Early Pacific Division Predictions
I am back from holidays and ready to get back to providing you all with some quality content. Now that the Oilers roster is starting to appear more complete, in the coming days I will be writing up some player breakdowns to give you all an idea of what to expect from each roster addition.
For now let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture, namely where will the Edmonton Oilers finish in the Pacific Division this season?
1) Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have had to do a bit of a juggling act in order to fit all of their players within the cap, but now that the dust has (mostly) settled, the expansion team looks prepped for another strong season in the Pacific Division.
Mark Stone is a beast of a player and having him for a full season guarantees some elite level goal scoring, something the Golden Knights struggled with at the beginning of last season. Having a healthy Stastny and Pacioretty will also go a long way in ensuring the Golden Knights have scoring depth.
The biggest questions for the Knights will be on the backend, with the team having had to trade Colin Miller to free up cap space. and no player truly stepping in to replace him. Fleury is getting older but has yet to show any signs of slowing down. The way seems paved for the Knights to be the top dog in the Pacific.
2) San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson might be the magic man in terms of signing players to great contracts; Meir at 6 million, Lablanc at 1 million somehow... he has been great and the team has a strong mix of veteran and young players.
Now that he is signed to a long term contract and can focus on just playing the game again, I expect bigger and better things from Erik Karlsson, as it took him a few months to truly climatize himself into the Sharks team.
The big question mark in San Jose, and one reason I debated dropping the club even further is due to their goaltending which is suspect at best. Martin Jones has been wildly inconsistent and Aaron Dell certainly is not the guy you can expect to count on to steal some games. The Sharks still have some cap space and I wonder if they try and bring in a second guy to push Jones more.
3) Vancouver Canucks
Yeah... shocking isn't it. We can argue whether or not the Vancouver Canucks gave up too much to add the assets they did over this summer (they 100% did overpay) but the fact is the Canucks have added a couple more strong secondary scorers in Ferland and Miller, and another top 4 defender in Tyler Myers.
Pettersson is a fine young player and already establishing himself as one of the most dynamic forwards in the league and scoring 40 this season is not out of the question for him. The big unknown is Quinn Hughes, where he starts, and what he will be able to bring to the table. It's a gut feeling right now but I think the Canucks take a big jump this season.
4) Calgary Flames
From top in the Division to potentially out of a playoff spot? The Calgary Flames are a bit of an enigma for me this season. Last season the Flames were a dominant offensive team, led by the likes of Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Tkachuk, and Giordano. My question in regards to the Flames is how likely are the above mentioned players to repeat those kinds of numbers?
Gaudreau had a career high in goals but only shot the puck 18 times more than the prior year where he scored 24 goals. Elias Lindholm had a massive performance spike while also shooting at a career high Sh%. Finally Giordano had a Norris worthy season but he nearly doubled the production of his prior two seasons. Gio will be 36 when next season starts...how often to 35 year old defenders repeat numbers like that?
Goaltending will be another big question for the Flames. Is Rittich ready to officially be the guy and what version of Cam Talbot are the Flames getting? Depending on the answer to these two questions, the Flames could either be a top dog again or on the outside looking in.
5) Edmonton Oilers
As of right now I have the Oilers finishing outside of the playoffs once again. McDavid and Draisaitl were both 100 point players last season and it still wasn't close to being enough to drag this team into the post-season. It is almost a given that McDavid will continue to set new career highs every season but I find it unlikely Draisaitl hits the 50 goal mark again next season.
Holland did a good job creating competition in the bottom six but there are still bigger issues plaguing this team. James Neal scoring 20+ goals would go a long way into helping this team out, but the supporting cast in the top 6 is still mediocre at best.
Will Klefbom be healthy for a full season? His body of work suggests that he is more likely to play 60 games than 80. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and Joel Persson could all be ready to elevate their games but they could just as likely struggle and not be ready for full time NHL play yet.
Lastly the goaltending in Edmonton is a massive question mark. Koskinen is still a very raw player with some key issues that he is hopefully working at every day this off-season to fix. Mike Smith is aging and gave Rittich the opportunity to step in as the #1 last season for Calgary and could end up being a bigger issue than Mikko.
Edmonton's top players are too good to have the Oilers drop much further than this but unless the supporting cast all take massive steps forward, I find it unlikely that this is a playoff team.
6) Arizona Coyotes
The addition of Phil Kessel was a great move by Chayka but quite simply I do not believe the Yotes have the horses to surpass the teams mentioned above. Clayton Keller had a strong rookie season but took a step back last season and has not yet shown he can be more than a 50 point player. The supporting cast outside of Stepan, Keller, and Kessel is in a very similar boat as the Oilers; not enough players that can impact scoring on a nightly basis.
I do like the defensive core that Arizona has assembled and should Antti Raanta finally be healthy I could be proven wrong, but it looks at the desert boys are gearing up for another disappointing season.
7) Anaheim Ducks
Let the rebuild begin. Corey Perry has been bought out and Ryan Kesler may not even touch the ice this season. Some younger players like Troy Terry and Ondrej Kase are going to get some time to shine but it looks like the Ducks are gearing up for a lottery place finish.
A young strong backend with Lindholm, Fowler, and Manson patrolling the blue line while John Gibson likely once again gets passed over for Vezina votes will likely help keep the Ducks in more games than they should be but scoring is going to be tough for this group.
Possibly the biggest X Factor in Anaheim is going to be Dallas Eakins. For a number of years now, Eakins has shown to be a wildly successful AHL coach but ask any Oilers fan what they thought of his tenure here. Has Eakins learned from his mistakes, or will he saddled Terry on the 4th line to try and teach him defense?
8) LA Kings
The Kings would also like to start rebuilding... the problem is they have too many old players on long term contracts to be able to truly start. The Kings have very little young forward depth that is ready to step in and be impact players and their core group is all over 30 years old.
An entire season without Jake Muzzin on the backend will only emphasise the issues in LA and another injury to Quick will all but secure a 1st overall pick for the Kings. This is a bad and old team and I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel for them any time soon.