After the draft and a hectic beginning to free agency, teams are starting to settle in and we can get a better idea of what teams will look like going into training camp. The West once again looks ready to be the more impressive conference, with tough competition in both the Pacific and Central divisions. Today I want to focus on the Pacific Division. This year in particular, I think we will have more teams fighting for playoffs spots with potentially 6 of the 7 teams (sorry Arizona) fighting for a spot.
Anaheim (Finished 1st in the division)
Who left: Beauchemin, Belesky, Etem
Who was brought in: Horcoff, Bieska, Haglin
Not an overly busy summer for the Ducks; not that they really needed to. After finishing at the top of the Pacific division, the Ducks didn't really have many holes to fill. They let this years Clarkson in Belesky walk, as well as Beauchemin. They also traded Emerson Etem. The Ducks responded by trading for Kevin Bieska and acquiring Carl Haglin in the Etem trade. They signed Shawn Horcoff to a one year deal to bolster their bottom 6 depth. Each of the three players they acquired will effectively replace those they lost. With a combination of veterans like Perry and Getzlaf, along with rising stars such as Vatanen and Silfverberg I don't see the Ducks falling at all.
Will finish 1st in the Pacific
Arizona Coyotes (Finished 7th in the Pacific)
Who left: Arcobello, Gagner, Korpikoski
Who was brought in: Strome, Pronger (tee hee), Gordon, Michalek, Grossman
You have to feel for the Coyotes. Right now they look like the 2010 Oilers. Some exciting up and comers in guys like Strome and Domi, a couple very well regarded players in Ekman Larson and Doan. But other than that a whole bunch of guys playing well above where they should be with too much pressure put on a young core. Bringing back players who were effective on your team three years ago might not be the best strategy. Coyotes fans expect to see some flashes of brilliance here and there but in the end I expect them back in lottery contention.
Will finish 7th in the Pacific
Calgary Flames (Finished 3rd in the Pacific)
Who left: Potter, Diaz, Schlemko
Who was brought in: Frolik, Hamilton
The Flames will definitely be one of the most heavily debated teams this off season as far as where they will finish. The stats guys will quickly point out their terrible possession numbers and point out the 2012-2013 Leafs, 2013-2014 Avalanche and how these numbers can't be sustained. While I don't see the Flames enjoying the same success as last season I won't completely rule them out either. While I see guys like Hiller and Hudler not being able to play at the same level they did last year, bringing in guys like Frolik and of course Hamilton will add some more depth and size. Of course Bennett will be a full time player this season and Monohan and Gadreau will be watched very carefully as well.
Will finish 3rd in the Pacific
Edmonton Oilers (Finished 6th in the Pacific)
Who left: Gordon, Roy, Fraser, Marincin, Fasth
Who was brought in: MCDAVID, Sekera, Letestu, Reinhart, Gryba, Talbot, Korpikoski
Well it's certainly been an interesting off season in Oil Country. After winning the draft lottery, we saw sweeping changes in management. Chiarelli has already left his stamp on this team, not only drafting Connor McDavid, but bringing in veteran guys such as Sekera and Letestu. While Edmonton may not have a true top pairing on their backend, steady defenders like Fayne and Sekera, as well as the emergence of players such as Klefbom and potentially Nurse has fans hopeful. The Oilers have a fantastic group of players in their forward core and can actually give prospects such as Draisaitl time to develop properly. I really wanted to put Edmonton ahead of Calgary, but the Flames impressive backend and established goaltending preveneted that. The biggest X Factor for this season may not be McDavid, but Talbot. If he can be the starter that he looks primed to become this could actually be a playoff team.
Will finish 4th in the Pacific
LA Kings (Finished 4th in the Pacific)
Who left: Stoll (duh), Richards (double duh), Regehr, Sekera, Williams, Jones
Who was brought in: Lucic, Enroth
The Kings have had quite the interesting off season, with 90% of it having nothing to do with hockey. With legal issues with Stoll (again) and the Richards debacle, combined with the existing issues with Slava Voynov, one has to wonder how big of a distraction this will be in the coming months. Unfortunately even with all of that going on I cannot bet against the Kings. This is a team that, aside from last year, manages to just squeek into the playoffs but once they are in, watch out. Lucic will do very well in LA as his style of play will fit in perfectly with the grinding play of the Kings.
Will finish 2nd in the Pacific
San Jose Sharks (Finished 5th in the West)
Who left: Niemi
Who was brought in: Jones, Martin, Ward
I don't really know what to say about the Sharks. They have some great players in Coutre, Thorton, Pavelski, Burns, and Vlasic. But one has to wonder if this is the year things implode in San Jose. Don't ask me why but my gut says DeBoer will not be the right fit for this team, much like Torts in Vancouver. Like the Oilers, bringing in a backup (though a very highly touted one) is a risky move that could prove great or disastrous.
Will finish 6th in the Pacific
Vancouver Canucks (Finished 2nd in the Pacific)
Who left: Bieksa, Richardson, Kassian, Matthias, Lack
Who was brought in: Prust, Bartkowski
The Canucks have not gotten better this off season. Quite the opposite, they got significantly worse. Bartkowski is a good pick up but losing guys like Matthias and Bieksa will hurt this team down the stretch. Once again, it looks like this team made the wrong decision with goaltenders. Should Miller falter it could be a very long season for the Canucks. The Canucks need guys like Horvat and Vey to take their game to the next level. The Sedins are a year older and I don't know how much longer they can carry this team.
Will finish 5th in the Pacific
So to wrap things up we have
Make no mistake, I see the teams from 2nd to 6th all within 6-8 points of each other. One injury or a well timed hot streak could tip the scales for any team in that position. I only see Anaheim as a clear cut lock for a playoff spot. It should be a very interesting year in the Pacific.
Thanks for reading.