Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Which Pacific Division team has had the best offseason so far?
7 months ago
For the first time since the LA Kings in 2014, a Pacific Division team has won the Stanley Cup — which means the competition in the west will get a lot stiffer. The Canucks, who haven’t competed in a “full” playoff format since 2015, or won a single round since 2011, made the right moves to put their defence in a suitable position to begin the season without breaking the bank. While free agency treated the Canucks nicely, for some teams, it foreshadowed a rough season ahead.
Let’s see which Pacific Division teams are primed for a strong season next year, and which fell from grace (although, we’re not complaining).
Anaheim Ducks: C+
- Free agency signings: LW Alex Killorn, D Radko Gudas, D Trevor Carrick (AHL).
- Parted ways with: LW Max Comtois.
- First-round selection: C Leo Carlsson.
One thing’s for certain: the Ducks are going to be a heavily penalized team next season. Anaheim managed to land two excellent free agents in Killorn, who’s coming off his 2x Stanley Cup-winning journey with the Lightning, and Gudas, who was a thorn in every team’s side during the playoffs. Anaheim let every single one of their UFAs walk out the door this offseason, including LW Max Comtois, who the Ducks drafted back in 2017.
Both Killorn and Gudas will bring just the type of presence the Ducks are looking for to tone down Trevor Zegras. The duo will more than likely become the star’s bodyguards to minimize Zegras from getting into emotion-driven confrontations. The elephant in the room this offseason for Anaheim was the decision to pass on projected second-overall pick Adam Fantilli in favour of Leo Carlsson. One way or another, with the second overall pick, the Ducks were going to luck out with a great centre, and in Carlsson, they did just that. Carlsson’s style of play is more conducive to Zegras: speedy, deceptive in tight, and a fantastic release. That’s the type of player the Ducks want on their roster going forward.
Calgary Flames: D-/F
- Free agency signings: D Jordan Oesterle, LW Dryden Hunt (AHL), D Colton Poolman (AHL), C Martin Pospisill (AHL), D Brady Lyle (AHL), C Ben Jones (AHL), C Mathias Emilio Pettersen (AHL).
- Traded RW Tyler Toffoli to New Jersey for RW Yegor Sharangovich and New Jersey’s 2023 third-round selection.
- First-round selection: LW Samuel Honzek.
The Flames are still feeling the aftershocks of their first season without Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. On paper, the additions of D MacKenzie Weegar, C Nazemi Kadri, and LW Jonathan Huberdeau, in exchange for Tkachuk, made it seem like the Flames were striking one hell of a deal with the Panthers. As it turned out, the opposite actually happened.
Huberdeau, who was criticized for being invisible in the playoffs with Florida, wasn’t the difference maker the Flames had hoped he would be, as the Flames ended up missing the playoffs entirely. By the time coach Daryl Sutter and GM Brad Treliving were let go, the damage had already been done. Calgary had become a ghost town. What’s left of the remaining core — C Mikael Backlund, C Elias Lindholm, and D Noah Hanifin — all want out entering their final contracts with the Flames.
The one addition Calgary did make to their blueline during free agency had fans scratching their heads, and pulling out their phones to see who they had just acquired. Honestly, Calgary flat-out deserves an F, but I like the selection of Honzek at the draft (very on-brand with the Flames snatching up Vancouver players). Calgary’s pretty much tied down with the contracts they signed last year from the Tkachuk trade, so new GM Craig Conroy’s got to make the best of a bad situation. Best case scenario, the team meshes well and with a new coach, Backlund, Lindholm, and Hanifin (although he’s the most adamant about leaving), decide to stick around. But heading into this season, Calgary is a big ole’ blazing ball of fire.
Edmonton Oilers: B
- Free agency signings: RW Connor Brown, C Lane Pederson, C Drake Caggiula, C Mattias Jankmark, D Benjamin Gleason (AHL), G Olivier Rodrigue (AHL), D Noel Hoefenmayer (AHL).
- Traded RW Kailer Yamamoto and C Klim Kostin to the Detroit Red Wings for future considerations. Yamamoto was bought out by Detroit and signed with Seattle.
- First-round selection: N/A (traded to Nashville for D Mattias Ekholm and a 2024 sixth-round pick.)
The Oilers made most of their adjustments to the bottom six, minus the acquisition of Connor Brown, who will likely slot in for Yamamoto on the second line. The problem with that move is Brown is only signed for the season, and is accounting for almost half of the team’s spending this offseason. Letting Yamamoto, a terrific second-line player, go for nothing, wasn’t ideal, but now that Yamamoto’s with the Kraken, Edmonton will have to see him more than they would have liked.
Seattle is the perfect fit for Yamamoto who hails from Washington. The Kraken saw players with Yamamoto’s style of play thrive last season, powering the latest expansion team past the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Edmonton did, however, manage to sign some trusty bottom-line players to add more bite to the team’s bottom six, and did so for a steal of a deal. However, because the Oilers traded their first-round selection this year, in probably the worst draft to do so, Edmonton had to roll up their sleeves and do some deep sea diving for some AHL players.
Los Angeles Kings: C –
- Free agency signings: C Trevor Lewis, G Cam Talbot, G David Rittich, LW Mikhail Maltsev, D Steven Santini, D Andreas Englund, C Jaret Anderson-Dolan, C Anze Kopitar (extension begins in 2024-2025; two-years, $7 million), D Tobias Bjornfot, D Joe Hicketts (AHL), C Akil Thomas (AHL), LW Samuel Fagemo (AHL), C Tyler Madden (AHL).
- Traded C Gabriel Vilardi, LW Alex Iafallo, C Rasmus Kupari, and a 2024 second-round pick for Pierre-Luc Dubois.
- First-round selection: N/A (traded to Columbus, who flipped it to the Flyers, for D Vladislav Gavrikov and G Joonas Korpisalo).
I do not like this Dubois trade for the Kings at all. Just last season, the Kings made virtually the same move to acquire Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild, giving up a 2022 first-round pick and sensational defensive prospect Brock Faber to lock Fiala down for a seven-year contract, nearly worth as much as Dubois’, $8×8 contract. This didn’t work for LA last yet, but yet again, here they are committing to another high-end player to see if that will make a difference. This isn’t basketball.
I don’t see this playing out for the Kings. This is going to be Dubois’ third team in just seven NHL seasons. To me, that’s a red flag and not the kind of player you would want to sign a long-term deal with. Dubois’ never lasted three seasons with a single team in the NHL, and the payout for him is such a heavy hit to take. Let’s conceptualize this: the Kings are losing two up-and-coming prospects, Iafallo, who was a beast in the regular season and even more so in the playoffs, and a second-round pick in another deep draft class next year. It’s certainly not a move I would make.
Strapped for cash, the Kings mostly signed no-namers, who couldn’t break into their previous team’s respective roster, to one-year deals. After working so hard to quickly regroup on the fly, and successfully doing so, this is a step in the wrong direction for the Kings.
San Jose Sharks: D+
- Free agency signings: G MacKenzie Blackwood, LW Fabian Zetterlund, RW Scott Sabourin, RW Givani Smith, D Kyle Burroughs, C Ryan Carpenter (AHL), C Nathan Todd (AHL), D Leon Gawanke (AHL).
- Parted ways with G James Reimer and G Aaron Dell.
- First-round selection: C Will Smith and LW Quentin Musty.
Free agency for the Sharks means signing players for the season to bide their prospects another season of development. On a positive note, San Jose made a really bad goaltending situation into a kind of bad, maybe okay, situation by signing MacKenzie Blackwood. The goaltender saw limited action with the New Jersey Devils due to injury, and as a result of New Jersey going on a heater with Vanecek and Schmid during the regular season. San Jose also signed former Canuck Kyle Burroughs, who I’m more than willing to bet will fight at least one Canuck this upcoming season.
While things look grim with the Sharks’ current roster, San Jose has done a mighty fine job with their drafting. Both of this year’s selections complement C Thomas Bordeleau and LW William Eklund, who had standout years in the AHL year and made appearances for the Sharks later in the season. San Jose still has a few more moves to make before they completely liquidate their roster, including finding the right kinds of players to centre around this group of talent, which is exactly what Chicago has done with Connor Bedard. Give it a few years, and San Jose will be wheeling and dealing, leaving this stagnant period far behind them.
Seattle Kraken: B-
- Free agency signings: D Brian Dumoulin, RW Kailer Yamamoto, D Will Borgen, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW Marian Studenic (AHL), D Jimmy Schuldt (AHL), RW John Hayden (AHL), D Connor Carrick (AHL), C Tucker Robertson (ELC).
- Parted ways with G Martin Jones in favour of G Joey Daccord.
- First-round selection: LW Eduard Sale.
Aside from New Jesery, Seattle had the biggest turnaround this season. The Kraken went back to the drawing board and traded a bulk of the players they selected in the entry draft, choosing to build around the selection of players they did keep. The Kraken ran four lines of offence last season, with defencemen scoring and chipping in on a high percentage of plays.
This offseason, D Will Borgen was the only free agent the team resigned. Seattle let the rest, including Joonas Donskoi, Daniel Sprong, and Ryan Donato, test out free agency. The additions of Yamamoto and Bellemare are good enough to fill most of the gaps this season, but I still think Seattle could have benefited from signing a few more of their free agents. Most of the Kraken’s offseason moves were done to their AHL team, which went all the way to the finals, before losing in game seven to the Hershey Bears. Seattle might want to capitalize on their flourishing prospect pool and promote a few players, which explains why their offseason haul was predominantly AHL players. After all, Seattle didn’t part ways with any integral forwards or defencemen. Instead, they added to their prospect cupboard by drafting winger Eduard Sale, who will likely play on a line with either Beniers or Wright in the future. Sale was rookie of the year in the Czechia professional hockey league.
The only move I’m not a fan of is letting Martin Jones go. Jones is a veteran NHLer. He’s won a cup, and he took over for Philipp Grubauer Gruber when he was injuried or wasn’t playing up to par. As aforementioned, the Kraken run a fairly offensive blueline, which meant they had to compensate for goaltending by scoring a lot of goals last season — which they did. Which is why I think the Daccord promotion came too early. This is not the kind of team I would feel comfortable allowing an AHL goalie to play in front of. The last thing I would want to do is concede games by pulling Daccord and adding more games to Grubauer’s workload. If he gets hurt, Seattle’s got no backup plan.
Vancouver Canucks: B+/A
- Free agency signings: D Carson Soucy, D Ian Cole, D Matt Irwin (NHL/AHL), C Theodor Blueger, G Zach Sawchenko (AHL), D Akito Hirose (AHL).
- Parted ways with D Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
- First-round selection: D Tom Willander.
The acquisition of three veteran defencemen, all signed for less than three years, and a third-line centre was more than any fan thought the Canucks would bargain for. Free agency frenzy has usually been a stark day for fans. Vancouver has been known to sign players to pricey long-term contracts solely based of their short-lived success with a prior team, which has almost never translated to success in a Canucks sweater. This free agency was a promising sign for the Canucks. They didn’t stretch themselves too thin to acquire a player, and they ticked off all their preseason needs. Canucks also doubled up on their defensive haul by drafting Tom Willander, who will spend next season in the NCAA with Boston University.
Vegas Golden Knights: C
- Free agency signings: D Mason Geertsen (AHL), G Jiri Patera (AHL)
- Traded RW Riley Smith for 2024 third-round pick.
- First-round selection: C David Edstrom.
The Golden Knights have virtually done nothing so far this free agency, and they didn’t need to. They’re the Stanley Cup Champions, they’ll be on a bender for the rest of the month. Vegas’ team is pretty much intact for next season, including the big three: RW Mark Stone, RW and reigning Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Marchessault, and C Jack Eichel. With that trio taking up $24.5 million next season, the Knights dumped some cap space by trading RW Riley Smith, a solid contributor for the team, for a third-round pick in next year’s draft.
Vegas’ draft was very run-of-the-mill. The Knights have only ever drafted centres in the first round of their franchise history, making Swedish-born David Edstrom an easy pick. However, the Knights have traded away all their first-round centres except for Brendan Brisson. Right now, it’s not so much of an issue, considering Vegas’ Stanley Cup roster included only one player they’ve drafted. But as far as offseason moves go, Vegas has not made enough changes to their current roster to merit more than a C. They’ll be floating near the top of the division once more next season, and will likely win the division once more.
Which Pacific teams do you think have had the best and worst offseasons so far? Let us know in the comment section below!
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