PACIFIC DIVISION POWER RANKINGS
The dust has settled on the 2015 NHL Free Agency period. While there’s still some players out there that could help teams, the majority of the moves have been made. I’ll be examining each division, and ranking the teams on where they are after their additions and subtractions. Today we’ll take a look at the Pacific Division, where the Ducks should continue to reign for another season.
Key Additions: LW Carl Hagelin, D Kevin Bieksa, G Anton Khudobin, RW Chris Stewart, C Shawn Horcoff
Key Departures: LW Matt Beleskey, D Francois Beauchemin, RW Kyle Palmieri, RW Emerson Etem, D James Wisniewski
-The Ducks were one game away from playing for the Stanley Cup this past season, and there’s no reason they can’t be playing for it next season. The loss of Francois Beauchemin to Colorado is off set by the acquisition of Kevin Bieksa. The addition of Hagelin gives them speed, and Stewart will try and fill some of the void left by the Beleskey departure to Boston. Horcoff is a quality depth guy, and Khudobin gives them a reliable back-up to Frederik Andersen. Anaheim is the team best equipped in this division to make a run at a championship.
Key Additions: D Dougie Hamilton, RW Michael Frolik
Key Departures: D Raphael Diaz
-The Flames were the surprise of the NHL last season. Their complete overhaul progressed quicker than expected, and they can easily stake their claim towards the top of the Pacific again in 2015. There were no real departures from the squad that lost to Anaheim in the second round of the playoffs, and they should be even better in 2015-16. They’ll hopefully have a healthy Mark Giordano patrolling the blueline for a full season. Acquiring Hamilton (one of the best young defensive talents in the league) fits right in with the rest of the young core of Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan. The addition of Frolik provides a strong, two-way presence on the third line and kills penalties. If either Karri Ramo or Jonas Hiller can be strong enough to take over the crease full time, Calgary will be even tougher to deal with in 2015-16.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Key Additions: LW Milan Lucic, G Jhonas Enroth
Key Departures: RW Justin Williams, C Mike Richards, D Andrej Sekera, G Martin Jones
-For only the fifth time ever, the defending Stanley Cup champion missed the playoffs, and Los Angeles would like to have a chance to dethrone the rival Blackhawks in 2015-16. Gone is clutch goal scoring RW Justin Williams, but in comes hulking winger Milan Lucic. The 27 year-old fits in nicely with the Kings physical style of play. His production dropped off fifteen points from 2013 to 2014, but a new team and playing in the final year of his contract could spark him to the Lucic from previous seasons. They have a quality blueline, but they have no depth should they sustain an injury among their rearguards.
Key Additions: RW Brandon Prust, D Matt Bartkowski
Key Departures: G Eddie Lack, D Kevin Bieksa, RW Brad Richardson, RW Zack Kassian, C Shawn Matthias
-The only reason the Canucks aren’t lower is because they made the playoffs last season. They’re going to be relying on their young forwards (guys like Bo Horvat & Linden Vey) to step up and play a bigger role with the departures of depth guys like Matthias & Richardson. Bartkowski will try and be a younger version of Bieksa, and Prust is an older and smaller version of Zack Kassian. Moving Lack to Carolina was an unpopular decision amongst Canucks fans (they would have preferred Ryan Miller being traded), but goalie Jakub Markstrom is ready to take over the fulltime back-up duties after helping Vancouver’s AHL team (the Utica Comets) reached the Calder Cup Finals.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Key Additions: RW Joel Ward, D Paul Martin, G Martin Jones, HC Peter DeBoer
Key Departures: G Antti Niemi
-The biggest change in the Bay Area this off-season was a change behind the bench. After seven seasons of Todd McLellan, the Sharks are going with Peter DeBoer to try and get San Jose back to being a perennial playoff contender. In his six and a half seasons as a head coach with Florida and New Jersey, he only reached the playoffs once (taking the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2012). Paul Martin is reliable veteran presence on the blueline, and Joel Ward gives them some needed size up front. I would like to put the Sharks slightly higher, but letting go of Niemi and leaving their crease in the hands of two guys with limited experience (Jones and Alex Stalock) could become a problem.
Key Additions: C Connor McDavid, LW Lauri Korpikoski, D Andrej Sekera, D Griffin Reinhart, G Cam Talbot, HC Todd McLellan
Key Departures: C Boyd Gordon
–Edmonton is primed to move up in the division, but I can’t rank them higher until I see it happen. Connor McDavid is the latest Oilers first round pick to be charged with leading the franchise turnaround, but his talent level is far superior over the previous top selections. New Head Coach Todd McLellan missed the playoffs for the first time in his coaching career last season, and he may miss another before the Oilers take a big leap forward. Adding Sekera was a smart blueline addition that will bring some offensive punch, and there’s still hope that Griffin Reinhart can develop in to the player the Islanders took with the fourth overall pick in 2012. Talbot is an immediate upgrade over Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth, and gives them a reliable presence in the crease if nothing else.
Key Additions: C Dylan Strome, C Antoine Vermette, C Boyd Gordon, C Joe Vitale, RW Brad Richardson, RW Steve Downie, D Zbynek Michalek, D Nicklas Grossmann, G Anders Lindback
Key Departures: C Sam Gagner, D John Moore
-The Coyotes “efforts” to try and luck in to one of the top two picks in the past draft failed, but prospect Dylan Strome is a great consolation prize. Depth was an issue for Arizona last season, and they’ve addressed that with the additions of guys like Gordon, Richardson, and Downie. Michalek is a steady defender, and Vermette will chip in with his usual mid-level production. A lot would have to fall in to place for the Desert Dogs to even sniff the playoffs, but they’re clearly in rebuild mode, waiting for guys like Max Domi, Brendan Perlini and Anthony Duclair to come along.