Pacific Division preview: Golden Knights, then a whole bunch of questions

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Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Anaheim Ducks’ Troy Terry, center right, jumps out of the way of the puck as Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner of Sweden keeps the net in the second period of a game Hockey League on Saturday April 24, 2021, in Anaheim, California.

If you were fed up with only seeing the Avalanche, Blues, Wilds, Coyotes, Ducks, Sharks and Kings in the regular season last year, good news.

Only the Ducks, Sharks and Kings will be in the same division as the Golden Knights next season, and there won’t be 24 games combined against them.

The NHL returns to its traditional division format next year, which means that with the California teams, Vegas will be joined in the Pacific Division by three Canadian teams – the Oilers, Flames and Canucks – as well as the expansion Kraken.

The Avalanche, Blues and Wild will return to their usual places in the Central, while the Coyotes will join them to make way for the Kraken in the Pacific.

All of this means that Vegas’ path to a division title just got a whole lot easier.

The Golden Knights missed out on the West Crown (and President’s Trophy) last year in the Avalanche. And on paper, none of the Seven Enemies of the Pacific seem to rival the Golden Knights, who are set to become a powerhouse again. They are under 200 favorites (bet $ 200 to win $ 100) at William Hill.

But the games are not played on paper. We’ll take a look at Vegas’s division rivals and predict which could be the biggest threat to the Golden Knights Third Division title in five years.

Teams are sorted alphabetically, with chances of winning William Hill’s division.

Anaheim Ducks (over-7500)

The Ducks have two exciting prospects with forward Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, an overworked goalie in John Gibson and not much else. They’ve finished sixth or worse in each of the past three seasons and unlike their neighbors in Southern California, they’re still a few years away from getting competitive.

There’s little reason to think the Ducks will be much better than last year. Maybe Zegras and Drysdale go from good hope to reliable NHL player, but Anaheim is more than two players away. The Ducks haven’t signed any major free agents, made no trades, and haven’t improved their outlook, even in a weaker Pacific.

It wasn’t that long ago that Anaheim was in the playoffs. It’s a different time in Orange County now, and it looks like the Ducks are facing another finish near the bottom of the division.

Calgary Flames (over 1,500)

The Flames won the Pacific the last time the division completed a full season. But they failed in the bubble playoffs last year and finished fifth in the North, completely missing the playoffs.

Calgary is an interesting opponent. The core of the squad that overwhelmed opposing defenses two years ago is still there, and Blake Coleman was a nice signing to strengthen the squad’s six midfielders.

A big problem last year was the goalie, as Jacob Markstrom failed to honor his big contract (a fun side: the Calgary-Vegas matches will feature the Swedish team’s top two goalies at the Olympic Games in next year to Markstrom and Robin Lehner).

But if you squint, you can see a dangerous team. Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are both in contract years, and while the defense isn’t obvious, he’s a solid but unspectacular fullback. The key will be Markstrom, and if he returns to his 2019-20 form, the Flames could have a real playoff run.

Edmonton Oilers (over 450)

The last game the Oilers played in the Pacific Division was an overtime battle with Vegas for first place. They followed that up with a second place finish in the North last season.

After two consecutive years of a place in the standings, they will try to climb to the top for the first time since 1992.

The Oilers still have the best high-end talent in the league in the league’s last two MVPs: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Edmonton is still strong with one or both on the ice and weak without them.

Zach Hyman was a good pickup, but Edmonton also brought back Duncan Keith, 38, and Mike Smith, 39.

McDavid and Draisaitl can’t do it all and will need help from the rest of the list, which on paper looks like one of the best of the McDavid era.

The Oilers have always faced the Golden Knights fiercely, with an all-time 5-5-1 record, and Edmonton is the biggest challenge for Vegas to win the division.

The two meet at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas for Game 4 of the season on October 22, and then three more times the rest of the year.

Los Angeles Kings (plus-1400)

The Kings weren’t good last year – they were 21-28-7 which tied them for the second-worst mark in the Pacific – but decided this offseason was a time to start building towards a winner.

They traded to Viktor Arvidsson to add points, then signed Phillip Danault to stabilize the top six, while also paving the way for the next wave of attackers.

And what a wave it is.

Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev are all set to become NHL regulars, ready to step out of the league’s best farming system.

The blow to the Kings is their defense. Drew Doughty hasn’t been the winner of the Norris Trophy in the past, and no one else on the blue line has the best pair pedigree a rival team needs.

There’s a little bit of space left if Los Angeles needs a defender by the deal deadline, and if the Kings are arguing late in the season, you can bet that will be the decision they make.

Los Angeles is also in a good position for the future, with nearly $ 30 million in ceiling space projected next summer.

While the Kings aren’t as good as the Golden Knights on paper right now, it won’t be that long before they are. A rematch in the first round of 2018? It is not out of the question.

Sharks of San José (over 2000)

The Sharks are, to be polite, a mess. They are tied with the Kings for the second-worst record in the West, just two years away from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.

Almost everything that could go wrong for the Sharks has happened, as apparently not all high-income players lived up to expectations, and the goalie was so bad that San Jose was ready to eat six. years of dead money to buy Martin Jones.

The only player who has performed well for the Sharks, Evander Kane, is embroiled in off-ice issues that are becoming so toxic that many Sharks players wish he wasn’t there.

San Jose is essentially bringing back the same team with new faces in goal. Two years ago, the rivalry with the Golden Knights looked like it could turn out to be one of the best in hockey. But it fizzled out to the point where Vegas won all eight games last year as the teams went on opposite paths.

There’s still a lot of aversion when they split the ice, but it would be a major surprise if San Jose challenged the Golden Knights for division supremacy.

Seattle Kraken (over 1200)

After the Golden Knights set the hockey world on fire in their 2017-18 debut season, expectations for the Kraken were high heading into the expansion draft.

There was a star power level available for Seattle that wasn’t there for Vegas, and in what must have been a weak Pacific, there was an idea that the new hockey team could immediately be one of the two. best teams in the division.

Instead, Seattle’s strategy was somewhat confusing. The Kraken passed on big name players like Carey Price or James van Riemsdyk or Max Domi, assuming those cap savings would be used on free agents like Gabriel Landeskog or Dougie Hamilton.

A disappointing expansion plan was followed by the signing of mid-level free agents. Coupled with a lack of draft trades, it’s hard not to look at Seattle’s roster and feel the Kraken wasted an opportunity. They could have tried to be really good or accepted to be really bad, but came up with a strange middle ground.

They still have impact names.

Jordan Eberle and Yanni Gourde could deal damage on offense. The defense, led by former Flames captain Mark Giordano, along with Jamie Oleksiak and Vince Dunn, will be usable. And Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger form one of the most impressive goalie duos in the league.

They also have ceiling space to make some moves on the trade deadline.

In fact, four years ago we learned not to underestimate an expansion team. The Vegas roster wasn’t that impressive either.

The Kraken will need to exceed expectations to make the race for the Pacific interesting, but they’re still a strong enough team to be at the heart of the playoff fight.

Vancouver Canucks (over-1400)

Much has changed in Vancouver since the Golden Knights last saw the Canucks in Game 7 of the 2020 Conference Semifinals.

Quite simply, things turned in a hurry for a team that, around the same time last year, appeared to be in their competitive window.

After a final place in the North Division last year, Vancouver did not pack up and began a rebuild but leaned heavily in the opposite direction.

The Canucks increased their forward pool with a legitimate top-six winger in Conor Garland, then picked up some nice deep plays while knocking out bad contracts.

On the blue line they took the biggest bet, acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and his massive contract to form one of the league’s most expensive blue lines, along with Tyler Myers and whatever Quinn Hughes would end up for. sign.

However, it’s hard to see a contender in this group, especially since Vancouver doesn’t have enough space to sign the two restricted free agents, Elias Pettersson and Hughes, without leaving the roster elsewhere.

The Golden Knights have always owned the Canucks on the ice. They never lost in regulation time (8-0-2 all time). This does not sound like the year Vancouver makes a difference.

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