For years now, one of the biggest things going for the NHL compared to other professional sports leagues is parity, as any given team can win on any given night. That parity was on display throughout the 2021-22 season, particularly when it came to the Pacific Division.
Heading into last year’s season, almost everyone predicted the Vegas Golden Knights would win the division title rather handily, while the Edmonton Oilers were viewed as heavy favorites to finish in second. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames were thought of as a borderline playoff team, and most of those same people had the Los Angeles Kings on the outside looking in.
As we now know, the Golden Knights shockingly missed the playoffs entirely, while the Flames went on to win the division title with an outstanding 111 points. The Oilers did indeed finish second as many had expected, but few had the Kings finishing third. It goes to show that anything can happen in the sport of hockey, but nonetheless, with the 2022-23 season nearing, I am once again going to go over what I expect to see from all eight teams in this division, as well as how I believe the standings will look at seasons ends.
Not much was expected out of the Anaheim Ducks in 2021-22, making it very unsurprising that they missed the playoffs by more than 20 points. That said, they were in or around a spot for the first half of the season before spiraling in the final few months. It goes to show that while they may not be a playoff-caliber team just yet, they are improving, thanks in large part to their outstanding young talent.
At the top of that list when it comes to young talent is Trevor Zegras, who wowed the league and its fans with several highlight-worthy moments in his rookie season. The 21-year-old was outstanding with 61 points in 75 games and will only continue getting better moving forward. His linemate, Troy Terry, also deserves some recognition, as he entered the season having never cracked the 20-point barrier, only to register 37 goals and 67 points. If he is able to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, it will go a long way in helping the Ducks improve their record in 2022-23.
Despite some of the young talent on this roster, however, this Ducks team is not one that should cause teams many problems in 2022-23. While the free agent additions of John Klingberg, Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano will certainly benefit them, it isn’t enough to turn them into a playoff team just yet. That said, they appeared to be on the right track this past season and will hope to see continued growth this year.
After missing the playoffs in 2020-21, many questioned the identity of the Flames at this time last year. Some were even calling for general manager Brad Treliving to elect for a rebuild, or at the very least, a retool, of his talented yet frustrating roster. To his credit, however, he stuck with things and was rewarded with one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.
While the Oilers eliminated the Flames in quick fashion in the second round of the playoffs, that doesn’t take away from what was a great season for them. They showed with the guidance of coach Darryl Sutter that they are one of the league’s hardest teams to play against and will continue to bring that same intensity in 2022-23.
That said, there have been some major changes to the Flames this offseason, perhaps more so than any other team in the league. Not only did they lose Johnny Gaudreau via free agency, but they also parted ways with Matthew Tkachuk. Losing not only your top two scorers but two of the top eight scorers in the entire league would suggest regression is due, but that may not entirely be the case.
While losing Gaudreau for nothing will certainly hurt, Treliving was able to somehow flip Tkachuk for both Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar, as well as prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first-round pick. This move saved what was appearing to be a catastrophic offseason for the Flames and will more than likely allow them to continue to be a playoff team next year.
On top of adding both Huberdeau and Weegar, they still have many other top talents, such as Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane up front, while also possessing a very solid blue line. In net, they have a Vezina Trophy nominee from last season in Jacob Markstrom, who should continue to be as dominant in 2022-23. While another division title may not happen, the Flames will continue to be a threat.
Many feared that given their tricky salary cap situation that the Oilers may be a weaker team on paper heading into this coming season than they were at the end of last, but thanks to the work of general manager Ken Holland, that isn’t the case.
Not only was Holland able to improve the team’s goaltending position by adding Jack Campbell, but he also managed to re-sign Evander Kane to a very reasonable four-year, $20.5 million deal. Alongside Connor McDavid, there is plenty of reason to believe he could score north of 40 goals in the 2022-23 season, all while continuing to provide the power forward type presence this team has lacked in the past.
While the main task at this point and time is working on getting Ryan McLeod re-signed, one area the Oilers failed to address this offseason was improving their blue line. They were able to bring back Brett Kulak on a four-year deal, and Evan Bouchard should continue to get better, as will Philip Broberg, who is expected to crack the roster out of training camp. That said, adding one more experienced defenceman to this group would have really helped solidify their back end.
Despite the lack of improvement on the blue line, however, this team will continue to be amongst the league’s most feared due to their two-headed monster in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. These two make regular season play look like taking a walk in the park, having managed a combined 850 points in 567 points over the past four seasons. As long as they remain Oilers, this team will continue to be amongst the league’s best.
Los Angeles Kings
As mentioned above, the Kings surprised many this past season when they were able to earn themselves a playoff berth thanks to their 99-point campaign. Perhaps even more impressive was that they were able to do so in large part without Drew Doughty, who was having a Norris Trophy-like season before injuries put an end to his year. Meanwhile, Anze Kopitar was able to continue being his consistent self, while Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson proved to be very valuable pickups.
Perhaps their best forward aside from Kopitar, however, was Adrian Kempe, who put up career highs with 35 goals and 54 points, earning him a four-year contract extension. Himself, along with some of the Kings’ other young talent in players like Arthur Kaliyev, Sean Durzi, and Quinton Byfield should have this team in a very similar, if not improved position, in 2022-23.
On top of some great young pieces they had on their roster this past season, they also boast one of the best prospect pipelines in the entire NHL. A few years from now, they could very well be one of the league’s best teams. That said, I believe they overachieved slightly this past year due to a weak division, and I expect some regression in 2022-23. We will see whether or not they are able to prove me wrong.
San Jose Sharks
With Doug Wilson out as general manager and Mike Grier in, it will be interesting to see what the San Jose Sharks’ direction is moving forward. While it has been reported owner Hasso Plattner expects them to get back into the playoffs as soon as this coming season, that will be a nearly impossible feat given the number of ugly contracts they have on their payroll.
They were able to move one of those expensive contracts earlier this offseason, shipping Brent Burns off to the Carolina Hurricanes. Though they were forced to still retain $2.72 million of his cap hit, it was far better than the $8 million they had previously been on the hook for. Unfortunately, as bad as the Sharks’ bad contracts go, Burns was likely the most capable player they had in that regard, as he is still extremely effective despite his age.
Moving on from Burns, while creating much-needed cap space, makes what was already a weak Sharks blue line even weaker. While a few may still be holding their breath, it seems nearly impossible that Erik Karlsson is ever able to get anywhere close to the level he was in the past, as injuries have derailed what seemed like a guaranteed Hall-of-Fame career.
There is little reason for optimism when it comes to their forward position either, though both Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are world-class players. Unfortunately, the drop-off after those two is quite significant, as Logan Couture is no longer the dependable centerman he once was. Perhaps William Eklund is able to crack the lineup and make an impact, but it still won’t be enough to get this team back into the playoffs.
While the Seattle Kraken certainly didn’t wow anybody with the picks they made on the day of their expansion draft, some were hesitant to say they were going to struggle given the major success the Vegas Golden Knights had in their inaugural 2017-18 season. As it turns out, the reason the Golden Knights’ story was such a feel-good one is that expansion teams aren’t usually successful right away, something the Kraken proved as they had just 27 wins last season.
The good news for them is that things should improve for them in 2022-23, as they were able to bring in some solid additions to their lineup. Andre Burakovsky chose to join them on a five-year, $27.5 million deal, while Oliver Bjorkstrand was recently acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also have two of the top prospects in the game in Matty Beniers and Shane Wright, both of whom could very well crack the roster this upcoming season.
While their forward group will be improved, their blue line still leaves plenty to be desired. Signing Justin Schultz won’t hurt, but he wasn’t the big get they needed. That could result in continued struggles for Philipp Grubauer, who was amongst the worst goaltenders in the entire NHL last season with a ghastly 3.16 goals against average and .889 save percentage. Safe to say that, while they should improve slightly, they still have a long way to go before becoming a playoff-caliber team and will likely be well outside by the time the 2022-23 campaign concludes.
After a very disappointing 2020-21 season, some believed the Vancouver Canucks might be able to sneak back into the playoffs in 2021-22. Unfortunately for them, a slow start (one in which got head coach Travis Green fired) prevented that from happening. That said, there is reason to believe they can turn things around in 2022-23.
After the firing of Green, the Canucks chose to bring in Bruce Boudreau, a move that worked out as well as anyone could have hoped. The 67-year-old almost instantly became a fan favorite in Vancouver, and for good reason. In his 57 games behind the bench, the Canucks had a very solid 32-15-10 record. Had he been in charge from the get-go, there is plenty of reason to believe they would have gotten into the playoffs this past year.
Another big reason for optimism with this team is Elias Pettersson. The 23-year-old seems to have been written off as one of the game’s young top stars as of late, which should give him plenty of motivation to have a monster year. He still has a chance to morph into a superstar forward, and despite his struggles, he finished the 2021-22 campaign with 32 goals and 68 points.
The Canucks should also expect to see a bounce-back year from Brock Boeser, while J.T. Miller (assuming he isn’t traded) and Quinn Hughes will continue to be great. If Thatcher Demko performs like he is capable of between the pipes, this team could surprise many.
Vegas Golden Knights
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Not only have the Golden Knights fallen in terms of performance and expectations, but also in regards to popularity. This franchise went from beloved to unanimously hated in a short time due to their management’s all-in, all-the-time approach that has resulted in little to no regard for loyalty towards players. Those moves have backfired and have set back what was a Stanley Cup contending roster.
Make no mistake; the Golden Knights could still very well be a Cup contender this upcoming season. They have several star players on their roster. However, due to having such star power, they have little to no depth due to their salary cap complications. Even worse than the lack of depth is the injury to Robin Lehner, one that will keep him out for the entirety of the 2022-23 season as a result of hip surgery.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon has no choice but to go out and add a goalie, but he may have trouble in doing so. Not only are there none left on the free agent market, but he has little to no salary to work with due to his reckless approach over the past few years. Had Lehner been ready to go this fall, there would have been little to no doubt this team would have found a way to get back into the playoffs. That said, I have to imagine McCrimmon is able to figure out something on this front, as there is no chance he can enter the season with Michael Hutchinson and Logan Thompson as his duo. That belief is the sole reason I am placing them where I am when it comes to my predictions right below.
End of Season Predictions
- Edmonton Oilers
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Calgary Flames
- Vancouver Canucks
- Los Angeles Kings
- Anaheim Ducks
- Seattle Kraken
- San Jose Sharks