The 2015-16 season is still very young. Some teams are pushing 14 games played at this point while some are sitting around 11 games played. But every team across the NHL has eclipsed the ten games point and has given a big enough sample size to draw some conclusion.
While there has been plenty of dramatics and storylines across the NHL to start the season, the Pacific Division may be the most surprising and dramatic division in the NHL. In the Pacific, teams that were supposed to be among the NHL’s best have gotten out of the gate at a snail’s pace. Young stars have stolen the lime light and carried their team back into relevance. All while two of the three teams that represented the Pacific Division in the playoffs last year sit in the division’s basement.
Yes, there is as much drama and headlines shooting across the Pacific Division as there is associated with the stars scattered in the crowds at a Los Angeles Kings game. Let’s take a look at some of the Pacific Division storylines grabbing attention early on this season.
1. What Will Edmonton Do Without Connor McDavid?
It was the crash heard not only across the NHL, but across the entire hockey community. During the second period of a 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Edmonton Oilers lost Connor McDavid after he went crashing into the boards behind the net after firing a shot on net.
McDavid suffered a broken left collarbone and will miss a significant amount of time recovering from the injury. The 18-year-old had five goals and 12 points in his first 13 games and will have his rookie campaign cut dramatically.
Now the focus shifts to the rest of Edmonton’s roster and what they can do without McDavid in the line up. The Oilers currently have a record of 5-8-0 and sit in fifth place in the Pacific with ten points. Where will the Oilers be when McDavid returns? Will the Oilers be in the mix for the playoffs, or will they be in the running for yet another first overall selection at next year’s Draft?
2. It’s Duck Hunting Season.
There may not be a team starting out the season worse than the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks, the team that was one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last season, the team that put up 51 wins and 109 points last season, has jumped out to a 3-7-2 record to start the season.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who paired up for 58 goals and 125 points last season have combined for one goal and have recorded just five points to start out the season. Ryan Kesler, who signed a six-year contract extension worth $41.25 million over the summer, has recorded zero goals, three assists and has a minus-7 rating in eleven games. The Ducks as a whole lit the lamp 228 times last season and have only scored 17 goals through 12 games this season.
Things are ugly in Anaheim.
The slow start has had plenty of people calling for Bruce Boudreau’s head, but luckily for Boudreau Ducks General Manager Bob Murray has said he won’t make any quick decisions. Via the Ducks, Murray said,
I really don’t like commenting on rumors, but I will say this: We were one game away from the Final just five months ago. So while this has been a terrible start, I’m not inclined to make rash changes. I’m going to be patient. That said, we are severely underperforming as a group. I can’t recall a time where a vast majority of our players have underachieved simultaneously, and I fully expect a turnaround.
Luckily for the Ducks there are still 70 games to play and things can’t get much worse. And from the looks of it, Murray isn’t panicking and won’t be shipping anyone out just yet. But with seven loses after just 12 games, you have to wonder how long that ideal will stick around.
3. Plenty Of Parity in the Pacific.
The Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames finished one, two and three atop the Pacific Division last season. Those three currently sit in seventh, sixth and second place respectively. Enter the Kings and San Jose Sharks slipping into the number one and number three spots.
Continuing with the idea of, out with the old and in with the new, the Arizona Coyotes have crawled out of the division’s basement and rode a youth movement to the middle of the pack where they are nipping at the heels of the division’s top three.
Yes, it is still early in the season, but the early going of the 2015-16 season has the Pacific Division flipped upside down. We’ll see if the parity in the Pacific stretches through out the entire season or if this is just a short-term thing, with the division sorting itself out down the road.
4. The Division’s New Youth Movement.
Last season, the Flames rode an energetic youth movement through a late season surge and into the post season. This year the Flames seem to have lost their heat and have a 3-9-1 record after 13 games. This year the Coyotes have ridden their own youth movement out of the gate.
While the majority of the focus has gone north of the border when it’s come to talking about rookies in the Pacific Division, the Desert has had their own rookie duo lighting up the competition. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have combined for ten goal and 18 points in 11 games for Arizona.
Duclair did appear in 18 games with the New York Rangers last year, but Domi is in his first NHL season, and leads the Coyotes with five goals and 11 points. The two have breathed new life into the Coyotes and has the team in the mix for one of the three playoff spots coming out of the Pacific Division.
5. Will the Kings Return to the Throne?
Things in Los Angeles got off to a rocky start, a 0-3-0 start to be exact. The Kings looked out of sync and it showed after 5-1, 4-1 and 3-0 loses to the Sharks, Coyotes and Canucks respectively. The Kings were outscored 9-2 during that span of hockey and things looked dark in Los Angeles.
However, since opening the season with three consecutive loses, the Kings have gone 8-1-0 in their last nine games. During the last nine games, Los Angeles has scored 25 goals and have only allowed 11 goals against. The Kings have beat the Predators, Blues and Jets, all teams that represented the Central Division in the playoffs last season during those nine games.
The Kings currently sit atop the Pacific Division with an 8-4-0 record and 16 points. It looks like it is safe to say the Kings have found their way back into their groove, which could spell trouble for the rest of the NHL.
Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.