The Oilers are 6-4-1. They have their flaws. They have three regulation wins in 11 games. Connor McDavid is basically a cheat code in 3-on-3 overtime. Edmonton’s banked enough points in a tough start to the season. They haven’t even faced a Pacific Division opponent yet. That might work towards their favour.
The Pacific Division is a contender for weakest division in hockey. Five teams are .500 or more: San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Arizona. The top-three Central teams all have more points than the Pacific’s best.
It’s hard to bet against a team with McDavid at the helm. The Oilers rely on him so much, but they’ve gotten by so far. At 5-on-5, Edmonton’s outscored teams 8-4 with McDavid on the ice and been outscored 9-14 with McDavid on the bench. McDavid’s playing a ridiculous amount out of necessity. Still, those points are in the bank and their schedule should lighten up soon.
The Oilers have holes across their roster, but so do many teams.
San Jose should take one of the three Pacific playoff spots. They have two Norris-caliber defencemen on the roster and Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn’t too shabby either.
Vancouver’s in the mix, but for how long? They’re a game over .500 but injuries are a factor. Elias Pettersson should spark some wins for them but questionable defence and goaltending will be their demise. Alex Edler is injured. Chris Tanev is injured. They have some exciting players up front but that defence is a mess.
Calgary’s faith in Mike Smith is holding back a decent team. They’re a top-ten Corsi team getting ravaged by poor goaltending. Bill Peters hockey, baby! Even with some questionable moves in the summer, the Flames should be solid. They carry a quality group of forwards and a good enough defence. That won’t matter if Mike Smith lets in three goals a game, something he’s done in six of his nine starts so far.
The Coyotes didn’t score a goal in three of their first four games. They’ve scored over four goals a game in their past four, including seven against Tampa Bay last Saturday and five against Ottawa on Tuesday. There are some things to like about the Coyotes (seriously). Antti Raanta has continued his phenomenal play from last season. There’s a decent group of defencemen led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Then you see Richard Panik on the top line. He had a 44-point pace after being traded to the Coyotes in 2017-18, but has only three points in nine games this season. There are worse groups of forwards in the NHL. The Coyotes make a couple good moves each offseason then fall on their face as soon as the season begins. 6-5-0 is a nice start.
Anaheim is getting badly out-shot every game. Hockey is often a game of goalies and they have a really good one. John Gibson’s at a .938 save percentage and the Ducks are only 5-6-2. They seem to pull it together every year, so I’m not counting them out yet,. Early returns aren’t good. There’s a lot of risk relying on your goalie that much.
Is this the step back everyone expected from Vegas? Nate Schmidt’s suspension doesn’t help. Paul Stastny’s out for a while with injury too. Max Pacioretty was clearly playing hurt. 5-6-1 isn’t too bad all things considered. They’re a top-five Corsi team. Colin Miller’s thrived in an increased role. Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t close to his Vezina-like season last year. It’s not hard to see a playoff team here with some health and better goaltending. Those are big ifs.
The Kings are 3-7-1. Woof. Jonathan Quick’s injured and had a .845 save percentage in four games played. Jack Campbell’s been okay in Quick’s absence, although backups seem to thrive in Los Angeles. No King has 10 points. Ilya Kovalchuk and Drew Doughty lead the way with eight points. None of their centres have five points. This is an old, expensive team and Quick is out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery. That’s probably it for the Kings.
After San Jose, the Pacific is wide open. There’s a lot of potential after the Sharks, but no guarantees. Vegas could get healthy. Worse teams than the Canucks have made the playoffs. Mike Smith might pull it together. The Ducks could Randy Carlyle their way to another playoff spot. Arizona’s collection of okay players could finally translate. The Kings made the playoffs last year and can’t be this bad.
I thought the Oilers didn’t do enough last summer. Their inactivity was preferable relative to previous summers that saw questionable trades and signings. I thought they needed a couple scoring wingers and another right-shot guy defenceman. The Oilers remain a flawed team due to cap restraints from previous summers led by Peter Chiarelli, but the Pacific is full of meager teams.
The Oilers might be blessed by playing in one of hockey’s worst divisions. Sure, they rely too much on McDavid’s line and lack production elsewhere, but they might not need much else.