For the first time in their existence, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t being viewed as a Stanley Cup contender. In fact, there are many who believe they may miss the playoffs for a second straight season. While that remains to be seen, there is no denying that the Golden Knights franchise is not nearly as respected throughout the hockey world and in the Pacific Division as they have been in years past.
The reason for that is because of their abysmal 2021-22 season, which marked the first time in franchise history they missed the playoffs. It was a major surprise given that they entered the year as serious Cup favorites, though was perhaps inevitable with the reckless approach from general manager Kelly McCrimmon.
With all that said, it feels that many around the league are now underestimating, and perhaps even forgetting, just how dangerous they can be. Goaltending will be a major question mark with Robin Lehner out for the entire season, but this is a team that still has plenty of star talent both up front and on the back end, meaning they may end up surprising many. Let’s take a look at how they stack up against teams within the Pacific Division.
This past season, the Golden Knights finished fourth in the Pacific Division with 94 points, while the Anaheim Ducks finished seventh with 76. Given the expectations heading into the 2021-22 season, however, the year was considered a massive disappointment for the latter, but a rather successful one for the former.
At this time, the Ducks roster simply isn’t good enough to make them a threat. That should change in the coming years with some of the great youth talent they have in players like Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Jamie Drysdale, but they aren’t there just yet. That said, goaltender John Gibson has proven capable of winning games on his own given his otherworldly skill, but he hasn’t exactly been himself in recent seasons behind a weak lineup.
Aside from goaltending, the Golden Knights are far superior to the Ducks. Their talent up front with players like Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault and others is significantly better, while their blue line that features names such as Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore is also stronger. They should have no problem finishing well ahead of them this season.
Interestingly enough, the Flames didn’t have a ton of expectations entering the 2021-22 season after struggling in 2020-21. By all accounts their roster was a talented one, but one that many had given up on. They quickly proved everyone wrong, however, as they went on to finish as the top team in the Pacific with 111 points.
This season will be plenty different for the Flames in terms of personnel, as they lost their two top players in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, but were able to welcome in two exceptional talents of their own in Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri. On top of that, they have one of the best goaltenders on the planet in Jacob Markstrom. It may take this group some time to gel given their massive overhaul, but they are being considered a Stanley Cup contender at this point.
The Flames are a deeper team up front than the Golden Knights, and have one of the stronger blue lines in the entire league. While they may not have one defenseman as talented as Pietrangelo or Theodore, they have no weak links and will continue to play great systematic hockey under head coach Darryl Sutter. While it goes without saying, they are also significantly stronger between the pipes. The gap may not be as wide as some think, but they will more than likely place ahead of the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division standings.
Despite finishing with seven fewer points than the Flames in last year’s regular season standings, the Edmonton Oilers were able to defeat their provincial rival in just five games to advance to the Western Conference Final this past spring. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl proved to be unstoppable for many, though they aren’t the only reason this team had and will continue to have success.
The Oilers were able to bring back public enemy number one of the Golden Knights fanbase in Evander Kane on a team friendly four-year deal. He proved to have great chemistry with McDavid this past season and, if healthy, should be able to score north of 40 goals in 2022-23. They were also able to address their goaltending, a weak point of the roster, by signing Jack Campbell to a five-year deal.
Up front, the Oilers are better than the Golden Knights. In fact, there are few teams in the league who are better than them in that regard. While their depth has been questioned, their top six is as scary as they come and will cause fits for opposing teams all season long. That said, their blue line is a cause for concern and is significantly weaker than that of the Golden Knights. Once again, however, their goaltending is superior. While it remains to be seen if the Oilers are deep enough to win a Cup, they should have no problem being one of the league’s best throughout the regular season.
Los Angeles Kings
Much like the Flames, the Los Angeles Kings were a shocking team in a good way last season. Entering the 2021-22 campaign, very few expected them to qualify for the postseason, but they did just that, ending the year with 99 points. With plenty of young talent on their roster, they should once again be competitive in 2022-23.
The reason the Kings were able to get into the playoffs last year was in large part due to great team play. They didn’t have anyone putting up miraculous numbers, but instead got things done by committee. In order to help them out when it comes to filling the back of the net in 2022-23, they went out and acquired Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild. Coming off of an 85-point season, he is expected to provide them with a significant offensive boost.
Things are difficult to judge when it comes to talent up front between these two teams. The Golden Knights appear to be better on paper, though as mentioned, the Kings have a plethora of young talent who are expected to take big steps forward this season. That said, the Golden Knights have the advantage on the blue line, and a goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Cal Peterson aren’t instilling fear into anyone. This could be a team that gets leapfrogged by Eichel and company as they look to get back into the playoffs in 2022-23.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks were very similar in terms of success with the Ducks last season, ending the year with 77 points. While the Ducks are on the up and up, however, it could be another long year in San Jose. In fact, there is plenty of reason to believe they could finish the season dead last in the Pacific.
Despite having some talented forwards in players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl, there isn’t much else with this roster. They have several aging players on bad contracts, and as a result could continue to struggle for some time.
The Golden Knights are the much more skilled team both up front and on the back end. The goaltending between the two should be similar, as the Sharks have an uninspiring duo themselves with Kaapo Kahkonen and James Reimer. That said, teams can always surprise, meaning they can’t be taken lightly.
The Seattle Kraken hoped to have the same success as the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, but fell way short in doing so. By the time the curtains closed on their first season in franchise history, they had just 27 wins and 60 points, numbers that are overall more indicative of what an expansion team normally looks like. The good news for them is that they should take a big step forward in 2022-23.
While the Kraken aren’t yet a playoff team, they are closer to that goal than a year ago. With offseason additions such as Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorgstrand, as well as getting Shane Wright with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, they are trending in the right direction.
The main issue the Kraken have right now, and why they will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs this season, is their blue line. It is not only the weakest in the division, but one of the weakest throughout the entire league. That shaky back end was a major factor in Philipp Grubauer having by far and away the worst season of his professional career. While their approach from a management standpoint may result in more long-term success, the Golden Knights are easily the better of the two now and should finish well ahead of them in the standings in the Pacific Division this season.
Aside from the Golden Knights, the most intriguing team in the Pacific Division heading into the 2022-23 season is the Vancouver Canucks, for the simple reason that no one seems to know what to expect from them. They finished last season with a respectable 92 points, and after the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, put up a 32-15-10 record. That stretch under their new head coach has some believing they are in store for a big season.
From a talent perspective, the Canucks have plenty of it. Up front, guys like J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat have all shown they have a ton of skill. The issue for them has been consistency, which is something they will need to be much better at if they hope to get into the playoffs this season.
The forward groups between the Canucks and Golden Knights are essentially a wash, as they both have some very talented individuals. The issue for the Canucks, however, is that their back-end leaves plenty to be desired. The Golden Knights are much better than them in this area, though working in the opposition’s favor is that they have one of the league’s better goaltenders in Thatcher Demko. That said, I personally am not as high on this Canucks team as some, and view them as a borderline playoff roster at best.
End of Season Standings Predictions
- Edmonton Oilers
- Calgary Flames
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Los Angeles Kings
- Vancouver Canucks
- Anaheim Ducks
- Seattle Kraken
- San Jose Sharks
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