2019-2020 Division Preview: The Pacific
There’s a lot of certainty in the Pacific Division, but there’s also a few questions.
The late-night division, also known as the Pacific Division, is home to a few annual Cup contenders. The San Jose Sharks, much like the Predators, seem to be in the playoffs nearly every season but have yet to break through for a Cup. Will this be their season?
Here’s a rundown of the Pacific:
San Jose Sharks
Without making any splashes in free agency, the Sharks remain one of the Pacific Division’s top squads. Their forward corps is balanced, led by new captain Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Evander Kane. Veteran Joe Thornton will once again play in teal. San Jose has some intriguing youngsters looking for full-time spots, including playoff hero Barclay Goodrow and Dylan Gambrell.
However, will San Jose be able to replace the goals scored by former captain and current Dallas Star Joe Pavelski? Joonas Donskoi is now with Colorado, and Gustav Nyquist signed with Columbus in July. How will the Sharks handle these changes?
San Jose’s blueline is impressive, boasting talents like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. In goal, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are a bit better than replacement-level goaltenders. A monster season from Jones propelled San Jose to the Cup Final in 2016, but he’s looked simply average since then.
Coach Peter DeBoer is entering his fifth season with San Jose.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights enter their third season with a very similar lineup from Round 2 of the 2019 Playoffs. Some players like Pierre-Edouard Bellmare and Ryan Carpenter are no longer with the team, and Erik Haula was traded to Carolina. These moves were made largely to keep Vegas under the salary cap.
William Karlsson was awarded a new 8-year contract, and Vegas traded the contract of David Clarkson to Toronto for goaltender Garrett Sparks. Sparks was just sent to Vegas’s minor-league team in Chicago.
Finally, the Golden Knights were unable to fit KHL superstar Nikita Gusev under their tight salary cap. They traded his rights to New Jersey in exchange for a few draft picks.
Look for Vegas to contend for the top spot in the Pacific this season. There’s plenty of bad blood between the Golden Knights and Sharks after the second round of the playoffs last spring. I expect tons of fun matchups between these teams.
Coach Gerard Gallant is entering his third season with the Golden Knights.
Aside from adding Phil Kessel via trade in July, the Coyotes didn’t make any significant moves. Alex Galchenyuk is now with Pittsburgh.
Their roster appears mostly the same as they seek to find chemistry with a full season of Michael Grabner, Nick Schmaltz, and Vinnie Hinostroza.
Arizona traded Kevin Connauton to Colorado for center Carl Söderberg in late June.
Young star Clayton Keller was locked up to an 8-year deal a few weeks ago.
8 MORE YEARS OF #9! 🔥— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) September 4, 2019
DETAILS: https://t.co/3t71KHLVTz pic.twitter.com/3FuDblwFbu
Injuries wreaked havoc on the Coyotes last season. Expect some excellent work in net from Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Oliver Ekman-Larsson will lead the defensive corps, and third-year coach Rick Tocchet and his squad might be a dark horse in the Western Conference wild card race.
Arizona’s most important offseason acquisition is their new service puppy, Luna.
Good in the room.— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) September 9, 2019
Dependable when needed the most.
Makes others around her better.
Meet Luna: https://t.co/CbmKKdQt6x
HE'S SIGNED!— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) September 25, 2019
The #Flames have inked Matthew Tkachuk to a three-year deal with an AAV of $7 million. https://t.co/h9xtKmiDAN
The Flames inked Matthew Tkachuk to a new contract on Wednesday. The winger scored 34 goals and added 43 assists last season. He will be a catalyst for Calgary this season.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Mark Giordano are looking to take their Cup aspirations a bit further this season. After finishing at the top of the Pacific Division last season, their playoff performance was quite poor in their first-round exit to the Avalanche.
After essentially switching goaltenders with Edmonton, Calgary has David Rittich and Cam Talbot in net. Rittich is young, but his body of work so far suggests he has the tools to be a quality starting netminder for the Flames.
Bill Peters is entering his third year as head coach.
For me, the biggest mystery in Edmonton is goaltending. Gone is longtime netminder Cam Talbot, replaced by former Calgary goalie Mike Smith. Edmonton is putting a lot of hope in Mikko Koskinen, a 31-year old Finnish monster who only has 59 NHL games under his belt.
Players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are quality players with very little support. Gone is young winger Jesse Puljujärvi. He’s playing overseas and putting up solid points while waiting on Edmonton to trade him to another NHL squad. Milan Lucic is now with Calgary and James Neal has been brought in to provide scoring support.
Edmonton’s blueline is not particularly noteworthy. Darnell Nurse is a 40-point blueliner supported by Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom.
Dave Tippett was named Edmonton’s head coach this summer.
The Canucks were able to lock down talented youngster Brock Boeser just after training camp commenced. They also added Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn, and Oscar Fantenberg to their blueline and signed Micheal Ferland and J.T. Miller to sensible contracts.
Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson will look to improve on his 66-point rookie season. With Boeser up front and defensive rookie-to-watch Quinn Hughes on the blue line, Vancouver has some dynamic kids to keep an eye on this season.
In net, Vancouver has some talented goaltenders looking to have big seasons. Thatcher Demko and Jacob Markstrom are more than capable of providing stable goaltending for this growing team.
Vancouver’s biggest addition was at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. They nabbed Vasili Podkolzin at #17. He will be an interesting prospect to watch over the next few years.
Coach Travis Green is entering his fourth year as Vancouver’s head coach.
It was announced at the start of training camp that Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves would miss all of the 2019-2020 season. Already without Corey Perry, Anaheim looks to be a very young team this season. Captain Ryan Getzlaf will try to lead youngsters like Troy Terry, Sam Steel, and Max Jones in their first full NHL season.
The Ducks’ defense is average. Hampus Lindholm is a solid defender, but he has a varied cast of characters to support him on the blue line.
Anaheim has probably one of the best “forgotten about” goaltenders in the NHL. John Gibson, only 26 years old, has incredible stats over his last few years as a starter. However, he’s only human and has gotten no help at all. Ryan Miller has done his best to fill in for Gibson when Gibson has missed time to injury, but goaltending will definitely make or break Anaheim’s season.
Dallas Eakins will take on this young Ducks team as a first-year head coach after spending some time coaching in the AHL.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are right in the middle of rebuild mode. That’s a place they’re probably not very comfortable with, but aging stars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Anže Kopitar are veterans on a team full of young talent. Young center Jaret Anderson-Dolan and forwards Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi represent some of the Kings’ most recent draft acquisitions. How many of them will stick in the NHL?
The former powerhouse Kings defense was a bit rough last season. Blueliner Drew Doughty openly expressed disappointment and frustration after a rough season.
Jonathan Quick is 33 and slowly ceding the goaltending throne to Jack Campbell. Both are quality goaltenders when healthy.
A lot of the Kings’ success will depend on the “if” factor. If the veterans have a bounce-back season and remain injury-free, can they lead this team out of last season’s last-place finish?
Head coach Todd McClellan is taking over the reins in Los Angeles after spending time with Edmonton and San Jose.
Best Off-Season Acquisition
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes plucked Kessel from Pittsburgh after a season of rumors without sacrificing too much from their current lineup.
TRADE ALERT: #Coyotes have acquired Phil Kessel, Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth round draft choice from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) June 30, 2019
Details: https://t.co/xZ5Id8hxGP pic.twitter.com/Wvsyqfgtdp
Worst Off-Season Acquisition
The Flames were likely quite mystified at the performance of veteran sniper James Neal last season. He showed up in Calgary and was largely invisible. In the offseason, Neal was flipped to Edmonton for Milan Lucic.
Lucic only scored 6 goals for Edmonton last season. His contract is often highlighted as one of the worst in the League. That’s because it is.
Best Under-the-Radar Offseason Acquisition
Micheal Ferland signed with Vancouver on July 10th. The 27 year-old scored 17 goals for Carolina last season. Ferland was rumored to be going to many destinations before and after the February 2019 trade deadline, but he ultimately ended up in Vancouver. He’s not a game-breaker, but he could have a big season in Vancouver as they rebuild around young talent.
- Edmonton signed or acquired Markus Granlund, James Neal, Josh Archibald, Mike Smith, and Riley Sheahan.
- Arizona traded for Carl Söderberg in late June.
- Vancouver added Tyler Meyers, Jordie Benn, J.T. Miller, Oscar Fantenberg, and Micheal Ferland.
- In a swap, Milan Lucic was traded for James Neal. Neal is with the Oilers and Lucic is with the Flames.
- In a similar Flames-Oilers swap, Cam Talbot was sent to Calgary to back up David Rittich and Mike Smith will back up Mikko Koskinen in Edmonton.
- Several new coaches are behind the bench: Dallas Eakins in Anaheim, Dave Tippett in Los Angeles, and Todd McClellan in Los Angeles. /
Player to Watch
I’m keeping an eye on Phil Kessel in Arizona. With Arizona slated to become part of the Central in two seasons when Seattle joins the League, Kessel could become a more regular thorn in Nashville’s side.
The 31 year-old is on his fourth NHL team, but he’s a proven goal-scorer. The hot-dog-loving forward has played in all 82 games for the last 6 seasons. He’ll be called upon to take a leadership role with the Coyotes and will definitely add impact scoring for a team that didn’t have a 20-goal scorer last season.
Which team will win the Pacific Division?
|San Jose Sharks||18|
|Vegas Golden Knights||15|
|Los Angeles Kings||2|