After an exciting offseason around the league, the Pacific Division holds two Western Conference Stanley Cup contenders in the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. Elsewhere in the division, the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks are looking to capitalize after hot streaks to end the 2021–22 campaign, while the other West coast teams in the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks enter a dark period as rebuild seasons are inevitably looming barring a surprise run.
For the expansion teams, the Seattle Kraken looks to improve on their inaugural season and the Vegas Golden Knights’ “win at all costs” motto guarantees an entertaining season as the big spenders enter the year with outstanding talent, but extreme turbulence with a new head coach and broken relationships around the organization.
Let’s take a look at how each team stacks up entering the year.
1 – Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers looks to build off a Western Conference Final appearance that saw the team finally come together after hiring Jay Woodcroft on February 10th. With two generational offensive talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, locking up Evander Kane to a 4 year contract allows the option to bring back the powerhouse line seen in last years playoffs.
The addition of former Toronto Maple Leafs starter Jack Campbell, and with consensus around the team that Stuart Skinner will slot in as the full time back-up the Oilers goaltending situation looks much different than the Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen tandem from last year.
The biggest weakness for the team remains their D-core. Darnell Nurse avoiding surgery this offseason was massive as the number one defenseman is listed as probable to start the season on a pairing with Cody Ceci. Beyond Ceci and Nurse the Oilers look to returning defenseman Brett Kulak to step up this season after a 4 year extension signed on July 13th.
Overall, the Oilers look to build off a successful end to last season and in a somewhat turbulent division their sights will be set extremely high.
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2 – Calgary Flames
New team, same goals for the C of Red entering the year. Following the emotional rollercoaster of an offseason, the Flames added three elite players in MacKenzie Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri. Darryl Sutter will look to finalize line combinations on the front end that contains best-in-league centre depth and emerging winger Andrew Mangipane who the organization hopes can take an even bigger step this season.
Weegar rounds out what could be the best defensive corps in the league joining Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, and Nikita Zadorov. Behind them, Vezina finalist Jacob Markstrom looks to have another outstanding year with Daniel Vladar slotting in as a very solid backup goalie after posting a 13–6–2 record last season in 23 starts.
The biggest red flag entering the season for the Flames is winger depth and the sheer roster turnover that occurred this offseason. Multiple fresh faces will look to mesh with their new teammates entering the season.
As the Flames look to defend their division title, their new-look roster and fast aggressive playstyle bode well for the boys in red.
3 – Los Angeles Kings
At the beginning of last season no one was expecting the Los Angeles Kings to make the playoffs after what seemed to be a guaranteed rebuild season. The Kings’ unique mix of veteran and young talent looks to be a recipe for success again this year.
2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield looks to improve after a disappointing season last year, but at only 20 years old, the young player’s ceiling is still extremely high. Among Byfield, the well-rounded forward group will look to build off the momentum they created to finish out the campaign last season.
The return of tenured defenceman Drew Doughty will be a massive boost. After playing the majority of last season without the team cornerstone, the defensive corps will be much more stable opening the year. Leadership is key for this team with strong veteran presences instilling the resiliency needed for a long season and hopeful playoff appearance.
That being said, goaltending could be the X-factor. Their starter, 36-year-old Jonathan Quick proved last year he was still relevant showing his impeccable athleticism during the playoffs. But with injury trouble throughout his career, it’s likely we see only 40–50 starts out of the 2012 Conn Smythe winner.
Overall the Kings improved over the offseason. With Vancouver in a similar situation and Vegas’ turbulent offseason, the Kings could easily defend a divisional playoff spot this season if everyone stays healthy.
4 – Vancouver Canucks
Similarly to Edmonton, Vancouver’s record was pulled back on track with a midseason coaching change. Bruce Boudreau completely changed the culture and performance of this team last season. After extending Boudreau this summer, the Canucks had one big name left to deal with: J.T. Miller.
It was a long process but the first line centre finally singed a long-term contract to come back to the coast once the calendar turned over to September. After a eventful season off the ice for the Millers—having welcomed their new son to their two daughters—many weren’t convinced he would be back in with Vancouver.
Beyond Miller, Vancouver came out on top of the Andrey Kuzmenko sweepstakes signing the KHL star to an entry-level contract. After playing at over a point-per-game pace last season in the KHL, he will look to slot in his goal-scoring persona on the second line with Bo Horvat and Conor Garland. The defensive corps led by Quinn Hughes and Luke Schenn also stack up decently against a very fast division.
The goaltending situation looks solid for Vancouver with Thatcher Demko as the full-time starter for the second straight year. Demko posted a 33–22–7 record last season in 64 starts sharing work primarily with Jaroslav Halak.
Spencer Martin will slot in behind Demko this season after showing great performance in his six starts last year. Martin posted a 1.74 GAA, a .950 SV% and a 3–0–3 record—a very promising statline for the Canucks if Demko encounters turbulence or an injury as the year progresses.
Vancouver played in a lot of close games last season and evidently their problems were significantly improved upon Boudreau’s arrival. With a strong mix of veteran players and young guns the Canucks look very similar to LA in my eyes. Time will tell if they can maintain the high hopes this team has entering the season but on Day 1, they deserve the fourth overall spot in these rankings.
5 – Vegas Golden Knights
Many people would not have Vegas in the bottom half of the Pacific Division power rankings entering the year. That being said, I cannot get past the fact that this team is managed like a novice gamer playing franchise mode on NHL 23.
In very Vegas fashion, money makes the world turn around and the gambles this team has taken are going to come back to bite them. With seemingly no compassion or loyalty to any player nor coach the team has had since its entry into the league, Vegas has positioned themselves in a very difficult spot.
After the conclusion of last season, it appeared that either Robin Lehner or head coach Peter DeBoer was likely to move on from the team after rumors’ of Lehner playing through injury were not by choice. DeBoer being replaced by former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy may lend some success but Cassidy was also criticized on his way out of Boston for butting heads with players.
Lehner then hitting the injured list for the entire 2022–23 season leaves the goaltending situation in the hands of Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit. Neither goalie have ever seen a full-time starting role and it’s believed the starts will be up for competition between the two, as well as new addition Adin Hill from San Jose.
Beyond the troubled goaltending situation and coaching change, the Knights also sent alternate captain Max Pacioretty and defenceman Dylan Coghlan to Carolina for… nothing. Well, future considerations but we all know that means squat. The move was made solely to free up cap space. Jack Eichel and a hopefully healthy Mark Stone will be leaned on heavily to carry this team to a playoff spot.
Vegas sits on the playoff bubble entering the year mostly because of their disastrous offseason and carousel of leadership. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas—unless you play for the Golden Knights, then always have a bag packed.
6 – Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim is trending in the right direction. Although they’re still a few years from making the playoffs again young talent could push this team slightly farther than last season. Trevor Zegras has pencilled himself in as one of the showiest and creative players in the league. Zegras could get help on the offensive side from Mason McTavish. After an incredible performance for Canada in the World Juniors, McTavish looks to have used his return to the CHL well last season, projected as a second line winger for the big club this year.
Ryan Getzlaf was the final golden boy left from the 2006–07 championship team. After a long tenured career with the Ducks, Getzlaf’s loss will be impactful for the young team. It will be on the shoulders of Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg to try and replace the leadership role that Getzlaf leaves absent after captaining the team since 2010.
The biggest offseason acquisition for the Ducks was former Dallas Stars defenceman John Klingberg. After a huge wait in free agency Klingberg finally settled with the Ducks on a one-year deal. Klingberg brings a big presence on the back end and will definitely see power play time with Anaheim.
Behind Klingberg will be the longtime keeper, John Gibson. Depending on the outcome of the season at the trade deadline, Klingberg and Gibson could see interest on the trade market. Something you’d imagine Anaheim would look to execute for the right return.
The Ducks young core looks to make a bigger mark this season. If McTavish produces well, the top two lines of this team could be pretty decent and with Gibson on the back end, a stronger team enters this season than last.
7 – San Jose Sharks
San Jose also had cap trouble entering this year, having both Erik Karlson and Brent Burns on the trade block this offseason. Burns was sent to Carolina for Steven Lorentz, goalie prospect Eetu Makiniemi and a third-rounder. The team that narrowly lost out to Vegas in the 2018–19 Western Conference Final has not looked the same since. Slowly dismantling the core that was built up for championship runs is in full effect and a rebuild is looming for the Sharks.
Losing Burns not only hurts the Sharks defensively, but offensively as well. Burns was the fourth leading scorer on the team last season with 54 points in 82 games. The thin front end of the Sharks look to lean on top line talent Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl who combined for 140 points last season and veteran Logan Couture who finished with 56 points.
Erik Karlsson could be a trade deadline candidate this year if teams are willing to take on the former Norris winner’s lofty contract. Sharks fans are holding onto too much hope that Karlsson will ever look like he did in Ottawa and the team needs to try and recoup draft picks going forward. Goaltending trends suggest James Reimer will start the most games this season, as last season he had 48. Kaapo Kahkonen and Reimer will likely split starts throughout the year in a 1A/1B tandem.
Overall, it’s going to be a long and frustrating season for San Jose. The team seems to be right on the fringe of a total rebuild but I don’t see it faring as well as it did for their state neighbours in Los Angeles, at least not as quickly.
8 – Seattle Kraken
This one is pretty underwhelming. Seattle will look to improve on a very lacklustre inaugural season. Keep in mind that the expectations were set very high for the Kraken after Vegas almost took home the Stanley Cup in their first season.
Seattle has a lot to look forward to. Matthew Beniers looked great in the 10 games he played in the NHL last year, where he accumulated 9 points. Beniers will no doubt make the roster out of training camp this season and hopefully will continue the success we saw from his small sample last year.
Does the name Shane Wright ring a bell to anyone? The projected first overall pick from this season slid to Seattle at fourth after gaining criticism for his lack of ceiling entering the draft. Wright is likely to play in the CHL again this season but he could pay off extremely well for this team in the long run.
Beyond Wright and Beniers, Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann are the most eye-catching players entering the season for the Kraken. McCann finished last season as the Kraken’s leading scorer with only 50 points.
Philipp Grubauer looks to be the starter entering the season but we could see more of a 1A/1B type tandem as well, as they added Martin Jones from the Flyers this offseason. Either way, neither goalies had great seasons last year with Jones posting a 3.42 GAA and Grubauer a 3.16 GAA. Seattle’s goaltending should regress towards the league average after the abysmal numbers last season.
Overall it’s going to be a rough year for the Kraken again, but improvements are likely to be seen as more prospects reach the big club, and on-ice goaltending shouldn’t be nearly as bad.
Wrapping up the rankings
The Pacific Division has the potential to be very competitive for the division title and could see four playoff teams this year if Vancouver and Los Angeles carry on from where they left off last season. Needless to say, it will be interesting. Regular season here we come!
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire