October is right around the corner, and NHL fans alike are eager to drop the puck on a new season.
Before the NHL’s opening night, HOHM explores all four divisions (Pacific, Central, Atlantic & Metropolitan) and predicts the standings for the 2018-19 campaign.
The first division to predict is the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. The Pacific was intriguing in 2018 for a number of reasons and one of which that also included the Cinderella Story of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Expect history to be made again in 2019 for the Pacific Division.
8.) Vancouver Canucks
It might be disappointing at first, but the future is bright in Western Canada for the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are officially in a rebuilding phase for the first time in over a decade and Vancouver will take to the ice for the first time since 1999-00 without Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Forward Brock Boeser, the new face of the Canucks, and company will have to settle for a losing season. While top prospect Elias Pettersson is expected to join the Canucks next season on a full-time basis, youngster Quinn Hughes is at least two-to-three years away from joining Vancouver’s blue line.
Between the pipes, Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson more than likely aren’t the tandem that will lead Vancouver back to Stanley Cup contender status as time progresses; but goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko could transform the Canucks back to a winning squad once he develops at the NHL level and receives the call up to the big club.
7.) Arizona Coyotes
While the Arizona Coyotes are expected to improve from last season, the Pacific Division is still too competitive for an up and coming ‘Yotes squad to make a push at the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, don’t be surprised to see Arizona have a surprising and hot start to the season that will take the league by surprise. Goaltender Antti Raanta proved last season that he’s an above-average starting goaltender, and can easily steal games for the Coyotes against playoff contenders from both the Western and Eastern Conference.
The franchise skater in Oliver Ekman-Larsson will continue to grow and mature into a potential Norris Trophy winner one day, and Christian Dvorak should see an increase in the goals and assists columns from last season.
The big question mark is whether newly acquired Alex Galchenyuk (acquired from Montreal in exchange for Max Domi) can make a smooth transition and upgrade his game both offensively and defensively while skating in the Coyotes’ top six forwards.
6.) Vegas Golden Knights
It still hasn’t sunk in for some fans around the hockey world. The Vegas Golden Knights advanced as far as the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season and in uncanny fashion.
Though, with the departure of key skaters such as James Neal and David Perron, the chemistry may have been disrupted and for the worse. The reality is that it’s going to be difficult for the Knights to build off last season and improve, especially considering that Vegas overachieved.
Yes, a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Knights a realistic shot at clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs back-to-back seasons, but can the play in front of “the Flower” sustain?
William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault proved that they’re more than likely not one hit wonders when it comes to finding the back of the net and inking their names on the score on a nightly basis, but then there’s newcomer Paul Stastny.
Stastny, 32, offers veteran experience and depth down the middle of the ice, but Vegas will need to add more star power to its roster to get back into playoff contention.
Hello, Erik Karlsson or Max Pacioretty?
5.) Anaheim Ducks
While most analysts and NHL fans alike shoot first to rip on the San Jose Sharks for not winning at least one Stanley Cup over the past decade-plus, it’s official to say that the Anaheim Ducks are now in the same realm as their rivals in the Bay Area.
Since winning the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup in 2007, the Ducks have failed to advance back to the Cup Final. Keep in mind Anaheim has been the perennial division winner of the Pacific since that time and has also appeared in the Western Conference Finals (only to lose) twice.
The Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry era is questionable and Anaheim may consider moving either one this season, especially if the team experiences a slow start to 2018-19.
Yes, John Gibson panned out to be a solid netminder, but the defense-core didn’t improve from last season. Anaheim will arguably need more offensive production, too.
The Ducks only had three skaters that recorded 20 or more goals with the likes of Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase and Rickard Rackell. On the bright side, Kase and Rackell are the youngsters and future of Anaheim.
Still, Anaheim is an average team out West compared to others in the Pacific entering 2019.
4.) Edmonton Oilers
There are still plenty of doubters and critics out there for the Edmonton Oilers, after the team failed to make the postseason in 2018 and only finished with 78 points in the standings.
Still, forward Connor McDavid is somehow only going to improve his overall game and point production and other skaters such as Adam Larsson, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Strome and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are set to mature into better all-around players.
Head coach Todd McLellan may be on the hot seat, but he’ll be sure to get the most out of those players mentioned above, and forward Milan Lucic is poised from a comeback season.
The big question mark is between the pipes with Cam Talbot; can he rebound, or is it time for Edmonton to make a move and acquire another legitimate starting netminder?
Either way, expect McDavid and the Oilers back in the hunt for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
3.) Calgary Flames
The expectations are as high as they’ve ever been in Calgary for the Flames entering 2019. After underachieving last season and missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh time in the last 10 seasons, Calgary improved this offseason with notable roster moves and is poised to make a run at the division title.
Calgary’s first big move during the 2018 offseason was to hire Bill Peters (Carolina Hurricanes) as its new head coach. But the Flames’ moves to acquire other assets from Carolina didn’t stop there. Forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin are commendable improvements on both sides of the puck and add the necessary depth to a team that’s looking to make a deep run in the postseason.
Speaking of depth, the addition of veteran forward James Neal should pay serious dividends for Calgary finding the back of the net more often. The 31-year-old is good for 20 or more goals, and playing with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan could see the winger notch 60 points onto his belt in 2019.
Yet, for a team to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames will need goaltender Mike Smith to regain his form and lead the Flames past the likes of teams such as San Jose, Edmonton and Los Angeles.
Don’t be surprised to see Calgary begin 2018-19 on the wrong foot, but Bill Peters and company will turn things around for the better come December.
2.) Los Angeles Kings
Yes, the Los Angeles Kings still have something left in the tank and with the likes of skaters such as goaltender Jonathan Quick, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and others.
Los Angeles has a solid mix of veteran and youthful assets that arguably could be a winning and Stanley Cup contending formula. The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk should not only boost the team’s goal-scoring, but the offensive threat will create more scoring opportunities along with time and space for other offensive skaters in the Kings’ top six forward group.
Yes, most want to point at defenseman Dion Phaneuf being past his prime playing days, but his role isn’t as significant or relied upon as much as it was with the Toronto Maple Leafs or Ottawa Senators. Behind Doughty, Phaneuf will have a positive and underrated impact on the Kings’ defensive play next season.
Keep in-mind that Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson can still produce and act as effective forwards for a team that’s competing for a division crown.
It will be a race to the finish, but the Kings will place in second for the Pacific in 2019.
1.) San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are poised to make a run at Lord Stanley and during (potentially) Joe Thornton’s lasts season in the NHL.
En-route to a potential Stanley Cup appearance, the Sharks will earn their division title for the first time since 2010-11. San Jose is deep in all areas on the ice and can also receive offensive production from blue liner, Brent Burns. In fact, Burns has led the Sharks in scoring for the past two seasons.
Youngsters Chris Tierney and Tomas Hertl should see an increase in point-production, and newly acquired Evander Kane could give Burns a run for his money at being the team’s leading goal-scorer.
Forwards Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski will lead the Sharks to another successful campaign with their two-way play and clutch performances. While the big question mark for the Teal is their defense-core, goaltender Martin Jones has proven that he’s a top three goaltender in the league.
Jones, 28, could have a career-high year in 2019 and don’t be surprised to see him nominated for the Vezina Trophy at seasons end.
San Jose led the league with its in-division record last season (21-5-3) and that aspect will factor into this year’s 2019 Pacific Division title for the Sharks.
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