Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 season preview: Pacific Division
Vegas seems a shoo-in for the Pacific Division title. Can a team upset them?
We continue our countdown to the start of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season with a look at the Pacific Division.
Last season: 17-30-9 (43 points), last place in West Division
Key losses: F Danton Heinen, D Haydn Fleury
Key additions: F Mason McTavish
The Ducks didn’t do much this offseason to address their critical needs, although they remain in the rumors swirling around Jack Eichel. But Anaheim is rebuilding, and its pipeline is back up and running with prospects like Jamie Drysdale and Trevor Zegras and young players like Sam Steel and Max Comtois. Still, even if Anaheim was to acquire Eichel, they’d likely give up part of their future for him and he wouldn’t elevate them much higher than fourth place in the Pacific Division this season. Anaheim, like Los Angeles, is young enough and good enough to be a surprise, but a playoff team? That remains to be seen.
Last season: 26-27-3 (55 points), fifth in North Division
Key losses: D Mark Giordano, C Derek Ryan
Key additions: F Blake Coleman, F Tyler Pitlick, F Trevor Lewis, D Nikita Zadorov, D Erik Gudbranson
Calgary was .500 under two different head coaches last season, lost their captain to the expansion draft and probably made their defense worse by acquiring Zadorov and Gudbranson. The Flames seem better than the California teams and have a shot at being better than the Canucks, so there’s a chance that the remaining good players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund elevate the team back to the playoffs in a relatively weak division. But the Flames will likely have to fight for the third spot in the Pacific Division to make the playoffs, and they’ll need Jacob Markstrom to be better than he was last season.
Last season: 35-19-2 (72 points), second in North Division
Key losses: F Dominik Kahun, F Jujhar Khaira, F James Neal, D Ethan Bear
Key additions: D Duncan Keith, D Cody Ceci, F Zach Hyman, F Brendan Perlini
Ah yes, the team the Blackhawks traded Duncan Keith to, the Edmonton Keiths (a better, more eco-friendly name). The Oilers may have finally found a winger who’s actually qualified to play with Connor McDavid in Zach Hyman, who is as good of a possession player but has also shown the ability to play with great, young centers (namely Auston Matthews in Toronto). Hyman can be the finisher McDavid needs at times in his attempts to make plays, and Hyman is certainly better offensively than Zack Kassian or Josh Archibald. A line of Jesse Puljujaarvi, McDavid and Hyman may actually be a scary trio, which makes the Oilers a scarier opponent — especially because that also takes some of the pressure off Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers’ defense and goaltending is still not great, but when they have two players arguably in the league’s top-five skating on their top two lines, maybe it doesn’t need to be until something can be done at the trade deadline.
Los Angeles Kings
Last season: 21-28-7 (49 points), sixth in West Division
Key losses: C Jeff Carter
Key additions: C Phillip Danault, F Viktor Arvidsson, D Alex Edler
The Kings, like the Ducks, are very young and are likely not going to be in contention this season, although some of their offseason moves indicate they’re more ready to contend than some other rebuilding NHL teams. Phillip Danault will be a good second-line center behind Anze Kopitar and Viktor Arvidsson adds to the Kings’ offensive capabilities, but there are more forwards in the pipeline that will need to be given the chance to succeed. L.A. is another team that could be in on Eichel, but they should instead keep the young talent it would take to acquire him. Quinton Byfield should be something legitimate in the near future, and players like Akil Thomas, Rasmus Kupari, Arthur Kaliyev, Alex Turcotte, and Gabe Vilardi could all be top-nine options very soon. The Kings will eventually be scary, and that could start this season.
San Jose Sharks
Last season: 21-28-7 (49 points), sixth in West Division
Key losses: F Ryan Donato, G Martin Jones, F Patrick Marleau
Key additions: C Nick Bonino, F Andrew Cogliano, G James Reimer, G Adin Hill
The Sharks fixed their weakest spot last year, adding goaltenders in James Reimer and Adin Hill while shedding Martin Jones. That may help the Sharks’ problems, but their drawn-out bad contracts remain in place and none of their older defensemen are getting younger. The Sharks have to find a way to contend with the contracts they have or find ways to shed good contracts and get value for players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, because right now, the Sharks are in the worst place they possibly can be: that middle space between “good” and “bad.” The Sharks could be the fourth-best team in the Pacific Division or they could be the fifth-best, but their ceiling is limited, and with better goaltending, their floor may be as well. Mediocrity is the worst thing in sports, and that’s what the Sharks may be going through this season.
Last season: N/A
Key losses: N/A
Key additions: F Jordan Eberle, D Vince Dunn, D Mark Giordano, G Philipp Grubauer
Who actually knows what the Kraken will be in their first season? They have players who could do well with more time in Alex Wennberg and Yanni Gourde. They also have players worth taking a chance on in Vince Dunn and Haydn Fleury. The Kraken’s goaltending is also very good, with Grubauer and Chris Driedger holding down the fort. Seattle’s main problem, though, is that the offense may be the worst part of their team, and it feels like they don’t have many players who can put the puck in the net. The Golden Knights entered with Jonathan Marchessault coming off a 30-goal season and Reilly Smith, whose shooting percentage fluctuates but was due for a good season. Unless Seattle gets a William Karlsson-esque surprise, it feels like they don’t have those top-six scoring wingers. This is a team that could contend for a playoff spot but would do so with a lot of 2-1 and 1-0 games.
Last season: 23-29-4 (50 points), seventh in North Division
Key losses: D Nate Schmidt, D Alex Edler, G Braden Holtby, C Jay Beagle
Key additions: F Conor Garland, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, F Jason Dickinson, G Jaroslav Halak
It feels like the Canucks should be a lot better than they are, given some of the talent on the team. Quinn Hughes is better than his sophomore effort and Elias Pettersson is also better than the performance he had in the 2021 season. The Canucks were hit with a bad COVID-19 outbreak near the end of the season and that may also have had an impact on the team. Still, this is a team that tested the Golden Knights in the 2019 playoffs thanks to a big performance from goaltender Thatcher Demko, while still having young talent like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser along with veteran presences like J.T. Miller. The Canucks’ defense is not worth the money currently being spent on it, and will be a weak spot in need of addressing, but the Garland addition at forward should help, while Demko and Halak could be a better goaltending tandem. There’s an argument this is a good team and an argument this is a bad one.
Vegas Golden Knights
Last season: 40-14-2 (82 points), first in West Division
Key losses: G Marc-Andre Fleury, C Cody Glass, C Tomas Nosek, F Ryan Reaves
Key additions: F Evgeni Dadonov, C Nolan Patrick, F Brett Howden, G Laurent Brossoit
It feels like the Golden Knights robbed us of the Lightning-Golden Knights Stanley Cup Final matchup that should have been put on at the end of the 2021 postseason and then didn’t address the root of the problem. Vegas needs more scoring, especially from their depth players, and even more so now that Alex Tuch is on injured reserve for the first half of the season. The Golden Knights added Evgeni Dadonov, who could return to the form he was in with the Panthers two years ago, and Nolan Patrick, who just can’t stay healthy. Vegas was in rumors involving Eichel as well over the summer, but that would take cap they may not have to spare currently. The Golden Knights also traded away Marc-Andre Fleury coming off a Vezina season — something most teams don’t do. With a younger duo of Robin Lehner and Laurent Brossoit though, that tandem may keep the Vegas effective. The Golden Knights heavily changed their locker room over the offseason, moving Fleury, Ryan Reaves and Nick Holden, and the impact of that remains to be seen, but this should be the best team in this division by a mile.