Evaluating Each Pacific Division Team’s Offseason Thus Far
By NHL_Sid3 months ago
It’s been over a month since the NHL Draft and Free Agency Day, as the 2022-23 NHL season nears closer and closer.
The vast majority of the league’s teams have made their major roster changes, for better or for worse. With the Nazem Kadri signing on Thursday, every big free agent has been signed, and we have a solid understanding of how each team will likely look on opening night.
Without further ado, here’s a look at each Pacific Divison team’s offseason so far, and how the divisional standings could realistically look by the end of the 2022-23 season.
*All cap-related info via PuckPedia, all microstats via Corey Sznajder, all other stats and metrics via EvolvingHockey unless stated otherwise
Anaheim had an encouraging start to 2021-22 due to strong showings from their young talent, most notably Trevor Zegras. However, the team massively declined in the second half of the season, holding an awful record of 14-27-7 in the calendar year of 2022.
The Ducks had plenty of cap space this offseason, largely due to Ryan Getzlaf’s retirement, as he carried a cap hit of $8.25M. With that cap space, Anaheim’s most notable additions include John Klingberg, Frank Vatrano, Olli Juolevi, and (former Oiler) Ryan Strome.
Vatrano is a decent middle-six winger with above-average defensive impacts. Strome played a lot with Artemi Panarin in New York, but nonetheless, he should be a solid offensive 2C behind Zegras, with the ability to be an asset on the power-play and kill penalties.
John Klingberg has declined from what he previously was, notably defensively at 5v5. No Stars defenceman was on-ice for more shots and scoring chances against per hour than Klingberg last season. However, he provides a ton of offensive value at 5v5 and on the PP, largely due to excellent transitional abilities and offensive instincts.
Overall, Anaheim added some solid pieces, but they aren’t a strong bet to make the playoffs. Alongside their unimpressive bottom-six, their defensive core was subpar defensively; adding Klingberg won’t help in that facet, and adding Juolevi isn’t enough. John Gibson has also been somewhat inconsistent in the past few years.
Coming off a season where they finished first in the Pacific but lost in the second round to the Oilers, the Flames have certainly had the most eventful offseason out of any Pacific Division team.
In my opinion, the forward core has downgraded, but the defence has improved.
MacKenzie Weegar is the real deal. In the past two seasons, Weegar ranks sixth among all defencemen in 5v5 points, largely due to his excellent breakout passing skills. Weegar is also one of the league’s best entry defenders, ranking second in zone denials per 60, and seventh in zone carry against%. Weegar’s only notable flaw is occasional turnovers in his own zone, but aside from that, he’s an outstanding top-pairing defenceman with the ability to play both LD and RD. The defence certainly upgraded, and the loss of Erik Gudbranson is nothing significant at all. I’d go on to further say that Calgary has a top-three defensive core in the league.
However, in regards to their forwards, Gaudreau and Tkachuk are superior players over Kadri and Huberdeau. Last season, Gaudreau nearly produced at a PPG pace at even-strength alone (!).
Based on EvolvingHockey’s Wins Above Replacement model in the past two seasons, Gaudreau and Tkachuk were worth a combined 7.9 wins over 82 games, while Huberdeau and Kadri are worth 5.3 wins. Although they aren’t impact players, Calgary lost Monahan and Jarnkrok as well.
With that said, Gaudreau and Tkachuk did go on huge, unsustainable on-ice shooting% heaters. Gaudreau’s on-ice SH% was 13.2% (career average is 9.8%), while Tkachuk was at 12.3% (career average is 8.6%). It did inflate their WAR, but even if their luck was closer to their career average, they would remain superior to Kadri and Huberdeau. Not to mention, Kadri had an outlier year himself.
From 2013-14 through 2020-21, Kadri never produced at an 82-game pace higher than 61 points, but suddenly produced at a pace of 100 points on the best team in the league in 2021-22. Kadri still remains a prominent top-six center, but 21-22 seems to be an outlier that he most likely will not repeat.
Huberdeau is an excellent offensive asset, but ranks poorly defensively, as his impact on suppressing scoring chances (RAPM xGA) ranks in the 9th percentile. Furthermore, at 5v5, the Panthers out-scored the opposition 65 – 50 with Huberdeau on-ice (a goal differential of 56.5%), while they out-scored the opposition 153 – 111 with Huberdeau off-ice (a goal differential of 58.0%).
Put differently, the Panthers were actually a superior team at 5v5 when Huberdeau was on the bench, largely as a result of Huberdeau’s subpar defence. He’s still an excellent player, but this is somewhat of a concern (although Huberdeau could improve his defensive impact under Sutter’s strong defensive system).
Huberdeau will be 30 when his seven-year extension worth $10.5M kicks in, while Kadri, who was signed for seven years at $7M, turns 32 in October. Calgary will be a strong playoff team in the short-term, but those contracts will hurt in their later years.
Something worth noting; per @ManGamesLostNHL on Twitter, Calgary had the lowest amount of man-games lost to injury last season out of any team. It’s unlikely that they face the same amount of injury luck this season.
The Flames will likely regress from 2021-22, but with that said, there’s still an extremely high chance that they finish top-two in the division.
I’ve talked a lot about the Oilers and their offseason this summer, so I won’t be as detailed here.
Edmonton has the best forward core in the Pacific. Their group of forwards is essentially the same as last year’s roster, aside from the departures of Josh Archibald and Zack Kassian (which I believe is addition by subtraction). Dylan Holloway will also obtain some NHL opportunities this season.
In regards to their cup contention hopes, the bigger question is their defence and goaltending. Their defensive core is good, and should improve with progression from Bouchard and Broberg, but is it enough to win the Stanley Cup? Recent cup-winning teams like Colorado and Tampa have considerably superior defensive cores.
Furthermore, as I wrote in this piece, Jack Campbell has been quite inconsistent throughout his career. Fits of excellence are often followed by stretches of awful play, and he mightily struggles with high-danger chances.
In the past two seasons, Mike Smith posted 0.918 SV%, and saved roughly 15 goals above expected; can Campbell comfortably replace and exceed that level of play? Only time will tell.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are coming off a first-round series loss to the Oilers, but it’s still somewhat impressive that they took Edmonton to seven games in spite of losing Drew Doughty and Viktor Arvidsson to injury.
Los Angeles’s major offseason move was acquiring Kevin Fiala. The team dealt their 2022 first-round pick and rights to prospect Brock Faber for Fiala’s RFA rights, and shortly after, he signed a seven-year extension with a $7.875M AAV.
Although Faber has potential, I believe this is a win for Los Angeles. Fiala is a dynamic winger with excellent offensive talent. He posted a total of 33 goals and 87 points last season, and ranked ninth in the league in 5v5 points per 60 last season, ahead of even McDavid and Draisaitl. LA was the worst finishing team in the league last season, so an elite producer and offensive asset such as Fiala is an excellent fit.
Dustin Brown retired after the playoffs, and LA allowed Athanasiou, Stecher, and Maatta to walk in free agency, but they can be easily replaced by the team’s deep prospect pool. Furthermore, they cost a combined $8.4M, so letting them walk was necessary for Fiala to sign.
The Kings have placed a lot of hope on their younger assets to improve next season, which includes players such as Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte. With the addition of Fiala and potential progression from their young talent, they could certainly make a strong push towards a top 2-3 spot in the division.
San Jose Sharks
2022-23 will be San Jose’s first season under GM Mike Grier and HC David Quinn. The team missed the playoffs in 2021-22 after a mediocre season, and it’s highly unlikely that it gets better soon.
With 33-year-old Logan Couture at $8M, 32-year-old Erik Karlsson at $11.5M, and 35-year-old Marc-Edouard Vlasic at $7M (a combined cap-hit of $26.5M), the Sharks are stuck with several aging, overpaid players. Additionally, their current prospect pool is unimpressive, so it’s a rough situation.
San Jose’s major move this offseason was dealing Brent Burns to Carolina for Steven Lorentz, goalie prospect Eetu Makiniemi and a conditional 2023 third-round pick, with the Sharks retaining 33% of Burns’ salary.
The team signed multiple depth pieces such as Kunin, Nutivaara, Benning, Sturm, and Lindblom. All of them are positive impact players to a degree, but none of them move the needle enough to make significant impacts on their respective club. As of now, they’re the most likely candidate to finish last in the Pacific.
In their first season in the NHL, the Seattle Kraken finished last in the Pacific Division. Their defence was actually quite solid; they ranked 8th in the league in expected goals against per hour. However, they couldn’t generate any chances or score any goals, and their defence certainly wasn’t good enough to make up for their dreadful goaltending.
Seattle’s offseason performance thus far has been quite good. Signed for an AAV of $5.5M, Andre Burakovsky has scored 41 goals on 23.3 expected goals in the past two seasons, ranking 3rd in the league in Goals Scored Above Expected during that span. He’s an exceptional finisher, something that Seattle could benefit from. Furthermore, Seattle dealt merely a 3rd and 4th round pick to Columbus for Oliver Bjorstrand, which was a superb move.
Bjorkstrand is an excellent all-around winger. Bjorkstrand ranks 12th among all forwards in the past two seasons in forecheck pressures per hour, and his defensive impact on suppressing scoring chances (RAPM xGA) ranks in the 78th percentile. Bjorkstrand also scored a career-high 28 goals last season, and 57 points in total.
Although their offence will still remain somewhat mediocre, Burakovsky and Bjorkstrand will help improve Seattle’s forward core, while Schultz and Kempny are decent defensive pieces on the backend. However, their biggest question is their goaltending.
Philipp Grubauer was the league’s worst goaltender last season, sporting a 0.890 SV%, and a -31.3 GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected); put differently, he allowed roughly 31 goals more than expected. Not good.
Chris Driedger also struggled last season. Adding Martin Jones won’t help; Jones has placed as a net negative in GSAx in each of the past four seasons, and has allowed a total of 49 goals more than expected (!) during that span.
Overall, Seattle has taken some encouraging steps, but the possibility of a playoff spot still seems quite uncertain.
After a disappointing record of 8-15-2 to start the season, Vancouver fired coach Travis Green. The team hired Bruce Boudreau in his place, but although they considerably improved to a record of 35-15-10, it wasn’t enough, as they missed the final wild card spot by 5 points.
Vancouver added multiple forwards this offseason, highlighted by Andrei Kuzmenko, Curtis Lazar, and Ilya Mikheyev. Lazar is a good bottom-six piece, while Mikheyev is a solid middle-six winger with excellent penalty-killing abilities. This is something that the Canucks desperately need, as the team ranked 28th in the league last season in short-handed goals against per hour.
With St.Petersburg in the KHL, Kuzmenko produced 53 points in 45 games last season. Players who dominated the KHL haven’t always found a ton of success in the NHL (e.g. Nikita Gusev), but Kuzmenko could still be a fine middle-six winger. Vancouver finished 22nd in the league in 5v5 goals per hour, so they needed to add some offensive forward depth.
Vancouver received the best goaltending last season at 5v5 due to excellent play from Thatcher Demko, although he was abysmal on the penalty kill. Demko ranked 4th last in the league in short-handed GSAx, and posted a short-handed SV% of 0.839. Such a drastic difference between a goalie’s 5v5 and PK performance is bizarre and quite uncommon.
Considering their excellent record under Boudreau, Vancouver has a decent chance to qualify for the playoffs this upcoming season and push for third place in the division, although their roster still contains several flaws.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights were cursed by numerous injuries last season, and despite a blockbuster Jack Eichel trade, they missed the playoffs. The team fired head coach Peter Deboer and hired former Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
This offseason, Evgenii Dadonov was dealt to Montreal for Shea Weber’s contract, which will be used as LTIR space. Additionally, Vegas traded winger Max Pacioretty and defenceman Dylan Coghlan to Carolina for future considerations. Of course, limited cap space was the primary reason for these moves, but it goes without saying that dealing a top-line winger for nothing is simply awful asset management. This trade comes about a year after they dealt Marc-Andre Fleury for future considerations.
To make matters worse, Vegas’ starter Robin Lehner is expected to miss the entirety of this upcoming season due to hip surgery. Their current goaltender depth chart consists of Laurent Brossoit, Logan Thompson, and Michael Hutchinson. Ouch.
Of course, you can’t entirely count Vegas out, as a healthy Jack Eichel is a dangerous player. However, their offseason has been abysmal; it’s indisputable that they’ve clearly downgraded, and they haven’t added a single impact player as they have no cap room to do so.
Final Thoughts and Standings Predictions
My personal standing predictions for the Pacific Division:
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Los Angeles Kings
- Vancouver Canucks
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Seattle Kraken
- Anaheim Ducks
- San Jose Sharks
The Oilers have the best forward depth in the division, and they’ll spend an entire year under Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson. I believe they’re the favorites to win the division, but I think Calgary will come extremely close, and there certainly is the possibility that they finish first again.
As I previously mentioned, Calgary’s forward core did slightly downgrade, but Huberdeau and Kadri are still exceptional offensive players. Furthermore, with the addition of Weegar, they have one of the best defensive cores in the league, alongside an excellent defensive coach in Darryl Sutter.
LA’s younger players should progress, and they could definitely finish at third place, but a top-two spot isn’t out of the realm of possibility if Byfield/Turcotte have superb breakout seasons.
Vegas and Vancouver should be extremely close, and both will challenge LA for third place. I think Vegas is a bit difficult to predict, as their season will heavily depend on goaltending. A duo of Logan Thompson and Michael Hutchinson is certainly a discouraging tandem, but considering the unpredictability of goaltending, anything can happen.
Anaheim and Seattle have a decent chance at qualifying for a wild card spot, but barring significant injuries and/or massive breakouts from their younger players, I think Vegas and Vancouver will be superior teams. Finally, I’m confident that San Jose finishes last.
What are your thoughts? How do you think the Pacific Division standings will look at the end of 2022-23?
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