WINNIPEG, MB – With the training camp about to start, things are finally starting to heat up. There has been plenty of Habs news in August and early September but I’m betting most of you are as anxious as me to get this new season of hockey started!
Over the course of the summer, I’ve taken a look at the Atlantic, Metropolitan, and Central Divisions, and have attempted to figure out how the teams stack up against each other. With my final preview, we’re going to be taking a quick look at the Pacific Division.
Anaheim Ducks were the eventual champions of the Division. With the team getting slightly better via the acquisition of Carl Hagelin, it has mostly stayed the same. They paid Ryan Kesler big money, (too much, in my opinion), but look to be a solid contender yet again.
Kevin Bieksa joining the defensive group they have should help the team in their own end, and at the very least, with post-game interviews. He’s certainly not at the top of the league, but he is an excellent top-4 defenseman, and will strengthen the depth on the Ducks.
The biggest question mark for the Ducks, yet again, is in goal. They have three netminders of starting caliber in Frederik Andersen, John Gibson, and Anton Khudobin. The decision on whether Gibson, who played well for the Ducks last season, stays in the NHL or returns to the AHL will be an interesting one.
Arizona Coyotes will likely be bad again. I could see them running away with the draft lottery, and it might not even be close.
The only bright spot, at the NHL level, is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s always fun to watch, and with the contract he has, seems to be a building block. If Max Domi and Anthony Duclair develop, they will have an excellent core in a couple of years.
But, let’s be honest, it’s hard to take a team that employs John Scott seriously.
Calgary Flames are hot again. It’s a good pun, you should all be laughing. MOVING ON!
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are both dynamic players who look to be part of the core for years to come. With pieces like Michael Frolik, Mason Raymond, and Mikael Backlund complementing their forwards, they look poised to make another playoff run.
The picture only looks better when you add in the defense. Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie, and Mark Giordano are steady defensemen, and adding in Dennis Wideman/Ladislav Smid round out one of the better Top-4s in the NHL.
Things get a little fuzzy in goal, as Jonas Hiller has not fully established himself as a starting goaltender. He’s close, and if they take that next step, the Pacific should look out for the Flames.
Edmonton Oilers also may be good, although most fans and analysts have been saying this for a couple of seasons already. IF the young core of forwards, now with Connor McDavid in their ranks, can take the next step. IF their defensive group, with the free agent acquisitions of Andrej Sekera and Eric Gryba can be slightly less than porous. And possibly the biggest if of all, can their goaltending be less of a tire fire than in the past few seasons, this team can contend.
I am excited to watch the renewed Battle of Alberta take place. Hopefully, with all the pieces above fall into place, and the tandem of Cam Talbot and Ben Scrivens can hold their own in a tough division.
This is obviously a very gifted group of NHL level players, and they just need to find their place to compete. I think that they could possibly be a playoff team. But, they could also be looking at another high level draft pick.
Los Angeles Kings finished five wins and two points behind the Calgary Flames for a playoff berth last season. While they had a fairly quiet off season, they did ship a first round pick and Martin Jones to the Boston Bruins for Milan Lucic.
While I believe Lucic may be on the decline, due to his physical style of play, he should complement the forwards currently in the Los Angeles system. Their defense is solid, with Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, and Matt Greene rounding out the top-4.
A goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jhonas Enroth is serviceable, though not elite. It will be interesting to watch if any decline starts to happen within Quick’s game, as playing such an acrobatic style of goaltending will only get harder as he ages.
I believe the Kings will be a bubble team in the coming season, in part due to an aging core of players, and partly due to how tight the playoff race will end up being.
San Jose Sharks have started to shift away, albeit slowly, from their aging core. While not cutting ties with players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, with the salary commitments to Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, they seem to be heading in the right direction.
They also have some young players, Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto (Long Beach native, in case you didn’t know). Martin Jones should solidify the goaltending situation, and they have a decent defensive corps. I think they will finish outside of the playoffs again, but they are definitely headed in the right direction.
Vancouver Canucks finished second in the division last year, surprising a lot of people. Logically, we should expect them to finish in the same general position, right?
Vancouver had a confusing summer. They signed Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa to extensions. They moved Kevin Bieksa to a division rival. They traded away fan favourite Eddie Lack. They didn’t really seem to do anything to improve the team from last year. If anything, they’ve gotten significantly worse at most positions.
The Canucks are tied to the Sedins for another three years at a combined salary of $14 million per season. While the Sedins are not necessarily the problem, they are definitely aging assets who are past their prime. With the refusal to move on from the Sedins, (a decision I completely understand), it kind of handcuffs their management in many other areas of hockey operations.
Vancouver will drop from second in the division, but I believe they should still make the playoffs in the coming year. It will certainly be an interesting season for Canada’s westernmost team.
Overall, the Pacific is another tough division. It seems that parity may be a real thing in the NHL, at long last. I believe Anaheim is a lock for a playoff spot, but outside of that, this division really is the Wild West. Anything and everything could happen.
If you have any thoughts or predictions, comment below. It would be great to hear from you there. And remember, less than a month until the Habs kick off their 2015-16 season. Go Habs Go!