The NHL’s Pacific Division gets a big shakeup this season with the arrival of the Seattle Kraken. The Vegas Golden Knights remain the cream of the crop in a division with some rebuilding teams and bounce-back contenders.
Below are my 2021-22 NHL Pacific Division standings predictions:
Predicted 2021-22 Pacific Division Standings
1. Vegas Golden Knights
Pros: The team that made a strong run to the Western Conference final last season remains largely intact. Already possessing one of the best D-cores in the league, all current starters are slated to return next season. Most importantly is defenseman Alec Martinez, who just recently inked a three-year deal with Vegas coming. Martinez is coming off a career year with 32 points in 53 games. New addition Evgenii Dadonov will provide even more depth to the Knights top-nine forward group. Dadonov comes in off a down year with an underachieving Senators team, but has thrived when given a bigger role with more talent like he had in Florida. It’s also rumored that Vegas is still in on Jack Eichel, whose potential arrival in Vegas would make them instant Stanley Cup favorites. In the end, Vegas has the best roster in a severely weak division.
Cons: Like many teams in on Eichel, Vegas experiences a lack of center depth and all-star caliber talent. Chandler Stephenson and William Karlsson are much better viewed as 2/3 centers as opposed to 1/2c. Ryan Reaves physical presence could be missed; however, the more glaring change is the one in the crease. After having a career year and winning the Vezina, Marc-Andre Fleury has moved onto Chicago. It was clear throughout portions of the year and especially the playoffs that the coaching staff had more trust in new number one Robin Lehner. Lehner is unlikely to reach the bar set last season by Fleury, which could put even more pressure on the 30 year-old. Backup Laurent Brossoit will play in a nice number two role, although Vegas will certainly miss the flexibility of starting a 1A/1B tandem like they had with Fleury in the fold.
Conclusion: Vegas still possesses elite talent and depth at virtually every position. They’re also transitioning to a very top-heavy division that they should run away with. Their goaltending and goal-scoring will be two interesting storylines to follow as the season unfolds given what transpired in the postseason.
A development in the Jack Eichel situation: hearing he is now going to be represented by Pat Brisson.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 27, 2021
2. Edmonton Oilers
Pros: The Oilers already lethal top-six took another step forward when former Maple Leaf Zach Hyman was added to the mix after signing a seven-year, $39.5 millions dollar deal. Although a steep contract for someone his age, Hyman should shine in whatever role he plays in Edmonton much like he did in Toronto. His tenacity and ability to work in the corners should make life a whole lot easier on Connor McDavid and/or other linemates. Hyman has been described as one of the best forecheckers in the NHL thanks to his speed, grit, physical presence, and ability to work down low. He also has some offensive upside thanks to his play both on and off the puck. Of course he benefits though from having elite linemates, but credit to Hyman carving out a top-six role.
They Oilers have also brought in some more experience on the blueline. The headlining addition being former Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe recipient Duncan Keith. While Keith is nowhere near his Norris caliber days, he brings a ton of leadership and valuable big game experience to a blueline that has been suffering.
Cons: Much like Toronto, goaltending in Edmonton is usually the biggest question mark going into the season along with the blueline. The goaltending scenario is likely to play out much like it did last year with streaks of inconsistency and horrid performances. There are still plenty of question marks surrounding the defending of this team as they combine aging veterans, offensive defensemen, and rookies into a defensive unit.
Conclusion: Goaltending and defensive struggles continue to surround the Oilers 2021-22 outlook. It isn’t outweighed, however, by McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s ability to carry this Oilers group to contention. Not many, if any, teams in the NHL can game plan for McDavid and Draisaitl. Pair that with a very underwhelming division, and the Oilers are prime for a top-three finish if they stay healthy. The addition of a veteran presence on the blueline could also sure up some defensive woes from recent history.
3. Seattle Kraken
Pros: Of every Pacific Division team, the Kraken likely have the most upside in relation to expectations this season. They posses what is likely the second best defensive group in this division alongside the best goaltending tandem. Seattle has an impressive goalie duo with former vezina candidate Philipp Grubauer and former Panther Chris Driedger. The team has a nice balance of size, leadership, grit and skill, which should prove valuable in their inaugural season.
Cons: If you’re an opposing team, I don’t think you’re worried about Seattle’s top-six scoring in relation to other divisional and conference teams. Jordan Eberle is a great driver of scoring chances — as seen in his statistics below — while players like Yanni Gourde, Calle Jarnkrok, and Joonas Donskoi can thrive in top-six roles. A true scoring threat ceases to exist in the lineup, however, making the Seattle offense easier to game plan against.
Conclusion: A big and reliable blueline paired with one of the league’s best goalie tandems gives the Kraken a relatively high floor. The lack of scoring threats upfront, however, provides for a low ceiling as well. All-in-all it profiles as a hopeful and nevertheless exciting season for the Kraken as they set to kick off their debut season as the NHL’s 32 franchise.
Jordan Eberle, reportedly selected by SEA, is a top six forward who has been consistently excellent at driving scoring chances, scores at a good clip, and doesn't look like the defensive liability he used to be. #SeaKraken pic.twitter.com/KHnHjs3bvx
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 21, 2021
4. Vancouver Canucks
Pros: Making a big splash in the offseason after finishing last in the North division, the Canucks are due for a bounce-back year. They showed glimpses of their potential in the 2019-2020 Stanley Cup playoffs when they eliminated the former Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. Vancouver’s biggest addition is unquestionably Connor Garland, who came over in a blockbuster trade over the summer. The former fifth-round pick has been a bright spot in Arizona due to his consistency and ability to drive the offense. He instantly upgrades a young but already dangerous top-six in Vancouver. Meanwhile, the Canucks thrived in acquiring third-line center Jason Dickinson for a third-rounder.
Cons: Alex Edler is likely the Canucks biggest loss this offseason as he provided much needed stability to a blueline near the bottom in terms of performance last season. Replacing him with a struggling and defensively liable offensive defenseman in Oliver-Ekman Larsson could spell more defensive regression in Vancouver. The Canucks are hopeful, though, that OEL can return to better form.
Conclusion: Goaltending remains a strong point as long as Thatcher Demko continues to take the next steps throughout his career. Additionally, Jaroslav Halak has served as one of the best backup/1B goalies dating back to his time with the Islanders. The forward group is once again strong and could dominate the division if everyone stays healthy. The biggest question mark remains on D where the Canucks desperately need an improvement to see playoff success.
5. Calgary Flames
Pros: On paper the Flames profile as one of the stronger teams in Pacific thanks to elite talent in players like Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk. Meanwhile, depth pieces and new arrivals Blake Coleman and Tyler Pitlick add responsible play, work ethic, and versatility that could help spark a middling offense. Six-foot-six Nikita Zadorov adds a big dimension that the Flames have been missing for quite some time. Zadorov and his physical presence injects both size and grit into the Flames’ blueline.
Cons: It is never easy to lose your captain, especially when he’s dawned the “C” for eight years. Despite his age, Mark Giordano was still playing at a high level while contributing on both sides of the puck. You also can’t discredit his leadership abilities and how he aided the franchise off the ice. The blueline will now lean heavily on new additions Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov, while Noah Hanifin is expected to be the main guy on the back-end. Unfortunately, that’s not a D-core you want to rely on if you are planning on making a sizeable run in the playoffs. The lack of experience and pure talent will hold this blueline back, especially when dealing with prolific forward groups that consist of McDavid, Draisaitl, Petterson, Boeser, etc.
Conclusion: As Markstrom stays healthy, goaltending should not be an issue. Their forward group is fairly average, while their defensive group could take another step back this year. They have potential to fall anywhere in the 4-7 range.
— NHL (@NHL) August 11, 2021
6. Los Angeles Kings
Pros: The Kings appear to be trying to move out of a rebuild phase and get back into contention. They brought in two phenomenal pieces to play in their top-six. Viktor Arvidsson is a great complement to any first line due to his tenacity and nose for the net. Arvidsson can also contribute in the goal-scoring column, as he has already had two 30+ goal seasons.Phillip Danault on the other hand fits perfectly behind Anze Kopitar in a second-line center role. Danualt, already one of the league’s best two-way forwards will have the chance to play behind and learn from two-time Selke winner and one of the best two-way forwards of this past decade. Opposing forwards are going to have nightmares when getting matched up against either of these lines.
To add even more center depth, former second-overall selection Quinton Byfield seems poised to make his impact in the NHL and will likely slot in behind Danualt. Byfield will have the ultimate privilege of being able to learn from two elite centreman. Edler’s addition to a growing and unreliable blueline should help steady the ship a bit. The former Canuck should eat some minutes while playing against the opposing team’s top lines.
Cons: Their former defensive all-star Drew Doughty is declining with age and the prospects aren’t quite ready to make an impact at the defensive position in order for the Kings to be super competitive. Their depth forwards all have nice potential to make an impact, but it remains to be seen whether their inexperienced play can make L.A. a deeper and stronger squad.
Conclusion: There is no questioning that fact that this is a much better Kings team than last season. The offseason moves should really propel them to become a lot more competitive than last seasons underwhelming finish. Meanwhile, the Kings top prospects will have plenty of opportunity and ability to development throughout the season behind the veteran core of Doughty, Dustin Brown, and Kopitar. The Kings have a nice mix of prospects, veterans, and players in their prime.
7. Anaheim Ducks
Pros: Anaheim is still in the process of rebuilding through the draft as they continue to stockpile elite talent in their prospect pool. Trevor Zegras has game-changing talent and will continue to lead the Ducks up front with support from veterans Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, and Jakob Silfverberg. Meanwhile, Maxime Comtois will look to build on a breakout 2020-21 season. Furthermore, after much speculation at the deadline, Ducks elite forward Rickard Rakell remains with Anaheim after being linked to a variety of teams. His offensive contributions should help the Ducks avoid a last-place finish in the Pacific.
Cons: Outside of Jamie Drysdale’s development, there isn’t much to look forward to on the Ducks blueline. They will need a lot of forwards to take a massive step in production to even come close to a playoff spot. Their top-six isn’t especially lethal either.
Conclusion: For some of Anaheim’s forwards, it’s time to make a big step and prove themselves as NHL talents. Players such as Isaac Lundstrom, Same Steel, Max Jones are former first-round picks who are yet to crack the Ducks top-six. All of the teams ahead of the Ducks took some major steps to improve their squads this offseason, so there isn’t a reason to expect a whole lot from this southern California team. They will at least have John Gibson to bail them out on a few occasions.
8. San Jose Sharks
Pros: They have some nice pieces up front in Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl, who are all likely to be the best offensive contributors for this Sharks team in 2021-22. Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are mainstays that can help guide some rookies along the way while contributing in their own ways on the ice.
Cons: Despite the outcome of the Evander Kane situation, some Sharks players have already displayed their disinterest in his potential return to the Sharks next season. Hopefully for the Sharks and for Evander the rumors are untrue, as Kane had one of his best seasons in recent memory last year. His loss would make an even bigger dent in a forward group that lacks both elite talent and depth. The blueline didn’t get any better from the miserable seasons they’ve experienced that last few years. To make matters worse, the goaltending situation is a bit uninspiring. Adin Hill and James Reimer are best suited as number two pieces.
Conclusion: San Jose has been declining ever since their Conference Finals loss in 2018-19 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. It’s clear now that the Sharks are building for the future as a rebuild commences in San Jose.