Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Pacific Division.
2018-19 Pacific Division Preview – In Order of Projected Finish
Colton Osmond writes:
The Sharks finished third in the Pacific last season but are sure to be even better this year as they recently pulled off arguably the biggest acquisition of the off-season. San Jose acquired Swedish star Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators for a package which included roster players Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo along with picks and prospects. Karlsson is arguably the league’s best defenceman and already having Brent Burns on the right side, as well as defensive specialist Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the left side, the Sharks can now compete with the Nashville Predators for the league’s top defence.
Not to be forgotten, the Sharks also locked up Evander Kane for another seven years at $7 million per season. These additions will certainly boost the offence, which was already sitting in the top half of the league. Led by captain Joe Pavelski, the Sharks certainly look like a juggernaut coming out of the west. In what is most likely Joe Thornton’s last season, could this be the year he finally gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup?
LWOH Editor Connor Lapalme Writes:
Vegas just had the greatest season by an expansion team in NHL history. The upstart Knights topped the division last year with 109 points. They followed it up in the playoffs with a run to the Stanley Cup finals. On paper, Vegas looks very similar to last year. They did lose James Neal and David Perron in free agency, but they off-set those losses by signing Paul Stastny and trading for Max Pacioretty. Still, fans should expect a bit of a regression.
William Karlsson surprised the entire league by scoring 43 goals last year. It is unlikely that he will match that total again. Marc-Andre Fleury posted his best season, statistically for Vegas. While injuries limited him to 49 games, he was still able to post a 29-13-4 record with career-best goals against average (2.24) and save percentage (.927). Fleury’s game will not fall off a cliff, but it should regress a bit. The Golden Knights are poised to return to the playoffs, however, another 109 point season might be asking a bit much from the sophomore team.
Joseph DeClara writes:
The Anaheim Ducks are getting older with two of their franchise leaders, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, heading into their mid-thirties. But they’re not over the hill yet and have a wealth of experience to draw on for a long season. Rickard Rakell injects some youth into the forward group coming off an impressive 69 point and 34 goal performance last year.
The loss of steady defender Francois Beauchemin to retirement will not hamper the Ducks defence considerably, but they have a little less depth than they did last year. Cam Fowler will once again be expected to play big minutes with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour right behind him.
If there are any issues on defence (and there shouldn’t be many), goaltender John Gibson can hide the mistakes. His career save percentage is .923. The Ducks should have little trouble returning to the playoffs this season.
Daniel Fuoco writes:
The Flames will be battling it out either for third in the division or as a wild card team. Calgary made some significant moves this off-season, letting go head coach Glen Gulutzan, and replacing him with Bill Peters from the Carolina Hurricanes. They added some reinforcements to their lineup, picking up former Hurricanes Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and Derek Ryan, and signing James Neal to a five-year contract in free agency.
With these additions to their lineup, their top nine is more balanced in terms of goal scoring, and their defence core is still among the best in the NHL. If Mike Smith can bounce back from a disappointing end to his season and if they can improve on their home record which was 17-20-4 last season, then the Flames have enough top end talent to make the playoffs next season.
Colton Osmond writes:
If there was anything the Los Angeles Kings needed to address this off-season it was goal scoring. It proved to be the downfall in this years Stanley Cup playoffs after scoring just three goals in four games, which led to a sweep at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Kings did just that by agreeing to terms with free agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal which will pay him an AAV of $6.25 million.
Kovalchuk will make his return to the NHL after spending the last five seasons in the KHL, where at 35 years-old was still leading the league in scoring. The Kings are hoping he can bring that same kind of offensive back with him to the NHL, where he’s a point per game player over his career.
Daniel Fuoco writes:
The Oilers will be a bubble team heading into the 2018-19 season. Edmonton didn’t make any significant moves to bolster their team this off-season, and they’re hoping that they will get better performances from the likes of Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi most notably, this season. The biggest question mark for the Oilers heading into the season is their defence. With Andrej Sekera out with a torn Achilles, it will be a big loss to an already average defence core.
They will need strong performances from Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Adam Larsson, as well as goaltender Cam Talbot, to steal them games in order to push for the playoffs. When you have the best player in the NHL in Connor McDavid, it’s hard to discount the Oilers completely from the playoff picture. They will be in the thick of the race, however, they need strong goaltending and better production from the power play for Edmonton to get over the hump.
LWOH editor Connor Lapalme writes:
The Arizona Coyotes have an impressive roster of young talent. Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun are the young core poised to take a step forward for the Coyotes. Joining that young core with talented veterans Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Derek Stepan and Alex Goligoski look to lead the Coyotes out of the Pacific cellar. Arizona also added Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Grabner in the off-season. Arizona has the pieces in their lineup to make some noise.
The issue is, this is not the first time the ‘Yotes have been loaded with some high-end talent and failed to deliver results. Entering his third season as general manager, John Chayka will need to start seeing on ice results. They should see an improvement but a playoff appearance is not in the cards.
Joseph DeClara writes:
There’s a changing of the guard for the Vancouver Canucks with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin retiring. But Vancouver general manager Jim Benning doesn’t seem to be embracing a rebuild as so many other teams have done in recent years. The Canucks do have some good young pieces already in place with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Although Pettersson may not play in the NHL this year. However, Benning signed veterans Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to four-year deals this offseason. Moves that are contrary to both a rebuild and a team poised for a run at that Stanley Cup.
The Canucks may still finish at the bottom of the Pacific division this season. That’s what the fans should want so they can get a chance at uniting Jack Hughes with his brother Quinn Hughes, whom the Canucks drafted seventh overall in the 2018 draft. But with other teams, namely the Ottawa Senators, already leading the tank race, and a team full of young talent and veteran leadership, the Canucks may end up in the dreaded middle ground of missing the playoffs and draft pick outside the top five.