2023-24’s Biggest Storylines #2 – Could the Pacific Division be bad?
Photo credit:Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
We are down to the final two spots in my pre-season countdown of the ten biggest storylines heading into the 2023-24 campaign. The first eight were mainly centred around the team’s roster heading into opening night and expectations for certain players heading into this year.
Today, I want to talk about something that the Oilers really don’t have much control over how good their division is.
I’m putting it high on my list because while it’s one thing that the team doesn’t control, it has a chance to be a massive story because honestly, this division might not be very good next season.
In 2022-23, the Pacific Division was the only of the four to have four teams crack the 100-point mark. It was a tough year to be in the Pacific, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case this season.
Let’s go through the teams, starting with Vegas.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions will be good again this season, but their roster has some flaws. They paid Adin Hill a lot of money after his heroic performance in the playoffs, but is he a legit number-one goalie? I’m not sold on it. Having Logan Thompson as his backup does help though.
Up front, Mark Stone’s health could be a big story once again. If he can’t play in all 82 games, which almost feels like a certainty considering what we know about his back, then that is a big blow.
They’re still very good and should push for the top spot in the conference again, but they didn’t get better this summer and that’s good news for the Oilers.
Next is the Los Angeles Kings, a team that I am not as high on as other people in the industry.
I really like Pierre-Luc Dubois as a player, but they gave up a lot to get him and that will hurt their depth scoring this season. They basically sacrificed their entire third line in that trade. They have a really nice group of young players coming through their system though and that should help next season.
The biggest concern is between the pipes. They are putting their trust in 36-year-old Cam Talbot and journeyman Phoenix Copley.
Talbot had a .898 save percentage last season with the Ottawa Senators and has struggled to stay healthy over the past couple of seasons. Copley was a great story last season, but he’s 31 years old and has only played in 68 career NHL games.
Poor goaltending can absolutely sink a team and I think the Kings have taken a big risk by going with this duo. It could kill their chances to compete for the division title.
The next tier of teams is a group I’d call “fringe playoff teams”. They could sneak it, but I think it’s more likely than not that they miss and yes, I’m including the Seattle Kraken in this conversation.
The Kraken didn’t improve this summer and that’s always a red flag. They were able to overcome very average goaltending last season and they had six players hit the 20-goal mark. Looking at this roster, I’m not sure if they’ll be able to repeat that kind of offensive performance.
The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks both fall into the same category for me. They are both coming off very disappointing seasons and neither organization did anything to substantially improve their teams during the offseason.
Yes, the Flames went through a bit of a culture reset by firing Darryl Sutter and making Ryan Huska their Head Coach, but will that alone be enough to propel them into a playoff spot? I’m doubtful. They also lost Tyler Toffoli and have a handful of pending UFAs who could make it tempting for GM Craig Conroy to sell at the deadline.
I’m always intrigued by the Vancouver Canucks because of how good their young core is. Elias Petersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko are all elite young players whose best days are still to come, but the rest of this roster is just so average that I’m not sure if the Canucks will improve this year.
I think there is a chance that all four of the Kings, Kraken, Flames, and Canucks take a step back this season. Add that to the fact that the Sharks and Ducks are both firmly planted in rebuilds and you suddenly start to see how this division could be one of the worst in the league.
The games aren’t played on paper though and I’m sure a team like the Flames will be very motivated coming out of the gates. The Los Angeles Kings have a pesky roster as well, but I think that the Oilers will have a chance to roll through their inter-divisional games and that could propel them to being one of the best regular season teams in the NHL.
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