Well here we are a couple weeks removed from another Pens Stanley Cup, and the expansion draft and the entry draft for the NHL. Now in the dog days of free agency, alot of moves have been made thus far, and it’s been more moves than normal from what I can remember in past off seasons. As we count down to the fall and another NHL season, I will be discussing some of the moves made in the Pacific division so far. The Pacific for a long time was the pinnacle of hockey in the western conference, especially the battle for California with the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks. Now with the emergence of Conner McDavid in Edmonton, the Sharks making it to the Cup finals 2 years ago and the Ducks and Kings tasting Stanley Cup victory in the past a new age has since come forth.
First I would like to start with Anaheim, the 2017 Pacific champs, the Ducks finished with a record of 46-23-13 during the regular season. The Ducks are a very experienced team with the likes of Getzlaf, Perry, and Fowler. How ever their power play was horrible, Corey Perry took forever to get points generated and their goaltending was sort of lackluster to me. Don’t get me wrong I do like John Gibson, after all he is a Pittsburgh boy. The Ducks acquired Patrick Eaves at the trade deadline and boy was that a brilliant move, he fits in perfectly in the system. The Ducks gave Eaves a 3 year extension, though details haven’t been released yet, Eaves is easily a 30 to 35 goal scorer and can help boost a pretty bad power play. Also joining Anaheim is veteran goalie Ryan Miller, coming from a division foe the Canucks. I imagine Miller will be the backup to Gibson, but will offer good mentoring to Gibson, but will get at least 20 if not more games during the regular season. The outlook for the Ducks is good, will they make the playoffs next season, yes, I do believe they will. The division is a different story though, the Oilers seem to be back to form and you can never count out L.A. or San Jose.
Next on this list is Arizona, which to me had the best day during the draft by far, complete upgrades all around the board. Adam Clendening signing a 1 year deal, Nick Cousins being acquired by the Coyotes, and also getting Derek Stepan and Anti Rannta from the Rangers. Rannta has a shot at taking the number 1 spot in net since the Yotes dealt their long time goalie Mike Smith to the Flames. Stepan will be a huge factor in games night in and out, not only being physical but producing points as well. Nick Hjalmarsson was dealt to Arizona by the Blackhawks during the draft as well. Hjalmarsson is a true defense man, being a shot blocker a penalty killer, he can chew up a lot of minutes being a shut down guy just he was in Chicago. With the way Arizona has drafted with Duclair and Domi this team has a good chance of turning it around and maybe a long shot for comeback team in my eyes. Still alot of work has to be done in the desert to get the Coyotes back into the playoffs, but its fair to say they’re on the right track.
Calgary is next to talk about here, another team that was barely making the playoffs last season. Finishing last season at 45-33-4 and 4th in the division, had issues in net like always. They thought Brian Elliot was going to be the piece they needed to be a Cup contender, queue the Price is Right losing music, Elliot struggled quite a bit in Calgary. Enter stage right Mike Smith, who still has some tread on the tires to maybe keep that window open just a bit longer to try and go for a Cup. So far in the FA, have acquired Travis Harmonic from the Isles for a few draft picks. Harmonic is a good young Defense men who is a offensive guy on the point, he will definitely see time on their power play and will be a top defense men on their roster. Also coming in is Eddie Lack goalie and Ryan Murphy D-man from the Canes. It seems Calgary has wanted to bolster their goaltending and defense and have done a good job at doing both thus far. If the Flames want to be in the post season the net minding has to be better, but I believe they can make it in as a wild card team again.
What can we say about the Oilers who just exploded last season, McDavid hitting a 100 points for the year, seemingly winning almost every top award in Vegas. Taking the Ducks to 7 games in the 2nd round of the playoffs was in book a good year. Now McDavid has signed an 8 year $100 million contract to stay there, Zach Kassian to a 3 year extension, Kris Russell a 4 year deal, and Jussi Jokinen a 1 year deal. With Talbot in net and all the pieces finally, I MEAN FINALLY working for Edmonton, they’re on the up and up. When the Great One gives you praise, you know you’re doing something right. The Oilers are going to be a playoff team for a while now and McDavid is going to lead them there and win alot of scoring titles. The speed and hands we witnessed last season was just down right nasty. They do have a good chance at winning the division this year and the confidence they got from last season is only going make them more dangerous!!!!
L.A., well the poor kings didn’t make the playoffs last year due to injuries to key players (Quick) and lack luster play from certain others. The Kings have made more moves in their front office than they have on their roster. Darcy Kuemper signed for a year at $650K, Christian Folin also a 1 year deal at $850K, and Mike Cammalleri a 1 year deal as well. With Kopitar, Doughty, Gaborik, Carter, and Quick the Kings are to good not make the post season. I think that a few contracts may have the Kings handcuffed, Dustin Brown, to try and improve the offense on the roster. Yes Brown may have captained them to 2 Cups, but his play and points totals have severely dropped. If Quick didn’t get hurt and they didn’t have to rely on Petr Budaj the Kings may have gotten in as a wild card team and probably lost in the first round. L.A. has always, (at least to me) been a defensive team first. They have to go out and get some offense somewhere, where and when that will come, who knows!!!
Moving along down the road is San Jose, who finished 3rd in the Pacific, but got bounced out by the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. After making the Cup final against the Pens 2 years ago had a solid season, age has to be the factor for the Sharks. Now that long time guy Patrick Marleau is now with the Leafs, the Sharks still have a solid team with Burns, Couture, and Palvelski resigned jumbo Joe Thornton to a 1 year deal, Martin Jones to a 6 year deal to keep him in net, and Marc- Edouard Vlasic to a 8 year extension. You have to think that the Sharks will be back in the running for the division just like every season. I believe the Oilers speed in the playoffs was the determining factor in why the Sharks bowed out in the first round, Jones kept them in games night in and out, but was just overwhelmed by the offense of the Oilers. The Sharks play every aspect of the game very well, from 5 on 5 to the man advantage and their penalty killing. I see them making a move or 2 to help the scoring a bit but they are an all around team. So I see them making the post season again….. just not going to deep, maybe the 2nd round!?
Going north of the border again with Vancouver. What can I say about the Canucks, they were absolutely bad at everything. Going out and signing Sam Gagner to a 3 year deal for $3.15 million and Michael Del- Zotto to a 2 year $3 million deal is a small improvement. Loui Ericksson was supposed to help with the scoring playing along side his fellow country men the Sedin twins, well oops that didn’t work. Vancouver has to fix not only the goaltending issues but somehow fix that dumpster fire of an offense, or it will be another long season. I’m going out on a limb and saying that they will not make the playoffs next year there’s just too much wrong with this team. The Sedin twins hurting the Cap for the Canucks and if the season is a loss for Vancouver look for them to move one of the twins if not both of them!!!!
Now we get to the newest team in the league, the Vegas Golden Knights. I can’t critique a team I have yet to see play, but I can look at the roster and say that they didn’t do a bad job selecting players. This roster is highlighted by Pierre- Edouard Bellemare, David Clarkson, Cody Eakin, Mikail Grabovski, Oscar Lindberg, Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Jason Garrison, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Clayton Stoner, and Marc-Andre Fleury. One thing can be said, that defense and goaltending was the key focus for McPhee. This team has some studs and some good goal scorers, but the highlight has to be 3 time Cup winner Fleury. Still in his early 30’s, Fleury still can perform at an elite level on a consistent basis. I don’t think it will be like the early days when he was in Pittsburgh starting as an 18 year old during the dark days of the Pens. Vegas has a good shot at being a .500 team out of the gate, and a playoff team is they can woo some elite players in the future if not now. Either way I’m looking forward to watching Vegas play and how Gallant will handle a brand new franchise!!!!