NHL Pacific Division Preview: Golden Knights head and shoulders above the rest
The Pacific Division boasts a single potent club — the Vegas Golden Knights — a trio of middling Western Canadian teams, a trio of floundering California squads and the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Three of these teams will make the playoffs, but undoubtedly this is the weakest of the four NHL divisions.
Here is a glance at what the Pacific clubs have done and a prediction where their moves will take them by order of finish.
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NHL Pacific Division: Golden Knights a cut above
1. Vegas Golden Knights: After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2018, the Golden Knights have been a contender but keep falling short in big part due to a lack of offensive firepower.
To bolster the attack, they traded away face-of-the-franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to clear up cap space — with forwards Tomas Nosek, Cody Glass and Ryan Reaves and defenseman Nick Holden also departing — and added Evgenii Dadonov, Brett Howden, Mattias Janmark and Nolan Patrick.
They still boast Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Alex Pietrangelo, making Vegas easily the class of the division.
2. Edmonton Oilers: Speaking of offensive stars, the Oilers have arguably the best in the game in Connor McDavid, but have just one playoff series victory since drafting him first overall in 2015.
Edmonton’s lack of depth has been the Achilles heel, and adding free-agent forward Zach Hyman may allow Edmonton to use McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on separate lines. Acquiring Warren Foegele from Carolina and free agent Derek Ryan improves forward depth, too.
Adam Larsson’s departure to Seattle was a huge blow to the under-whelming defense corps that will likely be without Oscar Klefbom all season due to injury, and they tried plugging the holes by adding veterans Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci.
Edmonton could challenge for first, but a certainly playoff bound.
NHL Pacific Division: Your guess is as good as ours
3. Calgary Flames: Calgary made big changes after missing the playoffs starting with losing eight-year captain Mark Giordano to Seattle. Otherwise, the departures are small parts, such as Derek Ryan and Josh Leivo.
The big addition is free agent forward Blake Coleman from the Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as Trevor Lewis, Tyler Pitlick to provide forward depth and defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
4. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have made more sweeping moves than their Alberta rivals, with the boldest the acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from Arizona for a trio of depth forwards. They also added Jason Dickinson.
On defense, Nate Schmidt was dealt away after just one season and Alex Edler left via free agency, with newcomers Tucker Poolman and Luke Schenn hoping to take up the slack. Goalie Jaroslav Halak inked to serve as backup to Thatcher Demko.
Pressing is the need for RFAs Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to sign a new contracts.
5. Seattle Kraken: The Kraken aren’t the collection of castoffs akin to the expansion clubs we saw in the distant past, nor do they look like a Vegas success story in the making.
Seattle made astute moves by signing via free agency goalie Philipp Grubauer and forwards Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wenneberg and Marcus Johansson after claiming the likes of Giordano, Larsson, Jordan Eberle and Yanni Gourde. Even so, they will be in tough to be in the top half of the division, let alone reach the playoffs.
6. Los Angeles Kings: For a team that’s supposedly in a rebuild, the Kings added aging players. Acquiring Viktor Arvidsson from Nashville and signing free agents Phillip Danault and Alex Edler will make the Kings better, but not a playoff team.
Los Angeles has a few promising youngsters in the likes of Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev, and must start integrating them to turn the corner.
NHL Pacific Division: Cellar Dwellers
7. San Jose Sharks: It’s easy to forget the Sharks fell to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 conference final because the downfall has been quick. After buying out the final three years of goaltender Martin Jones’ contract, they signed journeyman James Reimer to join youngster Adin Hill, acquired via trade from Arizona.
The Sharks had best hope their youth movement pays off because only adding Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano and Nicholas Merkley won’t make them a playoff team.
San Jose is also dealing with a major distraction in Evander Kane with several of his teammates requesting he not come back to the locker-room this season.
8. Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks, who finished ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres last season, are in full-scale rebuild and have made minimal changes with an eye on integrating more prospects, including this year’s third-overall pick Mason McTavish, Jacob Perrault, Brayden Tracey and Olivier Grouix.
With their roster, Anaheim is looking at a couple more long, tough seasons. However; watching the development of superstar-in-the-making Trevor Zegras should provide fans some comfort.
–By Randy Sportak, Field Level Media