We continue play on this season’s league-wide preview with a look at the Pacific Division. We will be ending with a one-team-per-day breakdown of the Central Division foes. To the West we go!
Last season: 35-37-10, 80 points, 6th place
Key losses: F Corey Perry, D Jake Dotchin
Key additions: Head coach Dallas Eakins, D Michael Del Zotto, F Nicolas Deslauriers
The Ducks let franchise legend Corey Perry depart in free agency, but his prime had long since past. To be fair, much of Anaheim’s roster’s primes have long since past, including Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves — who will spend the season on injured reserve — and Ryan Getzlaf. It will be a challenge for the Ducks to get back to the playoffs, even in this weaker division, but that’s a challenge new head coach Dallas Eakins will hope to be up to. This doesn’t seem like a season the Ducks will be competitive, but rather spent developing their youth, like Ondrej Kase, Sam Steel and Troy Terry.
Last season: 39-35-8, 86 points, 4th place
Key losses: F Alex Galchenyuk, D Kevin Connauton
Key additions: F Phil Kessel, C Carl Soderberg
The Coyotes hope to get back in contention, having added a superstar scorer in Phil Kessel, while losing Galchenyuk and defensive prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph. It’ll be a challenge, as nobody on their roster scored more than 50 points last season, but with Kessel and a newly re-signed Clayton Keller aboard and probably on the same line, the Coyotes will likely cross that mark this season. There are at least three teams projected ahead of them currently, but if their goaltending can hold up and Antti Raanta can stay healthy and they get more offense, Arizona can be a dark horse in this division.
Last season: 50-25-7, 107 points, 1st place, lost in Pacific Division semifinals
Key losses: G Mike Smith, D Oscar Fantenberg
Key additions: G Cam Talbot
The Flames were the top regular season team in the Western Conference last season and didn’t overhaul their roster too much. A change in net from Smith to Talbot was the biggest move of the summer. However, the Flames are a year older, and Mark Giordano’s ability to replicate a Norris season when he’ll be 36 years old will be in serious doubt. Still, with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and a great defensive corps, the Flames will likely be bound for the playoffs again and try to make a bigger mark than they did last season.
Last season: 35-38-9, 79 points, 7th place
Key losses: F Milan Lucic, D Andrej Sekera
Key additions: Head coach Dave Tippett, F James Neal, F Markus Granlund, F Josh Archibald, F Riley Sheahan
The Oilers chose to surround Connor McDavid with more front-office talent than on-ice talent this season, changing their GM from Peter Chiarelli to Ken Holland and making a coaching shift to Tippett. Tippett’s already said this preseason that while his reputation is as a defensive coach, he has more experience with forwards, and that could be good news for McDavid and his could-be-former linemate Leon Draisaitl. The Oilers tried to add to their lackluster forwards from last season with depth moves in Archibald, Granlund and Sheahan, but the trade of Milan Lucic for James Neal could make the biggest mark, if Neal regains his goal-scoring form. Edmonton still feels a piece or two away, even with McDavid.
Last season: 31-42-9, 71 points, 8th place
Key losses: F Brendan Leipsic, F Jonny Brodzinski
Key additions: D Joakim Ryan, D Ben Hutton
The Kings had a similar fall from grace as the Blackhawks but the Kings haven’t had the luck the Blackhawks have had and weren’t as smart with their draft picks. They’re still at the bottom of the NHL, and should end up at the bottom of the Pacific Division because there are simply too many questions about their team. Can Jonathan Quick regain his form, or will Jack Campbell surpass him? Is there a next generation after Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar? With Jake Muzzin gone, who will step up as the second defenseman? The Kings aren’t in a position to contend yet, but they may still have time with their veteran core if they develop their youth.
Last season: 46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd place, lost in Western Conference final
Key losses: F Joonas Donskoi, F Joe Pavelski, D Justin Braun, D Joakim Ryan, F Gustav Nyquist
Key additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, F Sasha Chmelevski
After a run to the Western Conference final, the Sharks extended Erik Karlsson before losing a good number of players who got the Sharks to that position in the playoffs, including former captain Joe Pavelski. They’ve rebuilt the bottom of their roster from their youth, but the top of their roster will need to do much of the heavy lifting this season, with Logan Couture finally gaining the captaincy. The Sharks lost a good bit of depth, but they’re still in a position to succeed, especially with two of the league’s best (offensive) defensemen in Brent Burns and Karlsson, especially if Martin Jones gets back to NHL-starter form.
Last season: 35-36-11, 81 points, 5th place
Key losses: F Markus Granlund, D Luke Schenn
Key additions: F Micheal Ferland, D Tyler Myers, D Quinn Hughes, F J.T. Miller
The Canucks’ youth movement will gain another foothold after Elias Pettersson won the Calder Memorial Trophy last season. Quinn Hughes will join the team full time and be a member of a defense that could see him on the top pairing by season’s end. Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser remain vital parts of this team, and the Canucks rebuilt their top nine by adding pieces in Ferland and Miller that can be capable of making an impact after having the league’s seventh-worst offense. The Canucks likely have a few more areas to develop before they’re fully realized as a competitor and a playoff team, but this season should be a proving ground for the team and their youth as they look to get in better position for the 2020-21 season.
Last season: 43-32-7, 93 points, 3rd place, lost in Pacific Division semifinals
Key losses: D Colin Miller, F Erik Haula, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, C Ryan Carpenter
Key additions: C Cody Glass, D Zach Whitecloud*, D Dylan Coghlan*
*at time of posting, these are the best guesses for who makes the roster
The Golden Knights had a rough offseason by trading away key pieces in Haula and Miller without the ability to retain Gusev. Vegas’ top six remains in tact, and it might be the best in the NHL, with William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone. The next generation is also strongly represented, with Shea Theodore and Alex Tuch, and more youth joining them in Glass, Coghlan, and Whitecloud from the AHL. Vegas will seek redemption after that blown Game 7 to San Jose, and have the hunger to get back there without any noticeable weak spots.
(Disclaimer: Shepard Price also writes for Knights On Ice, SB Nation’s Golden Knights website)