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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / 2018-19 NHL Pacific Division Preview

2018-19 NHL Pacific Division Preview

Pacific Division Preview!

The Pacific Division will be my second division that I will be previewing.  The Pacific is wide open this season, they will have several teams that will be fighting for those top 3 spots.  Multiple teams are poised to either take a step forward or bounce back from a down season.  At the same time, teams such as Vegas, Anaheim and San Jose are trying to fight teams off and maintain their place in the division.  Let’s look into each team specifically.

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS

 

The Anaheim Ducks have won the Pacific Division five out of the last six seasons.  They just came off another successful regular season last year with 101 points despite battling a lot of significant injuries all season.  No one on the team played in all 82 games, only seven players played in at least 70 games for the Ducks last season.  They will have more adversity to deal with this year as there are reports that Ryan Kesler could miss the entire regular season with a hip injury.

The Ducks were 19th in the league in GF with 231 and 3rd in the league in GA with 209.  A huge reason in the team’s goals against last season was goaltending.  John Gibson was absolutely phenomenal this past season.  The Ducks gave up the 11th most shots and the 4th most scoring chances of any team at even strength last year, and John Gibson still had a .927 SV% which was second among all goaltenders with a minimum of 50 games played.

Up front, Ryan Getzlaf is still a dominant player in this league.  Rickard Rakell has really started to come into his own after back to back 30+ goal seasons.  Ondrej Kase had 20 goals in 66 games as a rookie and could take another step forward this season.  2016 first rounder Sam Steel has dominated the WHL over the last 2 seasons and with Kesler most likely out, he could potentially challenge for an opening night roster spot.

On the backend, they have a very strong mobile defense core with Lindholm, Manson, Fowler and Montour.  Josh Manson is an incredibly underrated defensemen in this league and is coming off the best season of his career, his 34 5v5 points last season ranked 3rd among all defenders behind only John Klingberg and Erik Karlsson.  Him and Hampus Lindholm form one of the best defense pairings in the NHL and they are both on very team friendly contracts.

IN: Chase De Leo, Andrej Sustr, Luke Schenn, Brian Gibbons, Carter Rowney

OUT: Nicholas Kerdiles, Derek Grant, Francois Beauchemin, Antoine Vermette, Jason Chimera, Kevin Bieksa, JT Brown, Dennis Rasmussen, Chris Kelly

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Rickard Rakell – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry

Nick Ritchie – Adam Henrique – Ondrej Kase

Andrew Cogliano – Sam Steel – Jakob Silfverberg

Brian Gibbons – Carter Rowney – Troy Terry

 

Hampus Lindholm – Josh Manson

Cam Fowler – Brandon Montour

Jacob Larsson – Andrej Sustr

 

John Gibson

Ryan Miller

PLAYOFFS?

The concern I have with the Ducks is how much can they continue to rely on John Gibson, because when their top guys like Getzlaf, Lindholm and Manson aren’t on the ice, they give up way too many chances against.  There core in the playoffs started to show signs of slowing down.  In a division as wide open as the Pacific.  A division with teams like Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona, who people expect to all be better then last season.  The Anaheim Ducks could be on the outside looking in.

 

ARIZONA COYOTES

 

The Arizona Coyotes had a miserable start to the season and could never recover early.  They won just 9 of their first 41 games and they didn’t get their first regulation win until November 16th against Montreal, 21 games in.

Despite one of the worst starts to a season in NHL history, one thing that should give the Coyotes and their fans optimism is how they finished the season in the second half.  Through the first 41 games, they had a 9-27-5 record.  Through the final 41 games of the season they were 20-14-7 which is a 94-point pace.

The Coyotes have a plethora of young players that are looking to make significant impacts this season.  Clayton Keller is a fantastic young player who will be one of the best wingers in the world within a couple years.  Dylan Strome tore up the AHL and will look to stay up with the Coyotes all season.  Guys like Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and Lawson Crouse will look to take steps forward as well providing more depth.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a star in this league and is the cornerstone that the Coyotes can build around.  Playing significantly tough minutes on a struggling team has made his numbers look worse than he actually is, however with the team expecting to improve around him, it should take a little bit of pressure off him.  Hjalmersson should be expected to bounce back after a rough first season in Arizona.

Antti Raanta missed some time with injuries but was stellar when healthy, posting a 2.24 GAA and a .930 SV% on a team that finished 30th in GF and 21st in GA.

IN: Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Alex Galchenyuk, Hudson Fasching, Michael Grabner

OUT: Max Domi, Jordan Martinook, Zac Rinaldo, Luke Schenn

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Clayton Keller – Derek Stepan – Richard Panik

Brendon Perlini – Alex Galchenyuk – Vinnie Hinostroza

Dylan Strome – Christian Dvorak – Christian Fischer

Lawson Crouse – Nick Cousins – Michael Grabner

 

Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Niklas Hjalmersson

Alex Goligoski – Jason Demers

Jakob Chychrun – Kevin Connauton

 

Antti Raanta

Darcy Kuemper

PLAYOFFS?

Arizona must pass a lot of teams to make the playoffs this year.  You have Anaheim, Vegas and San Jose that they must knock out as well as teams like Calgary and Edmonton who missed last year who will look to be fighting for spots this season.  It will be tough to get a wild cart spot with the Central Division continuing to be strong.  I believe that Arizona will take a significant step forward this season and I can see them battling for a playoff spot, however I don’t quite see them making it this season.

 

CALGARY FLAMES

 

The Calgary Flames made several big changes this offseason after seeing them collapse down the stretch and failing to make the playoffs after having big expectations.  Head Coach Glen Gulutzen was let go at the end of the season and Bill Peters was brought in as the new Head Coach.  The team traded Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland to the Hurricanes for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.  James Neal was signed to a five-year deal in free agency and should add more scoring punch to the flames top 6.

The Flames were 27th in GF last year with 216 and 19th in GA with 243.  They had the 7th best penalty kill at 81.8%, however their powerplay really struggled at only 16.0% which was 29th.

The addition of Derek Ryan on a three-year contract will really help the Flames centre depth with Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.  As well, the additions of Neal and Lindholm on the right side make them a much deeper team up front.  Even while replacing Hamilton with Hanifin their defense is still good with Giordano, Brodie, Hanifin and Hamonic, and their offense is much deeper which will help their goals for.

IN: Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, James Neal, Derek Ryan, Austin Czarnik

OUT: Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, Adam Fox, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg, Nick Shore, Chris Stewart, Matt Bartkowski

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – James Neal

Matthew Tkachuk – Mikael Backlund – Michael Frolik

Mark Jankowski – Derek Ryan – Elias Lindholm

Sam Bennett – Austin Czarnik – Garnett Hathaway

 

Mark Giordano – TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin – Travis Hamonic

Brett Kulak – Rasmus Andersson

 

Mike Smith

John Gillies

PLAYOFFS?

The biggest concern for the flames is the health and stability of their goaltending.  Mike Smith had a great season last year but is also 36 years of age and has a long injury history.  If he can stay healthy this should be a playoff team.  I’m still not a fan of the Hamilton trade and I think it makes their defense noticeably worse.  However, there offense is greatly improved, their defense is still good, and if Mike Smith was as good as he was last season I fully expect Calgary to be back in the playoffs next season.

 

EDMONTON OILERS

 

The Edmonton Oilers are coming off an extremely disappointing season after ending the franchises 11-year playoff drought in 2016-17.  Their GF dropped from 8th the season before to 20th this past season and their GA dropped from 8th to 27th.  Their powerplay dropped from 5th in 2016-17 to 31st in 2017-18.  Their penalty kill dropped from 17th in 2016-17 to 25th in 2017-18.  Assistant coaches Jay Woodcroft, Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers were let go and Glen Gulutzen, Manny Viverios and Trent Yawney were brought in as part of Todd McLellan’s staff.

The Oilers didn’t have lots of cap room to make big changes, they have bad contracts that they’ve given out over the years, so they had to add cheap pieces with the space that they had and bank on several players to be better then they were last season.  Oscar Klefbom played with an injured shoulder all season and saw a big dip in his play, Andrej Sekera never got back up to speed after offseason knee surgery and has suffered a torn Achilles tendon and could miss most of the 2018-19 season.  Cam Talbot also saw a decline in his play from the previous season.

The Oilers are incredibly strong down the middle with McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Strome, Brodziak and Khaira, the biggest issue is that their depth on the wings is very weak.  Other than when Draisaitl or RNH move to the wing, they don’t have a proven top 6 winger.  Puljujarvi and Yamamoto could be that soon, but they probably need a little bit more time.

IN: Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, Kevin Gravel, Mikko Koskinen, Joel Persson, Jakub Jerabek

OUT: Mike Cammalleri, Anton Slepyshev, Yohann Auvitu, Iiro Pakarinen, Eric Gryba, Laurent Brossoit

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Ryan Nugent Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Kailer Yamamoto

Tobias Rieder – Leon Draisaitl – Jesse Puljujarvi

Milan Lucic – Ryan Strome – Drake Caggiula

Jujhar Khaira – Kyle Brodziak – Zack Kassian

 

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson

Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning

Kris Russell – Jakub Jerabek

 

Cam Talbot

Mikko Koskinen

PLAYOFFS?

There depth behind their core players is still a concern.  If the new look coaching staff can improve their special teams and if they get better goaltending from Talbot, they can get back in.  However, at the same time those are a lot of if’s.  The Oilers are a bubble team, it’s very tough to bet against Connor McDavid, and I do think the Oilers will be better then they were last season and could get back in, but with the question marks that they have they could potentially be on the outside again.

 

LOS ANGELES KINGS

 

After returning to the playoffs in 2017-18 after missing the season prior, the Los Angeles Kings have questions and concerns heading into the 2018-19 season.  They have a core that is getting up there in age in a division that is improving around them.  Defense has not been an issue for the Kings over the last few years, as they have finished top 10 in GA five of the last seven seasons.  It’s their ability to score that has hurt them as they have finished top 10 in GF just once during that same stretch.

Jeff Carter is still a great player, but he only played in 27 games during the season and as he turns 34 this January, there will start to be questions on whether he can stay healthy.  Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown at age 30 and 33 are both coming off career seasons that could be difficult to duplicate given their career history.

Kopitar set career highs in goals, assists and points last year.  Kopitar is still one of the best centres in the NHL, however it’s a little bit skeptical to think he will be a perennial 35 goal 90-point player, especially considering he’s 30 years old and it’s the first time in his career that he’s done it.  Dustin Brown came off scoring 61 points this season after averaging 29 points over the previous four seasons.

The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk will add scoring to the top 6 but the question is how much?  Will he score 20-25 goals, or can he still be the perennial 40 goal guy that he was when he left 5 years ago?  The biggest issue for the kings last season was that Vegas skated circles around them inn the first round and speed is still a concern for them this year.  Kovalchuk might be able to score some goals but he’s not going to improve that area.

The blueline is still good with Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez and Jonathan Quick is still a #1 goaltender who is coming off a good season last year, but is that enough to make up for their depth up front?

IN: Peter Budaj, Ilya Kovalchuk

OUT: Christian Folin, Torey Mitchell, Tobias Rieder, Kevin Gravel, Brooks Laich

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown

Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli

Adrian Kempe – Alex Iafallo – Trevor Lewis

Kyle Clifford – Nate Thompson – Michael Amadio

 

Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez

Dion Phaneuf – Paul LaDue

 

Jonathan Quick

Peter Budaj

PLAYOFFS?

There are teams that missed the playoffs last season like St Louis, Calgary etc. that have improved and/or looking to bounce back after a disappointing season.  There are concerns about age and durability as well as guys like Kopitar and Brown repeating what they did last season.  LA just made it in last year as a wild card team and haven’t gotten significantly better, and teams around them that just missed have.  They will be competitive, but I don’t have the Kings making the playoffs this upcoming season.

 

SAN JOSE SHARKS

 

The San Jose Sharks have an aging core, but they are still playing at a very high level.  They were 13th in GF and 9th in GA last season.  They were 16th on the Powerplay and 2nd on the penalty kill.

The addition of Evander Kane at the deadline last season really helped their offense, especially with Thornton injured.  Tomas Hertl really made a name for himself in the playoffs last year and will look to play a big role this season.  If Joe Thornton can stay healthy he is still a very effective player at 5v5 and on the powerplay which was a big reason why the sharks PP was only league average.

Burns is one of the best defensemen in the league at generating shots and controlling the top of the zone.  Vlasic is a fantastic defensive defenseman and him and Justin Braun have played the toughest minutes every night for the last few years.  They have one of the better goaltending tandems in Martin Jones and Aaron Dell who came off a really good season last year.

IN:

OUT: Mikkel Boedker, Julius Bergman, Jannik Hansen, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Paul Martin

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Evander Kane – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski

Kevin Labanc – Chris Tierney – Timo Meier

Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson – Nick Sorensen

 

Brendan Dillon – Brent Burns

Marc Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun

Joakim Ryan – Dylan Demelo

 

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

PLAYOFFS?

The Sharks didn’t make any moves this summer other then flipping Hoffman to get rid of Boedkers contract and get assets.  Either way this is still a good team and if they are healthy I think they can compete for the division with the Pacific being wide open.  They are deep up front, they have defensemen that can contribute offensively and defensively, and they have strong goaltending.  The San Jose Sharks should be in the playoffs this upcoming season.

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

 

The Vancouver Canucks have a deep prospect pool and several guys to look forward to.  Elias Petterson dominated the SHL as a teenager and will most likely make the team this season.  Jonathan Dahlen had a very strong season in the HockeyAllsvenskan League which is one tier below the SHL.  Quinn Hughes is going back to Michigan this year and will be a fantastic player.  Thatcher Demko is a future starting goaltender in the NHL.

The future looks very bright; however, the current state looks very bleak.  Vancouver finished bottom five in the NHL for the third straight season.  They finished 26th in GF and in GA and their penalty kill was 21st.  They have several over payed bottom six players like Beagle, Roussel, Sutter and Eriksson for the next 3 – 4 seasons at least as well as Gudbranson on the backend.   Losing the Sedins will hurt their offense but they will have young players that they are hoping can fill those roles soon.  One bright spot for the Canucks last season was under Travis Green and his staff, the Canucks powerplay was very good, finishing 9th in the NHL at 21.4% after finishing 27th and 29th the two pervious seasons.  Rookie of the year finalist Brock Boeser played a big role in that as well with a team leading 10 powerplay goals and 23 powerplay points.

On the blueline there are a lot of concerns.  Chris Tanev is a very underrated player in this league, but he has a very hard time staying healthy.  Edler is not the player he once was, Hutton, Del Zotto and Gudbranson are not defensemen that you want playing big minutes in your top 4.  Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson both haven’t shown that they can be starting goaltenders in the NHL as well.

IN: Tanner Kero, Tim Shaller, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel

OUT: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Michael Chaput, Jussi Jokinen, Alexander Burmistrov, Nic Dowd, Jason Megna

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Sven Baertschi – Bo Horvat – Brock Boeser

Loui Eriksson – Brandon Sutter – Elias Petterson

Brendan Leipsic – Markus Granlund – Sam Gagner

Antoine Roussel – Jay Beagle – Jake Virtanen

 

Alex Edler – Chris Tanev

Michael Del Zotto – Erik Gudbranson

Ben Hutton – Troy Stecher

 

Jacob Markstrom

Anders Nilsson

PLAYOFFS?

The Canucks time to rise will come soon, they have one of the best prospect pools in the league and could potentially have a shot at Jack Hughes next June.  But their time to rise is not now, there are too many teams in the West and the Pacific that are better then them right now.  There are teams that have greatly improved around them and teams looking to stay where they are.  The Canucks will most likely not be in the playoffs this season and will look forward to a strong draft.

 

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

 

The Vegas Golden Knights had the Cinderella of Cinderella stories last season making it all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals and breaking pretty much every first-year team record that there is.  They finished 5th in GF and 8th in GA, they were also 11th on the powerplay and 10th on the penalty kill.  It was an incredible first season for Vegas, but will they have that same magic this season?

They had several players who performed way above their career averages last season and it will be very difficult for them to duplicate that success this season.  William Karlsson more than doubled his career goal total in one season, riding a crazy high shooting percentage and PDO wave.  If he plays on the top line with Smith and Marchessault and gets powerplay time he will still put up points, but I will be very surprised if he scores 40 goals again.

Bellemare, Engellend, Haula, Karlsson, Marchessault, Miller, Nosek, Perron, Schmidt, and Smith all had career seasons last year.  Vegas’ PDO as a team wasn’t unsustainable but the PDO of several of their players were.

They added Paul Stastny who is still a good player, but they lost two good players in James Neal and David Perron.  They have good young players like Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki who could challenge to make the team this year as well.  They will also be without Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season which will really hurt their blueline.

Vegas is not going to sneak up on teams this year, everyone will be ready and motivated to play them every night.  If they want to keep their playoff spot they have to be able to handle the increased expectations as well as rely on the players that had career seasons to continue that success.

IN: Daniel Carr, Nick Holden, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty

OUT: David Perron, James Neal, Luca Sbisa, Brandon Pirri, Jason Garrison, Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki

POTENTIAL OPENING NIGHT LINEUP

Riley Smith – William Karlsson – Jonathan Marchessault

Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – Alex Tuch

Eric Haula – Cody Eakin – Cody Glass

Tomas Nosek – Pierre Edouard Bellemare – Ryan Reaves

 

Shea Theodore – Brayden McNabb

Nick Holden – Deryk Engellend

Jon Merrill – Colin Miller

 

Marc Andre Fleury

Malcolm Subban

PLAYOFFS?

It will be very difficult for their top players like Karlsson, Haula, Smith to repeat the success that they had last season when they haven’t done this before last season, it’s also going to be hard because no one is going to take them lightly this year.  They lost Neal and Perron in free agency, but they have replaced them with signing Paul Stastny and trading for Max Pacioretty.  I think we will see some regression from Vegas this year, but I still have them making it out of the Pacific.

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