It feels like ages since the Oilers have been a part of the Pacific Division, but they return this October as the 2021-22 season sees the NHL return back to its normal divisions. The Pacific features a very interesting group of teams and things look pretty different from the last time the Oilers played against this group.
Of course, there is one big change from the last time the Oilers played in the Pacific. The expansion Seattle Kraken have joined the division and the Arizona Coyotes have moved to the Central. That’s really a shame because the Coyotes are going to be absolutely awful this season.
Still, the Oilers belong to one of the weaker divisions in the NHL. That doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult to make the playoffs, it always is in a league with the level of parity that the NHL has, but the Oilers have a pretty clear path to the postseason.
Since it’s been a while since we’ve focused on the Pacific Division, I figured now would be a good time to take a look at how the Oiler’s direct competition changed over the course of the offseason. Let’s start with the teams that the Oilers didn’t play last season
The Ducks were not very good last season. They finished with a record of 17-30-9, finished last in the West Division, and were one of just five teams in the entire league who failed to win at least 20 games. And here’s the real kicker: they did nothing to improve their team this summer. It was truly stunning.
Yes, they re-signed Ryan Getzlaf and brought back a few depth players but they did not make one addition that leads me to believe that they will be better next season.
Now, they still have close to $14 million in cap space, so maybe they make a big splash before the start of the season (Eichel?) but that seems unlikely at this point. They will likely finish in one of the bottom two spots in the Pacific.
Like their SoCal rivals, the Kings didn’t have a great season in the shortened 2020-21 season. They went 21-28-7 and missed the playoffs by 14 points. Unlike the Ducks, the Kings had a busy offseason and look better on paper than they were last season.
They started the offseason by acquiring Victor Arvidsson from the Predators for a pair of draft picks and then went on to sign Philip Danault to a six-year deal to bolster their forward group. They also picked up veteran d-man Alex Edler.
They got better this summer and have a solid wave of young players who could take steps forward. They’ll be in the mix to make the playoffs as long as Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen give them decent goaltending.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
The Sharks were not very good last season and honestly, I’m not sure if they’re primed for a bounceback season. They added a couple of depth pieces up front and I don’t hate their forward group, but the future of Evander Kane is up in the air and he was their best forward last season.
Their blueline has some famous names, but they’ve lost a step recently as well. Their goaltending tandem of Adin Hill and James Reimer will likely just be average. I just don’t see a lot of reasons to believe this team will contend for a playoff spot. I don’t view them or the Ducks as a threat to the Oilers’ playoff hopes.
The NHL’s 32nd franchise will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the Vegas Golden Knights and march to the playoffs in their inaugural season. I actually think they have a pretty good chance to do it. Their goaltending tandem of Phillip Grubauer and Chris Driedger is the best duo in the division and their top four on the blueline consists of Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Mark Giordano, and Vince Dunn. Preventing goals will not be a problem. Scoring them might be though.
Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Eberle, and Yanni Gourde are expected to make up their top line (according to Daily Faceoff) and that’s not bad, but they don’t have much depth. If they can get some surprise seasons from one of their depth forwards, as Vegas got from a guy like William Karlsson back in 2017-18, then they’ll be in decent shape though.
I fully expect the Kraken to be right in the middle of the playoff race.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
I’m not sure how I feel about the Golden Knights. Their biggest priority this offseason should have been to get an impact top-six centreman and they didn’t really do that. Yes, they brought in former first overall pick Nolan Patrick, but there’s no guarantee he can fill that role and they gave up Cody Glass to get him. They also brought in Evgeni Dadonov from Ottawa and that move didn’t make a lot of sense to me either.
Their blueline is still very good, but there is also no denying that their goaltending tandem is not as strong as it was last season. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury is out and they replaced him with Laurent Brossoit. That’s a downgrade and there will be a lot of pressure on Robin Lehner to perform this season.
I still think Vegas wins the division, but I don’t think they’ll necessarily run away with it.
Then there are the two Canadian teams in the division, who the Oilers are very familiar with having played them a combined 19 times last season. The Oilers played both of these teams rather well in 2020-21, going 12-8-0 in their head-to-head matchups against the Flames and Canucks. After looking at both of those teams’ offseasons, I see very little reason to think that the Oilers can’t finish ahead of both of their western Canadian rivals once again. I’ll explain.
The big move that the Flames made was going out and signing two-time Stanley Cup Champion Blake Coleman. That will help their offence, which finished 22nd in the league in goals for last season. I really liked that move.
They lost Captain Mark Giordano in the expansion draft, which left a massive hole in their organization both on and off the ice. They did bring in young, tough, left-shot defenseman Nikita Zadorov to help round out their blueline and honestly, I still like the group they have even without Giordano. They aren’t as good, but it isn’t a weakness.
Their success this season really hinges on Jakub Markstrom. If his save percentage can jump back to around the .918 mark that it was at in his last season with the Canucks, it will go a long way in turning the Flames back into a playoff contender.
They will be an interesting team to watch in their first full season back under Darryll Sutter.
The Canucks made a big splash in July, bringing in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Connor Garland in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. Ekman-Larsson is really overpaid, but he should still help out their blueline this season and Garland is a fantastic top-six forward who could look great next to Elias Pettersson. They got better, it’s just a matter of how much better.
They missed the playoffs last season by 13 points, and I know that COVID really threw a wrench into their season, but for them to make up that big of a gap, they’ll likely need the same thing that all three of the Canadian teams in the division need: goaltending.
Thatcher Demko is a 25-year-old with Vezina potential and if he takes another big step this season, the Canucks should have a good enough roster in front of him to be a playoff team.
The Oilers have a very good chance to make the playoffs in this division. There are plenty of teams with potential, but Vegas is really the only surefire bet to make the postseason. If the Oilers’ goaltending really falters and a majority of these teams with strong upside (LA, Seattle, Calgary, and Vancouver) all perform above expectations, then things in Edmonton could get ugly, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening.
The expectation for the Oilers should not only be to make the playoffs but to have home-ice advantage in the first round. It’s really as simple as that. That goal is very realistic considering the division they will play in and what those teams did this summer.