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It’s not that the Max Pacioretty trade doesn’t make the Vegas Golden Knights better. I think it’s clear they won that trade, especially when you consider the general exodus of talent from the Canadiens over the past few seasons.
That’s a brutal discussion for another day.
But, I don’t think it makes Vegas the “team to beat” in the Pacific division. Where the Kings are concerned, I think they still matchup really well against the Vegas lineup.
Here are a few reasons why.
Reason #1: Vegas is top-heavy
The Golden Knights have four really solid forwards.
Paul Stastny (arguably)
Justin Tuch and Reilly Smith did have great seasons last year, but it’s hard to imagine Smith not regressing from his 60-point career year, the same of which could be said of Tuch, who’s 37 points were an unexpected boost to Vegas’s eventual cup run.
This means that the Golden Knights are extremely top-heavy, especially after losing David Perron, James Neal and now (in the Pacioretty trade) Thomas Tatar. Those guys were putting up offense and adding depth to the Vegas line combinations. This leaves the third and fourth lines of the Vegas Knights really vulnerable, especially in the middle of the ice.
Reason #2: LA is much stronger down the middle
At center, the Kings are more defensively sound and more experienced than the Golden Knights. While matchups can certainly shift, the line-by-line comparison is all LA.
Kopitar > Karlsson
Carter > Stastny
Kempe > Eakin
Thompson > Bellemare
Keep in mind, I’m emphasizing the defensive responsibilities of the center position. While Karlsson might be considered (by some) to be more of an offensive threat, he’ll have a hard time matching up against LA’s centers. Teams will have a much easier time exploiting the Golden Knight’s risky style of play and lack of defensive strength at the center position. In other words, Vegas will have to score a lot (like they did last year) to make up for defensive deficiencies.
The Kings don’t have that problem.
Reason #3: LA’s defense is much better than Vegas’s defense
LA finished the 2017-2018 season tied for the second fewest goals against in the NHL. They also finished second in goals against per 60 with 2.04. Vegas hovered near the middle of the league in both categories, making up for it with strong scoring and streaky goaltending. The consistent defensive dominance we’ve seen from the Kings isn’t something the Golden Knights are built to compete with. When Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland make up two of your top four defenders, you’re going to have a hard time keeping the puck out of your own net, especially if you’re weak at center.
I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say the Kings have the Golden Knights number in all of these three parent, defensive categories:
Defensive strength at center
Defensive line pairings overall
All this to say:
It’s extremely premature to say that Pacioretty makes the Golden Knights Pacific Division favorites. I would continue to argue that the Los Angeles Kings have a more complete roster and lineup, and are more effectively built to contend for the Pacific Division title.