*Photo Credit: Subman758/Wikipedia
When the puck drops on Wednesday, the new NHL season will be upon us! The teams are gearing up to take on the quest for the Stanley Cup yet again, so here is an offseason analysis and preview of the upcoming season for the teams in the Pacific Division.
Anaheim Ducks (2016-17 Record: 46-23-13 – Playoff Exit: WCF)
A long-standing core of players that propelled them straight to the Western Conference Final after sweeping the Flames, and knocking down the Oilers in 6, returns for another year, and could possibly take them to a Stanley Cup Final. If the core of Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler can keep their offense on track, and the defensive prowess of Fowler, Lindholm, and more can keep #1 Goalie John Gibson on track, I can see this team going very far. Hopefully the more injury prone players like Gibson can stay healthy for them.
The Ducks didn’t make too many offseason moves, but that’s not a bad thing for this consistently solid team. The biggest acquisition is goaltender Ryan Miller, who will be backing up Gibson. With a solid amount of players returning and providing consistency, I believe the Ducks can do extremely well this season.
Predicted Record: 48-24-10
Arizona Coyotes (2016-17 Record: 30-42-10)
Now that Toronto and Edmonton have taken off, it’s time for the next basement rebuilder team to climb the ladder. I fully believe that after what will prove to be an incredible offseason for the Desert Dogs, they can slip into a good position in the Pacific’s standings. The Coyotes made huge moves in the offseason to get Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Blackhawks, and the Rangers’ Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to improve their young core. These acquisitions came at the expense of their long-time captain, Shane Doan, as well as all-star goalie, Mike Smith. However, I don’t see the Coyotes missing them too much as the season goes on. An extremely young group of players destined to shine, like Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller, Anthony Duclair, and Jakob Chychrun, can possibly blow up and propel this team to their first playoff run since their Western Conference Final exit in 2012. Defenseman Oliver Eckman-Larsson is always a great player to watch every season from Arizona, and Center Max Domi should be on that list as well. With the acquisition of a new coach to boot, the Coyotes have a possibility to be extremely good either this season, or sometime soon.
Predicted Record: 44-30-8
Calgary Flames (2016-17 Record: 45-33-4 – Playoff Exit: R1)
It’s been years and years since the Flames have been good, but after last season’s loss in the first round of the playoffs, they showed me that they’re good enough to be there even though they lacked the experience necessary to advance. In the offseason, the Flames may have finally found their solid depth in goaltending with the addition of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, and another good acquisition in Travis Hamonic from the Islanders.
After what was a pretty uneventful offseason for the Flames, they really got the point across that they were finally trying to improve their goaltending after so many years of struggling. Will this be the fix they need? It possibly could be, since these goalies will be playing against a skilled defensive squad including Brodie, Giordano, Hamilton, and Stone. As for the Flames offense, they run a young squad led by “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau, who last year led the team with 61 points. Small changes were made to improve what they needed the most, and that could be the best thing for them.
Predicted Record: 42-28-12
Edmonton Oilers (2016-17 Record: 47-26-9 – Playoff Exit: R2)
An uneventful offseason for the Oiler squad was probably exactly what this group of young players were looking for. After a long, awful rebuilding process with over 10 years without making the playoffs, Connor McDavid is now huge. Years, and I mean literal years, of 1st overall picks in a row have finally paid off after trading the other ones away or wasting their talent. The only 2 real noticeable pickups are Ryan Strome and veteran Jussi Jokinen. Key players to look for on the ice in Edmonton this year will obviously be Connor McDavid, but also Draisaitl, Lucic, and Nugent-Hopkins. This team showed a ton of potential last year and could easily propel themselves into the number 1 seed in the Pacific division to have a great shot at the Stanley Cup Finals. Only time will tell for the team of young players waiting for that experience.
Predicted Record: 50-20-12
Los Angeles Kings (2016-17 Record: 39-35-8)
After the second completely underwhelming year in the Kings’ last three, there were minimal changes to the squad that’s so used to being a perennial playoff team and Cup contender. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty had pretty bad years last year, and could possibly bounce back from the bad form they’ve recently shown. The only changes for this team were behind the bench, with new GM Rob Blake and Head Coach John Stevens. In goal, Jonathan Quick is still the number one man if he can stay healthy, which proved to be a problem for him last year. The Kings are currently trying to surge their defense with some young players that have, honestly, been underwhelming so far and have left their goaltenders out to dry. Could the Kings be poised for the basement and forced to rebuild soon? Are some top offensive players enough to surge them back into a playoff spot? With the Los Angeles Kings, anything could happen.
Predicted Record: 35-40-7
San Jose Sharks (2016-17 Record: 46-29-7 – Playoff Exit: R1)
In San Jose, they take pride of their insane veteran core of players like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. This insane group of players that are on the Sharks squad year in and year out are getting old, and could really create some issues with the franchise in a few years. With Father Time calling their names, San Jose’s window is closing… fast. Now is the time for the Sharks to step up and win the cup they’ve been looking at for years. The single notable move for the team was the departure of another veteran, Patrick Marleau. With this group of veteran players to lead the offense, as well as a solid defense led by Norris winner, Brent Burns, and elite goaltender, Martin Jones. This could either be a great year for San Jose, or a disastrous one as the window comes closing down on their fingers.
Predicted Record: 40-25-17
Vancouver Canucks (2016-17 Record: 30-43-9)
The Canucks are coming in to yet another rebuild for the team. The Sedin twins have made it clear to everyone that they’re not going anywhere, but the question is if they will be able to bring success to Vancouver in the next couple of years. The Canucks are building well, signing Sam Gagner and Thomas Vanek to very moderate, cap-friendly deals. They have also added Michael Del Zotto to their defensive core and have signed a new head coach in Travis Green. Although I see the Canucks being used to sweep the basement they’re stuck in for yet another year, their management office knows what they’re doing and can make great deals to make this team generate some power through time.
Predicted Record: 30-40-12
Vegas Golden Knights (2016-17 Record: 0-0-0)
Before this year, there hadn’t been an expansion draft since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the league in 2000. Throughout history, expansion teams have been pretty bad their first years in the league, but I have faith in the Knights. The Knights’ rules for the expansion draft were more lenient, allowing them to create a better team than others in past expansions, so I expect some great players like James Neal, Nate Schmidt, and Marc-Andre Fleury to carry this team to at least keep them out of the basement of the Pacific Division.
As well as the small group of veteran players, the Golden Knights’ front office and GM George McPhee did the perfect thing when creating a new team and stocked up on young, great players who I think will be really good, NHL-caliber players in a few short years. After the showing their rookies had in rookie camp, I’m really impressed by what Vegas is doing as a new team. I expect them to have extreme chemistry issues at first, but they could be great very soon.
Predicted Record: 37-40-5
After the major offseason changes to this division and the teams in it, I believe that the standings in this traditionally mediocre division will be topped by Edmonton, Anaheim, and Arizona, with Calgary and San Jose competing for some wild card spots. However, with the high quality of play we will see from the Central Division, I only see one of them making it in. As for the Golden Knights, I doubt they will squeak into a first-year playoff run, but the possibility of them being competitive is something I could imagine seeing from them this year. That being said, they could make a playoff run as soon as next year, especially with their crazy good young core of players.The Pacific could be turned on its head in short time.