Thu, 08 Dec 2022

NHL Pacific Division capsules: It's all about Alberta

Field Level Media
06 Oct 2022, 16:40 GMT+10

The Battle for Alberta should be as intense as ever this season.

The Calgary Flames captured the Pacific Division title last season, but the Edmonton Oilers were the hotter team in the Stanley Cup playoffs, winning four straight against the Flames to take the second-round series 4-1.

Both teams made major moves in the offseason to increase their chances of becoming the first Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Calgary and Edmonton won't have to wait long to compare rosters either, as they will square off twice in October.

(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)

1. Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are coming off their first Western Conference finals appearance since 2006, and they have an appetite for more. Connor McDavid is just 25 years old and Leon Draisaitl will turn 27 at the end of this month. Together, they've already combined for nearly 500 goals in their NHL careers.

Edmonton also boasts one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL in Darnell Nurse as well as one of the most promising blue-liners in Evan Bouchard, a former 10th overall pick who is in the final year of his entry-level contract.

The Oilers firmed up an area where they were lacking by signing All-Star goalie Jack Campbell as a free agent from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

2. Calgary Flames

Jonathan Huberdeau scored 115 points for the Florida Panthers last season, tied with Flames speedster Johnny Gaudreau for second most in the NHL. Huberdeau is now wearing a Calgary sweater after he was traded to the Flames over the summer for Matthew Tkachuk, and Gaudreau is now with the Columbus Blue Jackets, having signed a lucrative free agent deal in the offseason.

Huberdeau won't replace all the offense lost by the departures of Tkachuk and Gaudreau, but he'll have plenty of help. The Flames also signed free agent Nazem Kadri away from the Colorado Avalanche, and he scores in bunches, too. His hat trick in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals last season helped the Avalanche get past the St. Louis Blues.

3. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have got their money's worth out of 30-somethings Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, but they can't rely on the trio forever.

The youth movement has been slow to catch on at times in Los Angeles and some prospects just haven't panned out. However, a couple of players in the middle of their primes took major steps forward last season, and Kevin Fiala also has arrived to give the offense some punch.

Adrian Kempe erupted for a career-high 35 goals last season after not scoring more than 16 in his first five campaigns with the Kings. Phillip Danault proved to be one of the league's better offseason acquisitions last season by scoring 27 goals, more than doubling his previous career high.

4. Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas organization is feeling the salary-cap pinch, but the cupboard is far from bare in Sin City.

The Golden Knights added savvy head coach Bruce Cassidy in the offseason. Jack Eichel -- the former No. 2 overall pick behind McDavid -- is ready for his first full season in Las Vegas and has plenty to work with as the No. 2 center.

Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson and Reilly Smith are established double-digit goal scorers, and the Golden Knights also added skilled forward Phil Kessel, a two-time Stanley Cup champion who is looking to prove he has plenty left.

5. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks went 32-15-10 after Travis Green was fired on Dec. 5 and Bruce Boudreau took the reins, but that surge wasn't enough to put them in the postseason. Unfortunately, Vancouver didn't ride its momentum into the offseason.

The main roadblock to pursuing bigger-name free agents was the limited cap space. For example, Vancouver is still paying Braden Holtby and Jake Virtanen, both of whom were bought out in the summer of 2021.

The lack of talent will put even more pressure on returning stars such as J.T. Miller to produce similar numbers as last season, when he posted career highs of 32 goals and 99 points.

6. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks enjoyed some national exposure last season thanks to the trickery of rookie center Trevor Zegras, but the Orange County locals are getting restless after watching their team miss the playoffs the past four seasons -- the longest such drought in club history.

The Ducks showed they are interested in climbing the standings by luring forwards Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano from a winning Rangers organization. They also brought in veteran defensemen John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov on low-commitment deals.

Anaheim could really use a bounce-back year from three-time All-Star goalie John Gibson, who finished with the highest goals-against average of his nine-year career last season (3.19).

7. San Jose Sharks

After winning just three of their final 17 games, the Sharks shipped hugely popular defenseman Brent Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes in July, a hole that can't be filled (either from blue line to blue line or in the locker room).

The Sharks were the most inexperienced team in the NHL last season, playing 18 rookies, including 11 who made their NHL debuts, with both totals topping the league. San Jose still has several proven veterans led by Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture up front and Erik Karlsson and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the defensive end, but teamwide depth looks like an issue again this season.

8. Seattle Kraken

The Kraken didn't take the NHL by storm the way the Golden Knights did in their first year of existence five years ago, but they are showing they learned a few things the first time around.

First of all, having solid competition at goalie often brings out the best, so Seattle went out and signed Martin Jones to back up Philipp Grubauer, whose numbers tumbled last season after solid stints with the Avalanche and the Washington Capitals.

The Kraken also snagged left winger Andre Burakovsky from Colorado and acquired up-and-coming right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand from the Blue Jackets, both of whom should bolster the fourth-lowest scoring team in the league last season.

--By Dan Arritt, Field Level Media

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