Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Which Pacific Division Teams Could Improve This Summer?
8 months ago
The Pacific Division is interesting. Heading into last season, a lot of people dubbed it the worst division in hockey and that just flat-out wasn’t true. The Golden Knights rebounded in a big way, the Kings took a step forward, the Kraken surged into playoff contention, and both the Flames and Canucks had their fair share of hot streaks throughout the season.
Could the division get more competitive once these eight teams are done with their offseason shopping? Let’s take a look:
The Ducks are still firmly in a rebuild. Yes, they have some exciting young pieces and they have close to $40 million in cap space to play with this summer but the focus in Anaheim still seems to be centred around selling off pieces. Both John Gibson and Adam Henrique appear on Frank Seravalli’s Trade Targets board and could be moved this summer.
They’ll be active in free agency just because of the crazy amount of cap space that they have, but I don’t think they’ll be adding a lot of high-end pieces this summer. They just aren’t at that stage in their rebuild yet,
The Ducks will likely improve on their dead-last finish in 2022-23, but they won’t be a threat to make the playoffs.
Sep 28, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman MacKenzie Weegar (52) checks the puck away from Edmonton Oilers left wing Warren Foegele (37) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Flames enter the offseason with a lot of questions. They’re entering this offseason with a handful of important players only having one year left on their contracts. Their new GM Craig Conroy reportedly doesn’t want to lose anyone for nothing and plans to get a read on whether or not those players want to be in Calgary long-term.
There’s a chance that we see players like Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli moved this summer. All of those players being dealt is likely a stretch, but there could still be big changes in Calgary.
If Conroy wants to make hockey deals, then the Flames could find a way to work back into the playoff picture next season. If he wants to take a more long-term approach to things, then it’s possible the Flames take a step back next season as well.
Because of their delicate cap situation, it will be hard for the Oilers to improve this summer. There are rumblings that they’re interested in Travis Konecny, but they would have to move out a lot of salary to make that happen.
They could be better next year because of other factors though. A bounce-back from Jack Campbell, a full year of Mattias Ekholm, and potential internal improvements from players like Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod.
What are the chances that they make meaningful additions to this roster? Not that high.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The LA Kings should scare every other Pacific Division team. They have young players that should keep improving, they don’t have any meaningful players walking away as unrestricted free agents, and they could free up some cap space by moving out another contract.
There are rumblings that GM Rob Blake wants to go make a big splash in the goalie market and if they were to acquire a piece like Connor Hellebuyck or Jusse Saros, then this Kings team would put themselves firmly in the category of Stanley Cup Contender and could be the favourites to win the division next season.
They have the potential to be that good and they’re apparently very motivated to improve their roster this summer.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Who knows what the Sharks will do this summer? They have an aging core, that’s also wildly expensive, and they probably won’t be good enough to contend for a playoff spot next season.
This summer will likely be all about the future for the Sharks and the big story to watch is centred around Erik Karlsson. If they decide to retain some serious money then they could get some quality assets for the 100-point defenseman. If not, then they may be blowing their last chance to cash in on his value.
They don’t have a lot of cap space and they’re likely not going to make any draft picks to help next year’s roster, so I don’t think much is going to change in San Jose. They had 60 points last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number drops next year.
Jan 3, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman (18) deflects a shot just wide of Seattle Kraken goaltender Martin Jones (30) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s how I’ll sum up this offseason for the Seattle Kraken: they can improve as much as they want to.
They have over $20 million in cap space, all their first and second-round picks in the next three drafts, and another two second-rounders in 2023. They have the assets and money to go out and make a major trade if they want to.
Will Ron Francis risk some future pieces to bolster this lineup? I’m not sure how likely that is. He had a great offseason in 2022 but it was more based around free agency (Burakovsky), a low-risk trade (Bjorkstrand), and some bargain bin shopping later in the summer.
I think the Kraken would be wise to go dangle some picks for another legit piece either on their blueline or upfront, but I’m just not sure Francis is going to be bold enough to do it. I say there’s a 25% chance that they go out, add some impact pieces, and have a much better roster next season. The most likely outcome is that they just re-sign Vince Dunn and Daniel Sprong and go out and replace any pieces they might lose.
The Canucks missed the playoffs and currently have a wildly incomplete lineup. They need help in a lot of areas and yet they currently sit over the salary cap. They’ll need to make some tough decisions this summer on pieces like JT Miller, Brock Boeser, and Tyler Myers. All three of those players make their team better, but they desperately need cap space.
If they move any of those three for just straight-up future assets, then it’s hard to imagine them being better next season. GM Patrik Allvin will need to pull a couple of rabbits out of his hat this summer if he wants to truly improve this teams middling roster.
I don’t think that’s likely and I don’t think the Canucks will be able to really improve their roster much this summer.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The Golden Knights are on the brink of winning The Stanley Cup and their only two meaningful UFAs are Ivan Barbashev and Adin Hill. With close to $8m in players that could be placed on LTIR, the Golden Knights could almost bring back both of those players as well.
They’ll likely be just as good next season as they are right now and should be viewed as a legit threat to once again win the division and go on a deep playoff run. They likely won’t improve much this offseason just because they’ve moved a lot of their future assets already and they don’t have that much cap space, but they’ll be good again next season.
It really feels like the division will be very similar next season. The Oilers and Golden Knights will be the favourites for now and really won’t change that much. The Kings could make a big splash and push those two teams, but that’s not exactly a lock.
After that, there’s a mushy middle with Seattle, Calgary, and Vancouver. I think the Kraken have the most upside and could improve themselves the most this summer, but I’m not sure how likely that is.
Then there are the Sharks and Ducks who are right in the middle of long rebuilds. They probably won’t make significant adds this offseason and likely won’t take big steps forward next season.
The Oilers are hamstrung by the cap but so are some other teams in their division, so even if Ken Holland has a quiet offseason, I don’t think the Oilers are at risk of falling behind anyone in their division, with the Kings being the only potential exception to that.
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