NHL 2015-2016 Season Preview: Pacific Division
After the long season of summer, it’s time to get off the golf course and back on the ice, the NHL is on its way back!
Over the next four weeks ISH will be doing a season preview for each division to get us all up to speed for the season opener in October.
The Score has a great tool to use to see every team’s moves this offseason which I will be using to analyze each team and their chances of bringing home the Stanley Cup.
This week: The Pacific Division. (FYI: the teams are in alphabetical order, NOT in the order of which I believe they will perform, that is an article for a later day).
- Key Arrivals: Kevin Bieksa (Trade with Vancouver), Carl Hagelin (Trade with NY Rangers)
- Key Departures: Emerson Etem (Trade with NY Rangers), Kyle Palmieri (Trade with NJ Devils), James Wisniewski (Trade with Carolina), Francois Beauchemin (Free Agent signed by Colorado)
CaDucks are hoping to make the next step to the Stanley Cup Finals as they have spent the last three years advancing to the next round only to lose in game 7 of each round. The Ducks have made a splash to sign a few more Canucks-alum as they hope to build their depth as well as keep their stars around as they have signed Ryan Kesler to a 6 year extension.
Bieksa has been brought in to hopefully fill the void left behind by free agent Francois Beauchemin, but can Bieksa perform at the fast pace he’s expected to with the Ducks, or will his age show and reveal a fleeting defense on an offensive stacked team?
Carl Hagelin from the New York Rangers, on the other hand, won’t have problems showing he can run along with all-stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf as the speedster will be a big threat playing on the Kesler line.
Prediction: The Ducks are still a huge worry on the offense, but will Bieksa help improve a shallow defense? Will their goalies find some stability? If the answer is “no” to either question, the Ducks will be scrambling for some defensemen before the trade deadline.
- Key Arrivals: Antoine Vermette (Free Agent from Chicago)
- Key Departures: Sam Gagner (Trade with Philadelphia)
Arizona is still in their rebuild as they were struggling to even hit the cap floor this season. Arizona is hoping to build their team around star youngsters Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson as they continue to develop into some very strong players.
Arizona brought back Antoine Vermette who contributed to the Chicago Blackhawks’ successful season, but don’t expect him to turn the team around. The Coyotes also traded Sam Gagner who was struggling as a Coyote, but didn’t grab much of a return to score goals.
Prediction: Expect Arizona to ride the bottom five again and not to make a “Calgary-esque” playoff run. Arizona will continue to build a solid team when Domi and Ekman-Larsson hit their strides.
- Key Arrivals: Dougie Hamilton (Trade with Boston), Michael Frolik (Free Agent from Winnipeg)
- Key Departures: None
If you told people this time last year that the Flames would go to the second round of the playoffs, you’d be a laughing stock, but that’s exactly what happened during Calgary’s huge run last season. Not only did they have a solid year with over-performing youngsters, but they eliminated the previous Champions, the LA Kings.
Calgary’s young-gun Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau had an incredible year as he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the best-performing rookie in the NHL. Veteran Juri Hudler was a big part of Johnny Hockey’s successful season as well as the rest of the Flames as he stepped up as the leader during Mark Giordano’s injury.
Calgary has only gotten better as they made a steal for Boston’s top young defender, Dougie “Probably Shouldn’t Have Been Traded” Hamilton as well as signing free agent Michael Frolik, a great middle-six player.
Prediction: Calgary is up in the air as there will be a lot of pressure on the young-guns to perform to the same level as last season, though they are capable of doing so. This year, fans will not be so shocked that they make the playoffs again.
- Key Arrivals: Connor McDavid (First Overall Draft Pick 2015), Andrej Sekera (Free Agent from Carolina), Cam Talbot (Trade with NY Rangers)
- Key Departures: None
The last five or so years of the Edmonton Oilers can be summed into one word: yikes. The Oilers have been riding the bottom five for a while but have picked up some great players in the draft, as any tanking team should. Taylor Hall, Daniel Nurse, and Jordan Eberle round out the last few years as the future of the Edmonton Oilers, but what about the present?
The Oilers drafted Connor McDavid this year, the big story there is the massive following for McDavid (or “McJesus” as many hockey fans are calling him) as he is expected to be quite the superstar. McDavid tore up the OHL for the Erie Otters and is expected to make a huge impact right away as the reincarnation of Wayne Gretsky.
The Oilers also made some changes to their woeful defense and goaltending by signing Andrej Sekera and trading for New York Rangers’ back up goalie, Cam Talbot.
Prediction: McDavid will have a lot of pressure to put up similar stats to Crosby and Ovechkin right out of the gate, but it’s safer to say he will make a slight impact as an offensive threat. While McDavid will be one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy, the Oilers will make a huge improvement but will still need another year or two before making the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
- Key Arrivals: Milan Lucic (Trade with Boston)
- Key Departures: Martin Jones (Trade with Boston), Justin Williams (Free Agent signed by Washington)
The Kings showed a Stanley Cup hangover and missed the playoffs entirely this season as the entire team struggled to perform. Stars Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathon Quick had a shaky year and their depth players certainly weren’t much help.
Slava Voynov was missed as he was absent the entire year dealing with a domestic abuse case, and this offseason players Mike Richards and Jarett Stoll both were arrested with drug charges.
The Kings are struggling with a misbehaving locker room and bringing in a famous rough-houser, Milan Lucic, is a bit of an interesting move for them, but on the ice he can be a helpful piece. The Kings also lost a strong second-line player in Justin Williams, as well as their backup goalie Martin Jones (traded to Boston and later traded to San Jose).
Prediction: The King are going to need their star players to get back to their regular routines before they can think about the playoffs. Without bringing in much to improve their team, the Kings are going to be on the bubble when it comes to the end of the season.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
- Key Arrivals: Joel Ward (Free Agent from Washington), Martin Jones (Trade with Boston)
- Key Departures: Antti Niemi (Trade with Dallas)
The Sharks missing the playoffs showed that they are an aging team. Leaders Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are only getting older and their replacements Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are hitting their primes. The Sharks will be looking to offload their old guys to build a team around Pavelski, Couture, and Tomas Hertl.
The Sharks picked up Joel Ward from free agency after he had a solid year with the Capitals, but can Ward be just as successful without Ovechkin and Backstrom padding his stats? Martin Jones was another pick up that will certainly replace Antti Niemi in the net in hopes to keep their strong defense in a better mood.
Prediction: If they make the right line changes, the Sharks can make the playoffs. If Jones can be solid in net, there shouldn’t be any reason this team should miss another post-season. Expect them to be very active in the trade market to get rid of the angry old men.
- Key Arrivals: Brandon Sutter maybe? (Trade with Pittsburgh)
- Key Departures: Eddie Lack (Trade with Carolina), Nick Bonino (Trade with Pittsburgh), Zach Kassian (Trade with Montreal), Kevin Bieksa (Trade with Anaheim)
Vancouver certainly lost a lot more than they brought in. Trading their very solid back up goalie, Eddie Lack, for a terrible return of two draft picks (1 Third Round and 1 SEVENTH Round) from Carolina. Unless Vancouver drafts the next Zetterberg in the seventh round next year, this was a terrible trade for a team that has a few solid goalies to trade in Ryan Miller and Jakub Markstrom.
The Sedin twins are only getting older and this is not the same team as they were in 2011 as they are constantly losing players without bringing in suitable replacements. They have very little depth beyond the first line and their defense is going to rely on Ryan Miller doing circus tricks in the net to keep them in the playoff race.
Prediction: Vancouver drops substantially with losing too many assets. When your highlight arrival is Brandon Sutter you have to put a lot of faith into your current players, which Vancouver lost a lot of.
- Anaheim is looking like the #1 in this division again with their arrivals this season.
- Calgary built on their success by adding a much needed defenseman
- Edmonton has possibly the next NHL legend in Connor McDavid, something fans are excited to see succeed or fail.
- The Kings are dealing with a few criminal charges in their players and unsettled locker room, but they have the potential to bring it back together.
- The Coyotes are going to be rivaling Toronto for last place
- Vancouver is looking like they’ll be dropping harder than beanie-babie prices
Be sure to check back next week for the next division’s preview!
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Disagree with the Canucks. They have lost players (although Lack and Bonino are the only ones I regret), but they have young talent such as Markstrom, Kenins, and Boertschi who will likely be moving into on full-time roles, and perhaps McCann or Cassels to add some punch to their fourth line.