  • PenHawk King

    Sidney Crosby is still the best player in the league and until McDollars leads his team to a Cup glory and Olympic and World Cup Golds like Sid is doing year in year out he is just the young pretender!

    As for the Battle of Alberta, there is none, the lames can’t even win one game against the Coilers – it’s a non event outside of Deadmonton.

    Finally, as stated by many level-headed commenters the Oil are a long way off winning a cup. A two line team with no depth, average defence with no elite offensive Dman and ok goaltending that will be over-used again… the Laffs are a long way ahead in the SC sweepstakes i’m afraid.

      • WillyWonka

        Exactly!! Very Weak 3rd!
        Nothing near a Virsterg, Bennett, Jagr bomb line!
        Calgary’s top 9 any day as good as oilers top 9 all together, and of course defense there’s not even a reason to compare.
        Wild card is goaltending… can Smith do it? Does Talbot come back to earth after a good year, being overworked?
        Flames have dominated oilers for years and, in spite of last year’s hiccup will reign again this year. 😋

        • PenHawk King

          These Coil fans are a hoot. Their idiot GM gave away an elite D in Justin Schultz who then played a key role winning TWO CUPS for the Pens. He undersold an elite winger to NJ for an average D, and then only got the slug Strome back for an offensive dynamo like Eberle who is on fire in Brooklyn already.

          But in their eyes Chia-pet is a genius for picking McDollars in the fluke lotto? LOL Clueless Oiler bandwagoners whose brains are frozen like their city is for ten months of the year.

          • Not a First Tier Fan

            I’d say that most folks here in Edmonton are happy that Schultz got a second chance to live up to his potential. He definitely wasn’t doing it while playing for the Oilers. Some of that was on the team (MacT and Eakins, ahem) but it’s fair to point out that it seemed like his ‘give-a-f@ck-meter’ was broken. Amazing how that can change suddenly when you’re playing for the cup with Crosby and Malkin…

            Schultz is one of those rare trades where all three sides – the team receiving the player, the team trading the player and the player himself – were all improved by changing the dude’s jersey.

          • Orm Nullman

            Seriously PenHawk King Eberle tearing it up? I just checked the Pre season stats. Ebs is GP 5, G 1, A 2, P 3, +/- +1. Slug Strome is GP 5, G 2, A 1, P 3, +/- +2. Seems to me the only thing being torn around here is me tearing you a new @r$ehole. Seriously go crawl back under the Henry Moore in Nathan Phillips Square where you scuttled out from.

          • TrueOilFan

            Number 1, somebody has anger issues. Number 2, your comment about chia-pet is completely wrong. He wasn’t with the organization when McDavid was picked. Number 3, number 2 discredits any comment you make as it shows that you are the one who is uneducated.

        • Neddd

          @WillyWonka

          Based on your analysis I wonder why anyone bothers playing the games, the cup should just be handed to the Flames I guess. I wonder though what your excuse is going to be if the Flames don’t reach the daunting heights you’re expecting? Ah yes, ofcourse, goaltending, the last refuge of the desperate. Its so much easier to blame their potential failure on one player rather than the entire team or say on something like an inability to score which is much more difficult to fix.

          This is exactly why a player like Troy Brouwer is vilified to the extent that he is by local fans because blaming one player is much easier than facing the potential scary truth (like say that the team simply isn’t good enough…..). For example, Brian Elliott, Dennis Wideman, Matt Bartkowski, etc.

        • Southboy

          As a 20 year Flames die hard, i am not sure i can agree with your top 9 comment. RNH is their 3LC, who averages point wise what backlund ( our #2C ) has only done once.

          Defense we are strong, and yes goaltending is a wildcard. But when Milan Lucic scores almost as many goals as Sean Monohan ( who scored hos career average ) than i have to give them the edge in forwards.

        • madjam

          As I wrote on FN , Calgary’s suckage over last 21 years worse than the Oilers record over same period , and both well below the Canucks . You have a lot of unsubstantiated wishful thinking . You really think having a slow Jagr that plays an east-west game will flourish in a division that plays a north south speed game . Big problem with entire Flames club is they are dominating in most games due to lack of overall speed and thus are constantly chasing game rather than dictating it . It’ll be interesting to see if you can finish above the Canucks this season with your teams lack of speed . Oilers will do just fine and maybe better than expected , Calgary I doubt will meet expectations .

        • Not a First Tier Fan

          ‘Calgary’s top 9 any day as good as Oilers top 9 all together…’

          Yeah – the player point totals and the game match-up results from last year sure reflect that, don’t they?

          Sunflower seeds are for winners.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    If you can show me a photo that epitomizes Edmonton better than two fat, drunk, white guys decked head-to-toe in Oilers gear, slapping the glass above a Molson ad to celebrate a McDavid goal, I would love to see it.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Not too much to disagree with here. I think the Oilers might be a little overrated (hard to say about any team that has McDavid and Draisaitl) as I think Lucic and Maroon will regress a bit and Strome won’t be able to replace Eberle’s scoring, not to mention the fact that their blueline is still not that great, but they’re still at least the second best team in the division. I also think the Ducks will continue to dominate but the other two Cali teams will continue to decline. Conversely, the Coyotes have the chance to be pretty good, and the Canucks might actually challenge for the playoffs (though not really go anywhere in them) if all goes right for them: last year’s team was bad, but was decimated by injuries and incompetently coached, while this year’s group has an infusion of fresh blood and Boeser and Virtanen both look ready to contribute in a serious way (PS: you forgot about the Vanek signing, which could go really well or really badly). Flames will be good but a tier below the Ducks and Oilers, and the Knights will probably be extremely bad, as described.

  • FlamesFan27

    Bring on the Battle of Alberta! I can’t wait until Wednesday. I have to agree with these predictions, but nothings a given. Oilers have big questions on defense; Flames have big questions in goal; Anaheim is just plain good (and dirty); perhaps the crackdown will limit their “effectiveness”.

    • OilCan2

      I for one was pissed when Johnny G was hacked into a broken finger. As much as I want the Oilers to beat Calgary I want them to beat a worthy opponent. Call the dirty ducks for everything and send them to the beach early this spring.

  • Walker

    I’m often baffled by how the “Nationwide” posters write about the Canucks, but I have to say I have nothing to really quibble about this assessment and seems about right for the Canucks.

    Only thing I have to add, again, is that the days of tearing down in order to get the first pick in the draft is over (thanks Edmonton). The NHL has destroyed the lottery system. If you finish last in this league, the odds are you’ll be picking fourth. There’s a danger that today’s struggling teams will remain in purgatory, missing out on generational talent until the NHL corrects things (again).

    • sloth

      The assessment might be right (‘better but probably not playoffs’) but I would say there were some major whiffs in this Canucks writeup that I definitely want to quibble over.

      For one, the writer fails to mention the team has a new coach, promoted from their farm team, which is a pretty huge foundational change to omit in a season preview (it is mentioned in the Kings and Coyotes writeups). And second, while the writer sees the Sharks and Oilers relying on internal progression to improve, there’s no mention of any Canucks taking a step forward (Brock Boeser is realistically the team’s most significant addition at forward and could be a Calder contender but is not mentioned at all; Baertschi and Granlund both look like they could score 20g/40pts if they can stay healthy; Virtanen has looked good in camp and will be looking to rebound from his terrible year last year; Stecher could build off a 24-pt rookie season as the team’s top offensive d-man, especially if he doesn’t get the mumps; vets like Eriksson and D. Sedin will hopefully bounce back with some positive regression in their shooting percentages – 8.3% and 6.9% respectively last year).

      I also took issue with this statement: “The Sedins are 37 years old and aren’t capable of carrying a first line in the NHL anymore. Unfortunately, they’re still Vancouver’s best forwards and will be played as such.”

      While the first sentence may very well be correct, the second is highly questionable. For one, they may have already been surpassed as the team’s best forwards last year – Horvat led the team in goals and points, and he and Baertschi combined for 87pts in 149 games with less icetime and powerplay time, compared to the twins’ combined 94pts in 164 games. But more importantly, there’s no way to know that the Sedins will be played in the same top-line role as last year, as they’ll be playing under a new coach with a significantly revamped roster. I think most Canucks fans are hoping the Horvat line takes another step forward and seizes the top-line duties this year while the Sedins provide good secondary scoring in slightly more sheltered minutes. They are definitely still valuable as middle-six players at the right price, and I fully expect they’ll take a healthy hometown discount to slide into that role more officially next year. They’ve always been virtually untradeable as a pair anyways, and they were pretty unequivocal about their commitment to the Canucks franchise and the city of Vancouver in their Players Tribune article this summer, so it’s easy to see this natural succession plan where they are no longer required or expected to provide first-line offense but still contribute as secondary scoring and invaluable mentorship to young players through this rebuild process.

      For the record I think both the Canucks and Coyotes outperform the Kings this year, and one of the two could leapfrog one of the Sharks or Ducks, but neither are really ready to be in the playoffs this year… The Oilers have the high-end talent but lack depth, and expectations are far too high after their first playoff appearance in a generation – I sense some struggles as they try to solidify their place among the NHL’s elite teams. The Flames could be scary. If Mike Smith plays like an average NHL goalie they could very well win the division…

  • Break The Canuck's Curse

    Except for the parts about Burrows and Hansen, the comments about the Canucks could be last year’s boilerplate.

    I’m projecting them to finish somewhere in the 4-6 range. I think they will take many teams by surprise. There is a lot of promise there starting with the rookie head coach

    The Oilers might score but they also may not be able to keep the puck out of their own net. This looks like they are back to the days of outscoring their opponents. At least it will be entertaining

    I’m wondering if the Flames are going to slip back into Lames mode this year.

    No offense folks, I’m just calling it the way I see it

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    So I guess the question to all you non-Oiler fans is how many years in a row will Connors team need to keep blasting away the competition before you begrudgingly give them some respect? Not that we Oilers fans care, mind you… The disbelief that your team got sunk by the lowly Oil just makes all the crying and tears funnier. Lol.

    Props to Cam and a couple of the commenters in this thread who got past the Decade Of Darkness image and have started to give Edmonton a head nod.

    Otherwise I think Cam got it mostly right here. Except I look at the Arizona defence and have to give them some respect… Over the summer the Yotes somehow built the defensive core that Calgary just brags that it has…

  • Jay (not J)

    If LA and SJ are competitive this is going to be a ridiculously tough division. I don’t think Van is going to be as crummy as I would like them to be and even Arizona could be looking to get themselves off the mat. Fleury is going to steal games for the Knights and even the Phlegms, well maybe not them… I kind of think we’re going to be laughing about that Jagr signing a month or so from now. Still, tough division this year. Play those Ducks hard all year and may be they’ll be feeling old come May. Can’t take anything for granted.

  • madjam

    Speed factor rating of Pacific division : Oilers , Vancouver , Arizona , San Jose , Anaheim , Vegas , L.A. and lastly Calgary . Goal tending hard to rate Flames any better than 7th in the division . Truculence and forwards- Flames might get close to middle of pack . Defence – Flames look to be about 3rd . Overall this might be a disappointing season for Flame fans .