2023-24 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

Home to the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the NHL’s Pacific Division has some very interesting teams to watch for different reasons. Some teams have Cup aspirations, others are looking to be mighty awful this season. There is little in-between. In two months, these teams get a fresh start. Here are their stories.

Anaheim Ducks

This is seemingly the third year in a row of Anaheim signing veterans to complement the young core. This year, like the last couple, also shows no signs of the Ducks making significant progress. To see why, take a look at who they signed.

For the forward core, they brought in winger Alex Killorn. The longtime member of the Tampa Bay Lightning is coming off a career season (27-37-64) and had back-to-back seasons with 25 goals or more.

This sounds good, but then comes the caveat. Killorn is 33 years old and signed a four-year contract with a cap hit of $6.25 million. This contract also carries a full no-trade clause for the first two years, then a 15-team no-trade clause for the last two.

The Ducks’ main blueline addition was right-handed defenseman Radko Gudas. Gudas has developed a reputation as an analytical darling defenseman with a penchant for penalties. Gudas was last with the Florida Panthers for three seasons.

What Gudas was signed to be is a stopgap for Jamie Drysdale, who has either underwhelmed or been injured. This signing was similar in many ways to when the Ducks signed Kevin Shattenkirk in 2020 free agency. Gudas and Shattenkirk were both signed to three-year deals with no-trade clauses of different degrees and values within $100,000 per year of each other.

The Ducks were able to avoid arbitration with All-Star Troy Terry and sign him to a seven-year, $7 million per year contract. One restricted free agent looms large for them, though: Trevor Zegras. The skill forward sensation needs a contract extension and Anaheim has the cap space, but he remains without a contract.

Regardless, this Ducks team still looks to be awful, especially if their defense and goalie cores remain unstable.

Potential Anaheim opening night lineup

McTavish – Zegras – Terry / Killorn – Strome – Vatrano / McGinn – Henrique – Silfverberg / Jones – Carrick – Leason

Fowler – Drysdale / White – Gudas / Hagg – Vaakanainen

Gibson / Stalock

Projected Pacific Division finish: 7th of 8.

Calgary Flames

This team should have made the playoffs last year. How deep they would have gone in the playoffs will forever be a mystery, but this team had talent throughout. Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri as a 1-2 punch down the middle. Jonathan Huberdeau, Tyler Toffoli, Andrew Mangiapane, and Blake Coleman on the wings. A defense core that included MacKenzie Weegar, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson, and Chris Tanev. This team was destined to return to the playoffs… except they fell short.

The Flames lost 12 games in overtime and five more in the shootout. If they win three of those, they make the playoffs. In the end, both Brad Treliving and Darryl Sutter lost their respective jobs with Calgary. New general manager Craig Conroy has made just one move of significance: trading Tyler Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils. The Flames’ woes were discussed more in-depth here, but long story short, Calgary is staring a rebuild in the face.

Potential Calgary opening night lineup

Huberdeau – Lindholm – Mangiapane / Sharangovich – Kadri – Coleman / Dubé – Backlund – Duehr / Pelletier – Ruzicka – Coronato

Hanifin – Andersson / Weegar – Tanev / Kylington – Zadorov

Markstrom / Vladar

Projected Pacific Division finish: 5th of 8.

Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a quandary similar to the Toronto Maple Leafs. On one hand, the Oilers have Connor McDavid, the best player in hockey right now. McDavid had a historic season offensively. On the other hand, it still was not enough to escape the second round.

Edmonton has been good, but not good enough. They have lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in back-to-back seasons for one reason or another. This time, it was Stuart Skinner turning from revelation to liability in the playoffs. The Oilers do not have a proper solution in net and have not since they made Cam Talbot play 73 games in 2016-17.

The Oilers have also struggled to play lockdown hockey in the playoffs. Over the last two seasons, Edmonton has played 28 playoff games. They have allowed two goals or fewer in eight of those games. By comparison, the Cup-winning Colorado squad allowed two goals or fewer ten times en route to the Cup. This year, Vegas allowed two goals or fewer 11 times.

Evan Bouchard, Edmonton’s best right-handed defenseman, also remains unsigned. The Oilers likely need to free up cap space in order to suit his needs, so somebody is on the way out. In the meantime, they made quite the speculative buy in Connor Brown. Brown missed almost all of last season due to injury but figures to work himself into the middle six.

Barring a visit from the injury bug, the Oilers and their fanbase are likely waiting until April to get invested in their season. Expectations remain high in Alberta.

Potential Edmonton opening night lineup

Kane – McDavid – Hyman / Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Brown / Janmark – McLeod – Foegele / Holloway – Ryan – Lavoie

Nurse – Ceci / Ekholm – Bouchard / Kulak – Desharnais

Skinner / Campbell

Projected Pacific Division finish: 2nd of 8.

Los Angeles Kings

Rob Blake believes he has found the solution to beating the Edmonton Oilers in a series: another second-line center from Quebec. Pierre-Luc Dubois is the latest Kings splash acquisition in their return to relevance. This Kings team, like Edmonton, is built to win games 5-4 instead of 2-1. That has been a strength and a weakness.

They sent Alex Iafallo, Gabriel Vilardi, and Rasmus Kupari to Winnipeg as part of the Dubois trade, three key depth pieces. These holes will be filled easily by some of the many prospects still in the Kings’ system. The Kings still have the assets to go out and trade for a goaltender, perhaps Connor Hellebuyck or Carter Hart. That is what holds the Kings back from greatness.

Pierre-Luc Dubois was the Kings’ big piece this offseason. Once free agency began, the Kings could only make low-key moves. They brought back Trevor Lewis on a one-year deal and signed Andreas Englund to a two-year contract to be a seventh defenseman.

This Kings team still makes the playoffs on account of the lack of parity in the Western Conference. The question is whether goaltending prevents them from what they can truly be. The most likely outcome is Rob Blake refusing to trade for a goalie until the trade deadline or dire straits, whichever happens first.

Potential Los Angeles opening night lineup

Fiala – Kopitar – Kempe / Byfield – Dubois – Arvidsson / Moore – Danault – Kaliyev / Grundstrom – Lizotte – Lewis

Anderson – Doughty / Gavrikov – Roy / Englund – Clarke

Copley / Talbot

Projected Pacific Division finish: 4th of 8.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks traded away their Norris Trophy-winning defenseman. Their only defender of significant note is gone, which is strike one and two. Strike three on their season comes when they inevitably sell at the trade deadline. Who will be the second domino to fall?

Perhaps it’s Logan Couture, who can be the third of three possible players San Jose can retain salary on at a time, despite his words of commitment. Maybe it’s one of the pending free agent wingers such as Alexander Barabanov, Kevin Labanc, Anthony Duclair, and Mike Hoffman.

The Sharks are also more focused on the future than the present. How will Will Eklund fare in his first full season of NHL action? Will someone like Thomas Bordeleau or Brandon Coe steal Eklund’s thunder? Head coach David Quinn will have his hands full with this Sharks team.

Potential San Jose opening night lineup

Eklund – Hertl – Barabanov / Duclair – Couture – Labanc / Hoffman – Granlund – Zadina / Lindblom – Sturm – Kunin

Ferraro – Benning / Simek – Burroughs / Vlasic – Rutta

Blackwood / Kahkonen

Projected Pacific Division finish: 8th of 8.

Seattle Kraken

Seattle was last year’s pleasant surprise. There was no sophomore slump for the Kraken; they experienced the exact opposite. This team was a win away from the Western Conference Final after being projected to get stomped in by Colorado. Sometimes, a team in that position makes a “leap of faith” move to get that one piece that will put them over the top. Seattle knows they do not need to do that.

That player will be Shane Wright. His sophomore campaign looks to be a treat for residents of Starbucks Land. Seattle has a well-rounded skater core that was beefed up in free agency with the additions of defenseman Brian Dumoulin and winger Kailer Yamamoto. The forward core in particular is one of the strongest in the league, with the likes of Matthew Beniers, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, and Andre Burakovsky making up only part of the team.

The only question is whether Philipp Grubauer can maintain the form he rediscovered in the playoffs. Grubauer has had back-to-back nightmarish seasons in net and none of the alternatives have panned out. If Grubauer plays well or even acceptably, the sky’s the limit.

Potential Seattle opening night lineup

McCann – Beniers – Eberle / Schwartz – Wennberg – Burakovsky / Tolvanen – Gourde – Bjorkstrand / Tanev – Wright – Yamamoto

Dunn – Larsson / Dumoulin – Schultz / Oleksiak – Borgen

Grubauer / Driedger

Projected Pacific Division finish: 2nd of 8.

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver is confusing. This team has talented players throughout the lineup like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Andrei Kuzmenko. Thatcher Demko can show flashes of brilliance. This team is by no means bad enough to fully tank.

The main problem is the lack of depth. Their center depth drops like a rock. Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller can play the game and play it well, but while Miller is the second-line center, the third-line center is Teddy Blueger.

Many other young players on Vancouver have failed to inspire confidence as of late, too. Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin split time between Vancouver and Abbotsford when both were getting regular NHL-level reps two seasons ago. There are no defenseman prospects to speak of. The defense was bad before Oliver Ekman-Larsson was bought out.

If this Vancouver team is to make the playoffs, everything will have to go right for them and teams like Nashville and Calgary will need everything to go wrong.

Potential Vancouver opening night lineup

Kuzmenko – Pettersson – Boeser / Mikheyev – Miller – Garland / Hoglander – Blueger – Beauvillier / Joshua – Aman – Podkolzin

Hughes – Hronek / Soucy – Myers / Rathbone – Cole

Demko – Silovs

Projected Pacific Division finish: 6th of 8.

Vegas Golden Knights

The champs are here. It took the Golden Knights six long years but they finally won the Stanley Cup. To say Vegas has had one of the best starts to a franchise ever may be an understatement. In their first six seasons, the Golden Knights have made the playoffs five times, the conference final (or its equivalent) four times, the Stanley Cup Final twice, and now they won it all.

The scariest part is the Golden Knights did not lose too much in the offseason– emphasis on “too much.” Vegas has been hugging the salary cap ceiling for almost their entire existence and each year, they have had to trade someone. This offseason, Reilly Smith was shipped out of Sin City.

Smith has always been a solid middle-six winger, but was one of the three “misfits” along with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Now, just five members of the 2017-18 team remain: Marchessault, Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, and William Carrier.

Even with Smith’s departure, Vegas will look to reload. Young players such as Pavel Dorofeyev and Brendan Brisson can make their way onto the starting roster and infuse some much-needed support. Vegas, barring another visit from the injury bug, will be contending for the Stanley Cup.

Potential Vegas opening night lineup

Barbashev – Eichel – Marchessault / Howden – Stephenson – Stone / Dorofeyev – Karlsson – Amadio / Carrier – Roy – Kolesar

Martinez – Pietrangelo / McNabb – Theodore / Hague – Whitecloud

Hill / Thompson

Projected Pacific Divison finish: 1st of 8.

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