2019-20 Pacific Division Preview

2019-20 Pacific Division
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 23: Barclay Goodrow #23 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammates as Brayden McNabb #3 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates off the ice after he scored the game winning goal in overtime in Game Seven of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 23, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Pacific Division.

2019-20 Pacific Division Preview

1. Vegas Golden Knights

William Grigsby writes:

The 2018-19 Vegas Golden Knights almost made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their first two seasons of existence. They fell short in a controversial seven-game series to their arch-rival the San Jose Sharks. The season for the Golden Knights was successful as they finished third in the division with a 43-32-7 record good for 93 points.

It’s not difficult to see them taking the Pacific Division title. With Marc-Andre Fleury in the net, they have a future Hall-of-Fame netminder who managed an impressive 35-21-5 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average. He had eight shutouts and if he stays healthy the Golden Knights should be tough to beat.

The top-six consisting of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith, Max PaciorettyPaul Stastny, and Mark Stone remain strong and will carry their offence.

The only thing which may stop the Vegas club from hanging the Pacific Division banner in the rafters of T-Mobile Arena may be the Sharks. The rivalry between these two teams is starting to become apparent and competitive. If the Golden Knights can stay healthy, they have an excellent shot to win the Pacific crown.

2. San Jose Sharks

Filip Canda writes:

Let’s make our first stop in California for this 2019-20 Pacific Division preview. While the Ducks and the Kings had miserable years, the San Jose Sharks, on the other hand, had another strong season. They were pushing to get to the Stanley Cup Final, again. Their run, however, ended in the Western Conference Final versus the St. Louis Blues. Still, there was plenty of changes in San Jose this off-season. Their captain Joe Pavelski signed with the Dallas Stars. While the loss of their captain is a bitter pill to swallow, the Sharks also saw Joonas Donskoi, Justin Braun, and Gustav Nyquist leave the Bay area as well. Losing that depth will have an impact on the Sharks year.

While the Sharks were able to keep some of their players like Kevin Labanc, the Sharks window is getting smaller. Under the new captain, Logan Couture, the Sharks will try to win it again. Nothing new to report for the Sharks. They will rely heavily on their veterans such as Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and Evander Kane. They are also expecting Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, or aforementioned Labanc to continue to progress.

Missing another chance to win the Cup, losing another bunch of players and not having a first-round draft pick, wouldn’t be the most idyllic 2020 summer you could imagine. However, this might become a reality for the Sharks. But before that, there is a chance to achieve greatness, again.

3. Calgary Flames

William Grigsby writes:

The Calgary Flames showed their capabilities last season with the second-best record in the NHL finishing with a 50-25-7 record good for 107 points. With that kind of success, they were favoured to contend for the Stanley Cup. Except, the upstart Colorado Avalanche who sneaked into the playoffs took them out in five games.

The Flames top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm should continue to make them a strong Cup contender. At this point though, with star forward/agitator Matthew Tkachuk still unsigned their future remains cloudy. Without Tkachuk’s 34 goals, 43 assists their offence will suffer. With only $6.34 million in cap space, signing Tkachuk is a challenge.

Some other questions concerning their goaltending may put them below the Vegas and San Jose teams as we have predicted here. Will goalie David Rittich be able to continue the stellar play he displayed last season? His new backup will be Cam Talbot signed as a free agent and struggling with numbers like 11 wins, a .892 save percentage, and a less than thrilling 3.40 goals-against average.

While the Flames fell just below the San Jose team in our predicted ranking here, they could overtake them for the second spot if things fall into place.

4. Arizona Coyotes

William Grigsby writes:

The Arizona Coyotes have finally upgraded their weak offence by acquiring Phil Kessel and Carl Soderberg. For a team who just missed the playoffs last season with over 390 man-games lost to injuries, the new additions and some health could be what this team needs. It is a very tough division with some teams above them here as established playoff-level teams. Will Kessel give them the punch they’ve lacked for years? Will players injured for large segments of last season be able to recover and help this team to get to the postseason for the first time since 2012?

Lots of questions remain and that’s why they play the games. Clayton Keller got signed long term, and Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, and fifth overall 2018 draft choice Barrett Hayton all need to step up.

The one stronghold should be goaltending for the Desert Dogs. With two very qualified goalies in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, they should be able to continue their defensive prowess.

When you analyze their chances to make the playoffs, it becomes clear that they almost need to finish in the top three of the Pacific to move forward for postseason play. Yet, they have a legitimate shot to get a wild-card spot if they can stay healthy.

5. Vancouver Canucks

Erin Butler writes:

The Vancouver Canucks have finally acted as if they read off-season team reports.

They lacked any net-front presence. The power play was lousy. Toughness, especially on the first two lines, was lacking. They had serious problems getting the puck out of their own end. They haven’t had decent scoring from the defence for years.

Usually, the Canucks would bring in available players and hope they’d earn more ice time with more opportunity. This time, however, they paid a premium to get skilled grinder J.T. Miller for his corner work. They signed Micheal Ferland who does his best work in front of the net. Both should improve the power play, but not as much as the addition of rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes will. Hughes can carry the puck as well as any blueliner the Canucks have had since Jyrki Lumme.

Even if Hughes’ game isn’t quite ready, Tyler Myers will carry some of the offensive load. Myers can get the puck out of his own zone or use his own heavy shot for goals or rebounds. He also has no fear of driving to the net if an opportunity presents itself.

In goal, Jacob Markstrom proved himself with a third year of perfectly good numbers, his second as a starter. Oddly, backup Thatcher Demko is the lynchpin to the team’s success this year. GM Jim Benning has said that the goal is the playoffs, and if they’re going to make it Demko can’t give away points in his games.

6. Edmonton Oilers

Erin Butler writes:

The Edmonton Oilers had some turnover, but cap considerations kept them from very big moves. Still, they lost very little – Andrej Sekera was probably the biggest, and he was mostly injured last year. James Neal is a step up from Lucic in skill and is primed for a bounceback year, especially since Calgary didn’t want to break the chemistry of their top lines.

The other forward brought in (Joakim Nygard is a wild card) is former Canuck, Mikael Granlund. So long as they don’t make Vancouver’s mistake of thinking Granlund is a defensive specialist, he’s also going to help. Otherwise? Like Anaheim, they need growth to come from their youngest players. And mostly they’re on defence.

Darnell Nurse is getting better every year, and he goes into his fifth year as their top defender. Evan Bouchard had eight points in as many playoff games with Bakersfield and has every chance to stick this year. Likewise, Caleb Jones looked raw but not entirely out of place in 17 games with Edmonton. It’s a big risk to start with two rookies on your defence, but that may be the Oilers best chance.

Then again, do you want a lot of youth in front of goaltenders Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen? Not a sure way to improve the league’s worst penalty kill.

The Oilers are an improved team over last season, but marginally.

7. Anaheim Ducks

Filip Canda writes:

A mighty finish after a sloppy start, that was the 2018-19 season for the Anaheim Ducks. Ultimately, the Ducks missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years after posting only 80 points. Are things on the brink of change for the Ducks? It doesn’t seem so. After years and years, we won’t get to see Corey Perry in a Ducks uniform. The Ducks bought him out in June. The Ducks won’t have either Ryan Kesler or Patrick Eaves for the entire season also. Som where does that leave the Ducks?

There are just no more veterans on the roster. On a healthy Ducks roster, you will find only four players over 30, Ryan Getzlaf, Carter Rowney, Korbinian Holzer, and goaltender Ryan Miller. That’s the trend the Ducks want to follow under the new head coach Dallas Eakins. And with the coach’s advisor in Darryl Sutter as well.

After a few injury problems last year, Anaheim should see a much larger output from Ondrej Kase, the 23-year-old right-winger.

The Ducks do have a solid D with three cornerstones – Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler. With such a young roster the Ducks should miss the playoffs. Still, with loads of talent incoming, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing. Sam Steel, Maxime Comtois, Troy Terry, or Max Jones, should all start to see more ice-time. The Ducks have entered the rebuild.

8. Los Angeles Kings

Filip Canda writes:

The Los Angeles Kings had a similarly broken season as the Ducks last year, but without a strong finish. They ended up dead-last in the Western Conference with only 71 points. The Kings are in the rebuild mode. Speaking of shedding the veterans off the roster, the Kings still have eight players over 30 on their roster.

Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Ilya Kovalchuk, are taking up a lot of the salary cap on the rebuilding Kings. While those players have name recognition, their collective down year has chipped away at their value. Still, the fans should get themselves ready for an exodus. The 2014 team is not there anymore. Young talent is floating through the gates at Staples Center. Adrian Kempe, Alex Turcotte, Sean Walker, Matt Roy, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Tobias Bjornfot, and Carl Grundstrom, to name a few.

Los Angeles will almost undoubtedly miss the playoffs, or at least those are the odds. The veterans on the team will try to prove the nay-sayers wrong, while the youngsters will look to impress to steal a place or two on the Kings roster. It looks to be a long year in LA.

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