Pacific Division Preview: Seattle Kraken Aiming for Playoffs

The Seattle Kraken enter a realigned Pacific Division for the 2021-22 season. Among their goals, they aim to compete with the division’s best clubs, and contend for a spot in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Below I preview the Pacific and examine how the Kraken compare to each of their seven division opponents.

Pacific Division Overview

The Pacific Division reunites after a 2020-21 season that essentially split the division in two. Last season the Honda West Division featured the five American clubs — the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Arizona Coyotes, who now play in the Central Division. The Scotiabank North Division included all three Western Canadian teams — the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers.

Reilly Smith Jonathan Marchessault Patrick Kane
The Vegas Golden Knights will likely present the toughest competition in the Pacific Division in 2021-22 (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Pacific may be the weakest of the four divisions this season, as only Vegas and Edmonton qualified for the 2021 Playoffs. Only three Pacific teams finished in the Western Conference’s top-eight in 2019-20, and only three of them represented the division in the 2019 Playoffs.

While Vegas and Edmonton have turned in good regular seasons the past two years, the other teams have either played inconsistently, or experienced a downfall from which they have not recovered. The Canucks’ 2020-21 campaign was a blunder when compared to their promising 2020 playoff run. The Flames went from 2019 division champion to, at best, a .500 club two years later. Meanwhile, the three California teams that dominated much of the 2010s have plummeted, and will rely primarily on young talent to eventually lift them to relevancy.

Pacific Division Opponent Profiles

Below I profile each team in the division, discussing the state of each team, the type of matchup the Kraken can expect, and when the Kraken face that club in the 2021-22 regular season. I also highlight both Kraken players who have played for that team and Kraken players with recent success against that team — particularly goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

Anaheim Ducks

  • 2020-21 Record: 17-30-9 (8th, West Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: Haydn Fleury (12 games)
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • vs ANA 11/11/2021
    • @ ANA 12/15/2021
    • @ ANA 03/25/2022

The Ducks stand out as one of the weaker teams in the division, having finished toward the bottom in each of the past three seasons. This starkly contrasts a previous era in which they won five straight division titles from 2013-2017.

Haydn Fleury Anaheim Ducks Seattle Kraken
Haydn Fleury played 12 games in 2020-21 for the Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Ducks may have struggled the last few years, but have prepared for the future with one of the league’s strongest prospect pools — ranking second here at THW. Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale will likely anchor a young core that has started forming around Sam Steele, Troy Terry, Max Jones, and last year’s leading scorer, Max Comtois. Adding Zegras and Drysdale as regulars will improve a Ducks offense that ranked last in the NHL in 2020-21. However, the core likely needs another season or two to develop before they ascend above the division’s basement. With reliable defensemen and strong goaltending, the Kraken should be able to keep the puck out of the net versus Anaheim.

Fleury is the lone Ducks alumnus on Seattle, although with just 12 games played with Anaheim, he probably won’t be a key player in the season series. That said, last season Grubauer excelled against the Ducks in his five starts. He posted a 4-1-0 record, a .927 save percentage (SV%), and a 1.70 goals-against average (GAA).

Calgary Flames

  • 2020-21 Record: 26-27-3 (5th, North Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: Mark Giordano (949 games)
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • @CGY 12/23/2021
    • vs CGY 12/30/2021
    • vs CGY 04/09/2022
    • @CGY 04/12/2022

The Flames-Kraken matchup will be one to watch early this season. Kraken defenseman Mark Giordano captained Calgary from 2013-2021 and, in 2019, won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. He will return to the Scotiabank Saddledome on December 23 in what will likely be an emotional moment for many of his former teammates, fans, and himself.

Mark Giordano Calgary Flames Seattle Kraken
Mark Giordano captained the Calgary Flames from 2013-2021 (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ben Nelms)

The Flames missed the playoffs the past year, but could return to form if some of their forwards bounce back. Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, and Matthew Tkachuk are in a contract season, and may be further motivated to put the team on their back. Defensively, Calgary added size and physicality this offseason, bringing in bruisers Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson; they aim to intimidate the opposition more, after ranking just 22nd in hits last season.

Above all, goaltender Jacob Markstrom is the x-factor in getting the Flames back to the postseason. If he plays more like the netminder who finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting in 2019-20, then Calgary is capable of surpassing teams like Vancouver and Seattle in the standings.

Edmonton Oilers

  • 2020-21 Record: 35-19-2 (2nd, North Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: Jordan Eberle (507 games), Adam Larsson (329 games), Riley Sheahan (66 games)
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • @ EDM 11/01/2021
    • vs EDM 12/03/2021
    • vs EDM 12/18/2021

The Oilers have finished second place in their division the past two years, and during that time, they have consistently found themselves in a playoff spot throughout the regular season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continue to lead the team in just about every offensive category and, at just 24 and 25 years old, respectively, are in the early stages of their prime. Those two, in addition to free agent signing Zach Hyman, are likely enough to keep the Oilers in playoff contention.

Adam Larsson Seattle Kraken Edmonton Oilers
Adam Larsson blocked 638 shots in his 329 games with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

However, the Oilers have some question marks. The strength of the team defense is one of them, after the team lost Larsson to Seattle and, essentially, replaced him with 38-year-old Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci. Second, Mike Smith returns after an excellent 2020-21 campaign — 2.31 GAA and .923 SV% — but, at 39 years old, might not be able to replicate his performance over an 82-game season.

Lastly, the Oilers still face uncertainty in the forward group. While Jesse Puljujarvi returned strongly to the NHL by contributing 25 points, forwards such as Kyle Turris, Zack Kassian, and 2019-20 breakout Kailer Yamamoto experienced steep declines last season. For these reasons, I do not think Edmonton is a lock to finish second behind Vegas; in fact, I boldly predicted the Kraken to finish second in the Pacific.

Los Angeles Kings

  • 2020-21 Record: 21-28-7 (t-6th, West Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: none
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • vs LAK 01/15/2022
    • @ LAK 03/26/2022
    • @ LAK 03/28/2022
    • vs LAK 04/27/2022

Like the Ducks, the Kings boast one of the league’s best prospect pools, highlighted by Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte. In fact, earlier this month, THW ranked them No. 1. However, Los Angeles can still succeed this season by leaning on its veterans. Anze Kopitar (50 points in 56 games) and Dustin Brown (31 point in 49 games) continue to produce well into their 30s. They won’t need to carry the load alone, as defensive specialist Philipp Danault and two-time 30-goal scorer Viktor Arvidsson join the club.

Phillip Danault Montreal Canadiens Los Angeles Kings Seattle Kraken
Phillip Danault signed with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2021 offseason (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The acquisition of former Canuck Alex Edler, and emergence of Matt Roy into the top four, may also stabilize the Los Angeles blue line. Behind them, Cal Peterson has proven to be at least a serviceable goaltender in the twilight of Jonathan Quick’s career, posting a 2.89 GAA and .911 SV% in 35 games last season.

Nonetheless, I see the Kraken as a team that should, at the worst, finish with roughly the same record as the Kings. Seattle’s goaltending options with Grubauer and Driedger give them the advantage, while the forward and defense groups are more or less a draw. In particular, Grubauer performed spectacularly against the Kings in 2020-21. He won all five of his starts and posted an intimidating .953 SV% and 1.00 GAA; he also earned two of his league-leading seven shutouts against Los Angeles.

San Jose Sharks

  • 2020-21 Record: 21-28-7 (t-6th, West Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: Ryan Donato (50 games), Joonas Donskoi (283 games), Alex True (19 games)
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • @ SJS 12/14/2021
    • vs SJS 01/20/2022
    • @ SJS 02/27/2022
    • vs SJS 04/29/2022

Like the Ducks and Kings, the Sharks have recently plummeted to the bottom of the standings, but their top prospects aren’t yet ready for NHL action. The roster predominantly features several standout veterans, including two former Norris Trophy winners in Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. However, many of these players have dropped off, both in terms of productivity and reliability — particularly on the power play and coughing up the puck before it reaches center ice.

Joonas Donskoi San Jose Sharks Seattle Kraken
Joonas Donskoi played for the San Jose Sharks from 2015-2019 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

San Jose also finds itself at a crossroads with two of their most talented forwards. Evander Kane continues a saga of off-ice drama that has affected his relationship with his teammates, and top-six center Tomas Hertl may pursue free agency next season, unless the Sharks trade him. The Kraken conclude their season against the Sharks at home. If they are in a must-win situation, then they have a favorable edge to clinch a playoff berth.

Carson Soucy impressed in eight games against San Jose last season. Averaging 15:15 of time on ice, he contributed five of his career-best 22 points, recorded a plus-7 rating, and committed only two penalties. Additionally, Grubauer had an inconsistent time with the Sharks in 2020-21. His .918 SV% and 2.16 GAA are stellar, despite being below his season averages. That said, he shut the Sharks out in three of his seven starts.

Vancouver Canucks

  • 2020-21 Record: 23-29-4 (7th, North Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: Kole Lind (7 games), Jared McCann (69 games)
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • vs VAN 10/23/2021
    • @ VAN 12/27/2021
    • vs VAN 01/01/2022
    • @ VAN 04/26/2022

Perhaps the Kraken’s greatest rival for their inaugural season, the Canucks are the division’s most volatile team. They still need to sign both Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes after a forgettable 2020-21 campaign, and yet, they might not be far away from contending for a second or third place division finish.

Jared McCann Seattle Kraken Vancouver Canucks
Jared McCann began his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Assuming Pettersson and Hughes sign, then the Canucks offense presents maybe the Kraken’s biggest challenge defensively. When healthy, the forward core of Pettersson, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, JT Miller, Nils Hoglander, and newly acquired Conor Garland could give any defense fits. Add in Hughes and former Coyote Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and this team will find a myriad of ways to torch opponents. In goal, Thatcher Demko quietly impressed in his first season as a starter — 2.85 GAA and .915 SV in 35 games — and is coming into the prime of his career. Backing him up will be a seasoned, but reliable number-two netminder in 36-year-old Jaroslav Halak.

Mason Appleton may be the Kraken player to watch out for against Vancouver. In nine games against the Canucks in 2020-21, he notched four goals, two assists, and a plus-5 rating — averaging 13:46 of time on ice and an impressive 23.5 shooting percentage. Additionally, Mark Giordano contributed two goals, three assists, and a plus-5 rating in 10 games versus Vancouver last season.

Vegas Golden Knights

  • 2020-21 Record: 40-14-2 (t-1st, West Division)
  • Alumni on Seattle: none
  • Kraken Schedule:
    • @ VGK 10/12/2021
    • vs VGK 11/09/2021
    • vs VGK 03/30/2021
    • @ VGK 04/01/2021

The Golden Knights have had little challenge contending for a top spot in their division since 2017-18, notching an astonishing division record of 93-34-10 since then (and yes, I triple-checked my math). While forwards like Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch can be downright electric, it’s the defense that shines brightest in Sin City. The Golden Knights led the league in goals-against-average at a stingy 2.21 per game. Contributing to that figure is a balanced defensive core; Alec Martinez continues to limit opponent scoring chances as well as any defender in the NHL, and Shea Theodore is progressing as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.

Evgenii Dadonov Ottawa Senators Seattle Kraken Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights traded for former Senator Evgeni Dadonov in the 2021 offseason (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Vegas will miss arguably the face of their franchise, 2021 Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury, but they still have an excellent goaltender in Robin Lehner. He has appeared in just 22 regular season games for the Golden Knights but has recorded a .917 SV% and 2.20 GAA. New backup Laurent Brossoit hopes to build on his 2020-21 season, in which he posted a .918 SV% and a 2.42 GAA in 14 games.

Although I still see the Golden Knights winning the Pacific Division handily, I think Seattle may be able to keep Vegas’ offense at bay in a few goaltending duels. While with the Colorado Avalanche last season, Grubauer engaged in several defensive stalemates versus Vegas. Starting seven of eight games, he helped Colorado technically win the season series (4-3-1) by recording a .935 SV% and a 1.86 GAA.

The Kraken Can Make the Playoffs

In my assessment, I think the Pacific Division is the Golden Knights’ to lose, as they have the division’s best defense and, even without Fleury, can keep pucks out of the net with Lehner and Brossoit. After Vegas, I see the Oilers, Canucks, and yes, the Seattle Kraken competing for the next two spots in the division. One of these teams may miss the playoffs, as the superior Central Division could send five teams into the postseason; five teams currently in the Central also made the playoffs last season.

The Kings and Flames are teams I do not expect to qualify for the playoffs, but could see at least competing for a spot for the majority of the season. Lastly, I expect the Sharks and Ducks to, once again, finish at the bottom.

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