All this week, we’ll be going division by division previewing the other 30 teams in the NHL. Today: the future is now for the Edmonton Oilers, but who could challenge them for supremacy in the Pacific Division?
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks will head into the 2017-18 season without a familiar face in the locker room: Patrick Marleau. The veteran forward and former captain had been a member of the team since the 1997-98 but inked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs through free agency. San Jose was able to retain team leader “Jumbo Joe” Thornton for another season and have kept, for the most part, their roster together from last season.
As this team continues to rely on veterans, they may have a hard time staying a viable threat in a tough division. Martin Jones signed a long term extension with the team and was the Sharks’ rock last season. He posted a .912 save percentage and a 2.40 goals against average en route to 35 wins.
San Jose struggled to score goals last season despite being one of the better teams in the league. Their case doesn’t improve after losing Marleau. Unless the top-9 undergoes a rebirth, San Jose may be on the outside looking in this coming season.
The boys in the desert underwent a major roster change this offseason and will be a different team when they hit the ice in October. Just take a look at who’s come in and out over the summer:
- Additions: Head coach Rick Tocchet, Nick Cousins, Chad Johnson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Emerson Etem, Jason Demers
- Subtractions: Head coach Dave Tippett, captain Shane Doan (Retirement), Anthony Deangelo, Mike Smith, Jamie McGinn
There are busy offseasons, then there’s what the Coyotes did.
With Tocchet at the helm and a fairly new roster, the Coyotes may undergo a learning curve early in the season. However, don’t expect it to last long. Arizona will surpass their 70 point total from last season and may have enough talent to squeak into the playoffs. With better partners available for star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, expect him to have a career year. This is a team to watch that may just overachieve.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings did a great job last season keeping the puck out of their own net, finishing 6th in the league in goals against. LA will need to do much of the same to remain afloat in a competitive division.
The team still has the star-studded core intact with Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick leading the way. The team struggled to score last season and to fix it they brought in...uh, Mike Cammalleri. Doesn’t seem like an ideal solution.
The Kings will need multiple players to bounce back in order to earn a ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, most notably Dustin Brown. But don’t count on it. This team will struggle and will be on the outside of the playoff picture come April.
The Ducks’ defense will look a bit different this season. Clayton Stoner and Shea Theodore have taken their talents to Vegas to play with the Golden Knights. GoRyan Miller signed with Anaheim and will fill back-up duties after Jonathan Bernier departed for the Colorado Avalanche.
John Gibson had a stellar “full season” last year playing 55 games and recording a stellar .924 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average. Posting a +23 goal differential, Anaheim’s offense was productive. With largely the same forward lines intact and the duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, there’s no reason the Ducks could not secure a playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
With the league’s best player leading the way in Connor McDavid, the Oilers are a team that possesses a lot of promise heading into next season. They extended sizable new contracts to McDavid and his running mate Leon Draisaitl, and the resulting salary cap crunch cost the team Jordan Eberle, as the skilled winger was sent to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. Many speculate that 2011’s first overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, could be the next cap crunch victim in Edmonton.
With Oscar Klefbom anchoring an improving blue line, Cam Talbot manning the crease, and McDavid and Draisaitl flying up and down the ice on a nightly basis, look for the Oilers to build on their efforts last season and make a return to the postseason. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go further than they did when they were ousted in round two in 2017.
The big move of the offseason in Calgary was the addition of defenseman Travis Hamonic from the New York Islanders. With Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie already in the fold, the Flames had an outstanding foundation for their defensive top four. The addition of Hamonic rounds that group out nicely, and fills a hole that had given the team trouble a season ago.
With Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, an emergent Matthew Tkachuk, and an underrated Mikael Backlund leading the way up front to go along with the aforementioned defensive unit, the Flames certainly have the foundation to repeat as a playoff team.
However, this team’s level of success will be almost entirely dependent on the performance they get in net. With Brian Elliott departing in free agency for Philadelphia, the Flames will rely on a tandem of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack to begin the season. Prospect Jon Gillies is waiting in the wings as well. The burning question hanging over the Flames as they enter the season is whether or not either Smith or Lack will prove capable of putting up 50 games of starter-quality goaltending. If they can figure that out, this team should cause a lot of trouble out West.
The Canucks are a great example of a team that’s really difficult to get a beat on as of right now. This is a team that should be rebuilding, given the roster they had entering the offseason. However, they didn’t really behave like a rebuilder in free agency. They brought in guys like Sam Gagner, Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto, and Patrick Wiercioch in moves that can only be explained as attempts to make the team a playoff-caliber one.
Outside of that, there’s a decent young core in place here. Picking Elias Petterson at fifth overall in this year’s entry draft was a fantastic move. Beyond him they’ve got guys like Jonathan Dahlen, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin, and Olli Juolevi who will look to prepare the ‘Nucks for life after the Sedin twins.
For this year, however, I’d expect the Canucks to be the victims of playing in a reasonably tough division. This roster doesn’t seem like one that will make the playoffs, with a lack of top end forward talent given the decline the Sedins are undergoing, a pretty subpar defensive unit, and a shaky tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson leading the way in net.
Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL’s 31st franchise’s offseason was a tale of two drafts. The first draft they had was the league’s expansion draft, in which their performance was very forgiving toward the rest of the league. Frankly, they could have drafted a team that would have been much better on day one than the one they ended up with.
However, as a result of that, they acquired a boat load of draft picks for last entry draft and the next two that will make them a force to be reckoned with once those players develop. Walking out of this weak draft class with forwards Cody Glass and Nick as well as defenseman Erik Brannstrom is an unbelievable haul. It’s not hard to imagine those three all ending up as impact NHL players on the Strip.
As for this year, look for the Golden Knights to be among the worst teams in the league. They have less top-end forward talent than every other team in the league, a very poor defensive unit given what was available to them in June, and a suspect goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury who has been on a rather steep decline over the last few years. Brighter days are ahead in Las Vegas, but don’t expect them to be here this season.