by Dan Adkisson
It’s out with the old and in with the new for the NHL’s 2021-22 season, at least in the Pacific Division. Gone are the Arizona Coyotes, who have moved to the Central Division, making room for the league’s 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken. Exactly how this will play out is anybody’s guess, yet most don’t think the Kraken will find as much early success as the last expansion team, the 2017 Vegas Golden Knights.
Although the NHL has reconfigured the divisions slightly, and will be returning to an 82-game regular season schedule, everything related to the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains the same. Only the top 16 teams qualify, comprised of eight teams in each Conference. The three best teams from each Division will be automatically qualified for the post-season tournament, with two additional teams from each Conference earning a Wild Card birth.
Before even surveying any changes made to rosters from the Pacific Division’s eight teams, a look back to last year offers little help. Four of the five teams at the top of the temporary Western Division won’t even be part of this year’s Pacific Division. The lone team in that group still around is Vegas, but even that’s not really fair to say because Edmonton finished as the second-best team in the North Division. Now, with all teams back where they belong, let’s take a quick look at the 2021-22 Pacific Division:
Anaheim Ducks – There are three major rebuilds going on in the division, and they’re all happening in the state of California. In terms of timing, LA seems to be the closest to coming out the other side, with Anaheim trailing, followed by San Jose (who some might argue are really just getting started). Short of Trevor Zegras having an enormous breakout year, the Ducks are most likely another year away from making a legitimate playoff push. Their is so much young talent in their pipeline it’s hard to bet against them. With Max Comtios, Isac Lundestrom, and Jamie Drysdale poised for bigger roles, the Ducks should be much better than what they’ve shown of late. If a few other teams falter, and this group finds a way to gel early, they could be one of the season’s true surprises.
Calgary Flames – Hiring Darryl Sutter earlier this year didn’t provide the Flames with an immediate payoff, as they missed the playoffs last season. There are many questions surrounding the future of several of their core players, including forward Johnny Gaudreau. Team captain Mark Giordano was left unprotected in the Expansion Draft and wisely scooped by Seattle. This not only leaves a hole on Calgary’s blueline, but also a massive void inside their locker room. Hoping for a Wild Card berth is likely where things stand unless some of their younger players can turn up the heat. If it’s not working by January, some big names could be on their way out of town and Blake Coleman may not by thrilled with what he signed up for.
Edmonton Oilers – Perhaps the biggest question, and most polarizing one outside of Edmonton, is trying to figure out exactly what the Oilers will be this coming season. Everybody knows the names Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Who else do the Oilers have? The best answer might be it may not matter unless Mike Smith puts up a Vezina Trophy type season. Yes, Zach Hyman should help their pace of play and offensive output. Will it be enough, though? Warren Foegele will also help round-out the roster, yet he’s a third-line player. The blueline story will most likely be less about the impact of adding Duncan Keith, and ultimately more about the ongoing development of Evan Bouchard. Edmonton is a middle-of-the-pack team, better than the bottom two, but not as good as the top three in the division.
Los Angeles Kings – GM Rob Blake has assembled one of the more intriguing teams in the Pacific Division. He delivered on his promise to add some veteran talent to his roster heading into the summer. Were they the right pieces and how quickly can it all come together, that’s what most people are asking entering training camp. The team added Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault at forward, and for a team lacking goals, they’ll need the former to regain his scoring touch and the latter to continue playing sound defensive hockey – which prevents the opposition from scoring. Veteran Alex Edler joins a defensive group that was already developing nicely, as young blueliners Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot have proven more than capable alongside Drew Doughty and Matt Roy. They should make the playoffs and what happens from there could be interesting. Per SportsBettingDime.com, the opening odds has the LA Kings at +6000 to win it all.
San Jose Sharks – There just isn’t enough here anymore. They became an old team fairly quickly, especially on the backend. And in goal, Adin Hill and James Reimer are most likely in for some very rough nights over the next six months. Rather than pile on what could become an extremely difficult situation for GM Doug Wilson, we’ll just quickly predict his Sharks hold down the cellar spot and quietly move along.
Seattle Kraken – With the new kids in town putting together a roster of 23 players who are new to town, you just don’t know what to expect. Hiring Dave Hakstol as head coach for their inaugural season was curious, at best. GM Ron Francis is either way smarter than most or may have reached too far with his first bench boss. Defensively speaking, they have names like Vince Dunn, Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, and Jamie Oleksiak. That should be good enough most nights to keep games close. However, goalie Phillip Grubauer won’t be playing behind the same tight-knit group he was in Colorado, so how will he respond? Up front, Jordan Eberle, Joonas Donskoi, and Jayden Schwartz likely won’t give them enough offense to honestly challenge for one of the division’s top three playoff spots.
Vancouver Canucks – Will the real Canucks team please standup. If a team is only as good as their front office, Vancouver may be in trouble. Questionable moves over the past few seasons, especially in goal, find them now turning to Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak. They bought out Braden Holtby after heavily promoting him at the time of his signing him last summer. This team continue to rely on Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and Elias Pettersson for offensive production. While the additions of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland should soften the exits of a few previous Canucks. However, dealing Nate Schmidt may end up hurting them in the short-term. Nonetheless, Vancouver should be a playoff team in 2022, especially when sizing up their Pacific Division competition.
Vegas Golden Knights – On paper, Vegas is the strongest team in the division. While they lack a true number one center, their defense is more than solid, built around a core of Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, and Alec Martinez. Key additions of late include Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick. In goal, the longtime (relatively speaking) backbone of the team, Marc-Andre Fleury was dealt to Chicago – a move universally questioned both on and off the ice in Vegas. How will Robin Lehner stack up as the team’s No. 1 goalie this season? The answer to that question may play a key role in determining if any of the other teams have a true shot at catching the Golden Knights for the division’s top spot.