Welcome to CanucksNation’s Pacific Preview in which we take a look at the other seven teams in the Pacific Division in a two-part series. In part 1, focus will be on Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.
Last season: 50-25-7 (107 points) – 1st in the Pacific Division
Oddsmaker’s projected points O/U: 96.5
Notable Additions: Lucic, Dube, Talbot
Notable Subtractions: Neal, Smith, Hathaway
The Flames are coming off an impressive campaign that saw them over-perform in the regular season by dominating the Pacific Division and under-perform in the playoffs as they were swept by the lower-seeded Colorado Avalanche in round 1.
The Flames are likely to be a playoff team again this year unless something unexpected goes wrong, but it’s unlikely that they’ll finish atop the division for a second consecutive year. The loss of Juuso Valimaki for what could turn out to be the entire season is one thing that will certainly hurt their chances of repeating as the Pacific’s best team. There were high expectations for the young defender coming into this season, but his shoes will most likely be filled by a minor downgrade in Oliver Kylington, another young defender who’s shown promise in limited minutes with the Flames.
A couple of things to keep an eye on with their forward group is if Elias Lindholm can replicate the success he had on the Flames’ top line last season and how Mian Lucic fits into the team’s forward group.
The Flames will once again face questions about their goaltending and hope Rittich steps up as the clear number one, unlike last year, when he frequently battled for starts with the aging Mike Smith. The Flames’ brass appear to have confidence that Cam Talbot is capable of playing a starting role, but I do not share that same confidence in their goaltending and expect it to be the reason they take a step back this year.
Last season the flames had a 5 on 5 xGF (expected goals for) of 158.09 and significantly outperformed those expectations by potting 187 goals. They had a 5 on 5 xGA (expected goals against) of 139.42 and allowed 149. That’s something they are hoping changes with a growth season from Rittich and a bounce-back season for Talbot. If they can get average goaltending from that duo, it will go a long way towards maintaining the Flames’ status as a top team in the Pacific.
A successful season in Calgary would be locking down a playoff spot, (which they should be able to do) and translating that into a playoff run that goes beyond the first round.
Last season: 35-37-10 (80 points) – 6th in the Pacific Division
Oddsmaker’s projected points O/U: 79.5
Notable Additions: Michael Del Zotto, Chris Wideman, Anthony Stolarz.
Notable Subtractions: Corey Perry, Jake Dotchin, Chad Johnson, Nick Deslauriers.
The Ducks are coming off a tough season that saw them finish with their lowest point total since 2012. A big reason for that was their amount of man games lost to injury. They had 16 players miss at least one game and many miss a lot more.
*Chart courtesy of NHL Injury Viz
While the Ducks have one of the best goaltenders in hockey, the rest of their lineup is in a transitional phase. If you are unsure about how good Gibson is, look no further than his goals saved above expectation, the difference between GA and xGA. The Ducks’ gave up a ton of high-danger shots, driving up their xGA in the process, but Gibson held down the fort and came out with the best goals saved above expectation in the league last season.
Last season was likely the first of at least a few painful years for the rebuilding Ducks. Don’t expect them to compete for a playoff spot as they inject youth into their lineup in the forms of Sam Steel, Maxime Comtois, Troy Terry, Daniel Sprong, Josh Mahura and Brendan Guhle.
It will be quite the change for a franchise that is used to being a contender, but there’s still reasons to be excited about their system, as they boast one of the best forward group prospects in the league. There will be an abundance of hope and optimism for the future in Southern California led by new head coach Dallas Eakins, who gets his second shot with an NHL club after enjoying success with the AHL San Diego Gulls.
A successful season for the Ducks would be for their youth movement to improve their comfort level in the NHL and seize the lineup spots that are up for grabs this year, while making life a bit easier on John Gibson. All eyes will be on Steel and Comtois in particular to make significant strides in their game. Out of the four teams profiled in this article, the Ducks have the potential to take the biggest leap, depending on how their emerging young core is able to adapt to life in the NHL.
Los Angeles Kings
Last season: 31-42-9 (71 points) – 8th in the Pacific Division
Oddsmaker’s projected points O/U: 73.5
Notable Additions: Nikolai Prohkorkin, Joakim Ryan, Ben Hutton
Notable Subtractions: Jake Muzzin, Dion Phaneuf, Brendan Leipsic, Carl Hagelin, Oscar Fantenberg
The Los Angeles Kings will also welcome a new coach to lead them through a rebuild. Todd McLellan and his Kings are poised for another finish at or near the bottom of the standings, largely due to an aging core of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick; and their lack of prime-aged talent.
Despite the lacklustre product the Kings put on the ice last year, there are still reasons for Kings fans to remain optimistic. They have a strong prospect group headlined by Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, James Anderson-Dolan, Cale Clague, Mikey Anderson, and Akil Thomas along with up-and-coming netminders in Jack Campbell and Cal Peterson. Gabriel Vilardi is another interesting name in the Kings’ system, but he’s still in the midst of recovering from injury. As the season plays out, look for McLellan and the Kings to continue to transition away from their old core towards the incoming youth movement.
Another question mark coming into the season is Jonathan Quick. He was the subject of minor trade speculation last year around the deadline and it’s possible trade talks could heat up again this year. He’s 33 with 4 more years on his contract at 5.8M per, but there are people who love his pedigree and compete level. Like many of the Kings, last season was a down year for Quick, but with a return to his old form and an injury to a playoff team’s goalie, a situation could arise where the Kings retain a significant chunk of his salary and he’s off chasing another cup.
A successful season for the Kings would see a few of the pending UFAs like Toffoli, Lewis, Clifford, Forbot, LaDue, and Hutton play well enough to generate value at the trade deadline as some of the younger players push to take their spots. In the end, the most compelling part of the season for GM Rob Blake is likely to be the trade deadline.
San Jose Sharks
Last season: 46-27-9 (101 points) – 2nd in the Pacific Division
Oddsmaker’s projected points O/U: 93.5
Notable Additions: Dalton Prout, Jonny Brodzinski
Notable Subtractions: Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyqvist, Joonas Donskoi, Justin Braun, Joakim Ryan
The Sharks come into the year as one of the Pacific division powerhouses. They will compete with Calgary and Vegas for the top spot despite losing their captain and some other complementary pieces who have proven to be important to past Sharks teams. Those subtractions sting a bit less knowing they have two of the most dynamic defencemen in the game and players on the rise like Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc.
They’ll come into the season hoping those three continue to build on their success and for other youngsters like Radil, Sorenson and Gambrell to take steps as well. Their strength is on the back end, which features Brent Burns and a freshly signed Erik Karlsson.
With the departures of Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan, the Sharks will likely give top four minutes to Radim Simek, who they liked alongside Burns last year during his 41 game stint before he got hurt. Simek excels on the defensive side of the puck and his playing style fits well with Burns.
Once again, the Sharks Achilles’ heel will be their goaltending, as Martin Jones comes off a season where he allowed 176 goals with a 154.2 xG total, more than 20 above expectation. Aaron Dell had a rough season as well, allowing 70 goals with a 59.35 xG. However, I would still expect mild improvements from both goaltenders.
Although there are concerns in net for San Jose, the rest of the roster looks poised for another playoff run. The Sharks really don’t have much left to prove, so a successful season will be one ending with a cup. The Sharks are once again in win-now mode and won’t take another second or third round exit lightly.
*Over/Unders provided by oddshark.com.