Despite the emergence of the Vegas Golden Knights last season, the Pacific Division is wide open.
1. San Jose Sharks (X)
The Sharks landed the best defenseman in the world over the summer, which puts them exclusively in “contender” status in the Pacific Division. The three-headed monster of Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is as good as any core in the league.
Martin Jones, although inconsistent, is still an elite goaltender in the NHL. The Sharks look primed for another deep run in the playoffs, provided they can stay healthy.
The Middle of the Pack
2. Los Angeles Kings (X)
Los Angeles, who are admittedly not the strongest team (especially offensively), still seem ready to make another playoff push.
Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter down the middle is a more than formidable one-two punch. Adrian Kempe and Austin Wagner also appear ready for a breakout up front.
The health of the team is certainly up for debate. Jonathan Quick is hurt already and Dustin Brown is out long-term.
The most interesting factor for the Kings this season is, rightfully, Ilya Kovalchuk. After spending five seasons in the KHL, his transition back to a North American style of play may take time.
3. Anaheim Ducks (X)
Despite losing Corey Perry long-term, the Ducks are still a good team. John Gibson is as quality of a goalie as it gets, and Ryan Miller is a solid backup.
The defense, comprised of Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, and Cam Fowler among others, can compete with any team in the West besides Nashville and San Jose.
The Ducks desperately need to rid themselves of their playoff demons. The team has not made it back to the Stanley Cup Final since 2006, and time is running out for its aging core.
The Outside Looking In
4. Vegas Golden Knights
Through all the four divisions that I have posted predictions for, this is by far the most controversial take that I have made.
The Golden Knights, despite their amazing run last season, do not come across as anything scary. In the team’s sophomore season, it is not too unreasonable to see a regress.
Then again, they could easily make it back into the playoffs. All it takes is Marc-Andre Fleury heating up.
5. Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes will continue their slow rebuild this season, inching towards the playoffs, but not quite getting there.
The acquisitions of Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Grabner are a solid boost to the team’s offense. Dylan Strome appears ready to take the full-time leap to the NHL as well as a two-way center.
Arizona has had troubles scoring early on, but it can be attributed to poor luck. It will turn around eventually, although the playoffs do not seem in their future.
6. Calgary Flames
Calgary lost its best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, this offseason. It received a significant return, but not enough to give up on Hamilton.
General manager Brad Treliving did make some decent moves as well to counteract that, including adding James Neal and Derek Ryan.
The Flames, in my eyes, just do not have what it takes to make it high up in the Pacific Division. Mike Smith is getting old, and the defense is highly injury prone. It just does not seem destined for them to make it to the playoffs.
7. Edmonton Oilers
After a tremendous 2015-16, which seems to be an outlier now, the Oilers have fallen off of a cliff. Connor McDavid is still the best player in the world, but it is not enough to make up for the damage that Peter Chiarelli has done to the roster.
Most people point to the defense when considering problems about the Oilers. However, it can be attributed more so to a lack of overall depth. Outside of the top guys like McDavis, Leon Draisaitl, and Adam Larsson, the roster is subpar.
The next step for the Oilers remains unclear. With McDavid dominating while not even in his prime yet, Edmonton cannot rebuild. Maybe it will ultimately come down to another change in front office guard, and a little bit of praying that it works this time around.
8. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver could definitely surprise some people this year, however it does not seem to be there time yet to break through.
Personally, I love what Jim Benning is building. He gets a lot of flack, but he has done a fantastic job restocking the pipeline.
In a few years, everyone is going to be looking back and wondering how the hell Elias Pettersson went fifth overall.
Vancouver’s next step is probably to look for a long-term, young defenseman to complement Olli Juolevi. I’m sure they would not complain about Jack Hughes, but how does British Columbia native Bowen Byram sound?
Stay tuned for more posts as the season moves forward!