The Edmonton Oilers had a very strong start to the 2021-22 season, fell off, and then dominated once head coach Jay Woodcroft took over from Dave Tippett. Next season shouldn’t see any massive stretches where the team struggles greatly as Woodcroft is now the coach for the entire season and the Oilers have some reinforcements to begin the campaign in Evander Kane and Brett Kulak who joined at the halfway mark or later.
While the Oilers have only gotten better with a legitimate number one goaltender in Jack Campbell and some young studs that should help fill the roster better than veterans they’ve moved on from, only three teams from the Pacific Division qualified for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs and they defeated both of them. They made it to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2006 and the team and players aren’t satisfied with that. With two of the best players in the world surrounded by a very good team from top to bottom, they are looking to make the next step that starts with dominating their division next season.
Flames Lose Gaudreau, Tkachuk Soon to Follow
The Calgary Flames are experiencing a nightmare as the 2021-22 Pacific Division champions lost their leading scorer in free agency to the Columbus Blue Jackets on very short notice, and now their other 100-point scorer could be following suit. You could see the writing on the wall after Johnny Gaudreau left that Matthew Tkachuk wasn’t going to be pleased about it. He wants to win and sign somewhere else where that is a possibility.
The Flames were stunned when the Oilers toppled them in four straight games after their series-opening victory, and what chance were they going to have after they lost their leading scorer for nothing and didn’t replace him? It wasn’t about the money with Gaudreau and doesn’t appear to be about the money with Tkachuk either. Gaudreau is American and wanted to play closer to home which is around the Metropolitan area, and Tkachuk seems to want to either head home to St. Louis or one of the southern states. That’s the risk a Canadian team takes when they draft American-born players. It just so happened that both of the Flames’ stars wanted to head home earlier in their careers and in the same season after the team had made big steps in the right direction.
Tkachuk told the Flames that he wouldn’t sign long-term, so a trade will likely go down very soon since the team filed for club-elected arbitration and a one-year contract would be the result, making him an unrestricted free agent when the year is over. Instead, they are very likely going to try to trade him before his arbitration hearing so the other team can sign him long-term. (from “Matthew Tkachuk tells Flames he won’t re-sign long term; trade likely: Sources”, The Athletic, 7/20/22)
Without both of their leading scorers, the Flames are certainly going to regress and have a tough time getting into the playoffs. The division may not be getting much better, but the Oilers appear to be a lock, the Los Angeles Kings have improved, and the Vegas Golden Knights shouldn’t be dealing with half of their roster on the injured reserve all season.
Golden Knights Trade Another Top Player for Nothing
The Golden Knights have become a spot where free agents don’t want to sign because of the way they treat their players, as there is very little loyalty and it is all about business. Marc-Andre Fleury, their Vezina-winning goaltender was traded for almost nothing, followed by Max Pacioretty this offseason, again for seemingly nothing.
The team has always had the mindset of out with the old and in with the new, as they have continued to fall from their inaugural season once that was implemented. Last season for the Golden Knights may have been a fluke with the sheer number of major injuries to top players and the time they were out of the lineup, but they fired their head coach when he shouldn’t be blamed for missing the playoffs and are now without their leading goal-scorer in Pacioretty.
The Golden Knights may be better than they were last season, but that’s only if they can stay healthy. A big concern that will be a huge factor is if Robin Lehner can actually stay injury-free in net and be the number one guy they had envisioned when they traded Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Canucks in Weird Place
The Vancouver Canucks have made more sideways moves and have been stuck in limbo despite a strong-looking team. Their defence remains a major issue and has been the reason why they’ve struggled to play well night in and night out. Also the consistency of their forward group behind J.T. Miller is an issue.
The Canucks brought back Brock Boeser, but he is coming off of a down season and is injury-prone. The three players who the team should be certain will help them win every night are Thatcher Demko, Quinn Hughes, and Miller. Unfortunately for the team, there is a lot surrounding Miller and his future with the Canucks. Will there be enough cap space to re-sign him? Does he want to re-sign? Or do the Canucks trade him this offseason or more likely at the trade deadline if they are not in a playoff spot once again?
The team has made the playoffs once in the past seven seasons, and they got in with the play-in series. Though they did advance to the second round, that seems like a lifetime ago at this point. Everything will have to come together and some of their players bounce back from disappointing seasons. They also don’t have the cap space to transform their defence the way they want to, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers make far too much money.
Sharks Will Be Even Worse Without Top Defenceman
The San Jose Sharks were a little bit of a threat towards the beginning of last season, but cooled off and finished where they should have. They are in a weird spot where the team has a number of big, long-term contracts while also trying to integrate young players into their lineup. Losing Brent Burns will automatically make the team worse, as he is still very effective offensively at age 37.
They kicked things off by trading Burns to the Carolina Hurricanes, but still have four years left of Marc-Edouard Vlasic at $7 million per year. They are also stuck in limbo, but much further behind the Canucks. They will be a middling team at best while at the same time trying to alter their identity as they attempt to avoid a full rebuild.
Ducks & Kraken Still Building
The Anaheim Ducks and Seattle Kraken have bright futures, especially with how they’ve drafted over the past couple of years. But next year isn’t their year and they won’t be a threat to even qualify for the playoffs, not to mention compete with the Oilers for the top spot.
The Ducks saw their captain and franchise star Ryan Getzlaf retire and will likely be keeping John Gibson around as they try to come out of a rebuild sooner than later, as their young players need time to gain experience in the NHL. The Kraken have drafted Matty Beniers and Shane Wright in their first two drafts and are set for the future. As rookies, that won’t be enough to get them into contention though.
Kings are the Only Team That Got Better, Goaltending is Still Questionable
The Kings are the only team that is surely going to improve next season, as they finished five points behind the Oilers and took them to seven games. They outperformed standards and have now added Kevin Fiala, an 85-point scorer from last season. The rest of their roster has generally stayed exactly the same and they should have Drew Doughty back as well. (from “NHL Off-Season Outlook: Los Angeles Kings”, The Hockey News, 7/17/22)
A big question mark is still their goaltending as the team paid Cal Petersen a significant sum of money to be the starter of the future and he recorded a .895 save percentage last season. Their other goaltender, Jonathan Quick, stepped up in 2021-22, but it will be tough to count on that again for an entire campaign as he is only getting older and had his best season since 2017-18.
I am counting on the Kings to be the toughest competition for the Oilers next season and finish in the top three in the division. I wouldn’t be shocked if only three from the Pacific qualify once again and they have to face a team from the Central Division in Round 1. Nevertheless, their division got significantly worse as a whole while they only had positives come out of their offseason. As such, it should be their’s to lose.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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