The Pacific Division is always a difficult one to predict at the best of times. This season will be no exception, especially with a shortened season in hand. The winner of this division will be hard to predict as over the last few seasons teams have made key upgrades. Let’s take a look at the contenders in our midst.
On The Christmas List: Draft lottery favor
The Ducks will be hoping to improve on an underwhelming 6th place in 2019-20. Their off-season acquisitions have been quieter than fans would’ve liked, but let’s not forget they are rebuilding. Kevin Shattenkirk was signed on a 3-year contract and veteran centre Derek Grant has returned after a solitary season with the Flyers.
Their draft picks could be key to any future development and the 6th overall selection of blueliner Jamie Drysdale seems a smart choice. Jacob Perrault was another first-round steal and this young winger adds depth to their talent pool. The prime focus for Anaheim will be laying the groundwork for a future cup run. They currently hold one of the oldest average age squads in the league and with Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg all 30 plus, young blood is urgently needed.
On The Christmas List: Roommate to move out
Life in Glendale, Arizona rolls on as usual. However, this will be the final year that we see the Coyotes in the Pacific division. Seattle Kraken will be taken this spot next season to add some needed rivalries. During the Qualifying Rounds last season, GM John Chayka unexpectedly quit leaving a vacant front office spot. Former Blues Assistant GM Bill Armstrong was appointed in his place. So far, we have seen zero action on the acquisition front and the Coyotes seem content on building with the roster they have. Perhaps the biggest off-season news was that skipper Oliver Ekman-Larsson decided to remain in Arizona. A number of potential trades were mentioned but the 29-year-old Swede will stay a Coyote. The focus for their season will be securing another playoff spot. Last season saw Arizona return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. This team is playing more entertaining hockey each season, let’s see where this goes.
On the Christmas list: Medical Plan
After looking like the team to beat for much of last season, the rash of injuries were too much to overcome in the playoffs. In fact their injured list read essentially like their roster, and though they pushed Dallas in a competitive series, they couldn’t manage to replace those key parts. With an impressive roster loaded with a mix of young and veteran talent, many in their prime, the only thing stopping Joe Sakic’s group may be themselves. Nathan MacKinnon seemed otherworldly at times in the post season and with the improved depth around him, and several young stalwarts on the blue line, the Avs are poised to return to the glory days their GM is all too familiar with.
That said there is one Achilles heel: When starting goalie Philipp Grubauer went down against the Stars, their season promptly followed suit. He may not be the biggest name in goaltending but the marked difference from him and his backups was obvious to even the most novice observer. Grubauer was solid in the games he started, and with the team in front of him being so talented he just has to not cost them the game, or as we refer to it, the Antti Niemi school of goaltending. If he’s able to stay in fine form the Avs could one again reach the top of the mountain.
Los Angeles Kings
On The Christmas List: Out of Matthew Tkachuk‘s division
The Kings fanbase has been through a rough few seasons since their 2014 cup win. Rebuild mode is always when we see the roughest times and least fun hockey. With an already stacked Pacific division in front of them, this could be another tricky season. Selecting 18-year-old Canadian centre Quinton Byfield second overall gives them a major future talent. Plus trading for Olli Maatta gives much needed blue line depth. The rest of the roster, however, is made up of veterans and AHL quality players. Jonathon Quick, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter are no longer the dominant force of old. Drew Doughty still has some good years ahead, but at 31 time is not on his side. LA will focus on the future and bringing in more draft picks.
On The Christmas List: Compass
GM Bill Guerin wasted little time making moves to put his stamp on the team, shipping out veterans Jason Zucker and Eric Stall, clearly signalled a change of direction. He still has tough decisions yet to make on the likes of star defenceman Matt Dumba and what to do in net long term. It’s fitting Minnesota is essentially the geographic middle of the continent because that’s exactly where you’ll find the Wild, roaming about in the NHL wilderness, without much sense of what direction to take, or how to get there.
Mediocrity has personified the representative from the ‘State of Hockey’ almost since its inception, and its franchise’s loyal fanbase deserve better. They have consistently put themselves in the playoff conversation, but can’t seem to take that next step, no matter what regime is in charge. Perhaps a change in philosophy will bring new success, but as currently constituted, their roster would suggest that they’ll once again find themselves also-rans in the ultra-competitive west.
San Jose Sharks
On The Christmas List: Goaltending
Last was one to forget for Sharks fans. They finished bottom of the division and second last in the Western Conference. Now team legend ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton has left to join the Leafs. San Jose has been addressing some key issues in the off-season and acquiring Devan Dubnyk from Minnesota gives them a quality goalie. The 100-year-old Patrick Marleau has returned for yet again swansong which could prove interesting. Matt Nieto is another acquisition that rounds out the team slightly more.
Can San Jose challenge this season? Well, that depends on a few things- firstly, they need to start racking the wins up again. This team is not short on quality with new skipper Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier among the ranks. However, outside of their top six, this team is thin on quality and last season their decline came full circle. Peter De Boer got the chop as coach now new boss Bob Boughner is tasked with getting the Sharks to bite back this season!
St. Louis Blues
On The Christmas List: A Tinder Profile
After getting out of a long term relationship, it’s difficult to move on. The memories are fresh, vivid and so meaningful that you can’t help being overwhelmed by sentiment. You find yourself thinking what if, even if it was time, or the parting wasn’t particularly contentious. After a will he won’t he, worthy of the most insipid of tabloids, the Blues and former captain Alex Pieterangelo parted way after 12 seasons, two All Star appearances, and a 2019 Stanley Cup championship, the franchise’s first. He was a fan favourite and endeared himself to the ‘Show Me’ state faithful, who were clamouring for him to remain there.
He expressed interest but GM Doug Armstrong has never been one to shy away from tough decisions and inevitably moved on. The Blues were among the best in the NHL during last year’s regular season and the addition of Torey Krug, and Justin Faulk as your, safety date…? should help keep them competitive. but like any new romance, it’s just not the same. Much of their success will hinge on Jordan Binnington’s performance. He came out of nowhere and carried them with a remarkable run to win the Cup, but after getting rewarded with a long term deal, his numbers declined last year and if that continues to be the case he too may have to find himself a new partner.
Vegas Golden Knights
On The Christmas List: No agent meddling
Vegas once again proved that Nevada is becoming a prime destination for big free agents. Scoring Blues leader Alex Pietrangelo was a major shot in the arm for the defence. You feel that this is a team that is fast becoming a major contender for a cup. However, they will need to solve what is fast becoming a major issue…who is the number 1 goalie? The post-season was dominated by the Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner issue! Now, this duel is set to commence once again at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights are set to be one of the strongest teams in this division and boast one of the deepest rosters. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Rielly Smith and the increasingly impressive Shea Theodore are just a few of the offensive threats. This will be the season for Vegas to really prove their worth and bring this expansion franchise full circle. They have been knocking at the door, will 2021 be the year there is a championship banner in the Entertainment Capital of the World?