You could go read a magazine or go to major websites for season previews… but then it’s the same thing that tens of thousands of people read. So here is the start of my unique division by division season previews, which get you set for upcoming NHL season. If you want to check out my Central Preview, you can find it HERE.
FIRST PLACE – ANAHEIM DUCKS
Add: R.Miller – F.Beauchemin
Lost: S.Theodore (t) – J.Bernier (fa) – N.Thompson (fa) – C. Stoner (e) – R. Garbutt (fa)
They won the division last year despite a slumping offense, which came 18th in goals for. In a year where they struggled to score, their goaltending and defense stepped up in a big way. Their team GAA was 3rd and their core is still intact. Gibson will be back between the pipes while Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen, and Manson will all be back on the blueline.
If there’s one concern with this team heading into the year it’s that the offense that finished 18th didn’t get better. While I do consider it a win that they didn’t lose any key pieces, especially considering the expansion draft, I would have liked to see them add an extra piece. They’ll need to rely on some bounce-back performances if they want to retain their Pacific Division crown.
I’m banking on that to happen. I think with the number of weapons they have, two years of below average offensive production isn’t going to happen. Expect another year of first in the Pac-8 for the Ducks.
SECOND PLACE – EDMONTON OILERS
Add: R.Strome – J.Jokinen – T.Rattie
Lost: J.Eberle (t) – B.Pouliot (bo) – D. Desharnais (fa) – G. Reinhart (e) – T. Pitlick (fa)
A quiet offseason in Oil Country, but most of the moves they made I consider a wash. Eberle simply couldn’t come back for another year with this team and while Strome lacks the same goal-scoring ability that Eberle had, he has some upside.
Offensively this team will be fine, they came 8th last year in GF/60 and there is really no reason to expect that number to drop. In fact, with McDavid and Draisaitl a year older and players like Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins looking for bounce-back years, they could score more than the 2.96 goals per game they had last year.
There are a few concerns for me when it comes to this team and it’s why I don’t have them passing the Ducks.
How will their defense hold up with Andrej Sekera out until at least the new year? It’s unclear how Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse will handle a heavier workload.
Also, this team stayed very healthy last year. Can they repeat that string of good health? Injuries are bound to hit every team at some point, does this team have the depth to overcome a significant injury? That still remains unclear.
Lastly, can Cam Talbot make it through another year starting close to 70 games? I’m not saying last year was a fluke by any means, but Talbot would have been a Vezina finalist last year, does he have that in him again?
Question marks aplenty, but I believe the young talent of this team can push them to another year with home-ice advantage in the postseason.
THIRD PLACE – CALGARY FLAMES
Add: T. Hamonic – S. Foo – M. Smith – E. Lack
Lost: B. Elliott (fa) – C. Johnson (fa) – D. Engelland (e) – L. Smid (fa) – L.Bouma (fa) – D. Wideman (fa)
Let’s start with what I like about the Flames heading into this season. The addition of Travis Hamonic is great and gives them an elite top four. The price they paid was steep, but the team is in win now mode, so I have no problems with it.
They also signed Spencer Foo, who could be a NHLer a few years from now, but I don’t believe he’ll have an impact this year.
Adding to their d-core, which was already a strength, as well as putting another winger in the prospect pool are both good moves. The problem with the Flames heading into this year is that they really didn’t address their major needs.
They still have a very poor right side. I don’t have confidence in Frolik & Brouwer to play on the team’s top line. Could they add someone mid-season? Absolutely. Wingers can be found around the trade deadline fairly easily so maybe this is a whole they could still look to fill.
They also didn’t improve their goaltending in my eyes. Mike Smith is 35 years old and not getting any better, while Eddie Lack is coming off a concussion riddled stint with Carolina that also saw minimal success. Just looking at last season, the combined GAA of Smith and Lack was 5.56 while compared to the combined GAA of Johnson and Elliot which was 5.14.
Those numbers may get better for Smith and Lack that they have a better team in front of them, but it wasn’t a big enough improvement in my eyes, especially given some of the marquee goaltenders available this offseason.
A few good moves and they can bank on some improvement from their young core, but not enough to catch either Edmonton or Anaheim.
FOURTH PLACE – ARIZONA COYOTES
Add: J. Demers – N. Hjalmarsson – D. Stepan – N. Cousins – A. Raanta
Lost: S. Doan (r) – Z. Michalek (fa) – J. McGinn (t) – C. Murphy (t) – L. Dauphin (t) – A. DeAngelo (t)
This may look absolutely crazy, but they had the best offseason of any team in their division. We already knew that they had one of the better young cores in the league, and now they actually have a solid group of veterans to play along with them.
Niklas Hjalmarsson was a sensational pickup. Some would argue he was the Hawks best d-man at times, and they got him at a great price. Factor in the great trade they made to grab Jason Demers along with the likes of Ekman-Larsson and Goligoski and you might be able to say they have one of the best d-cores in their division.
Up front, they added Derek Stepan who gives them an experienced centerman who can produce. Other than that their depth chart is littered with young talent and they’ll need some of those rookies to step up. There are high hopes for Clayton Keller, Dylan Strom, and Christian Dvorak. If they perform like some expect, the ‘Yotes could have a very succesful year.
In net, I like the addition of Antti Raanta and think him and Louis Domingue could be more than competent this year.
I don’t think they have enough to push into a playoff spot this year, but the Yotes are coming and might be a playoff team sooner rather than later.
FIFTH PLACE – LA KINGS
Add: M.Cammalleri – D.Kuemper
Lost: B.Bishop (t) – B.McNabb (e) – M.Greene (bo) – D. Setoguchi (fa)
The Kings are coming into this season with more or less the same roster that has only won 1 playoff game in the past 3 years.
Their offense finished 25th last year and all they did was add veteran Mike Cammalleri, who is coming off a 10 goal campaign. Jeff Carter had to almost single-handedly carry this team’s offense last year, scoring a whopping 16% of his teams’ goals. The only other player to score 20 was Tanner Pearson (24).
Anze Kopitar also had a horrible year. His shooting percentage as 2.2% lower than it’s ever been, but even if he would have shot at his average percent, he wouldn’t have hit 20 goals. He’ll need to be better if the Kings want any hope of snagging a wild-card spot.
If there’s one beacon of hope, it’s that a full year of both Jonathan Quick and Tyler Toffoli may be able to boost them up the standings.
All in all, I didn’t see enough improvement to give me any reason to believe that this team can pass anyone for a Pacific Division playoff spot, and given how strong the Central is, I don’t like their odds at a Wild Card spot either.
SIXTH PLACE – SAN JOSE SHARKS
Add: No Notable Players
Lost: P. Marleau (fa) – M. Mueller (t) – D. Schlemko (e) – M. Haley (fa)
With no additions to this point and having lost Marleau along with a solid depth d-man in Schlemko, it was not a great offseason in San Jose.
Joe Thornton is another year older, and he’s coming off a season in which he struggled to produce much offensively. Brent Burns got hot early, but shot well over his career sh%. During the last 20 games of the regular season, we saw Burns struggle, only scoring 10 points. When Burns struggled, so did the team, going 9-11-0 during Burns’ slump.
I have no questions about Martin Jones, even though both his GAA and SV% took dips last year, he should be solid again. But the cast in front of Jones? Not as strong as they once were.
To make the playoffs they’ll likely have to grab a Wild Card spot, and I just don’t see enough on this roster to beat out the crazy strong Central Division teams.
SEVENTH PLACE – VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Add: EVERYONE GOT ADDED
Lost: THEY HAD NO PLAYERS LAST YEAR
You can expect a lot of 2-1 and 1-0 games this year from the Golden Knights. I really like the d-core that they managed to grab through the expansion process. Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt are all relatively young and can all play competently in a team’s top 4. Mix them in with vets like Jason Garrison and Deryk Engelland and you have a d-core that’s better than a handful of other teams in the league.
Between the pipes, Marc-Andre Fleury can still hold a crease down. His numbers weren’t great in the regular season, but he played like his old self in the playoffs which is an encouraging sign. Even if he falters, they also have Calvin Pickard, who I was shocked to see available. The 25-year-old put up a 2.98 GAA and .904 SV% on an absolutely horrible Avalanche team. He could be a real surprise for VGK fans next year.
Up front, well, they aren’t good. They basically have a team full of 3rd liners with a few exceptions like Jonathan Marchessault and James Neal. There is some upside in guys like Vadim Shipachyov and Alex Tuch, but goal scoring will be a struggle.
I don’t think they’ll finish last, I think they’ll be too strong defensively, but the lack of goal scoring will keep them close to the basement.
EIGHTH PLACE – VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Add: S.Gagner – A.Burmistrov – T. Vanek – M.Del Zotto – P.Wiercioch – A.Lindback
Lost: R.Miller (fa) – L.Sbisa (e) – D.Shore (fa) – P.Larsen (fa)
Are they tanking? Are they trying to compete for some reason? Who knows!
The Canucks are officially a laughing stock. The butt of every joke just like the Oilers and Sabres once were. The only difference: those teams knew they were going to be bad. What the Canucks are doing is just straight confusing.
They bring in Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Thomas Vanek which makes no sense. Those types of players don’t help you compete, they help you go from 29th to 27th and diminish your lottery chances.
Those additions also take playing time from guys like Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser or even guys like Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Gaunce, who need to figure out the NHL game in a hurry if they want to have prolonged careers.
The offseason made no sense, the season will go horribly and that cycle will likely continue until the organization can find a definitive direction.