Oilers’ Top Competition for the Pacific Division Crown in 2022-23

Entering the 2022-23 season, the Edmonton Oilers should be the early favourites to win the Pacific Division and go the furthest in the playoffs. But nothing is ever certain, especially in the NHL, where there are upsets every single night. However, the division is more competitive overall, and the top teams made some interesting moves this offseason to shift the power. Who will contest the Oilers as the best team in the Pacific? Here’s a look.

Calgary Flames

The offseason was very rough for the Calgary Flames after they lost Johnny Gaudreau in free agency and traded Matthew Tkachuk in a very short time. However, in return for Tkachuk, they received pieces that could hold them over for one more season. In short order, general manager Brad Treliving did an incredible job of locking down Jonathan Huberdeau long-term, re-signing Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington, and working diligently to re-sign MacKenzie Weegar already.

Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The knock against the Flames – and why they will regress next season – is that they brought in one 100-plus point scorer but lost two. The chemistry of their top line last season is unmatched, and it will take some time for Huberdeau to get familiar with his new teammates and linemates. The team brought back a very underrated defenceman, but as one of the best defensive teams in the NHL last season, with more defencemen than they know what to do with, that won’t have a huge effect.

You can bet the Flames will score fewer goals and finish lower than sixth in the league next season without the most dominant line in the NHL leading them. They should give the Oilers some tough battles, but it won’t be the same as in 2021-22 now that their top two players from the last five seasons or more are on new teams.

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings are the most improved team overall. Not only do they have a legitimate top-six after they added an 85-point player in Kevin Fiala, but their young players have a season of experience under their belts. There will be a lot of internal competition, which is always good, but the young players will also need to step up with bigger roles and opportunities next season.

Kevin Fiala Minnesota Wild
Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Kings didn’t go out and upgrade their defence, but it will seem like an upgrade having a healthy Drew Doughty and Sean Walker back in the lineup. Doughty played just 39 regular-season games in 2021-22 and wasn’t healthy for the playoffs. That first-round series between the Kings and Oilers could’ve gone another way if the Kings had had their number one defenceman on the ice. Walker also played just six games last season before suffering a season-ending injury.

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The goaltending is still a question, but as the team in front of them improves, Cal Petersen‘s numbers should also rise. Jonathan Quick, on the other hand, is another year older, and there’s a chance he declines again. Maybe last season was an anomaly at this point, but time will tell. The Kings will be top-three in the division and could challenge the Oilers if their goaltending holds up, and their young players hold their own.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Vegas Golden Knights can never be counted out, given what they do every season to be as competitive as possible. There is almost no player loyalty, but they have made the playoffs in four of their five seasons in the league and have won six playoff rounds. Last season, they were hit hard by injuries and playing long-term injury reserve (LTIR) roulette, placing and removing players on the list seemingly every week.

As a way to get under the salary cap for next season, the Golden Knights traded Evgeni Dadonov to the Montreal Canadiens for Shea Weber’s contract, giving away a player who was essential down the stretch and put up 20 goals and 43 points for nothing. The Golden Knights also traded Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan to the Carolina Hurricanes to clear up cap space. What came back to Vegas was future considerations. Pacioretty scored 19 goals and 37 points in 39 games and has been very productive over the past four seasons. They gave away a ton of scoring, and the team will feel it in the standings next season.

Max Pacioretty Vegas Golden Knights
Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The defence is strong, but with the risk of injury to their forwards and goaltending, it won’t be enough. New head coach Bruce Cassidy should do well as he is great at what he does, but it will also take time to implement a system as the Golden Knights continue to cycle through coaches. There is a risk that Vegas doesn’t make the playoffs for the second season in a row, but they could just as easily challenge for the division title.

Vancouver Canucks

The dark horse here is the Vancouver Canucks. They will have Bruce Boudreau behind the bench from the start of the season, and he is a winner. He took the Canucks – who were 8-15-2 – and brought them within five points of a playoff spot by coaching them to a 32-15-10 record. A couple of the stars also turned their seasons around once Boudreau took over, including Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

The Canucks defence remains unchanged from last season, which is a concern, considering how much the team leaned on goaltender Thatcher Demko. The hope going into the offseason was to upgrade the backend, but the group remains the same, and there is still a lot of money sunk into a below-average unit.

As for the forwards, the Canucks upgraded nicely and will be much more of a force from top to bottom next season. They swapped out Alex Chiasson, Juho Lammikko, and Matthew Highmore for Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko, Curtis Lazar, and Dakota Joshua. That is a massive upgrade as they add speed and skill to the wings, while Lazar is an effective fourth-line centre. It may be difficult to find the right lines considering there is a ton of talent, but the team will score many more goals next season.

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The team has one of the best goaltenders in the league, and the hope is Boudreau will have more time to work with the defence to help limit shots and chances. I think the Canucks will make the playoffs but won’t get enough defence and players staying healthy to compete for the division title.

A couple of teams regressed this offseason, and given the level the Oilers are at after their very successful offseason, the Kings may be the biggest threat for the Pacific title, but in the end, the Oilers should walk away from the 2022-23 regular season with the crown.

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