Despite a disappointing 2020-21 season that saw the Calgary Flames miss the postseason, fans shouldn’t be too worried about an extended playoff drought. Given that the world is starting to slowly return to normal, it is very likely that we see the NHL go back to its regular division format rather than what they were forced to do this season.
This is great news for Calgary, who had a tough time in the all Canadian ‘North Division.’ Assuming they do go back to normal, the Flames will be back in the Pacific Division with the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, and the newest expansion team in the Seattle Kraken. Outside of two teams, this division looks like it could very well be the weakest in the entire NHL next season. Here is a quick briefing on what to expect for all of these teams next season.
Not so long ago, the Ducks, along with the Sharks and Kings, were three of the most dominant teams in the NHL and provided a nightmare road trip for any teams having to travel to California. However, things have changed in a big way since all three have struggled recently, none more so than the Ducks this season.
In 56 games this season, they went just 17-30-9, which placed them 30th in the league standings. This marks the third straight year they have missed the playoffs, and despite a few talented prospects, they don’t appear to be on the rise anytime soon.
After nearly a decade of struggles, followed by a few seasons of inconsistency, the Oilers have had two impressive regular seasons in a row and appear to have figured things out. With the two-headed monster of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the charge, they should be one of the top teams in the Pacific Division next season.
This season, the Oilers had an impressive 35-19-2 record, trailing only the Toronto Maple Leafs in the North Division. Similar to last year against the Chicago Blackhawks, they were upset once again, this time at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. While questions remain about how far their roster can go in the playoffs, however, there is no denying they are a very good regular season team, and there is no reason to expect anything different in the 2021-22 campaign.
As mentioned above, the Kings were once a powerhouse in the NHL, proven by their two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. In recent years, however, they have taken a major fall from grace and have been one of the weaker teams in the entire league.
This season, they finished 25th in the league standings with a subpar record of 21-28-7. The exciting news for them is that they undoubtedly have the best prospect pool in the entire league, meaning they should be able to turn things around in the near future. For next season, however, their core will remain quite old and will likely struggle once again. While they may be better than this past season, they shouldn’t be much of a threat to the Flames.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks, who are the last of the California-based teams mentioned here, may be in the worst position of the three. After over a decade of success, particularly in the regular season, their core has slowed down with age, and as a result, they have some very bad contracts. Players like Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are all in their thirties and have plenty of term left on their contracts with extremely high cap hits.
As for league standings, the Sharks tied with the Kings, posting an identical 21-28-7 record. On paper, this is a team with some very high-profiled names, but as previously stated, nearly all of them appear to be on the back nine of their careers. Perhaps a bounce-back is possible, but it doesn’t feel likely given that they have struggled for two straight seasons now.
Much like the Flames, the Canucks were a team many expected to battle for a playoff spot in the North Division this season. The expectations were reasonable, given that they took a major step forward during the 2019-20 campaign and have some great young talent on their roster. Unfortunately, however, they struggled from the get-go this season and were ravaged by COVID in the latter part of the year.
Through this season’s 56 game season, the Canucks finished 24th in the league standings with a 23-29-4 record, which put them five points behind the Flames. Assuming their young talent is able to rebound from an off year, they should contend for a playoff spot again next season, though that remains to be seen.
Vegas Golden Knights
Similar to the Oilers, the Golden Knights are a lock to make the playoffs in 2021. In fact, not only will they make the playoffs, but barring a complete shocker, they should once again be in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy, an award which they fell just short of this season.
Despite a league-leading 40 wins this season, the Golden Knights failed to capture the Presidents’ Trophy due to the Colorado Avalanche having more regulation wins. Still, it shows just how good of a team they are. That shouldn’t be expected to change anytime soon, given how talented their core group of players are.
It goes without saying, but the biggest wildcard heading into the 2021-22 season will be the Kraken. Years ago, everyone would have predicted an expansion team to be near the bottom of the league, but the Golden Knights proved in their very first year that anything is possible, particularly if management is able to have a wise strategy heading into the expansion draft.
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Though some may disagree due to the Golden Knights’ immediate success, I personally still expect the Kraken to struggle next season. General managers will be more aware of what happened in the 2017 expansion draft and will be better prepared this time around. Again, anything can happen, but the Flames should be the better of these two teams.
Possible Changes Coming in Calgary
While the Flames’ roster right now is likely good enough to get into the playoffs, it is all very dependent on what management decides to do this summer. After numerous early postseason exits followed by missing all together this season, there have been plenty of rumors that they are looking to make some big changes this summer. Assuming they don’t completely sell off their top assets for prospects and/or draft picks, which they aren’t expected to do, they should still very well be in contention for a playoff spot in this division.
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Vancouver Canucks
- L.A. Kings
- San Jose Sharks
- Seattle Kraken
- Anaheim Ducks
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.