Last year’s Pacific Division came down to the wire as the Anaheim Ducks narrowly edged the resurgent Edmonton Oilers by just a pair of points. These were also the only two clubs in the division to crack the 100-point plateau, however I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a third team in the century mark club this season. The Vegas Golden Knights now reside in the Pacific Division, and with the Coyotes and Canucks also expected to be possible basement dwellers, this could really be a top heavy division with plenty of points up for grabs. Let’s take a look at each club’s odds for winning the Pacific Division while predicting a winner, a value play and a team to avoid.
Edmonton Oilers: +175
Anaheim Ducks: +275
Los Angeles Kings: +400
San Jose Sharks: +425
Calgary Flames: +600
Arizona Coyotes: +3300
Vancouver Canucks: +3300
Vegas Golden Knights: +3300
Division Winner: Edmonton Oilers (+175)
The Oilers are a popular pick to win the division as well as a trendy pick to bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993, however I don’t expect this to be a landslide as I believe the Ducks give them a good run for their money. That said, after taking a huge step forward last season in the form of a 33-point improvement from the ’15/’16 campaign, Oil Country could be in for further improvement again this season. The biggest change up front for the Oilers came when GM Peter Chiarelli shipped winger Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders straight up for forward Ryan Strome. While Strome was initially expected to right shotgun next to McDavid on the team’s top line, it now appears he will slot in between fellow newcomer Jussi Jokinen and sophomore Drake Caggiula on the third line. Therefore, Edmonton’s top line of McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl will remain in tact to begin this season. Like every club in the league, this team still has question marks. Can their top players stay as healthy as they did last season? Can Maroon repeat his 27-goal outburst after breaking his previous career high of 11? Can Cam Talbot stay healthy enough to make 73 starts again? In my opinion, this last question is most important for the Oilers’ chances at winning this division. Talbot was remarkably durable last season, making those 73 starts while posting a 2.39 GAA, .919 save percentage and seven shutouts en route to 42 wins. However, if Talbot were to go down, the Oilers are in serious trouble as backup Laurent Brossoit is a veteran of just ten career NHL starts and posted just a .908 save percentage in 21 appearances for the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL last season. With the D core largely in tact from last season and set to get a boost with the return of Andrej Sekera (knee) mid-season, there aren’t many concerns there. We know the offense will be in good hands with McDavid likely to take a good run at a second Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy this season. If Talbot can stay healthy, this team is primed to reign supreme in the Pacific Division, a reign that could last indefinitely thanks to the make up of this hockey club.
Value Pick: Calgary Flames (+600)
Don’t sleep on the Flames. After an excruciating first round exit from the playoffs last year, change was afoot for the Flames in the offseason. Calgary will boast a completely different goaltending tandem this season with the acquisitions of Mike Smith from Arizona and backup Eddie Lack from Carolina while Brian Elliott finds himself in Philadelphia and Chad Johnson is backing up Robin Lehner in Buffalo. Even after ranking 14th with 2.67 goals against per game last season, the Flames knew they needed to get stronger on the back end, and they didn’t stop at goaltending. Travis Hamonic was known to be up for grabs in a deal with the New York Islanders, so GM Brad Treliving stepped up and paid the steep price of a first round pick as well as two second round picks in order to bring Hamonic aboard. With Hamonic, the Flames now boast one of, if not the most formidable top four defensive group in all of hockey. Hamonic will likely slot in next to T.J. Brodie on the Flames’ second pair while workhorse Mark Giordano and the offensively-gifted Dougie Hamilton will form the top pair. You don’t have to look too far back to find an example of a strong defensive group carrying a team to immense success as last season’s Western Conference champion Nashville Predators are a fine example. Led by Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, the Predators were a tough opponent in the playoffs with the help of netminder Pekka Rinne. Up front, Calgary is in good hands with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan anchoring the offense, while sophomore Matthew Tkachuk looks to build off of a strong rookie campaign next to Michael Backlund who recorded a career-high 53 points last season. The x-factor in this forward group is center Sam Bennett who the Flames’ brass are hoping can finally take a step forward in his production after taking a step back last season with just 26 points in 81 games. The Flames just recently brought super-veteran Jaromir Jagr aboard to solidify this forward group and help provide some offense on a team that ranked 17th with 2.71 goals per game and 24th with just 29.1 shots per game. A bounceback season from Gaudreau is in the cards, and if the Flames can get secondary scoring from the Backlund/Tkachuk to go along with an increase in production from Bennett, this team should take a step forward offensively as well. With an extremely reliable defense, improved goaltending and a likely uptick in scoring, the Flames could be a serious threat to the Oilers and Ducks when it comes to taking down the Pacific Division.
Avoid: Los Angeles Kings (+400)
I’m a little surprised to see the Kings’ odds where they are given the current state of this organization. Looking at the Kings, we have a team that should be able to prevent offense again, likely in the range of the 2.45 goals per game (5th) and the 25.9 shots per game (1st) they surrendered last season. As we’ve seen with this club in the past, limiting scoring and scoring chances at these rates can get you into the postseason, but with the total lack of offense on this club it just will not be enough to take them to the top of this division. The Kings scored just 2.43 goals per game (25th) last season, however they did rank 7th with 31.1 shots on goal per game. Shots on goal are good and all, however when looking at this roster it’s unclear where any sort of the secondary scoring will come from. The Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli line will be the largest threat up front of the Kings, however after that it’s anybody’s guess. First line center Anze Kopitar saw a 22-point drop off last season and scored just 12 goals, albeit his 8% shooting percentage was a career low and due for an increase. However, Kopitar is not a sniper and is a playmaker by trade, but it’s tough to see current linemates Alex Iafallo (rookie) and Dustin Brown (regressing) scoring enough to make Kopitar offensively productive again. The Kings simply don’t have the depth up front to get consistent scoring from more than one line, and although their defense and Jonathan Quick can combine to make a playoff push, any talk of a division championship should be put aside for this club this season.