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Monday, September 30, 2019

NHL Western Conference Preview-Pacific Division

Our final preview for the Pacific Division of the Western Conference

Calgary Flames  Finished 1st in the Pacific Division with 107 points and highest points in the Western Conference.  Lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Colorado Avalanche.

What's to like  The Flames have a lot of firepower offensively as they finished tied for 2nd overall in goals scored last year with 289.  With Sean Monahan (34 goals, 48 assists), Johnny Gaudreau (36 goals, 63 assists), Elias Lindholm (27 goals, 51 assists), and Matthew Tkachuk (34 goals, 43 assists) the Flames should score plenty of goals this year.  Mark Giordano who was 2nd overall in scoring for defensemen and who also won the Norris Trophy last year anchors the blue line for the Flames.  The Flames last year gave up the fewest shots against and had the 3rd best face off win percentage.

Concerns  David Rittich & Cam Talbot will in likelihood split the goaltending duties this year but neither has established himself as a true #1.  Rittich won 27 games last year but did not play in the playoffs last year while Talbot struggled badly in Edmonton only winning 10 games in 31 starts with a 3.36 GAA and .893 save percentage.  Rittich has never started a playoff game and Talbot only has 13 career playoff starts.  Giordano is about to turn 36 and any long term injury to him would test their defensive depth.

Outlook  It will be tough for the Flames to match last year's 107 points but as long as the goaltending is adequate this will be a playoff team and one of the better teams in the Western Conference.


San Jose Sharks  Finished 2nd in the Pacific Division with 101 points.  Lost to the St Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals.

What's to like  Even with the loss of Joe Pavelski and his 38 goals to the Dallas Stars the Sharks should again continue to score plenty of goals as they were tied for 2nd overall last year with 289.  Tomas Hertl (35 goals, 39 assists), Logan Couture (27 goals, 43 assists), Timo Maier (30 goals, 36 assists), and Evander Kane (30 goals, 26 assists) return and even at age 40 Joe Thornton could net 20 goals and Kevin LaBanc and Marcus Sorensen have 20 goal potential.  The Sharks arguably have the 2 best bookend defensemen in Brent Burns who led defensemen in scoring last year and Erik Karlsson. 

Concerns  The Sharks have to hope that the struggles don't continue for goaltender Martin Jones.  He did win 36 games last year but he was near the bottom of the league in GAA 2.94 and save percentage .896 for starters.  Backup Aaron Dell also struggled in a back up role with a 3.17 GAA and .886 save percentage.  Any injury to Burns at age 34 or Karlsson would test the defensive depth as Justin Braun and Joakim Ryan who were in the defensive rotation last year were lost to free agency and a trade. 

Outlook  The Sharks are a playoff team and still one of the better teams in the Western Conference and the window is still open to win a Stanley Cup.


Vegas Golden Knights  Finished 3rd in the Pacific Division with 93 points.  Lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks.

What's to like  Another team in the Pacific Division that will score a lot of goals with its scoring depth.  The big addition of Mark Stone last year and putting him on the same line with Jonathan Marcheassault and William Karlsson should result in one of the top scoring lines in the Western Conference.  You add in Max Pacioretty, Paul Statsny, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin and the Golden Knights could have 7-8 20 goal scorers.  Marc-Andre Fleury has shown no real slippage and is still reliable as a #1 goalie with 78 career post-season wins.  This team has one of the biggest home ice advantages and this will be a very motivated team after the controversial game 7 loss to the Sharks in the 1st round of the playoffs last year.

Concerns  Fleury will turn 35 in November and has battled some injuries over the last couple of years and back up goalie Malcolm Subban still hasn't proven enough consistency to step in for the long haul. The Golden Knights only had one defenseman (Shea Theodore) in the top 50 in scoring last year for defensemen and were only 25th overall in power play conversions. 

Outlook  This is a playoff team and if Fleury stays healthy and the offense lives up to expectations this team can make a Stanley Cup run.


Arizona Coyotes  Finished 4th in the Pacific Division with 86 points and did not make the playoffs.

What's to like  After finishing 28th in goals scored last year the Coyotes traded for Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Phil Kessel in the offseason to bolster their offense.  Kessel has averaged in the last 10 years 29 goals and 38 assists per season.  The Coyotes gave up the 5th least amount of goals last year and had the 3rd best power play kill percentage in the league.  Goaltender Darcy Kuemper stepped into the #1 spot for the injured Antti Raanta and posted stellar numbers with a 2.33 GAA and .925 save percentage. Oliver Ekman-Larsson anchors a strong veteran blue line with Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. 

Concerns  Even with the addition of Kessel the Coyotes could still be hard pressed to score goals night in and night out as they did not have anyone score more than 20 goals last year or top 50 total points.  In a division where the top 3 teams all have considerable offense the Coyotes must score more if they want any chance to break into the top 3. If the Coyotes start slow it could cost Rick Tocchet his job and cause the Gila Center to again become a half filled arena with a beaten down fan base. 

Outlook  The Coyotes just missed making the playoffs last year so we will see if the addition of Kessel will finally get the Coyotes over the line and into the playoffs.  They are a borderline playoff team.



Vancouver Canucks  Finished 5th in the Pacific Division with 81 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  A good place to start is last year's rookie of the year Elias Pettersson who led the Canucks in scoring with 28 goals and 38 assists in 71 games.  They traded a conditional 1st round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for J.T. Miller who in all likelihood play on the same line as Pettersson and should see his offensive numbers improve. Other additions include Michael Ferland from the Carolina Hurricanes (17 goals, 23 assists) and also defensive fortifications in Tyler Myers from the Winnipeg Jets and Jordie Benn from the Montreal Canadiens.

Concerns  Even with the new additions the Canucks might be hard pressed to score goals as they finished 26th in goals scored last year and only had 3 players over 40 points. They have to hope that Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and Pettersson all become 30+ goals scorers and the secondary scorers contribute more.  Goaltender Jacob Markstrom tied for 7th in goaltender starts last year with 28 wins and has been serviceable but still hasn't proven he can be an upper echelon goalie.  This is still one of the younger teams in the league with not a lot of playoff experience.

Outlook  Markstrom and the scoring would have to improve significantly to make the playoffs.  Probably a year or two away from being a playoff contender.


Anaheim Ducks  Finished 6th in the Pacific Division with 80 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  Veteran Ryan Getzlaf will provide leadership and scoring and with Richard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg on each side of him it should be a strong and productive top line for the Ducks.  Despite some struggles last year goaltender John Gibson keeps the Ducks in most games and has a chance to regain his all star form.

Concerns  This team went into total free fall last year costing head coach  Randy Carlyle his job as the Ducks during a stretch from December 18th to February 9th lost 19 of 21 games and had a 12 game losing streak to start this slump.  The Ducks were dead last in goals scored last year and were shutout 9 different times.  They did not have a player score more than 50 points and you are asking a lot for Getzlaf at age 34 to carry the scoring load.  They made no significant moves in the off season and will rely on a lot of youngsters to play well.

Outlook  This is not a playoff team and the franchise could be in need of a rebuild.


Edmonton Oilers  Finished 7th in the Pacific Division with 79 points and missed the playoffs.

What's to like  Ken Holland who built the Detroit Red Wings into a multiple Stanley Cup winning franchise moves into the GM position for the Oilers along with new head coach Dave Tippett.  They have probably the most dynamic player in the NHL in Connor McDavid and as long as he stays healthy has a chance to win multiple Hart Trophy's.  Leon Draisaitl was the 4th leading scorer last year with 105 points (50 goals, 55 assists) so along with McDavid the Oilers could have two 100 point scorers. 

Concerns  The Oilers were tied for 6th in allowing goals last year and were 2nd to last in power play kill percentage.  Even with McDavid and Draisaitl they were only 20th overall in goals scored with only 6 different Oilers scoring over 10 goals.  Plenty of questions where the secondary scoring will come from.  Mikko Koskinen struggled as the #1 goaltender last year and even with bringing in reliable veteran Mike Smith as the back up this could still be a major weakness for the Oilers unless Koskinen shows marked improvement. 

Outlook  It will take Ken Holland maybe a year or two to reshape the roster for the Oilers to be a playoff team.


Los Angeles Kings  Finished 8th in the Pacific Division with 71 points and missed the playoffs

What's to like  They still have a good core of players who were part of 2 Stanley Cup Championships in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Jonathan Quick.

Concerns  The Kings were 2nd to last in goals scored and 5th from last in power play conversions.  Most of the core players are in their 30's (Kopitar 32, Brown 34, Ilya Kovalchuk 36, Carter 34, Martinez 32) and there are a lot of bad contracts on the books.  Goaltender Jonathan Quick who is now 33 regressed badly last year with a 3.38 GAA and .888 save percentage and has battled injuries over the years. 

Outlook  This is not a playoff team who might escape the basement but are in need of a major rebuild.

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