2021-22 Pacific Division Preview

2021-22 Pacific Division

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2021-22 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2021-22 Pacific Division.

2021-22 Pacific Division

1. Vegas Golden Knights

Brandon Higley-Blair writes:

The Vegas Golden Knights came out swinging in their inaugural season and haven’t looked back since. This team has made the playoffs every year and looks to be strong enough to continue that trend. The defensive depth of this team is one of their biggest strengths. Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, and Shea Theodore could all be top-pairing defencemen for a franchise. The fact that they have three of them is incredible. On top of that, they have a few younger guys who have looked good and could develop their games this year. Their forward group is nothing to scoff at either. They have incredible depth with a few big names including captain Mark Stone.

Goaltending is the biggest question mark this team has. Even then, Robin Lehner has shown he can be an excellent starting goaltender. We just don’t know how Laurent Brossoit will do as his backup. While this tandem is nothing near what they had with Marc-Andre Fleury, they still have a top 15 goaltender leading them out every night. This team should be at the top of the 2021-22 Pacific Division

2. Edmonton Oilers

Bret Litke writes:

For two years now, the Edmonton Oilers have relied on roughly the same formula. It involves Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl going supernova, elite special teams, some key veteran contributions, and good enough goaltending to not throw a wrench into all of it. This approach has earned them the second spot in the division both years. 

The Oilers will more or less employ the same strategy going into this season. One key difference is the depth of the offence. Ken Holland’s busy summer has given the Oilers their deepest collection of forwards in years. On the other hand, the defence is completely rebuilt and relying on veterans Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci, while the goaltending remains unchanged.

The Oilers have all the firepower in the world to finish second in the Pacific, but any growth beyond that is limited by their questionable defence and middle-of-the-pack goaltending. 

3. Vancouver Canucks

Erin Butler writes:

Take last year’s individual stats and throw them out the window. Not only was it an awful year that isn’t going to be repeated, but there was also a massive turnover in talent and coaching. Gone is the far-too-expensive fourth line and the special teams coach Newell Brown. In comes the also very expensive – but much more talented – Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the 5’8” wrecking ball Conor Garland, and defensive centre Jason Dickinson.

Brad Shaw is taking over the defence from the bench, bringing a new focus to a very sore point for the Vancouver Canucks. How much it can help given the talent he has to work with will be worth watching. The team is three good lines deep, has solid goaltending, and has two very good offensive defencemen. In this division, that should be enough to make the playoffs.

4. Seattle Kraken

Brandon Higley-Blair writes:

One of the most exciting things we got to see this offseason was the creation of a new franchise. Both of the newest NHL teams will face each other frequently as they play in the same division. There is a lot unknown about the Kraken, purely because it is a new team. The roster looks good so far, but we still have yet to see the product on the ice in a meaningful game.

The Kraken left some big names on the board at the expansion draft, causing some confusion amongst fans and analysts alike. It wound up benefitting them greatly when we saw their plan unfold. The team used their roughly $20 million in salary-cap space as a weapon in free agency. They got a stellar goaltender in Philipp Grubauer and some fancy weapons in Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg. This team has a lot of good pieces and should make the postseason. We just don’t know quite how good they will be.

5. Calgary Flames

Bret Litke writes:

The Calgary Flames had a disastrous season last year. It led to rumours of a locker room rift, a reunification with coach Darryl Sutter, and heavy speculation of massive changes in the offseason.

The massive roster overhaul never arrived, but the Flames will look a bit different this season. Long-time captain Mark Giordano is out, two-time Stanley Cup champion Blake Coleman is in, and Sutter will start the season behind the bench with the benefit of a full training camp in his pocket.

The issue is that this is largely the same roster that finished a hair outside of the basement in last year’s North Division. The forwards remain good but not great, the defence questionable, and the goaltending situation vulnerable to Jacob Markstrom being overworked yet again.

All of this adds up to another below-average season and no playoffs in sight. 

6. Los Angeles Kings

Erin Butler writes:

The Los Angeles Kings are no longer a team that will go as far as their over-30s will take them. They aren’t a young team by any means, but some of their younger players have the opportunity to make some noise. Samuel Fagemo, Rasmus Kupari, and Alex Turcotte are still in the minors, but there are plenty more who are ready to go. Arthur Kaliyev will probably go down for one more year, but he’s still in camp for now.

Gabriel Vilardi is finally healthy, and Lias Andersson may not stay up when Quinton Byfield returns to health. This team is packed with exciting prospects, but other than these three they aren’t on the big club yet. It’s a positive that Jaret Anderson-Dolan can get pushed down when he could make most other teams. It means LA isn’t going to rush their young guns.

But it also means they won’t get all they can from them. Yet.

7. Anaheim Ducks

Erin Butler writes:

The Anaheim Ducks haven’t had a great run recently, missing the playoffs three seasons running. This year isn’t when they break that streak. Is it a positive or a negative when three of a team’s best players – including last season’s scoring leader – are waiver-exempt? Maxime Comtois and Trevor Zegras may well find themselves on Anaheim’s top line as Jamie Drysdale anchors the defence.

Age has not been kind to the Ducks, and they need a lot more from ageing veterans if they want to avoid the Pacific basement. There’s only so much John Gibson can do, especially with the retirement of Ryan Miller. Anthony Stolarz has done well behind Gibson, he just hasn’t done a lot behind him, playing just nine NHL games in the past two seasons.

Anaheim is out of the jungle and onto the trail, but civilization is still a long way off.

8. San Jose Sharks

Bret Litke writes:

The list of issues that plagued this team last year is long. An abysmal cap situation, underperforming veterans, locker room chaos, lack of roster depth, and awful goaltending. Unfortunately, not much has changed this season.

The biggest turnover for the San Jose Sharks is in the net. Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk are gone after a pair of poor seasons, with James Reimer and Adin Hill assuming the controls. On paper, this should be an improved duo, but it doesn’t address the other glaring issues.

How much further can Erik Karlsson fall? Who will replace Evander Kane’s scoring? Can this same defence somehow improve after a season with the second most goals against in the league?  

Several questions, very few answers. This results in a poor season, a seller status at the deadline, and a trip to the 2021-22 Pacific Division basement. 

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