To continue with the preseason playoff predictions, it’s time to move to the Western Conference Pacific Division. It appears the dominance of California is dwindling. The star players passed the primes of their careers, and without any young stars emerging, it looks like the torch has been passed to Alberta. Not nearly as glamorous as California, Alberta makes up for the lack of dazzle in their culture by providing it on the ice. McDavid and Gaudreau look primed to lead their respective teams deep into the playoffs. So without further adieu, let’s start with the aforementioned Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers.
- Edmonton Oilers
Last Years’ finish (2nd in Pacific, 4th in West)
This Years’ prediction (1st in Pacific, 1st in West)
The Edmonton Oilers are ready to make another big jump in the NHL’s hierarchy. They came within a game of reaching the Western Conference finals last year, and this offseason they built off that success. Although they didn’t make many big splashes in free agency, they made a calculated risk in acquiring Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle. The hope is that Strome blossoms into the player that his potential calls for, and adds depth at both center and the wing. The biggest moves made were the resigning’s of McDavid, Russell and Draisaitl. Look for Edmonton’s young stars to make another leap in their development, and for this team to become the dominant force in the NHL.
- Anaheim Ducks
Last Years’ Finish (1st in Pacific, 3rd in West)
This Years’ Prediction (2nd in Pacific, 3rd in West)
The Anaheim Ducks made it to the conference finals last year before losing to the Nashville Predators. They did so by playing a rugged, defence-first style while relying on their younger stars to lead them in scoring. The Ducks had a big offseason by losing only Stoner and Theodore to Vegas. By trading Theodore to protect their other defencemen, they kept their talented, young blue line in tact, which has a great blend of mobility and shutdown ability. The core of this team is past its prime, but with their defence and one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, the Ducks could be playing well into May and June this upcoming season.
- Calgary Flames
Last Years’ Finish (4th in Pacific, 7th in West)
This Years’ Prediction (3rd in Pacific, 6th in West)
Many teams made big changes in trades and free agency this past offseason, but no team made as big of a risk as the Calgary Flames. By trading their 2018 first and second round picks as well as another second in either 2019 or 2020 for Travis Hamonic, the Flames may have mortgaged their future. Don’t hit the panic button yet though, because this risk may be worth it. The Flames immediately established one of the best top 4 defence groups in the league, and combine that with a group of highly skilled forwards, Calgary could be a sleeper pick to make the Western Conference Finals. What’s keeping them out of the finals? Their below average goaltending. This season relies heavily on whether or not Mike Smith can replicate his Olympic roster form from a few years ago.
- San Jose Sharks
Last Years’ Finish (3rd in Pacific, 6th in West)
This Years’ Prediction (4th in Pacific, 8th in West)
It seems like the Stanley Cup Finals from two seasons ago was the peak for the San Jose Sharks. They had one of the best forward groups in the entire NHL, but that group has aged and has partly disbanded. With Patrick Marleau sailing North to Toronto, the Sharks lost their long-time leader. They still boast the likes of Pavelski, Thornton, Couture and don’t forget the reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, but this teams chances of making the NHL Finals again are slim to none. They have more than enough skill and experience to make the playoffs, but with the NHL becoming a young man’s game, the Sharks will get run into the ice by seasons end.
- Los Angeles Kings
Last Years’ Finish (5th in Pacific, 10th in West)
This Years’ Prediction (5th in Pacific, 11th in West)
Once the epitome of hard-nosed, grinding, defence-first hockey, the LA Kings are fading. They switched up their front office and coaching staff, but that change may have been a season or two late. They are still stuck with the albatross that is Marian Gaborik’s contract, as well as their former captain, Dustin Brown. The Kings will be able to put together impressive stretches of hockey because they still have Kopitar, Carter and Doughty, as well as the brilliant-when-not-injured, Jonathan Quick. They will play a more entertaining style of hockey under John Stevens, but it will not be enough to make it into the postseason. This is just a shadow of the team that won two cups in three seasons, and that’s a shame.
- Vegas Golden Knights
Last Years’ Finish (N/A)
This Years’ Prediction (6th in Pacific, 12th in West)
I am saying this right now, the Vegas Golden Knights will not be nearly bad as some people are predicting. Their forward group could use a lot of improvement, and will have to work harder than their opponents every game, but they still have solid scoring coming from James Neal, Vadim Shipachyov and Jonathan Marchessault. Where this team will surprise people is their defensive and goaltending depth. A top four of Theodore, Schmidt, Miller and McNabb is not ideal, but with competition coming from within, they could grow and develop well together. With a goaltending tandem of Fleury and Pickard the Golden Knights are well equipped to sustain getting outshot on a nightly basis, which is inevitable. They will be pushed around, but with Gerrard Gallant behind the bench, this group will work hard to at least surpass some of their Pacific Division rivals.
- Arizona Coyotes
Last Years’ Finish (6th in Pacific, 12th in West)
This Years’ Prediction (7th in Pacific, 13th in West)
The Arizona Coyotes’ fate was sealed a few years ago when they lost the draft lottery and were forced to select Dylan Strome with the third overall pick. After missing out on two cornerstone centers, the Yotes did the best they could. Their hope was that Strome could develop into a great, but not elite NHL center, but even that is up for debate. Their prospect group is good but not great, and so was their offseason. By dealing Smith, but acquiring Stepan and Hjalmarsson, Arizona confused the whole league. Do they think these above-average, ageing veterans can help push their prospects to greatness? Because I think they will be pushed into perennial mediocrity.
- Vancouver Canucks
Last Years’ Finish (7th in Pacific, 13th in West)
This Years’ Prediction (8th in Pacific, 14th in West)
Speaking of perennial mediocrity, let’s talk about the Vancouver Canucks! The Canucks have been in a steady decline since they rioted their way to game seven of the Cup Finals in 2010. That was seven seasons ago! The front office has been trying to salvage the rest of the Sedins’ careers by trading their youth and adding ageing veterans. The acquisition of Eriksson last year was questionable, as is the decision to not trade the Sedins. I understand the allure of spending your whole career with one team, but at a certain point, you have to ask yourself if you are doing more good or more harm to the organization. This season will be painful to watch for Canucks fans, but at least they will be competing for something. Vancouver will be competing head-to-head with the Avalanche and Red Wings for the worst record in the league, and the best chance to draft a star next draft.
The Pacific Division isn’t what it used to be, but it still has enough star power to challenge for the Stanley Cup. It’s definitely a top-heavy division, but it will still be entertaining. The Battle of Alberta has been revived and Vegas will certainly turn some heads with their entertaining approach as an organization. Next week, I will look into last years’ best division, the Metropolitan.