We are now just under one month until the 2021–22 NHL season officially gets underway. With training camps starting soon, most teams will have completed their offseason moves and are ready to go into the season with their current rosters. In such a wild offseason, there were plenty of moves—big and small—across the NHL.
After a year in which the divisional structure of the NHL’s teams was switched up, it’ll be back to normal for the 2021–22 season. This means the Flames will go from the worst division in the league in the North division to the worst division in the league in the Pacific division. Playing in the league’s weakest division means everything is up for grabs, with most teams having a chance to claim a divisional playoff spot.
So which Pacific division teams improved the most this offseason, which stayed the same, and which got worse? Let’s take a look at each Pacific division teams roster moves using Goals Above Replacement (GAR).
GAR value assesses a players value in terms of how many goals they contribute to their team above replacement. It is calculated using even strength offence, even strength defence, special teams contributions, as well as penalty differential. A replacement level player would have a GAR of zero. Consequently, anything above zero is an above replacement level player, and anything negative is a below replacement level player.
All GAR numbers are courtesy of the Evolving-Hockey.com model.
We’ll only be looking at moves involving NHL players who met the minimum requirements last season to have their GAR calculated. We won’t include the Seattle Kraken as they added an entire team in the offseason.
2020–21 record: 17-30-9
Season finish: 8th West Division, missed playoffs
If someone can explain to me what the plan is over in Anaheim it would be much appreciated because I’m lost at their direction right now. The Ducks did almost nothing this offseason after placing second last in the NHL in 2020–21 ahead of only the dreadful Buffalo Sabres.
The team added just one defenceman and one forward to their roster, both of which are below replacement level. Greg Pateryn has been below replacement level for the last two years and is nothing more than a fringe bottom pairing defenceman. Meanwhile former Flame Buddy Robinson has played just 14 NHL games over the last two seasons and was below replacement level in both years. Like Pateryn he’s nothing more than a fringe bottom of the lineup player at best.
The Ducks also lost a couple of useful depth forwards in Dalton Heinen and Carter Rowney. Heinen’s 2.4 GAR was fifth on their team among forwards in 2020-21. Rowney meanwhile doesn’t offer much offensively but was very good on the penalty kill and in his own zone at even strength last year and is above replacement level at 0.8 GAR.
The best moves for the Ducks were the moves they didn’t have any control over. Both David Backes and Ryan Miller were well below replacement level last season and decided to retire in the offseason which was a gain for the Ducks. Losing Hayden Fleury and his -5.8 GAR in the expansion draft was also a gain for the Ducks.
The Ducks were the second worst team in the league last year and didn’t do anything at all to get better. They’ll be the punching bag of the division next season and nowhere near the playoffs. It’s Shane Wright or bust in Anaheim at this point.
2020–21 record: 26-27-3
Season finish: 5th North Division, missed playoffs
After yet another disappointing season in which they missed the playoffs in a weak North Division, the Flames had arguably the worst offseason of any team in the Pacific Division. Touted as one of the teams to watch in the offseason for big changes, the Flames didn’t do much of anything to make themselves better. In fact they probably got worse.
At forward the one move of substance the Flames made was bringing in reigning cup champion Blake Coleman on a huge six-year deal at $4.9 million AAV. Coleman is undoubtedly one of the best two-way wingers in the league and will make the Flames top-six much stronger next season. His 5.5 GAR was fifth among Lightning forwards last year. There are big questions about his longevity as he’s almost 30 years old, but for next season at least he will make the Flames a better team.
The impact additions end there for the Flames. This was very much the summer of Sutter, as the Flames added three nearly identical defensive depth forwards in Tyler Pitlick, Trevor Lewis, and Brad Richardson. Two of which are former Kings. All three were at or below replacement level last season and won’t move the needle much. At the very least all three are capable defensively and the hope is they can excel under Sutter’s system.
Pitlick does bring some intrigue however. He was forced into a top-six role on a bad Coyotes team last year and struggled as evident by his -1.3 GAR. However he posted a very solid GAR of 7 the year prior in 2019-20 with the Philadelphia Flyers while playing in their bottom-six. The hope is he can find his form again playing a smaller role which is where he belongs in the lineup.
The Flames also lost the very capable Derek Ryan and his 7.1 GAR to their rivals in Edmonton. Ryan signed for just $1.25 million AAV in Edmonton, so it’s hard to understand why the Flames wouldn’t have brought him back considering they paid a fourth-round pick for a worse and more expensive player in Tyler Pitlick. The team also saw four other depth forwards walk out the door, none of which were major losses however.
On defence the Flames had a disastrous offseason. The team lost their number one defenceman in Mark Giordano for nothing and proceeded to waste the extra cap space on below replacement level players. Giordano’s GAR of 12.9 in 2020-21 was first on the Flames, and fifth in the entire NHL for defencemen.
In his place they traded a third-round pick for the hulking Nikita Zadorov. Like the forward additions, Zadorov screams Sutter hockey. He’s solid enough defensively, but brings nothing else to the table apart from being very, very big. While Giordano ranked fifth among defenceman for GAR in 2020–21, Zadorov ranked 192nd. He’ll be a massive downgrade from Giordano in the Flames top four. At $3.75 million AAV, Zadorov is massively overpaid for what he brings to the table.
But wait, there’s more! Just last week the Flames announced the addition of arguably the worst defenceman in the NHL in Erik Gudbranson on a one year $1.95 million AAV deal. Once again, Gudbranson is a Sutter signing. He’s large, although unlike Zadorov he doesn’t do anything well. His -6.1 GAR was sixth worst among defenceman last season. Over the last three seasons his cumulative -11 GAR is ninth worst among defenceman.
There really isn’t a positive aspect about the Gudbranson signing. He’s not good at either ends, he’s extremely overpaid, and is now blocking better, younger players from playing. Add that to the fact the Flames also re-signed Michael Stone as well and the Gudbranson signing is one of the worst moves from the offseason in the Pacific Division.
The Flames essentially swapped out Giordano and his $6.75 million cap hit along with his 12.9 GAR for Zadorov and Gudbranson and their combined -6.3 GAR at a cost of a combined $5.7 million cap hit. Remarkably poor work from Treliving.
In net the Flames brought in Daniel Vladar for a third-round pick to replace the traded David Rittich. Vladar played just five games last season so his -1.7 GAR doesn’t hold much weight given the small sample size. The Flames are hoping he can take the next step in 2021–22 as a capable backup.
Simply put the Flames had an incredibly lacklustre offseason. For a team that desperately needed to make big changes to their roster, they instead opted to tinker around the outside as usual while leaving the core untouched. Losing Giordano for nothing and replacing him with two replacement level defenceman was terrible asset management and the Flames are much worse on defence because of it.
Among Pacific division teams they added the lowest GAR at -3.2, and lost the second most GAR at 20.5. Their overall GAR change of -23.7 was worst in the division. The Flames needed a big offseason but instead got actively worse. Brad Treliving has essentially handed the keys to Darryl Sutter to see how far the veteran coach can get this team.
2020–21 record: 35-19-2
Season finish: 2nd North Division, eliminated 1st round (4-0 vs. Winnipeg Jets)
The Oilers had a very two-sided offseason. On one hand they made some great adds up front to bolster their forward group. On the other hand they decimated their defence. Expect them to get most of their wins next season by scores of 6-5, 5-4, etc.
As mentioned if we look at their adds up front, they come out looking very solid. They got rid of a ton of replacement level forwards from 2020-21 and replaced them with some talented forwards. Derek Ryan has posted elite underlying numbers the past couple seasons and is a perfect bottom-six centre for the Oilers. He’ll add some much needed depth and stability in their bottom-six group. His 7.1 GAR was the fourth highest among forwards added in the Pacific division. Getting him for just $1.25 million AAV was some great work by the Oilers.
Zach Hyman meanwhile possesses the second highest GAR at 8.3 of any forward added by a Pacific team in the offseason. His 8.3 GAR ranked 58th among all forwards in the league last season. He’ll immediately become arguably the team’s best winger. He’s had great success in the past playing alongside a superstar centre in Toronto, so he should fit in nicely alongside Connor McDavid. The term on his contract is obviously worrying, but for next season he’ll make the Oilers top-six forward group much stronger.
Warren Foegele was also a nice depth add. He’s a solid even strength player and will provide the Oilers with more depth up front. Brendan Perlini meanwhile hasn’t played in the NHL since 2019–20 and was downright awful that season with a -6.6 GAR. He won’t offer much of anything offensively or defensively and the Oilers would’ve been better off without adding him.
On defence is where it goes downhill for the Oilers. They lost arguably their best defenceman in Adam Larsson and his 4.6 GAR, traded the promising Ethan Bear, and didn’t re-sign the defensively sound Dmitry Kulikov. Instead they traded assets for 38 year old Duncan Keith and his whopping -7.8 GAR, taking on his full $5.5 million AAV contract in the process. Keith’s -7.8 GAR ranked dead last in the entire NHL last season.
They also signed free agent Cody Ceci to a big contract. It’s worth noting that Ceci’s numbers are quite deceiving. Although his GAR was 6.8 last year in Pittsburgh, the year prior in Toronto it was -0.1 and before that it was -0.7 in Ottawa. There’s a very strong chance Ceci regresses back to his sub replacement form this coming season. At $3.25 million AAV for four years, the Oilers are taking a huge risk with him.
All things considered it was a tale of two offseason’s for the Oilers. They added some solid talent up front, however they got much worse defensively and currently boast one of the league’s worst top four defence groups. As they have in the past the Oilers will once again have to out score their defensive issues to find success. With their forward additions alongside #97 and #29 they most likely will. Expect the Oilers to challenge for a divisional playoff spot.
Los Angeles Kings
2020–21 record: 21-28-7
Season finish: 6th West Division, missed playoffs
The Kings may not have made a ton of moves in the offseason, but they quietly had one of the best offseasons in the Pacific Division. The team added some great players at forward and on defence, while getting rid of some dead weight as well.
Up front the Kings made some great moves acquiring two veteran forwards to bolster their young roster. Viktor Arvidsson was acquired from the Nashville Predators for two measly draft picks, a second-round pick in 2021 and a third-round pick in 2022. Arvidsson’s point totals have fallen off in recent seasons but he is still very much a legit top-six winger as evident by his 7.2 GAR last year. That total ranked third on the Predators in 2020–21, and second among Predators forwards.
They also added defensive specialist Phillip Danault. Danault isn’t gonna provide you much offence, but defensively he’s one of the best shutdown centres in the NHL. He’ll fit in perfectly on the second line behind Anze Kopitar and provides the Kings with some more stability down the middle of the ice.
On defence they added a dependable veteran in Alex Edler which was a great move considering their huge need on defence going into the offseason. His 4.8 GAR was the second highest among any defenceman acquired in the Pacific Division in the offseason. Edler will be a good add to the Kings top four and getting him for just one season at $3.5 million AAV was a solid piece of business.
Outside of that the Kings offloaded Matt Luff in free agency, and somehow were able to get Seattle to take Kurtis MacDermid and his -6.7 GAR in the expansion draft. Both players leaving can be seen as additions to the Kings roster.
Overall the Kings brought in the second highest GAR in the division, and had the highest positive change in GAR between players coming in and going out. They’re still a ways away from being a contender, but they’re certainly a team to watch who could surprise some people in a very weak division after a very solid offseason. I could see them fighting for a wild card spot right until the end of the season.
San Jose Sharks
2020–21 record: 21-21-7
Season finish: 7th West Division, missed playoffs
Like the Ducks, the Sharks are very bad and will be for the foreseeable future. That said they actually had a solid offseason and made some good additions unlike the Ducks. It won’t be anywhere near enough for them to challenge for a playoff spot, but at the very least they shouldn’t be as bad as last year.
The biggest addition for the Sharks was finally getting rid of Martin Jones. Jones has been one of the worst goalies in the league the last couple years and was once again very bad last season. Although his 2.9 GAR doesn’t look terrible at first glance, it’s important to note that it ranked 42nd among eligible goalies last season. Over the last three seasons his cumulative GAR of -6.2 ranks 101st among eligible goalies.
Adding both James Reimer and Adin Hill is a massive upgrade for the Sharks especially considering Jones cost $5.75 million against the cap last year while Reimer and Hill will only cost the Sharks $4.42 million combined next season.
The Sharks also made some nice swaps up front. Both Andrew Cogliano and Nick Bonino are solid bottom-six veteran options, and definite upgrades over the departing Patrick Marleau and Markus Sorenson who were both below replacement level last year. Bonino’s 8.4 GAR was actually the highest GAR among any addition in the Pacific Division.
Getting Nicholas Merkley for Christian Jaros from the Devils was also a nice move for the Sharks as Merkley is a capable bottom-six forward and Jaros is a replacement level defenceman. Losing Ryan Donato does hurt though as he had the fourth highest GAR among Sharks forwards last season.
The Sharks are very much still in the middle of a long rebuild, but they had a decent offseason and vastly improved their goaltending while adding some solid veterans up front. They actually added the most GAR and had the second best change in GAR in the division.
That said there is also a ton of uncertainty around two of their best forwards in Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl who finished first and third for GAR respectively on the Sharks last season. The Sharks will be battling the Ducks for last in the division most likely.
2020–21 record: 23-29-4
Season finish: 7th North Division, missed playoffs
Jim Benning and the Canucks had what can only be described as a very Canucks offseason. They did a great job offloading a ton of dead weight, only to then bring in a bunch more. Similar to the Oilers, the Canucks have assembled one of the worse defence groups in the NHL.
First off up front the Canucks made some nice adds. They brought in the underrated Conor Garland to bolster their top-six. His 7.9 GAR is right up there with Hyman and Bonino as top-value forwards added in the Pacific division. He should provide a big boost to an already stacked Canucks top-six.
Meanwhile Jason Dickson and his 1.7 GAR is a nice addition to the team’s weak bottom-six and will help the Canucks with their depth issues up front. He was exceptional defensively last season which is exactly what the Canucks need. At $2.65 million AAV he was a great value add.
Outside of Dickinson the Canucks didn’t do much up front. Both Phillip Di Giusseppe and Justin Dowling are all defence replacement level fourth line forwards who won’t move the needle. The biggest addition for the Canucks at forward was their subtractions.
The team offloaded three below replacement level forwards in Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Antoine Roussel in one trade with the Arizona Coyotes. They also let the likes of Jake Virtanen and Travis Boyd leave in free agency. Kole Lind was picked up by Seattle in the expansion draft as well which was a win. Losing those six forwards was a massive gain for the Canucks as they cleared out most of the dead weight in the bottom-six.
Unfortunately as mentioned they then counter acted this by adding dead weight on defence while losing Edler and Nate Schmidt. Schmidt struggled last year with a -1.9 GAR, but his GAR the two years prior was 4.5 and 13.8. Trading him for a third-round pick was a questionable move as he’s bound to bounce back next year.
Coming in is Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has been near replacement level for years now and carry’s a hefty $7.05 million cap hit for another six years. The Canucks will have to hope a change of scenery allows him to find his game again.
They also signed Tucker Poolman to one of the worst deals of the offseason. Poolman has been sub replacement level the last two years in Winnipeg and the Canucks handed him a four year deal carrying a $2.25 million AAV. Mind boggling stuff from Jim Benning. In net the Canucks did get a nice upgrade going from Braden Holtby and his -2.5 GAR to Jaroslav Halak and his 2.7 GAR.
Overall outside of Garland, Dickinson, and Halak, the Canucks made some questionable additions. The good news is they offloaded a ton of dead weight in the form of -17.5 GAR and should be better because of it, although their changes on defence were very poor. With their forward talent and goaltending they should be in the mix for a wild card spot or even a divisional spot if everything goes right for them.
Vegas Golden Knights
2020–21 Record: 40-14-2
Season finish: 2nd West Division, eliminated 3rd round (4-2 vs. Montreal)
The Golden Knights were the only Pacific division team to win a playoff game last season. They’re the clear top team in the Pacific Division, and nothing that happened during the offseason changed that. No team in the division narrowed the gap between Vegas and the field. They’ll be the heavy favourites to once again take the top seed in the division despite not doing much in the offseason.
Vegas didn’t make a ton of changes this offseason due to their incredibly tight financial situation. After adding Alex Pietrangelo and his $8.8 million AAV cap hit last season the Knights didn’t leave themselves much room to maneuver this time around.
For that reason the team decided to ship out reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury and his $7 million AAV for essentially nothing. Fleury had the highest GAR of any goalie in the NHL last season at 27.8 and is a massive loss for the Knights.
Anytime you ship out the Vezina winner for nothing, you’re gonna take a hit. That said the team has Robin Lehner who posted a solid 11.2 GAR last season, and brought in one of the better backups in the league in Laurent Broissoit for just $2.35 million AAV.
Outside of the moves in net, the Knights didn’t do much. They swapped underachieving top picks in a three team trade, shipping out Cody Glass for Nolan Patrick. Neither player was above replacement last year, and won’t move the needle much.
They also traded Nick Holden and a draft pick for Evgeny Dadonov. Dadonov is a decent middle six option for the Knights and will bolster their depth on the wing with Tuch out for most of the year. A solid move the Knights considering Holden was below replacement last year.
All said the Knights were pretty quiet this offseason which makes sense considering they’ve made the final four three out of the last four seasons. Losing Fleury hurts as evident by their overall change in GAR, but with Lehner and Brossoit in net they’ll be fine. Expect them to coast to first in the division.
A lacklustre division
I think it’s fair to say that the Pacific Division is the weakest division in the NHL. There’s a reason the Golden Knights were the only team from the division to win a playoff game last year. Apart from Vegas there really aren’t any playoff locks in the division. In such a weak division it’s essentially a toss up on who claims the second and third divisional spots.
Although the Oilers and Flames are probably the favourites on paper, both teams had lacklustre offseasons and didn’t do anything to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Meanwhile teams like the Kings and Canucks could potentially challenge for divisional spots if all goes well for them, but are far from being guaranteed playoff contenders. Then there is of course the Seattle Kraken who are the wild card of the division and could potentially steal a spot.
The Pacific Division should have one of the most exciting playoff races to watch across the league due to the incredible parity among its teams after Vegas. Expect the race to come right down until the final week of the season as no team made themselves significantly better in the offseason.