Pacific Division Preview: Examining the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2022-23 division opponents

New faces, same rivalries.

The Vegas Golden Knights enter Year 6 in unfamiliar territory following the first non-playoff season in franchise history. As part of their quest to take a fifth stab at Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Golden Knights will play a combined 26 games against their Pacific Division opponents.

Three of those teams — the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings — finished at least five points ahead of the Golden Knights in the standings last season. Though several other clubs are still in the midst of a rebuild, Vegas will have its hands full as the Golden Knights look to rebound.

Here’s an overview of each of Vegas’ seven division opponents ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks turned many heads in 2021-22 as one of the more entertaining teams in the NHL. They got off to a strong 10-4-3 start but were unable to sustain that early momentum and ultimately failed to reach the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

In the end, Anaheim wrapped up the season with a combined 6-16-5 record in the final two months of action to finish seventh in the Pacific Division ahead of only Seattle.

But for a team that was projected to be one of the worst in the league, Anaheim managed to generate quite a bit of excitement.

That’s largely thanks to the offensive explosion by Troy Terry — who scored 30 more goals than his previous career high —  as well as the on-ice theatrics of Trevor Zegras, the highlight-reel sensation who took the league by storm with his “Michigan” goals and offensive creativity.

Zegras finished second in the Calder Trophy race as rookie of the year; his 61 points were the most by a Ducks rookie in franchise history. Zegras and Terry combined for 128 points on the year, and Terry’s 37 goals were the fifth-highest mark among Ducks skaters in more than 20 years.

Their combined 32 points on the man-advantage helped Anaheim jump to 14th in the NHL on the power play (21.9 percent) despite finishing 24th in goals per game (2.78). That was the Ducks’ second-best efficacy rate on the power play in the last 11 seasons; more significantly, it was a jarring improvement over the club’s putrid rate of 8.9 percent in 2020-21, which was the worst recorded rate in league history.

Anaheim underwent a mid-season shift in management with the resignation of long-time general manager Bob Murray, who stepped down following an investigation into his professional conduct. Pat Verbeek, who had served as Steve Yzerman’s assistant general manager in Tampa Bay and Detroit, was named as Murray’s replacement in February.

Verbeek didn’t waste much time before putting his stamp on things, making three aggressive trades to kick-start a methodical rebuild. Verbeek shipped out defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson as well as forward Rickard Rakell, a trio that had played a combined 26 seasons for the Ducks.

The Ducks tried to make an additional trade ahead of the deadline, but that particular transaction didn’t quite pan out...

The biggest change, however, was saying goodbye to long-time captain Ryan Getzlaf, who retired after 17 seasons. His departure sets up 2022-23 to be a year of transition for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 31-37-14—76
Position in standings: Division-7, Conference-13, League-23
Record vs. Vegas: 1-2-1
Playoff result: Did not qualify
Leading Scorers: Terry (37-30—67), Zegras (23-38—61)
Power play (NHL rank): 21.9 percent (14)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 80.8 percent (10)
Goals for (NHL rank): 2.78 (24)
Goals against (NHL rank): 3.24 (23)
Season opener: Oct. 12 vs. Seattle

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Ryan Getzlaf (retired), Sonny Milano (CGY-PTO), Sam Steel (MIN), Gerry Mayhew (FLA), Zach Aston-Reese (TOR), Dominik Simon (ELH)

Defensemen: Jacob Larsson (OTT), Greg Pateryn (retired), Andrej Sustr (KHL)

Key additions

Forwards: Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano

Defensemen: John Klingberg, Dimitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Olli Juolevi

Verbeek inked forwards Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano to multi-year deals and signed right-shot defenseman John Klingberg to a one-year, $7 million contract. The Klingberg deal is low-risk, even if Anaheim already has several offensively-minded right-shot defensemen in the lineup in Jamie Drysdale and Kevin Shattenkirk. But if the Ducks struggle, Klingberg will fetch a nice return at the deadline.

The club made more of a commitment to Strome, signing him to a five-year deal with an average annual value of $5 million. Strome is coming off a career-high 21-goal campaign in which he recorded 54 points in 74 games in his fourth and final season with the Rangers. He played fairly but had a frustrating habit of missing wide-open shots.

Whether or not Strome will be the same player without Artemi Panarin on his wing remains to be seen, but he’s a solid middle-six option that gives Anaheim’s younger players — especially Mason McTavish — time to develop.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding McTavish, who scored eight goals and 17 points in seven games and came up with an incredible tournament-saving save en route to leading Canada to the gold medal at the world juniors.

McTavish’s dominance earned him MVP honors, making the Ducks the first NHL club with back-to-back tournament MVP’s after Zegras accomplished the feat in 2021.

Vatrano is a solid addition for the Ducks and enters this season coming off a strong performance with the Rangers after getting shipped from Florida ahead of the deadline. He has a great shot and lit the lamp eight times in 22 games in New York before scoring five goals and 13 points in 20 postseason contests. He can play up and down the lineup and gives head coach Dallas Eakins plenty of options up front.

Anaheim also re-signed forward Isac Lundestrom.

Goaltender John Gibson was the subject of trade rumors throughout the summer, but the 29-year-old will enter his 10th season with the Ducks when the season kicks off for Anaheim on Wednesday. That’s assuming the injury he suffered in the Ducks’ final preseason game isn’t serious.

Once considered one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, Gibson has seen his numbers decline considerably over the last few seasons.

His save percentage hasn’t topped .904 in three straight years, and he has finished with a goals-against average above 3.00 in two out of the last three years. His 2021-22 mark of 3.19 was the worst of his career, and his -4.36 goals saved above expected was his second-worst in eight seasons.

Between 2016 and 2019, Gibson saved 24.38, 32.86 and 26.9 goals above expected, respectively; in the three years since, those numbers have plummeted to -9.92, -3.94 and -4.36.

Bottom line

The Anaheim Ducks will take the ice without Getzlaf for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The 17-year veteran served as team captain for the last 11 seasons and has been a cornerstone of this franchise for many years.

The Ducks’ young core has tantalizing skill, but there are still question marks following the rookie campaigns of Zegras and Drysdale. There’s also the matter of whether Terry is a one-hit wonder or if he’ll be able to replicate his surge in production this season.

Despite how well Zegras played, he still has a lot to prove and finds himself in a very different position with top-line duties and more responsibility on his shoulders. With Getzlaf no longer taking on tougher minutes against more threatening opponents, Zegras may not have the same time and space with which to create offensively, so he’ll be tested in his sophomore campaign.

Though Drysdale showed plenty of promise as a 19-year-old rearguard, he still struggled defensively and wasn’t overly productive with four goals and 32 points in 81 games.

Terry had a career-high seven goals prior to last season’s outburst and a total of 15 in 129 games before breaking out for 37 in 75 in 2021-22. This year should be telling regarding the trajectory of his career.

Plus, noted Vegas killer Max Comtois will look to bounce back after seeing his output get cut in half in 2021-22.

But the youth movement possesses electric skill that should leave Anaheim with serious firepower for years to come.

Gibson will need to rediscover his elite form if Anaheim is to take any steps forward. The talent is still there, it’s just a matter of whether the American netminder can hit the reset button.

Unlike the Golden Knights, the Ducks don’t need to make the postseason this year.

Even in a relatively weak Pacific Division, it’s unlikely the Ducks will reach the second season in 2022-23, but not doing so won’t render the season a failure. Anaheim is in the midst of a rebuild and has some exciting pieces in place as well as considerable cap space with which to work. The future is very bright for the Ducks, but Anaheim will have every opportunity to at least make some noise this year at the dawn of the post-Getzlaf era.

Projected lineup

Adam Henrique — Trevor Zegras — Frank Vatrano
Mason McTavish — Ryan Strome — Troy Terry
Max Comtois — Isac Lundestrom — Jakob Silfverberg
Max Jones — Derek Grant — Pavol Regenda

Cam Fowler — John Klingberg
Dmitry Kulikov — Jamie Drysdale
Nathan Beaulieu — Kevin Shattenkirk

John Gibson
Anthony Stolarz

Golden Knights vs. Ducks schedule

Oct. 28 vs. Anaheim
Dec. 28 at Anaheim
Feb. 12 vs. Anaheim

Anaheim is 4-15-5 all-time against the Golden Knights. The Ducks’ .271 points percentage against Vegas is by far the team’s lowest (the next-worst is .365 against Toronto).

Calgary Flames

It’s not often a team loses its two leading scorers, especially when both players finished in the top-10 in the NHL scoring race. But that’s exactly what happened to the Calgary Flames with the departures of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk this summer.

It could have spelled disaster for Calgary, but general manager Brad Treliving didn’t fold.

Instead, he replaced them with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri, two top forwards also coming off career seasons, in one of the most impressive offseason comebacks in recent memory. Treliving’s maneuvering gives the Flames a new-look core as Calgary hopes to advance past the second round for the first time since 2003-04.

Season in review

The 2021-22 regular season was a highly successful campaign for the Calgary Flames, who reached the 50-win plateau and finished first in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference. That run ended in a five-game series loss to Edmonton in the second round.

Gaudreau and Tkachuk both topped 100 points in career years, with Gaudreau finishing tied for second with 115 points and Tkachuk finishing eighth overall with 104. Both players scored 40-plus goals, and the duo combined for 54 power-play points and 15 game-winning goals. They made up two-thirds of Calgary’s top line and were the driving force behind Calgary’s offense and success.

That being said, goaltender Jacob Markstrom was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy after setting career highs across the board, including in starts (63), wins (37), goals-against average (2.22) and shutouts (nine). His .922 save percentage was the second-best of his career.

However, his season ended on a sour note as he struggled mightily against the Oilers in the postseason, going 1-4 with a 5.12 goals-against average and .852 save percentage. He will be eager to bounce back from that spiral, and the Flames will need him to do so if they hope to contend for the top spot in the division once again.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 50-21-11—111
Position in standings: Division-1, Conference-3, League-6
Record vs. Vegas: 1-2-1
Playoff result: Eliminated by Edmonton in the second round (4-1 EDM)
Leading Scorers: Johnny Gaudreau (40-75—115), Matthew Tkachuk (42-62—104)
Power play (NHL rank): 22.9 percent (10)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 83.2 percent (6)
Goals for (NHL rank): 3.55 (6)
Goals against (NHL rank): 2.51 (3)
Season opener: Oct. 13 vs. Colorado

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Johnny Gaudreau (CBJ), Matthew Tkachuk (FLA), Sean Monahan (MTL), Calle Jarnkrok (TOR), Ryan Carpenter (NYR)

Defensemen: Erik Gudbranson (CBJ)

Key additions

Forwards: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Kevin Rooney

Defensemen: MacKenzie Weegar, Nicolas Meloche

The Flames have been one of the most explosive teams in the offseason. After losing Gaudreau and being faced with the reality that Tkachuk also wanted out, Treliving was stuck between a rock and a hard place. But he stunned the hockey world with a series of game-changing moves that will make the Flames one of the more fascinating teams to watch in 2022-23.

Just nine days after Gaudreau chose the unlikely Columbus Blue Jackets, Treliving shipped Tkachuk along with a conditional 2025 fourth-round pick to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, forward prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 first-round pick.

That Calgary was going to have the elite services of Huberdeau, coming off a 115-point campaign that earned him Hart Trophy consideration, was a stunning development for such a bleak situation. The inclusion of Weegar in the deal was an enticing bonus.

But the fact that both players have since signed long-term extensions only solidifies the magnitude of the move.

Weegar committed to an eight-year, $50 million (AAV: $6.25 million) contract last week, joining Huberdeau, who signed an eight-year, $84 million deal (AAV: $10.5 million) in early August. Treliving was able to replace a departing asset in Tkachuk with two strong players who also disproved the narrative that no one wants to sign in Calgary.

Kadri also committed to the maximum-length contract coming out of free agency with a seven-year, $49 million (AAV: $7 million) deal in mid-August. The Flames had to move the final year of Sean Monahan’s contract (AAV: $6.375 million) along with a conditional first-round pick to Montreal in order to sign Kadri. It was a steep price to pay, but cap space doesn’t come cheap in today’s NHL.

The declining Monahan spent much of the 2021-22 season in the bottom six; the conditions on the first-round pick included are unusually complex, but it was a necessary move for the Flames’ transformative offseason.

Projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau — Elias Lindholm — Tyler Toffoli
Andrew Mangiapane — Nazem Kadri — Dillon Dube
Blake Coleman — Mikael Backlund — Radim Zohorna
Milan Lucic — Adam Ruzicka — Trevor Lewis

Noah Hanifin — Rasmus Andersson
MacKenzie Weegar — Christopher Tanev
Nikita Zadorov — Connor Mackey

Jacob Markstrom
Dan Vladar

Bottom line

The Calgary Flames lost the franchise’s two best players but rebounded with three skilled assets that will be key contributors moving forward. How the Flames respond to the massive changes will be paramount. Chemistry is not a given, and the top line has struggled to find it in the preseason. The Huberdeau-Elias Lindholm connection, in particular, will need to click for Calgary to avoid taking a step back.

One thing working in Calgary’s favor is the fact that the team’s center depth is the best it has been in a very long time. With Lindholm, Kadri and Mikael Backlund anchoring the top three lines and Adam Ruzicka/Kevin Rooney playing a steady role on the fourth, the Flames are very strong up the middle. That will help Calgary keep up with teams like Edmonton and Los Angeles.

Plus, while there may not be a household name anchoring the blue line for the Flames, Calgary has one of the deepest defensive corps in the league.

The team’s overall depth, in conjunction with Vezina-caliber goaltending, will make Calgary a tough matchup.

There may be some growing pains in Calgary, but there’s every reason to believe the Flames will be fighting for a high seed in the Pacific once again this year.

Golden Knights vs. Flames schedule

Oct. 18 at Calgary
Feb. 23 vs. Calgary
March 16 vs. Calgary
March 23 at Calgary

Edmonton Oilers

The 2021-22 season was a wild one for the Edmonton Oilers, but the club made it to the third round of the postseason for the first time since 2005-06. That run ended with a disappointing four-game series sweep at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, but the Oilers enter this season with a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence to build on last year’s progress.

Season in review

The Oilers got off to a 9-1-0 start and were 16-5-0 through the first 21 games of the 2021-22 season. However, things went downhill quickly from there, as Edmonton went 6-11-3 in its next 20 games. But after installing head coach Jay Woodcroft behind the bench in place of Dave Tippett, the Oilers finished 26-9-3 before their deepest playoff run in 15 years.

Once again, the team was led by superstar centers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid had a career year, which is saying something for a player who has topped 97 points in six out of seven seasons. He scored 44 goals and 123 points to lead the league in scoring once again. Draisaitl recorded 55 goals and 55 assists for a 110-point campaign. The two finished first and fourth in NHL scoring, respectively.

But at long last, McDavid and Draisaitl had a legitimate supporting cast, led by Evander Kane, who signed with the Oilers in January after his controversial and drawn-out termination by the San Jose Sharks.

The move paid off immediately.

Kane scored 22 goals and 39 points in 43 regular-season games before adding 13 tallies and 17 points in 15 postseason games. Those 13 goals tied with Nathan MacKinnon for the lead league in the postseason, though MacKinnon played an extra five games.

Woodcroft improved the Oilers’ play in every facet, and Edmonton is hopeful that that success will carry over to his first full season as Edmonton’s bench boss.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 49-27-6—104
Position in standings: Division-2, Conference-5, League-11
Record vs. Vegas: 3-1-0
Playoff result: Eliminated by Colorado in the third round (4-0)
Leading Scorers: Connor McDavid (44-79—123), Leon Draisaitl (55-55—110)
Power play (NHL rank): 26.0 percent (3)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 79.4 percent (17)
Goals for (NHL rank): 3.48 (7)
Goals against (NHL rank): 3.06 (18)
Team MVP: Connor McDavid (44-79—123), Leon Draisaitl (55-55—110)
Season opener: Oct. 12 vs. Vancouver

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Zack Kassian (ARI), Josh Archibald (PIT), Colton Sceviour (NL)

Defensemen: Duncan Keith (retired)

Goalies: Mikko Koskinen (NL)

Key additions

Forwards: Klim Kostin, Mattias Janmark, Greg McKegg

Goalies: Jack Campbell, Calvin Pickard

The Oilers’ biggest move of the offseason was signing Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million contract. Edmonton is banking on Campbell being able to solidify the crease after the Oilers have struggled to get consistent netminding in recent years. It’s not a slam-dunk move, however, at least not yet.

Campbell is coming off a career year with the Maple Leafs but doesn’t have a long-standing track record. The 30-year-old was once considered one of the top goalie prospects in the game, but he has just one season of experience as the unquestioned starter.

That being said, he was impressive last year with the Leafs.

He went 31-9-6 with a 2.64 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and five shutouts, which made him a highly sought-after netminder in the offseason. He was the Oilers’ one high-profile addition, and he will be the true No. 1 goalie on a team that has relied on tandems in each of the past four seasons.

The pressure on Campbell will be enormous, as his performance could make or break Edmonton’s chances of going the distance in the prime of McDavid’s career. However, he’s no stranger to pressure after playing in the intense Toronto market.

Edmonton also re-signed Kane to a four-year deal carrying an AAV of $5.125 million. He was a key factor in Edmonton’s turnaround last year and will be relied upon to be an impact player once again this year. If he can keep his off-ice issues out of the mix, he could be a critical part of Edmonton’s success.

Edmonton also re-signed forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi as well as defenseman Brett Kulak. The Oilers paid a price for that cap space, parting with second- and third-round picks in order to move the remaining two years (AAV: $3.2 million) on Zack Kassian’s contract.

Projected lineup

Evander Kane — Connor McDavid — Kailer Yamamoto
Dylan Holloway — Leon Draisaitl — Zach Hyman
Ryan McLeod — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — Jesse Puljujarvi
Warren Foegele — Brad Malone — Derek Ryan

Darnell Nurse — Cody Ceci
Brett Kulak — Evan Bouchard
Ryan Murray — Tyson Barrie

Jack Campbell
Stuart Skinner

Bottom line

The Oilers’ success will come down to whether Campbell is ready to be a true long-term No. 1 goalie and whether Kane can continue to be an X-factor.

This club revolves around McDavid and Draisaitl, but the two have lacked sufficient support over the years. Edmonton has slowly but surely addressed that problem, and if Campbell can provide consistency in net, the Oilers will be one of the top teams in the Western Conference once again.

The defense should continue to improve, especially if Evan Bouchard — who had a breakout season last year and led the Oilers’ blue line with 43 points in 81 games — can take another step forward. Philip Broberg doesn’t appear to be in the opening-night lineup, but he will have a chance to step up and become a regular on Edmonton’s back end, much like Bouchard did last year.

The biggest surprise out of training camp has been 2020 first-round pick Dylan Holloway, who made his Oilers debut last year in Game 4 against Colorado. He scored eight goals and 22 points in 33 games with Bakersfield of the AHL last year and has been a standout in camp. He scored four goals and six points in five preseason games and seems to have earned himself a top-nine role to start the season.

Woodcroft had a profound effect on the Oilers’ 2021-22 season and could be the stability behind the bench Edmonton has lacked over the years. A full year under his leadership will be telling.

But at the end of the day, consistency between the pipes is the key for Edmonton.

Golden Knights vs. Oilers schedule

Nov. 19 at Edmonton
Jan. 14 vs. Edmonton
March 25 at Edmonton
March 28 vs. Edmonton

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings were the surprise of the Western Conference in 2021-22. The offseason additions of Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson paid off in spades, Adrian Kempe and Trevor Moore had career seasons, Anze Kopitar had his best offensive output since his 92-point campaign in 2017-18, and Jonathan Quick’s resurgence in net helped Los Angeles reach the postseason for the first time since 2017-18.

Season in review

The Kings got off to a very choppy start last year. Despite defeating Vegas 6-2 in its season opener, Los Angeles went on to lose six straight. The Kings then mounted a seven-game winning streak but followed that up with a five-game skid. It didn’t help that Drew Doughty was knocked out of the lineup a few weeks into the season. However, Quick kept Los Angeles in the mix with a strong stretch in November and December, and the Kings’ play stabilized in the 2022 portion of the season.

The standings were close until the end of the year, but the Kings ultimately pulled ahead of the Golden Knights, finishing the season on an 8-4-1 run to secure the third Pacific Division slot and a trip to the postseason. They gave the Oilers a run for their money in a seven-game series — all without Doughty, who was knocked out of the season in early March with a wrist injury. But despite taking a 3-2 series lead, the Kings were unable to contain Connor McDavid and fell in seven games.

A lot of things went right for Los Angeles last season.

Kempe had a breakout season with a career-high 35 goals, and Moore set career highs with 17 goals, 31 assists and 48 points in 81 games. The newly-acquired Danault joined in on the fun with a 27-goal campaign, more than doubling his previous high of 13.

Danault was brought in for his defensive acumen but — along with Moore and Arvidsson — gave Los Angeles its best secondary scoring line since the That 70’s Line. Danault and Kopitar made life easier for each other given their strong two-way ability, and the Kings had six players with at least 17 goals and five players with at least 48 points.

With Doughty out of commission, Mikey Anderson and Matt Roy stepped up on the blue line, and Quick delivered his best performance since 2017-18, going 23-13-9 with a 2.59 goals-against average, .910 save percentage and two shutouts in 46 starts. It was a surprise turn of events considering Cal Petersen — who finished 2021-22 with a career-low .895 save percentage — appeared to be the goalie of the future and had just signed a three-year, $15 million extension. But Quick proved to be the more reliable of the two; he will be 37 in January and is set to enter the final year of his 10-year contract.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 44-27-11—99
Position in standings: Division-3, Conference-6, League-14
Record vs. Vegas: 2-2-0
Playoff result: Eliminated by Edmonton in the first round (4-3)
Leading Scorers: Anze Kopitar (19-48—67), Adrian Kempe (35-19—54)
Power play (NHL rank): 16.1 percent (27)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 76.7 percent (22)
Goals for (NHL rank): 2.87 (20)
Goals against (NHL rank): 2.83 (9)
Season opener: Oct. 11 vs. Vegas

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Dustin Brown (retired), Andreas Athanasiou (CHI), Martin Frk (STL)

Defensemen: Olli Maatta (DET), Troy Stecher (ARI), Christian Wolanin (VAN)

Key additions

Forwards: Kevin Fiala

The Kings acquired Kevin Fiala from Minnesota in exchange for prospect Brock Faber and the No. 19 pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Kings proceeded to lock Fiala up to a seven-year, $55.125 million contract, which carries an AAV of $7.875 million. Fiala is coming off a career season in which he scored 33 goals and 85 points in 82 games. He brings an elite scoring touch the Kings have lacked in recent years.

The Kings signed Kempe to a four-year, $22 million deal (AAV: $5.5 million) and also re-upped forwards Carl Grundstrom, Brendan Lemieux and Gabriel Vilardi as well as defensemen Anderson, Sean Durzi, Alexander Edler and Jacob Moverare.

Projected lineup

Kevin Fiala — Anze Kopitar — Adrian Kempe
Trevor Moore — Phillip Danault — Gabriel Vilardi
Alex Iafallo — Quinton Byfield — Arthur Kaliyev
Brendan Lemieux — Blake Lizotte — Carl Grundstrom

Mikey Anderson — Drew Doughty
Sean Walker — Matt Roy
Alexander Edler — Sean Durzi

Jonathan Quick
Cal Petersen

Bottom line

The Kings have a lot to prove heading into this season.

Was last year’s surprise playoff berth an unrealistic over-achievement partially aided by Vegas’ injury demons, or was it an accurate reflection of where this team currently stands?

There are too many question marks to fully project how things will play out, but statistically speaking, it’s unlikely the Kings will escape regression.

Where that regression occurs, however, remains unknown.

Quick and Petersen are wildcards, and the blue line is fairly young and inexperienced despite the track records of Doughty and Edler.

An influx of young talent could help propel the Kings to another strong campaign, but if Fiala and Kempe can’t live up to their career seasons, and if Danault, Arvidsson and Moore take a step back, then Los Angeles’ often-stale offense will once again impede the team’s progress down the stretch.

Golden Knights vs. Kings schedule

Oct. 11 at Los Angeles
Dec. 27 at Los Angeles
Jan. 7 vs. Los Angeles
April 6 vs. Los Angeles

San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks are 0-2-0 thus far this season after dropping both games of the 2022 Global Series in Prague to the Predators. San Jose entered the season with hopes of ending a three-year playoff drought. The Sharks have not reached the second season since 2018-19; prior to the recent slump, San Jose had failed to make the postseason just twice in the previous 21 seasons.

Season in review

Despite a promising 4-0-0 start, the Sharks went on to miss the postseason by 20 points.

San Jose endured costly seven- and 10-game losing streaks, and despite some flashes of impressive play, the Sharks were largely mediocre in 2021-22. That is, aside from a surprisingly effective penalty kill, which ranked second in the NHL at 85.2 percent.

The Sharks saw several key players miss significant time due to injury, including Erik Karlsson, Kevin Labanc and Mario Ferraro. The Evander Kane saga was an ongoing story, though his eventual departure was reportedly embraced by many in the locker room.

James Reimer was one of the few bright spots for an ailing Sharks squad. Reimer went 19-17-10 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Forwards Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl led the way offensively.

Meier set career highs across the board, recording 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points. Hertl scored 30 goals and finished the year with 64 points, good for second on the team in scoring. Logan Couture finished third with 56 points thanks to 23 goals and 33 assists, while Brent Burns led all Sharks blueliners with 10 goals and 54 points.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 32-37-13—77
Position in standings: Division-6, Conference-12, League-22
Record vs. Vegas: 1-2-0
Playoff result: Did not qualify
Leading Scorers: Timo Meier (35-41—76), Tomas Hertl (30-34—64)
Power play (NHL rank): 19.0 percent (22)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 85.2 percent (2)
Goals for (NHL rank): 2.57 (30)
Goals against (NHL rank): 3.18 (21)

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Rudolfs Balcers (FLA), Jonathan Dahlen (SHL), Ryan Dzingel (CAR)

Defensemen: Brent Burns (CAR), Nicolas Meloche (CGY)

Goalies: Adin Hill (VGK), Alex Stalock (CHI)

Key additions

Forwards: Luke Kunin, Oskar Lindblom, Nico Sturm, Steven Lorentz, Evgeny Svechnikov

Defensemen: Markus Nutivaara, Matt Benning

Goalies: Aaron Dell

Two of the Sharks’ most significant offseason changes had nothing to do with the roster.

The club hired Mike Grier as the team’s general manager, making him the first Black general manager in NHL history. Grier inherited a difficult situation but acted conservatively in the offseason as the Sharks look to turn things around.

One decision he was tasked with was finding a new head coach, and Grier elected to go with former Rangers coach David Quinn. Quinn went 96-87-25 in three seasons in New York after coaching Boston University for five years.

Grier’s biggest move, however, marked the end of an era, as defenseman Burns was shipped out after 11 seasons with the Sharks. Grier traded Burns as well as Lane Pederson to the Hurricanes in exchange for forward Steven Lorentz, goaltender Eetu Makiniemi and a conditional 2023 third-round draft pick. Though the Sharks retained roughly a third of Burns’ $8 million AAV, the move helped them clear some much-needed cap space.

The Sharks acquired Luke Kunin’s rights in a draft-day deal that some questioned; however, Kunin has skated on the top line with Meier and Hertl and has a goal and an assist through two games this season. He signed a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.75 million in mid-July. San Jose re-signed restricted free-agent netminder Kaapo Kahkonen to the same deal.

San Jose brought in several depth pieces, including Oskar Lindblom, who was unceremoniously bought out by the Flyers. Lindblom was a promising top-six forward in Philadelphia prior to a Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis in 2019. He made a full recovery and, remarkably, was back on the ice in the 2020 playoffs; understandably, he has struggled to return to form, though he’s likely to have more consistent top-nine opportunities with his new team.

uThe Sharks re-signed defenseman Ferraro to a four-year deal with a team-friendly $3.25 million AAV. Additionally, the club re-signed Lorentz, Alexander Barabanov, Nikolai Knyzhov and Jaycob Megna.

2022-23 lineup

Timo Meier — Tomas Hertl — Luke Kunin
Steven Lorentz — Logan Couture — Kevin Labanc
Oskar Lindblom — Nick Bonino — Matthew Nieto
Jonah Gadjovich — Nico Sturm — Evgeny Svechnikov

Mario Ferraro — Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Matt Benning
Jaycob Megna — Radim Simek

James Reimer
Kaapo Kahkonen

Bottom line

It’s not a matter of if, but when William Eklund will make the jump to the NHL roster. He and Thomas Bordeleau are the team’s prized prospects and will be looked to in order to help spark an offense that has finished in the bottom third of the league in three straight seasons.

The Sharks have a significant amount of cap space tied up in a handful of players, several of which are on the decline. Hertl, 28, who signed an eight-year contract with an AAV just north of $8 million last year, is not one of them. But Couture, 33, carries five more years at $8 million, while the oft-injured Karlsson, 32, has five years at a team-high $11.5 million AAV. Plus, 35-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic has four more years at $7 million. Those three are essentially untradable assets, thus severely limiting Grier’s options both now and moving forward.

The Sharks are stuck between trying to capitalize on an aging core and blowing things up and starting over. They aren’t bad enough to truly tank, but they also aren’t good enough to legitimately contend.

Golden Knights vs. Sharks schedule

Oct. 25 at San Jose
Nov. 15 vs. San Jose
Feb. 16 vs. San Jose
March 30 at San Jose

Seattle Kraken

The Seattle Kraken went 27-49-6 in their first season, finishing eighth in the Pacific Division and 30th in the NHL with 60 points. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the inaugural campaign of the NHL’s previous expansion franchise. Pre-season expectations were somewhat tapered based on the direction management took in the expansion draft, but the club still managed to underperform across the board. One thing working in Seattle’s favor: the Kraken don’t have anywhere to go but up.

Season in review

The 2021-22 season was a disaster for the Kraken, and it was a mess from the start.

Despite coming close to knocking off the Golden Knights in the season opener, Seattle went 1-4-1 in its first six games, won three of the next five but then dropped six straight. The Kraken went 1-10-2 from early December through mid-January, a stretch that featured a nine-game skid. Seattle went on to suffer seven- and four-game losing streaks during a 1-9-2 stretch in February and March.

In the end, Seattle only managed one three-game winning streak the entire season, and it didn’t come until mid-April.

Struggles in net early on plagued Seattle from the get-go. Philipp Grubauer managed a league-worst -24.64 goals saved above average, and all three goaltenders used during the season — Grubauer (54 starts), Chris Driedger (24 starts) and Joey Daccord (four starts) — finished with save percentages under .900.

Grubauer went 18-31-5 with a 3.16 goals-against average, .889 save percentage and two shutouts; he recorded the worst save percentage in the NHL among goalies who made at least 22 starts.

The goalies were bad, but they didn’t get much support from the 28th-ranked offense (2.60 goals per game), 29th-ranked power play (14.6 percent) and 30th-ranked penalty kill (74.9 percent).

There were a few bright spots offensively, like Jared McCann’s career season, which featured 27 goals and 50 points. Matty Beniers also impressed in a 10-game NHL stint, recording three goals and nine points.

But there were a lot of duds up front. Alex Wennberg was largely inconsistent, and Joonas Donskoi’s production fell off a cliff. After scoring 14-plus goals in four straight seasons, Donskoi lit the lamp just twice in 75 games; the first goal didn’t come until Feb. 1.

The club added Daniel Sprong at the deadline, and he managed to look better than most of the forwards on the team.

That’s a problem.

So is the fact that it was was Adam Larsson — defensive defenseman Adam Larsson, that is — who led the team in total individual Corsi at 5-on-5 (244).

The fact that Dave Hakstol was brought in as the head coach was a questionable decision, and he didn’t inspire any confidence in 2021-22. Seattle didn’t score enough goals, gave up too many goals and made way too many glaring mistakes on a nightly basis. Seattle wasn’t the worst team in the league, but it certainly wasn’t far off.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 27-49-6—60
Position in standings: Division-8, Conference-15, League-30
Record vs. Vegas: 0-4-0
Playoff result: Did not qualify
Leading Scorers: Jared McCann (27-23—50), Yanni Gourde (21-27—48)
Power play (NHL rank): 14.6 percent (29)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 74.9 percent (30)
Goals for (NHL rank): 2.60 (28)
Goals against (NHL rank): 3.46 (24)
Season opener: Oct. 12 at Anaheim

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Riley Sheahan (BUF), Victor Rask (UFA)

Defensemen: Haydn Fleury (TBL), Connor Carrick (BOS), Dennis Cholowski (NYI), Derrick Pouliot (SJS)

Key additions

Forwards: Andre Burakovsky, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Shane Wright

Defensemen: Justin Schultz, Michal Kempny

Goalies: Martin Jones

The Kraken were active in the offseason, bringing in multiple forwards to help bolster an anemic offense. Two-time Stanley Cup champion Andre Burakovsky, who signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal (AAV: $5.5 million), is coming off a career season in which he scored 22 goals and racked up 61 points in 80 games. While he was skating on a highly-skilled Avalanche team, Burakovsky has always thrived when given a larger role, and he’ll likely make the most of his top-six minutes.

The same is true of Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was acquired from Columbus in exchange for third- and fourth-round draft picks. It’s an underrated move considering how well Bjorkstrand has performed in recent seasons. He, too, is coming off the best season of his career, recording 28 goals and 57 points. Bjorkstrand has been one of the Blue Jackets’ most consistent producers over the last five years; he has four years remaining on a deal carrying a $5.4 million AAV.

Those two wingers will give Seattle a much-needed boost offensively, while Justin Schultz — also a two-time Stanley Cup champion — will add some scoring punch and more stability on the back end after signing a two-year, $6 million deal.

With Driedger on the shelf, Seattle brought in veteran goaltender Martin Jones on a one-year, $2 million contract. Jones has a rocky track record and managed a 3.42 goals against average and .900 save percentage last year in Philadelphia, but he will serve as Grubauer’s backup.

Additionally, the Kraken brought back forwards Ryan Donato, Morgan Geekie, Karson Kuhlman and Sprong on one-year deals.

Shane Wright, Seattle’s 2022 first-round draft selection (No. 4 overall), is set to begin the season with the big club. There is a lot of hype surrounding both Wright and Beniers, and while Beniers will have a much more prominent role, Wright is expected to be a key part of the organization moving forward.

Projected lineup

Jaden Schwartz — Matty Beniers — Andre Burakovsky
Jared McCann — Yanni Gourde — Jordan Eberle
Ryan Donato — Alex Wennberg — Oliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon Tanev — Shane Wright — Joonas Donskoi

Vince Dunn — Adam Larsson
Jamie Oleksiak — Justin Schultz
Carson Soucy — Will Borgen

Philipp Grubauer
Martin Jones

Bottom line

It shouldn’t require much for Seattle to improve in its sophomore season. Several offseason adjustments were made to plug major holes up front. The team needs a bounce-back performance by Grubauer, and the new-look offense will need to click in Hakstol’s system in order to ramp up scoring. Should Seattle struggle early on, Hakstol could be on the hot seat.

Much of what made the Golden Knights’ inaugural run so successful was the “Golden Misfits” identity that saw almost every player’s stock rise. The Kraken players essentially had the opposite experience. Almost every player’s value dropped, which leaves room for growth in 2022-23.

Grubauer gave up a league-high 31.5 goals above expected despite the fact that Seattle wasn’t awful defensively. He failed to cover up mistakes and didn’t make key saves, and it was a disastrous start to his tenure in Seattle after a Vezina-caliber year in Colorado.

It’s safe to assume he’s due for some sort of rebound. If it’s a legitimate one, and if Beniers is the star player the Kraken expect him to be, Seattle should be much more competitive this season, even if it doesn’t necessarily result in a playoff berth.

Golden Knights vs. Kraken schedule

Oct. 15 at Seattle
Nov. 25 vs. Seattle
April 11 vs. Seattle
April 13 at Seattle

Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks consider themselves a playoff team. Or at least that’s what the message has been from head coach Bruce Boudreau throughout training camp. The Canucks have missed the playoffs in seven of their last nine seasons, including in 2021-22 (despite a valiant push in the second half). It will be challenging to get off to a better start this year since Vancouver is set to play 11 of its first 17 games on the road, but this organization is hungry for momentum in the post-Sedin era.

Season in review

The Canucks went 8-15-2 to start the 2021-22 season. After making a coaching change, the club went 32-15-10 in 57 games under Boudreau. But it wasn’t enough. In the end, Vancouver missed the playoffs by five points.

J.T. Miller had a career year with 32 goals and 99 points in 80 games, leading all Canucks skaters by a staggering 31 points.

Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes underperformed after missing training camp due to contract holdouts. That being said, Pettersson caught fire once Boudreau took over behind the bench; in fact, the Swedish center recorded 56 points in 55 games after the coaching change.

Both he and Hughes finished the year with 68 points, tying for second on the team behind only Miller. Hughes recorded career bests in assists (60) and points (68); though it was an improvement over his 2020-21 season, he has yet to fully break out as a superstar. That’s true for both players, though the talent level is not in question.

The Canucks quietly had three 30-goal scorers, as Bo Horvat also set a career high with 31, and five players topped 50 points (Miller, Pettersson, Hughes, Horvat, Conor Garland).

Thatcher Demko finished the season with a 33-22-7 record, a 2.72 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and one shutout in 61 starts. His 33 wins and 2.72 goals-against average were career bests.

Quick hits

2021-22 Team record: 40-30-12—92
Position in standings: Division-5, Conference-10, League-18
Record vs. Vegas: 2-1-1
Playoff result: Did not qualify
Leading Scorers: J.T. Miller (32-67—99), Elias Pettersson (32-36—68), Quinn Hughes (8-60—68)
Power play (NHL rank): 23.5 percent (9)
Penalty kill (NHL rank): 74.9 percent (30)
Goals for (NHL rank): 3.0 (18)
Goals against (NHL rank): 2.82 (8)
Season opener: Oct. 12 at Edmonton

Offseason activity

Key departures

Forwards: Jason Dickinson (CHI), Matthew Highmore (STL), Nic Petan (MIN), Justin Bailey (EDM), Juho Lammikko (NL)

Defensemen: Brad Hunt (COL), Madison Bowey (MTL)

Goalies: Jaroslav Halak (NYR)

Key additions

Forwards: Andrei Kuzmenko, Ilya Mikheyev, Curtis Lazar, Dakota Joshua

Defensemen: Riley Stillman, Christian Wolanin

The Canucks needed to make improvements to the blue line but were unable to do so. Bringing in Riley Stillman for Jason Dickinson doesn’t exactly qualify.

However, Vancouver made several moves up front, acquiring forwards Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko and Curtis Lazar.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million (AAV: $4.75 million) deal after setting career highs with 21 goals and 32 points in 53 games with Toronto last year. He will help Vancouver improve its defensive breakouts, and both he and Lazar (three years, $1 million AAV) will help the penalty kill, which was tied for 30th in the league.

Kuzmenko, 26, signed a one-year deal after spending the last five years in the KHL. He recorded 20 goals and 53 points in 45 games last year and has generated quite a bit of preseason buzz.

The Canucks surprised many by signing Miller to a seven-year extension. He was on the trading block at the deadline and earlier in the offseason, but Vancouver elected not to sell high and instead locked him up on a seven-year, $56 million deal (AAV: $8 million), which will kick in next season.

Vancouver also elected to retain Brock Boeser, signing the American winger to a three-year, $19.95 million (AAV: $6.65 million) contract.

Projected lineup

Tanner Pearson — J.T. Miller — Conor Garland
Andrei Kuzmenko — Elias Pettersson — Linus Karlsson
Nils Hoglander — Bo Horvat — Vasily Podkolzin
Dakota Joshua — Nils Aman — Curtis Lazar

Quinn Hughes — Luke Schenn
Oliver Ekman-Larsson — Tucker Poolman
Jack Rathbone — Riley Stillman

Thatcher Demko
Spencer Martin

Bottom line

Pettersson and Hughes need to take their game to the next level if the Canucks want to be serious playoff contenders. If those two live up to their potential and Demko has another strong year in net, Vancouver could be a true playoff threat.

Only two goalies played more games than Demko (64), and being overworked took a toll on him as he struggled down the stretch. He should get some help from Spencer Martin, who played just six games last year but didn’t suffer a regulation loss, going 3-0-3 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.

Much like Edmonton with Jay Woodcroft, Vancouver saw drastic changes with the mid-season course-correction behind the bench. Under Boudreau, the Canucks improved in goals per game (2.36 to 3.28) and on the power play, which jumped from 17.4 percent (22) to 26.7 percent (2). The defense also surrendered fewer goals, improving from 3.16 per game (23) to 2.67 (5).

The Canucks are hopeful that having Boudreau behind the bench for a full season will equate to a meaningful boost in the standings.

Golden Knights vs. Canucks schedule

Nov. 21 at Vancouver
Nov. 26 vs. Vancouver
March 21 at Vancouver

Vancouver is 4-8-2 all-time against Vegas.

Who will win the Pacific Division?

Anaheim Ducks0
Calgary Flames3
Edmonton Oilers9
Los Angeles Kings3
San Jose Sharks0
Seattle Kraken0
Vancouver Canucks1
Vegas Golden Knights11

Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, Hockey Reference, Evolving-Hockey and