The Pacific Division is back, though it looks a bit different this season.
The Seattle Kraken have officially arrived, and the Arizona Coyotes have shifted over to the Central Division.
Once again, the Pacific projects to be the weakest division in the NHL, which bodes well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they look to overcome the offseason departure of Marc-Andre Fleury and the long-term injury to Alex Tuch.
Vegas and Edmonton are considered the early favorites, but it was an interesting summer for many teams in the division.
Calgary received backlash for not breaking up the team’s core, and Sharks forward Evander Kane was the subject of multiple investigations.
The Sharks and Ducks took baby steps in their team rebuilds, while the Kings and Canucks were aggressive. Edmonton also made many changes.
Now that the pucks have begun to drop, here’s an overview of Vegas’ division opponents for the 2021-22 campaign.
2020-21 record: 17-30-9 (30th)
Season result: Did not make the playoffs
Leading scorer: Max Comtois (16-17—33)
Protected in expansion: Rakell, Silfverberg, Steel, Terry, Lundestrom, Jones, Deslauriers; Fowler, Lindholm, Manson; Gibson
Lost in expansion: Haydn Fleury (D)
Key additions: Greg Pateryn
Key departures: Danton Heinen, Ryan Miller
Vegas’ all-time record: 17-3-0
Season opener: Oct. 13 vs. Winnipeg (4-1 win)
The Ducks are in a period of transition as the young talent throughout the organization moves up the ranks. Gone are the days of the Mighty Ducks being a perennial contender on the shoulders of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
Now Trevor Zegras is set to take on a much larger top-six role, as will last year’s leading scorer and Knights killer Max Comtois; Isaac Lundestrom, Sam Steel, Max Jones and Troy Terry are expected to be with the team for the duration of the season. Mason McTavish, selected third overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, made his NHL debut in the Ducks’ season opener, scoring a goal and an assist in the win.
Mason McTavish is a happy, happy boy pic.twitter.com/yZWj9AUvqA— Dylan Griffing (@GriffingDylan) October 14, 2021
Benoit-Olivier Groulx also made his debut in the home opener, playing 14:30 despite being listed on the fourth line. Lundestrom tallied two assists.
On the back end, Jamie Drysdale has been playing the point on the top power-play unit; he assisted on a power-play strike by Rickard Rakell in the season opener. The 19-year-old was taken No. 6 overall in 2020 and should play heavy minutes for the Ducks this season.
Like Vegas, the Ducks struggled mightily with the man advantage last season. In fact, Anaheim had the worst power play in the NHL, operating at just 8.9 percent (Vegas finished at 17.8 percent, to put it in perspective). Anaheim scored two power-play goals in its first game of the season, but it remains a work in progress.
Getzlaf signed a one-year, $3 million contract to remain with the club; his contributions and ice time have diminished over the last few seasons, but he will be an invaluable leader for the young players.
The biggest question facing the Ducks heading into the season is offense. The team finished last in goals per game (2.21) last year, and a lot is expected of a group of players who remain quite young. The Ducks didn’t go out and acquire help in the offseason, however. The only real addition was defenseman Greg Pateryn, who signed a one-year, $750,000 deal. The team is still in rebuild mode, and the season is in the kids’ hands.
The rebuild is not something goaltender John Gibson is too thrilled about, as the young netminder is tired of losing. He has been one of the most underrated goalies in the league playing on one of the worst teams for many years. His numbers have dropped over the last few years, and he won just nine games last season, but he would be a top goalie on a better team. He and Anthony Stolarz will backstop an iffy Ducks team that’s unlikely to be in playoff positioning down the stretch.
The Ducks are looking for player development as they work through reinventing a team that was a true playoff fixture for many years.
In video form, this is the key to the Ducks’ season:
It’s all about the kids.
Opening night lineup
Comtois — Getzlaf — Terry
Adam Henrique — Zegras — Rakell
McTavish — Lundestrom — Jakob Silfverberg
Nicolas Deslauriers — Groulx — Derek Grant
Hampus Lindholm — Drysdale
Cam Fowler — Josh Manson
Pateryn — Kevin Shattenkirk
2020-21 record: 26-27-3 (20th)
Season result: Did not make the playoffs
Leading scorer: Johnny Gaudreau (19-30—49)
Protected in expansion: Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm, Tkachuk, Backlund, Mangiapane, Dube; Hanifin, Tanev, Andersson; Markstrom
Lost in expansion: Mark Giordano (D)
Key additions: Blake Coleman, Nikita Zadorov, Tyler Pitlick
Key departures: Giordano, Sam Bennett (deadline), Derek Ryan, David Rittich
Vegas’ all-time record: 8-3-0
Season opener: Oct. 16 at Edmonton
The narrative of the Calgary Flames’ offseason has been management’s inability or unwillingness to make changes to the team’s core, a core that has been mired in inconsistency since finishing first in the Western Conference in 2018-19.
That 107-point season led to one playoff win, and it was only due to then-Flames goaltender Mike Smith standing on his head in Game 1 against Colorado before the Avs took the next four.
The last time Calgary made it to the second round of the playoffs was 2014-15. In fact, since winning the Cup in 1988-89, the Flames have made it beyond the first round just five times: 1989-90, 1990-91, 1992-93, 2003-04 and 2014-15.
Going 10-plus years between series wins can be taxing on an organization, though Calgary’s “anything can happen” philosophy in a weak division leaves room for possibility.
Losing Mark Giordano for the final year of his contract was a blow to the franchise, though the Flames elected to leave the team captain exposed in the expansion draft. The 38-year-old played 15 seasons in Calgary and was a huge part of that 2018-19 run, recording 74 points and winning the Norris Trophy. But he’s now the first captain in Kraken history; he will be missed in Calgary both on the ice and in the locker room.
The Flames acquired bruising defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who signed a one-year, $3.75 million contract, as well as Erik Gudbranson, and Rasmus Andersson is expected to take over top power-play duties in Giordano’s absence.
Though Zadorov could skate with Andersson on the second pair (Juuso Valimaki is another option), keep an eye on Oliver Kylington, who very well may push for a top-four spot after his impressive preseason play.
Aside from the top three defensemen — Andersson along with the top pair of Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin — Calgary’s blue line is suspect.
Up front, the team needs its best players to play like its best players. That won’t be easy with Darryl Sutter’s defensive coaching style, though the team is hoping his approach will be the missing piece to the puzzle. That begins with a strong start out of the gate, something that has eluded the Flames in recent seasons.
Many eyes will be on Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, both of whom are in contract years. Like Tkachuk, stud winger Andrew Mangiapane is set to hit restricted free agency at the end of this season.
Sutter put Elias Lindholm between Tkachuk and Gaudreau at the end of last year, and the line produced fantastic numbers. If he sticks with that combination, Calgary may have an elite first line once again, though Gaudreau could be back with Sean Monahan. Monahan also could drop to the third line in what is essentially a make-or-break year for the former first-line pivot.
Monahan has seen a rapid decline since recording 82 points in 78 games in 2018-19, and his defensive deficiencies have been on full display in the wake of his minimized production. But having Gaudreau’s skill set and Mangiapane’s two-way ability on his line would help.
That would leave newly-acquired Blake Coleman with an opportunity to skate with Lindholm and Tkachuk on a new-look top line, with Mikael Backlund centering a strong shutdown line with Dillon Dube and Tyler Pitlick.
Milan Lucic could join newcomers Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson on a hard-nosed veteran fourth line to fill out the forward group, though rookie Glenn Gawdin could push for a spot (as could Brett Ritchie).
The additions of Pitlick — acquired from Seattle after the Kraken selected him from Arizona in the expansion draft — as well as Coleman give Calgary a much stronger top nine, which allows players to settle in to more natural assignments. It also gives Sutter more flexibility, and he may shuffle his lines until something clicks.
The big splash of the summer for the Flames was landing Coleman in free agency. Coleman, a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning, signed a lucrative six-year, $29.4 million contract (AAV: $4.9 million) and will bolster the team’s offensive stock. He was part of a dominant third line in Tampa Bay and is the kind of player who does all the little things right on a consistent basis; once he serves his one-game suspension, he should be of great help to a streaky Flames offense.
Calgary addressed its goaltending issue last summer by signing Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million deal. His first season in Alberta was disrupted by a concussion and didn’t go quite as planned. He was not the problem, though he also wasn’t the same lights-out goaltender he was in Vancouver; he went 22-19-2 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .904 save percentage.
Sutter’s style of coaching will put Calgary in a lot of tight, low-scoring games, and Markstrom has the ability to make that work. He’ll be supported by backup Dan Vladar (acquired from Boston), though Markstrom is a workhorse, and he may even be tagged to start for Sweden at the Olympics. The Flames need a big year from him to have a chance of turning things around and climbing out of mediocrity.
Gaudreau — Lindholm — Tkachuk
Coleman — Monahan — Mangiapane
Dube — Backlund — Pitlick
Lucic — Richardson — Lewis
Hanifin — Tanev
Zadorov — Andersson
Valimaki — Gudbranson
2020-21 record: 35-19-2 (11th)
Season result: Eliminated in first round
Leading scorer: Connor McDavid (33-72—105)
Protected in expansion: McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Kassian, Archibald; Nurse, Keith, Bear; Skinner
Lost in expansion: Adam Larsson (D)
Key additions: Zach Hyman, Duncan Keith, Warren Foegele
Key departures: Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, James Neal
Vegas’ all-time record: 6-4-1
Season opener: Oct. 13 vs. Vancouver (3-2 shootout win)
The Oilers had a strong 2020-21 campaign, finishing second in the all-Canadian Scotia North division with 72 points, but got swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the playoffs.
Connor McDavid had a monster season, scoring 33 goals and 105 points in just 56 games. Leon Draisaitl didn’t let the shortened season slow him down, either, as he netted 31 goals and 84 points.
But it was another year that ended in disappointment and missed opportunities, as a solid regular-season performance failed to translate in the second season.
Edmonton made a number of changes to the lineup over the summer in hopes of changing that, including buying out the remaining two years of former Golden Knights forward James Neal’s contract (AAV of $5.75 million). That cleared up roughly $3.8 million of cap space and made sense for both parties.
One move that didn’t necessarily make a ton of sense came a few weeks prior, when Edmonton traded for three-time Stanley Cup champion Duncan Keith. It was a trade that turned many heads, particularly considering the fact that Keith’s cap hit is north of $5.5 million. Edmonton sent defenseman Caleb Jones and a conditional third-round draft pick to Chicago for the 38-year-old rearguard; Chicago did not retain any salary.
Full Oilers-Hawks deal:— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 12, 2021
Duncan Keith and Tim Soderlund for Caleb Jones And 2022 3rd RD pick
The 2022 pick will become a 2nd RD pick if Edm wins 3 rounds in 2022 playoffs AND Keith is amongst the top 4 in Oilers D time on ice during the first three rounds of the 2022 Playoffs.
Oilers general manager Ken Holland spoke about the intangibles and veteran leadership Keith brings to the table in defense of the price he paid to land the two-time Norris Trophy winner. Keith knows how to win in the playoffs, something the Oilers can’t seem to figure out. However, Keith is not the same player he used to be despite continuing to lead the Blackhawks in average ice time year after year. It was considered another questionable move by management; one step forward, two steps back.
But one move that wasn’t questioned was the free-agent signing of forward Zach Hyman. The 29-year-old former Maple Leafs winger agreed to terms on a seven-year deal with an AAV of $5.5 million. He could skate alongside McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi, though the team put McDavid and Draisaitl together in the home opener; if playing with McDavid, Hyman should provide some much-needed two-way responsibility to a line that bleeds goals.
The trio certainly looked impressive in preseason.
A closer look at McDavid's primary assist + Hyman's goal pic.twitter.com/TO6CTuuSG6— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) September 29, 2021
Hyman scored a power-play goal in his first game with the Oilers, a 3-2 shootout win over the Canucks.
Edmonton signed defenseman Cody Ceci to a four-year deal with an AAV of $3.25 million to fill the hole left by Adam Larsson, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with Seattle during the expansion process. He was a key top-four defenseman for the Oilers even after being part of one of the more controversial trades in recent memory, but Ceci is a third-pair defenseman making top-four money. Evan Bouchard likely will take on a bigger role this season, and Edmonton has Philip Broberg in the pipeline.
McDavid should have more help offensively with the additions of Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan, who give Edmonton its best third line in years. Foegele has tremendous upside, and Ryan is a solid bottom-six center capable of chipping in and taking care of his own net.
Oscar Klefbom remains out of commission, though Tyson Barrie did an excellent job stepping in on the top power-play unit last year. In fact, the Oilers had the top power play in the league (27.6 percent). Barrie signed a three-year deal with an AAV of $4.5 million over the summer.
The Oilers decided to ride it out with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen in net. Koskinen has one year remaining on a three-year, $13.5 million contract signed in January of 2019, while Smith re-signed for two years at a $2.2 million cap hit. He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, though he only faced Canadian teams; even so, his 2.31 goals-against average and .923 save percentage were his best since 2011-12.
Health and consistency in the crease will be critical for the Oilers this season.
Opening night lineup
Draisaitl — McDavid — Puljujarvi
Hyman — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Kailer Yamamoto
Foegele — Ryan — Colton Sceviour
Brendan Perlini — Ryan McLeod — Kyle Turris
Darnell Nurse — Barrie
Keith — Ceci
Kris Russell — Bouchard
Los Angeles Kings
2020-21 record: 21-28-7 (25th)
Season result: Did not make the playoffs
Leading scorer: Anze Kopitar (13-37—50)
Protected in expansion: Kopitar, Arvidsson, Iafallo, Brown, Kempe, Moore, Andersson; Doughty, Walker, Roy; Petersen
Lost in expansion: Kurtis MacDermid (D)
Key additions: Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, Alex Edler
Key departures: None
Vegas’ all-time record: 11-8-2
Season opener: Oct. 14 vs. Vegas (6-2 win)
The Kings were one of the more aggressive teams over the summer, bringing in several key pieces and making upgrades throughout the lineup. Their offseason activity seems indicative of the team’s readiness to exit the rebuild and re-enter contention.
The most notable acquisition was winger Viktor Arvidsson, who will skate on the top line with Anze Kopitar and, to the surprise of many Kings fans, Dustin Brown. However, Brown looked five years younger in Los Angeles’ season opener, recording his first goal of the season. Arvidsson is coming off a few down years in Nashville but potted 34 goals in 58 games in 2018-19 following 31- and 29-goal campaigns in 2016-17 and 2017-18, respectively. He adds considerable upside to the Kings’ top six and could see a spike in production with a fresh start playing alongside Kopitar (the trio was fantastic Thursday against Vegas). Arvidsson is coming off a career-low 6.6 percent shooting percentage, well below his career average of 11.4, so he’s due for some regression.
That will be beneficial to the fifth-worst offense in the league, as the Kings averaged just 2.54 goals per game last season. Los Angeles also had the third-worst expected goal share (45.32 percent) and surrendered the third-most 5-on-5 scoring chances and high-danger chances per game.
The Kings addressed that, however, by signing center Phillip Danault to a six-year, $33 million deal ($5.5 million AAV). It was a hefty price to pay, but the move does a lot for the Kings, which was evident in the Kings’ 6-2 win Thursday against Vegas. For one thing, having Danault gives Los Angeles two of the most effective shutdown centers in the league. For another, and more importantly, Danault can take some of the defensive burden off Kopitar, giving the top line more opportunities to generate offensively. Kopitar recorded five points in Thursday’s game.
Danault, who scored his first of the season in his Kings debut, has been a borderline Selke candidate for years and has faced and handled some of the toughest assignments in the league; alleviating Kopitar of that constant burden will help on both sides of the puck. It is going to be very difficult for teams to play against the Kings’ one-two punch down the middle, which the Knights learned the hard way.
The Kings also brought in veteran defenseman Alex Edler on a one-year deal. Edler will be a steady presence on a relatively young blue line, helping in the development of players like Tobias Bjornfot and Mikey Andersen, among others.
The Kings have stockpiled draft picks and built one of the strongest farm systems in the NHL. Now it’s time for more of those players to make the transition to the NHL, and they’ll be able to do so in bottom-six roles surrounded by veterans. It was shaping up to be a big year for Quinton Byfield before he fractured his ankle in preseason; he is out indefinitely.
Gabe Vilardi recorded seven points in his first 10 NHL games in 2019-20 but ran into consistency issues in his first full season last year, finishing with 23 points in 54 games. He is centering the third line to start the season. Arthur Kaliyev made the roster out of training camp, and Alex Turcotte could see some NHL action this year as well.
Russian forward Vladimir Tkachev signed a one-year deal with the Kings and should add additional skill to the forward ranks. He put up 80 points in 100 games over the last two seasons with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL and made his NHL debut Thursday against the Knights. He may not be the next Kirill Kaprizov, but the 26-year-old has shown promise.
While offense has been the major issue, the biggest question facing the Kings this season is in net.
Jonathan Quick has been the franchise goalie for more than a decade, but his inconsistent play over the last few years has given Cal Petersen an opening to compete for and overtake the No. 1 role. He’ll have a chance to solidify that role this season.
In limited action, Petersen has been very impressive, saving more than 10 goals above expected in the last two seasons. He has played some of his best hockey against the Knights; in fact, he has more wins against Vegas (five) than against any other team. However, he struggled down the stretch, winning just one of his final eight starts last season.
Even so, the Kings recently inked him to a three-year, $15 million extension that will kick in at the start of the 2022-23 campaign. Petersen earned 33 starts last season compared to Quick’s 22, but both will need to be better for the Kings to be successful. Petersen is off to a good start this season.
Opening night lineup
Arvidsson — Kopitar — Brown
Alex Iafallo — Danault — Adrian Kempe
Tkachev — Vilardi — Kaliyev
Trevor Moore — Blake Lizotte — Kaliyev
Anderson — Drew Doughty
Bjornfot — Matt Roy
Edler — Sean Walker
San Jose Sharks
2020-21 record: 21-28-7 (26th)
Season result: Did not make the playoffs
Leading scorer: Evander Kane (22-27—49)
Protected in expansion: Couture, Hertl, Kane, Meier, Labanc, Balcers, Dahlen; Burns, Karlsson, Vlasic; Hill
Lost in expansion: Alexander True (C)
Key additions: Nick Bonino, Adin Hill, James Reimer
Key departures: Martin Jones
Vegas’ all-time record: 16-1-3
Season opener: Oct. 16 vs. Winnipeg
It wasn’t too long ago that the Sharks were a perennial playoff threat, trading for and signing players to massive extensions in hopes of adding the final pieces to the puzzle.
But things change quickly, and it has been back-to-back seasons without postseason action in San Jose.
The team from a few years ago seems to have aged out of its window, but there is still a lot of talent on this roster, and it’s possible (albeit unlikely) the Sharks could compete for a playoff spot this season. San Jose will have to get off to a good start to do so.
But the Sharks are at a crossroads. This team has the talent (at least on paper) to turn things around and make a push. It’s the Pacific Division, after all. A rough start or uninspired stumble could spark a rebuild, but that will be difficult given the contract situation.
That’s because the Sharks have $26.5 million tied up in just three defensemen for the next four years: Brent Burns ($8 million AAV through 2024-25), Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million AAV through 2026-27) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic ($7 million AAV through 2025-26). The emergence of defenseman Mario Ferraro paints a brighter picture on the blue line, but all three veterans appear to be in a steady decline, leaving management in a very difficult position with buyouts and trades almost certainly off the table.
The team did, however, buy out the final three years of Martin Jones’ contract. Though the new tandem of Adin Hill and James Reimer is not much to write home about, the buyout was a necessary move for the organization, as Jones has been one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL in recent years. The Sharks have finished 30th or 31st in save percentage in three straight seasons.
Even with Evander Kane out of the picture (temporarily or permanently), Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc give the Sharks a competitive top six. Plus, the offseason addition of Nick Bonino on a two-year, $4.1 million contract adds center depth that has been missing since the departures of Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.
First-round pick William Eklund has been a big story in training camp and shows enormous promise, and Alex Barabanov had some late-season success last year, recording seven points in nine games.
That being said, the two main question marks facing the team are not insignificant.
One is Hertl’s future with the club, and the other is the status of Kane.
Hertl said he would be willing to take less money to stay with the Sharks, but only if the club is in a position to win. If that is not the case by March, San Jose may be forced to trade its most valuable asset at the deadline. Hertl has been hesitant to sign an extension and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. Losing him would almost certainly signal a reset.
Kane, in the midst of his second NHL investigation in just the last few months, has been designated as a non-roster player ahead of the start of the regular season. Even if he is cleared of the current allegations, the relationship between Kane and the team could affect things on and off the ice.
Reports out of San Jose indicate that team chemistry is the best it has been in years, which suggests that perhaps the absence of Kane is doing more good than harm.
But Kane has been an important member of this team; he’s been the Sharks’ best winger and led the team in scoring last year with 22 goals and 49 points in 56 games. He still has four years left on a deal carrying a $7 million cap hit.
No matter what, the Sharks have to avoid getting off to a poor start. Bonino as well as Andrew Cogliano, brought in on a one-year deal, should make this a more competitive team, and the duo will help with some of the defensive load. But for San Jose to even think about competing for a playoff spot, a lot of things have to go right, and what’s on paper has to translate on the ice.
Jonathan Dahlen — Couture — Meier
Eklund — Hertl — Rudolfs Balcers
Matt Nieto — Bonino — Labanc
Cogliano — Jasper Weatherby — Lane Pederson
Ferraro — Burns
Jacob Middleton — Karlsson
Radim Simek — Vlasic
2021-22 record: 1-1-0
Forwards drafted in expansion: Tyler Pitlick (ARI), Morgan Geekie (CAR), John Quenneville (CHI), Joonas Donskoi (COL), Calle Jarnkrok (NSH), Nathan Bastian (NJD), Jordan Eberle (NYI), Colin Blackwell (NYR), Carsen Twarynski (PHI), Brandon Tanev (PIT), Alexander True (SJS), Yanni Gourde (TBL), Jared McCann (TOR), Kole Lind (VAN), Mason Appleton (WPG)
Defensemen drafted in expansion: Haydn Fleury (ANA), Jeremy Lauzon (BOS), Will Borgen (BUF), Mark Giordano (CGY), Gavin Bayreuther (CBJ), Jamie Oleksiak (DAL), Dennis Cholowski (DET), Adam Larsson (EDM), Kurtis MacDermid (LAK), Carson Soucy (MIN), Cale Fleury (MTL), Vince Dunn (STL)
Goalies drafted in expansion: Chris Driedger (FLA), Joey Daccord (OTT), Vitek Vanecek (WSH)
Key additions: Jaden Schwartz, Philipp Grubauer, Alex Wennberg, Ryan Donato, Marcus Johansson, Alex Barre-Boulet, Riley Sheahan
Vegas’ all-time record: 1-0-0
Season opener: Oct. 12 at Vegas (4-3 loss)
The Vegas Golden Knights welcomed the Seattle Kraken into the NHL in the season opener earlier this week. It was a thrilling back-and-forth game, and the performance said a lot about Seattle.
This is a hard-working team. Seattle outplayed Vegas for most of the night, and the Kraken fought all the way back from a 3-0 deficit to even things up at 3-3 in the third period. The Knights re-claimed the lead shortly thereafter, but it was a questionable call on the game-winning tally.
The game could have gone either way, and considering the Kraken were without one of the team’s top players in Yanni Gourde, it’s clear there will be some exciting Pacific Division expansion showdowns this season.
However, it didn’t take long for the Kraken to pick up the first win in franchise history; that came Thursday against the Predators.
Seattle management had an interesting and busy summer, which included the long-anticipated expansion draft.
Many star players were left unprotected by other teams and were there for the taking for Seattle. However, general manager Ron Francis, head coach Dave Hakstol and the Seattle organization passed on most of them, instead drafting young players on cheap contracts, saving cap space and taking shots on underutilized and untested players.
The Kraken drafted several established players, including Jordan Eberle, Calle Jarnkrok, Gourde and Mark Giordano. Giordano was named captain of the Kraken earlier this week after serving as Calgary’s captain for eight seasons.
But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the process was the fact that the Kraken didn’t make a single trade during the expansion draft. Teams were reluctant to get burned the way they did by George McPhee in 2017, and Francis’ demands reportedly were unreasonably high. However, it was a missed opportunity for Seattle, even on what should have been very easy deals.
For example, the Kraken drafted Capitals netminder Vitek Vanecek, but Washington traded for him later in the offseason. The Kraken could have gotten a draft pick and another player if they had arranged that beforehand.
In any case, Francis added star power via free agency, using the leftover cap space to sign Jaden Schwartz and Philipp Grubauer. Seattle also added Alex Wennberg, Ryan Donato, Marcus Johansson and Riley Sheahan before claiming Alex Barre-Boulet off waivers from Tampa Bay earlier this week. Grabbing Barre-Boulet, who made his Kraken debut and tallied an assist in Thursday’s 4-3 win, is a very underrated move, and the pick-up gives Seattle one more talented option up front.
The Kraken are going to be a competitive team this year, and it would be surprising if Seattle does not remain in the running for a playoff spot until the end.
These players are not misfits or castaways; it’s no longer considered a terrible break in one’s career to be selected by or traded to the expansion team, which is a direct result of Vegas’ success.
But another side effect of Vegas’ first four years in the NHL is that Seattle has big shoes to fill. The Kraken will be compared to the Golden Knights at every turn, even if that’s not a fair comparison. The Knights didn’t have nearly as strong a lineup (or options in the expansion draft) and were given much less of a chance; Vegas was expected to finish near the bottom of the standings, just like almost every other expansion team in modern sports history. Obviously, that did not happen, and that’s why Seattle is in the position it’s in right now.
That being said, it will be interesting to see which player steps up and becomes the Erik Haula of the Kraken’s inaugural campaign. It’s not comparable to suggest Gourde could be the Wild Bill of Year 1 since Gourde is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and was considered the best player on the team heading into the season. But perhaps a wildcard will rise to the occasion.
There is no Shea Theodore or Alex Tuch, but will Donato finally step into his own and become a consistent goal-scorer? Will Morgan Geekie get his chance to break out? Can Mason Appleton bring his talents to a bigger role in the lineup?
So far, Donato, Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Wennberg and Geekie have the only goals in franchise history.
The Knights and Kraken meet again Nov. 9 in Vegas, but they won’t square off again until a back-to-back set on March 31 and April 1; both games will be in Seattle.
There are 80 more games to go before we see how the first year of Seattle’s story unfolds. Even if it doesn’t end in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s sure to be a memorable ride.
Opening night lineup
Schwartz — McCann — Eberle
Johansson — Wennberg — Joonas Donskoi
Donato — Geekie — Mason Appleton
Tanev — Riley Sheahan — Nathan Bastian
Giordano — Haydn Fleury
Jamie Oleksiak — Adam Larsson
Jeremy Lauzon — Vince Dunn
2020-21 record: 23-29-4 (24th)
Season result: Did not make the playoffs
Leading scorer: Brock Boeser (23-26—49)
Protected in expansion: Boeser, Pettersson, Horvat, Miller, Pearson, Dickinson, Motte; Schmidt, Myers, Juolevi; Demko
Lost in expansion: Kole Lind (W)
Key additions: Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Dickinson
Key departures: Alex Edler, Nate Schmidt, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle
Vegas’ all-time record: 8-0-2
Season opener: Oct. 13 at Edmonton (3-2 shootout loss)
The Vancouver Canucks had one of the most active offseasons in the league.
Vancouver was able to shed three contracts, acquire multiple impact players and complete extensions for two of the team’s most important players.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Vancouver is a top team yet, but it should be a fascinating season for a club with a ton of talent.
The biggest trade of the offseason saw the Canucks and Coyotes move a combined five players and three draft picks, including the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Vancouver unloaded the contracts of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel in exchange for defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland. Arizona retained 12 percent (just under $1 million) of Ekman-Larsson’s cap hit, and the Canucks parted with the No. 9 pick, a second-round pick in 2022 and a seventh-round selection in 2023.
It was a major gamble for the Canucks, primarily because of the term left on Ekman-Larsson’s deal. The former Coyotes captain now has a cap hit of $7.26 million and will be on the books for the next six seasons, whereas Eriksson, Beagle and Roussel were all in the final year of their deals.
The combined $12 million from those three contracts became $7.26 million for Ekman-Larsson and, eventually, $4.95 million for Garland.
The Garland part of the deal is an absolute no-brainer.
Garland is one of the most underrated players in the league, and despite his small stature, he’s capable of going to the net, scoring gritty goals, playing a strong 200-foot game, scoring 20-plus goals and playing a scrappy brand of hockey to make it all happen.
Conor Garland scores a goal with his face, gets some treatment and comes back to score the game winner in the third period pic.twitter.com/m5uVGZ38aO— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 13, 2019
The addition of Garland gives the Canucks a lethal top-six group of forwards, and Vancouver can mix and match combinations considering the versatility Garland offers.
He also helps make up for the loss of Tyler Toffoli, who left via free agency last summer.
Garland joins captain Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Tanner Pearson and J.T. Miller in a very strong top six. Nils Hoglander, coming off a solid rookie season in which he scored 13 goals and 27 points, is very much in the mix as well.
The risk for Vancouver lies with Ekman-Larsson.
The 30-year-old was a once-promising young defenseman considered one of the best puck-movers in the league who provided solid production and reliable two-way play. However, that has not been the case over the last few years, as Ekman-Larsson has seen a major decline. He remains a capable offensive defenseman, not without his flaws, but will look to overcome an especially tough 2020-21 campaign, even as he was moved down to the second pair and given cushier minutes.
It’s possible that a fresh start, far from the nonstop controversy the Arizona Coyotes seem to endure, could be a blessing for the Swedish blueliner, though his decline can’t be blamed solely on his environment. Jakob Chychrun has thrived in the same position Ekman-Larsson once held, and the Coyotes have been more competitive over the last few years than they were earlier in Ekman-Larsson’s career.
The Canucks lost Alex Edler in the offseason, and while Ekman-Larsson is not nearly as reliable, he can be a top-four contributor to somewhat make up for that loss. Or at least that’s what Vancouver is banking on.
That’s especially true since the Canucks also moved Nate Schmidt to Winnipeg, making a top-four experienced defenseman all the more important. Whether or not Ekman-Larsson can be that guy remains to be seen, though he’s already off to a strong start to the season with a goal in his Vancouver debut. He skated with Tyler Myers, and while some of the numbers were far from ideal, they held a stacked top Oilers line featuring both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to one goal at 5-on-5.
Vancouver also acquired Jason Dickinson, who gives the Canucks even more options and depth. He’ll slot in as the third-line center and is another reliable two-way forward capable of contributing across the board. The team recently signed Alex Chiasson to a one-year deal, and 2020 first-round pick Vasily Podkolzin will start the season with the team. The Canucks have other forwards out of the lineup (i.e., Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter) who will make this forward corps even more solid.
One of the main question hanging over the club was the contract status of Pettersson and star defenseman Quinn Hughes. However, the team signed both to extremely team-friendly deals during training camp.
Hughes signed a six-year, $47.1 million deal (AAV: $7.85 million), while Pettersson inked a bridge deal for three years with a cap hit of $7.35 million. While Pettersson’s contract could be an issue down the line, it remains a true bargain for the time being, and locking up Hughes long-term for less than many other stud defensemen signed for this summer is another win.
The club moved on from Braden Holtby, whose time in Vancouver did not go well. Jaroslav Halak is the new backup for Thatcher Demko.
There are still question marks on the blue line, especially with Travis Hamonic away from the team for personal reasons. This is a young team that hasn’t had an easy time putting it all together, but Vancouver has a tremendous amount of talent. The Canucks should be in the playoff race, and while the Knights haven’t had many issues with the Canucks in the past, Vancouver will be difficult to play against, particularly given the new-found depth and skill.
Opening night lineup
Pearson — Horvat — Garland
Miller — Pettersson — Chiasson
Matthew Highmore — Dickinson — Hoglander
Justin Dowling — Juho Lammikko — Podkolzin
Ekman-Larsson — Myers
Hughes — Tucker Poolman
Jack Rathbone — Kyle Burroughs