NHL PACIFIC DIVISION PREVIEW
This week, the NHL Pacific Division, is the fourth in my series of NHL previews. I started out in the Eastern Conference with the Atlantic Division then moved to the Metropolitan Division. Then we moved on to the Western Conference last week with the Central Division preview. This week concludes the series with a look at the Pacific Division.
First team up in the Pacific Division is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks first move this offseason was to fire head coach Bruce Boudreau. To replace Boudreau, the Ducks turned to a familiar face in a former Ducks head coach. One that previously led them to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Championship in 2007, the franchise’s all time winningest coach, Randy Carlyle. Carlyle struggled in Toronto the past few seasons but both he and the Ducks are hoping they can bring the magic back to Anaheim. So that he can get them over the hump in the playoffs and back to the Stanley Cup again. The Ducks seemed to commit to John Gibson as their goaltender for this season by trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto. Gibson went 21-13-4 last year in 38 starts and appearing in 40 games along with a .920 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. They also acquired Jonathan Bernier from Toronto in a separate trade. Offensively, the Ducks top three scorers from last season are all returning. Ryan Getzlaf had 13 goals and 50 assists, Corey Perry had 34 goals and 28 assists, and Ryan Kesler had 32 goals and 53 assists. After a first round elimination last season, it will be interesting to see if the changes that were made will help the Ducks remain atop the division and make the push to make a run at the Stanley Cup this year or if it will end up being a step backwards. I see them as still a playoff team but I do not think the cup is in the cards for them this year.
The next team in the Pacific Division is the Los Angeles Kings. A major factor in the success or failure of the Kings lies on the shoulders of the superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick has been a top-tier goalie his entire career and has backstopped the Kings to two Stanley Cup Championships. He has played in nine seasons so far in his career, appearing in 475 games sporting a career .916 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average. Last season he started in 68 games ending with a record of 40-23-5, a .916 save percentage, and a 2.27 goals against average. Quick is a great goalie but he will need some help for the Kings to progress in their quest for another Stanley Cup. Anze Kopitar put up 74 points last season to lead the Kings and had the second best plus/minus rating in the league at +34. The league leader in plus/minus was also on the Kings, Tyler Toffoli at +35. Toffoli also contributed 58 points to come in third on the Kings behind Jeff Carter who had 62 points. These guys will need to keep this type of play up and a couple of the Kings defensemen will need to pitch in as well. Guys like Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Alex Martinez have to play well in front of Quick to give him a hand. The Kings should remain a playoff team this year and will likely get past the first round this year. As I said though, the Kings season likely rests on the shoulders of Jonathan Quick and his ability to stay healthy and remain the workhorse goalie that he has been.
The Arizona Coyotes are up next on our list. Arizona has been a struggling team as they have been rebuilding in the desert. They are a Pacific division lower-middle of the pack team. That said, they have made progress. This current team has a mix of older veteran players led by their captain the 39-year-old Shane Doan along with a number of young players coming into their own. Doan last season put up 28 goals and 19 assists for a total of 47 points, good enough to be third on the team. The other three players in the Coyotes top four point scorers are in that group of young players coming into their own and wanting to prove themselves to the rest of the NHL. Number four last year was winger Anthony Duclair with 20 goals and 24 assists for 44 points at 20 years old. Second on the team, also at 20 years old, was winger Max Domi with 18 goals and 34 assists for 52 points. Leading the team was 24-year-old defenseman Oliver Ekman- Larsson at 55 points. Larsson had 21 goals and 34 assists. The Coyotes struggled in goal last season as starter Mike Smith missed a good portion of the season with injuries. Smith is 34 years old and can be a solid goaltender but he needs to remain healthy for the entire season. Smith seems to me to be the Coyotes transition goalie at this point in his career and the Coyotes rebuilding until they can find their franchise goaltender to be able to make a serious playoff run and attempt to bring the Stanley Cup to the desert in Arizona. Overall, I see the Coyotes as an up and coming team but not quite there yet. They are still unlikely to make the playoffs for this year but they do have the ability to make it a bit tougher for their division opponents.
The Calgary Flames fired coach Bob Hartley and named Glen Gulutzan and the new head coach of the Flames. Gulutzan has previously coached in Dallas at the NHL level and has his work cut out for him in Calgary. The Flames are making an effort to help Gulutzan and trying to turn the team around to get back on the path to Stanley Cup glory. Besides hiring a new coach, the Flames made a trade to bring in goalie Brian Elliott from the Blues. In 42 games with the Blues last year, Elliott went 23-8-6. Elliott had a .930 save percentage and 2.07 goals against average. He also took the Blues to the Western Conference finals but apparently lost his job in St. Louis to Jake Allen. The Flames also signed free agent goalie Chad Johnson to back up Elliott. With those moves, Calgary starts the season with no goalie that started for the Flames last year on the roster for this year. They do however return all five of their leading scorers from last year. John Gaudreau led the team with 30 goals and 48 assists for a total of 78 points. He was followed by Sean Monahan with 63 points, Mark Giordano with 56 points, Mikael Backlund with 47 points, and T.J. Brodie at 45 points. The Flames should be a bit better this year than they were last year but still have work to do to turn the franchise around in a tough Pacific division. They made some steps in the right direction but are still likely to miss the playoffs while they continue to improve.
Next up is the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks big free agent signing was Loui Eriksson, who they signed from Boston. Eriksson had 30 goals and 33 assists for the Bruins last year which puts him just above the Canucks leaders last year. Daniel Sedin led the team with 28 goals and 33 assists for 61 points while his brother Henrik was right behind at 11 goals and 44 assists totaling 55 points. The addition of Eriksson should help the Canucks improve their scoring this year but the big question is the goaltending. Ryan Miller was considered to be one of the elite goaltenders in the league, even the world, just a couple of years ago. Last season though, he struggled greatly. Miller played in 51 games last season but had atrocious numbers with a record of 17-24-9, .916 save percentage, and 2.70 goals against average. He struggled to keep the puck out of the net but the defense in front of him did not seem to help prevent that much either. If the Canucks are going to bounce back this season, it will have to be in big part to Ryan Miller getting back to the form he was playing at a few years ago. I do not think Miller will be nearly as bad as last season but at 36 years old now, I do think his best days are behind him. Vancouver should also be a team that is slightly better than last year but not enough forward progress to make them a playoff team.
The Edmonton Oilers are a team that has been building and seem to be on their way to improving to the top of the Pacific. The Oilers are the third youngest team in the NHL at an average of 26.6 years old, behind only Winnipeg(26.4) and Carolina(26.2). The Oilers leading scorer last year was Taylor Hall with 65 points. Hall however was traded to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson. The Oilers did sign Milan Lucic as a free agent from the Los Angeles Kings however. Lucic had 55 points last season in LA which puts him as the current Oiler that had the most points in the NHL last season. Connor McDavid who had 48 points last year is a player to watch this year with Edmonton. McDavid is only 19 years old and was the Oilers first round, first overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft. McDavid only played in 45 games for the Oilers last year so now that he has some NHL experience under his belt, expect him to only get better as he matures. Overall, I think the Oilers will be an interesting team to watch and see how all of their young players develop, but they will not develop enough this year, for the team to make a playoff run. Keep your eyes on this team though as they continue to build and develop.
This brings us to the last team in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season where they ended up losing four games to two games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. There were not a lot of major changes to this team in the off-season. The Sharks still have all of their major pieces that led them to the finals last year but what they do have to contend with is their age. The Sharks are now the fourth oldest team in the NHL this season with an average age of 29.024 years old. Their top four scorers from last season are all 30+ years old. Joe Thornton with 82 points is 36, Joe Pavelski with 78 points is 31, Brent Burns with 75 points is 30, and Patrick Marleau with 48 points is also 36 years old. They do however, have some younger players as well such as their fifth leading scorer, Tomas Hertl who had 46 points and is only 22 years old. The Sharks goalie, Martin Jones, who played in 65 games last year, went 37-23-4 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.27 goals against average, is 26 years old. The Sharks are still a very good team, but I expect age and possible issues staying healthy to play and be effective the entire season could be an issue for some of these guys. I do think that the Sharks will remain as a playoff team this year, but I do not think they will go as far as they did last season. There are a number of other teams that have made improvements that will be gunning for the Sharks, which will lead them to exiting the playoffs earlier rather than later this year.
NHL PACIFIC DIVISION PREVIEW!
With the Pacific Division, that wraps up my preview of all four NHL divisions for this upcoming season.
Feel free to let me know what you think by commenting below. Also, don’t forget to listen to the Fantasy Jester Show Saturday nights from 8pm to 930pm to hear his thoughts on my preview and everything else!