To begin this wonderful excursion into the west, let's start with the comic relief:
For starters, they do have new uniforms. That's a plus, now we just have to remember that D is supposed to look like a webbed foot whenever we describe this to non-hockey fans. One thing we will have to get used to seeing is any form of likable human playing forward for the Ducks. Teemu Selanne has left for much colder pastures, and Saku Koivu is... well, hopefully retiring. To help fill their void, the Ducks heisted Ryan Kesler from Vanouver for spare parts. He's going to Anaheim instead of his other two trade options likely because Chicago couldn't afford him and Pittsburgh didn't have the parts to acquire him, especially since he'd be a third line center for the Penguins.
The Ducks are taking a page out of the Chicago playbook (before the Corey Crawford deathblow contract) by not paying Jonas Hiller, and opting to roll with their rookies instead. John Gibson likely won't start the year in Anaheim, but Frederik Andersen will. But for some reason, the Ducks also brought in Jason LaBarbera. We in Nashville know him as the guy who plays like vintage Terry Sawchuk against the Preds at least twice a year.
In addition to adding Kesler, the Ducks also brought in Dany Heatley. That's right, the Ducks could put out a first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Heatley. The rest of the Ducks lineup is very young, so seeing the guy that might've been on a poster they bought at their scholastic book fair as a treadless, broken man playing for his next contract should do wonders for the character of that team.
Yep, Arizona Coyotes is what they're called. And you know what else changed? They bought someone out! Other than that, this is the same team that you've come to expect from the desert. It's a bunch of grinders and European players playing in front of a good blue line that's playing in front of the dirtiest SOB in the net, Mike Smith. Proving this point, Martin Erat has the second highest cap hit of any forward. This is what happens when another team offers Radim Vrbata $5 million a year.
The Coyotes also landed Sam Gagner during some weird summer trading. He won't miss the fans from up north, mostly because they'll come down to see him a few times this year.
In terms of science experiments, the Coyotes are the control group. Especially in this weird division with three solid teams and three bad teams, they're the solid fourth option. Just be careful when describing Coyotes games; avoid phrases like "He was ROBBED" or "Ekman-Larsson is ON FIRE". We don't want to remind the city of Glendale about the problems they literally can't afford to solve anymore.
Unlike Buffalo, Calgary has accepted their fate. You see, Buffalo is trying to fight reality and by doing so, they eliminated themselves from the McDavid Derby. Calgary has put themselves in ideal position. They spent just enough in free agency to satisfy fans, but brought in players to ensure their draft status for next year. Let's face it, Brian Burke likes to make trades. And even though he's not the real GM, his influence is heavy in Calgary. So expect Calgary to get anxious and trade their pick to a lucky team.
This is a team that gave Deryk Engelland a signing bonus this summer.
As a whole, this Flames roster is pretty uneventful. They brought in Jonas Hiller, who isn't the greatest goalie in the world but he's far from the worst. He just has odd injuries, so I'm excited to see how he reacts to a giant flame getting shot off in the arena once or twice (or zero) times a game.
Speaking of bad contracts, here come the other representatives from Alberta. These guys are paying Benoit Pouliot (who has been on five NHL teams in the last 5 years), Teddy Purcell, and Boyd Gordon a combined 11.5 MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS. By comparison, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture earn $12 million a year starting next year. If their goal was to make their move for Matt Hendricks seem less dumb, they accomplished it.
This is what overpayment looks like. The Oilers know the clock is ticking for them to do something with their blue chippers, and at this point "something" is finishing 10th in the west. Maybe their idea was "let's bring in some new money, and have them stabilize the housing market to keep the salary cup going up!"
At least the Oilers are bringing two NHL goaltenders on their roster this year, which is two more than some teams in the NHL. Between Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth, the Oilers at least have stability in net. And both are signed to reasonable contracts because someone else did the negotiating.
True Story: I remember asking a table of players at a casino night (none are with Nashville anymore) "What city do you enjoy going to the least". Two immediately said "EDMONTON", a third handled his hair, hesitated, and said "Buffalo.... no, Edmonton." (Now I wonder what the Oilers would've paid for Cal O'Reilly)
Los Angeles Kings
The LA Kings are the best run organization in hockey. They make smart trades, draft well, develop well, and in a few short years have went from a place that Ilya Kovalchuk didn't want to go into a place where Marian Gaborik wants to finish his career. It's doesn't mean all of you have to like them. I do, but I know most of you don't like these guys.
Well, tough. These men are the best chance we have at stopping the roving band of pudgy drunks wearing red from swelling in number. Embrace the Kings. Embrace the captain who can't chew his own food. Embrace the human raccoon who has a back-story similar to Doctor Doom. Embrace the brotacular second, third, and fourth lines, goaltender, and defensive pairs. Embrace the pudgy Kit Harrington look-alike playing defense. Embrace the human form of Sam the Eagle as the head coach.
If you want to hate their 20-something fans who ruin it for everyone just like every other team, that's cool. That's par for the course. I recognize the LA Kings for what they are: necessary evil. The Kings are that one kid from 6th grade that comes around the elementary school once in a while to beat up the bully (who comes from an abusive drunken family but is still unlikable).
San Jose Sharks
Man oh man... after everything they've been through, it's tough hating these guys. At a point where so many bad things happen to a team on the ice, you begin to pity them. You pity San Jose because of their failures. They had a very good team last year, and were the thinking man's pick to win the West. However, we pity them because they failed in the most humiliating way possible. They failed to close out their rival after being up 3-0 in a playoff series, losing game seven at home and giving us all Sad Joe Thornton dot gif.
Much like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, the Sharks are back at it again this offseason. While the Ducks and Kings (and yes, the Oilers) spent money to improve their teams, the San Jose Sharks brought in John Scott. Yes, that John Scott. This is on a team that employs Raffi Torres and Adam Burish, so I suppose Sharks management thought "Hey, someone has to be a fighter."
I feel bad for San Jose fans, who don't approve of Scott or any of their management's decisions since being ousted by the Kings. Joe Thornton is the Karl Malone of the NHL; he and their fans deserve far better than this. So instead of strengthening their depth with guys that would've went to San Jose cheap, the Sharks said "We need to get grittier and tougher. Go extend that Mike Brown guy. And where are the ice girls? We don't have ice girls? Fix that!"
Now you hate the Sharks. Cool.
The Canucks are paying $3.78 million ($TORONTO) to players who don't play for them anymore. They also traded away their second line center who took the pressure off the Sedin Twins, and elected to pay Ryan Miller "goalie for a cup contender" money on a team that's likely going to be pretty terrible. In fact, this going to be a Sabres team with ocean access. And let's face it, they overpaid Miller AND Vrbata. There's $11 million going to those two guys.
With that, the Canucks room to talk about the Oilers is shrinking.
Seriously, how many teams have the talent that the Canucks had in 2010-2013, and completely screw it up through trades and bad front office policy? Luongo was traded for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. Markstrom now wants out already because of the Miller signing. Then Kesler is finally traded within the division for Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino. The Canucks respond by bringing in.... Derek Dorsett. With him in the lineup, it'll be even harder for Canucks fans to employ their favorite pastime: playing the victim.
At least they didn't give Derek Dorsett "Benoit Pouliot" money.
The Kings might not win this division, but it's clear that they are the best team in it. I imagine the regular season is boring to them at this point. Imagine going into all of these drama-filled cities week after week, when your team and the other team in LA pretty much have their stuff together? It would get depressing. San Jose could be the X-factor in the division, but chances are it'll be like the X-Factor on Fox and people forget it still comes on because it's done the same thing for the last 6-7 years.
Phoenix is in line to challenge for a playoff spot, simply because they have the distinct advantage of playing more games against western Canadian teams than the teams stuck in the Central. And with any luck, we'll get another Sharks/Kings series next year, because the Crazy Old Testament God enjoys hockey just like all of us.