The time is upon us as the NHL kicked off the 2019-20 regular season on Wednesday. Over the past month, Last Word on Hockey gave you a detailed look into each team during the Puck Drop Preview series to go along with divisional previews. With predictions in the books let’s take a look at the top questions facing the 2019-20 Pacific Division.
NHL Notebook: Questions Facing 2019-20 Pacific Division
Can the Anaheim Ducks Swim Without Perry and Kesler?
The answer is more than likely. With young players like Sam Steel playing centre and Troy Terry playing wing the veterans Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler may be a distant memory. Another youngster in Max Jones is also looking to assist the Ducks this year. With an outstanding goalie like John Gibson in the net, the Anaheim Ducks look to end their playoff drought and contend for a playoff spot in the 2019-20 Pacific Division.
The key to them qualifying for the playoffs will be if the young players can step up and if Gibson doesn’t get overworked. Backup Ryan Miller may be looking to retire soon at 39, but he is adequate in giving Gibson a breather now and then. The main issue with the Anaheim club last season was scoring. They were dead last in the NHL. Gibson can play his heart out but without some scoring, he will be left out to dry.
Will the Addition of Phil Kessel Catapult the Coyotes to the Playoffs?
The Arizona Coyotes fans certainly hope that adding a proven scorer like Phil Kessel will lead them to their first playoff appearance since 2012. What it also accomplishes is propelling their rather weak power play to a new level of performance. Kessel had 24 man-advantage goals over the last two seasons. Granted, he won’t have a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on a line with him, but young Clayton Keller and veteran Derek Stepan have established excellent chemistry with Kessel.
The other huge question mark for this team is health. Already the oft-injured Antti Raanta is not available with another lower-body injury. He was sent to the AHL Tucson Roadrunners to get back into NHL game readiness. If he doesn’t overcome his injuries look for Adin Hill to fill in as the backup.
Will the Calgary Flames Stay Hot?
The 2019-20 Pacific Division Calgary Flames certainly looked like they could go far into the playoffs last season until they met the up-and-coming Colorado Avalanche who dispatched them in five games. They tied the Boston Bruins for the second-most points (107) in the NHL. Yet went down quickly at the hands of the last wild-card team in the West. They still have all the guns with Johnny Gaudreau (99 pts), Sean Monahan (82 pts), Elias Lindholm (78 pts), Matthew Tkachuk (77 pts), and defenceman Mark Giordano (74 pts).
This firepower may seem impressive but they need to preserve some of their regular-season dominance for the postseason. They may have a real weakness in net with Cam Talbot replacing Mike Smith as David Rittich‘s backup. If the Flames can come back down to earth and realize they must play as adeptly in the playoffs as in the regular season they may have a shot to get past the first round.
Will James Neal Help the Edmonton Oilers?
Let’s face it, the Edmonton Oilers were willing to do just about anything to unload Milan Lucic and found a willing partner in the Flames. The Oilers adding James Neal has got to motivate him into becoming a much better player than he exhibited last season in Calgary. If Neal can give the Oilers some much-needed depth scoring, it could go a long way. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have had to endure the heavy lifting and getting any help would be huge for the Oilers.
Neal contributing 18-20 goals would significantly help the Oilers contend. And, let’s face it, if they don’t start turning things around soon Mr. McDavid may seek to be employed elsewhere so he can obtain that long-time dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Adding Dave Tippett as head coach should give the team a huge boost. He’s a crafty, seasoned coach who knows how to get his players to play defence. They’ve already proven that out-scoring the opponent doesn’t work, time to play some D.
Will the Los Angeles Kings Improve?
The Los Angeles Kings have got to be better this year, right? Not necessarily. They finished 31st in scoring last season and weren’t that great on defence by ending up 22nd. They did add Ben Hutton as a free agent signing. He may not be that great of an addition to the blueline. Of course, when you have a star defenceman like Drew Doughty you feel comfortable. Even Doughty had a terrible season last year with just 45 points and questionable possession numbers. His usual Corsi for is in the +50 percentile but last year it fell to 47.5. Was he trying to make up for the weak offence by pressing too much to score? Perhaps.
It could be a battle as to who will be the starting goalie with Jonathan Quick quickly deteriorating. It may be that Jack Campbell is the better choice. Still, the defence is young and not too reliable when you go past Alex Martinez and Doughty. They will surpass the Ottawa Senators in point total, but that isn’t saying much.
Will the San Jose Sharks Fall?
The 2019-20 Pacific Division San Jose Sharks lost so many key players and are relying on young players like Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Kevin LeBanc. That very well may not be able to make up for the losses of players like Joe Pavelski (38-G, 26-A), Joonas Donskoi (14-G, 23-A), and Gustav Nyquist (22-G, 38-A). They also lost defenceman Justin Braun. To add salt to the wound, the Sharks don’t have very reliable goaltending. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are not going to take this team to the playoffs with their combined .888 save percentage and 3.00 goals-against average. With the offence being depleted as much as it was and the question of Erik Karlsson‘s health going forward, things could go south quickly. Don’t be surprised if this team is fighting harder than usual for playoff contention.
Will Pettersson and Boeser be Able to Carry the Canucks?
The Vancouver Canucks have two jewels in both Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. They are the future of this franchise. But how much can you depend on young players? They added a big D-man in Tyler Myers and also added Micheal Ferland. Some are predicting this team is playoff-bound but they still have a year or two to go to get there. They must improve on their 25th placing for goals scored and 20th for goals against to really be considered a playoff contender. Even if both Pettersson and Boeser combine for 60 goals, it may not meet the mark to get them to the postseason.
Will the Vegas Golden Knights Win the 2019-20 Pacific Division?
In just their third season in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be something short of magical. They went to the Stanley Cup Finals in their initial year and seemed to be robbed last year due to some questionable officiating. They are just a well-coached, well-managed team and it shows. The addition of Cody Glass seems to demonstrate their priority to develop young players. And, who wouldn’t want to play in Vegas?
If Marc-Andre Fleury can continue his stellar play (and there’s no reason to doubt that he will) then they have a shot to be able to take the Pacific Division title. Calgary may be their only threat to surpass their quest to win the Pacific. The team’s style of speed, hard-hitting defence, and excellent goaltending is tough to beat. They will not only excel in their division, but they may win the Western Conference also.