NHL Pacific Division Notebook: The Future Starts Now In Arizona

NHL Pacific Division

Full disclosure, the Arizona Coyotes are not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season and likely will finish in the bottom three in the NHL. The team’s tough start, coupled with real roster issues, has basically ended the season in the desert before December 1. That said, Arizona has been playing some seriously respectable hockey as of late and have begun to string a few wins together. Will it get them back into the race? Probably not, but it certainly will make things, specifically the future, look a lot brighter.

The Coyotes fired head coach Dave Tippett this past summer and Shane Doan retired after the team announced he wasn’t getting re-signed. Say what you will, but those two, along with defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson, were the faces of the franchise. With only OEL remaining, the Yotes were in desperate need of someone emerging as the franchise face.

Clayton Keller has done just that. The rookie forward from Boston University has posted 11-9-20 in 26 games this season and I believe should be the front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. On a very poor team, Keller has lit the score-sheet up on a regular basis and has emerged as the next face of the team. He’s going to be a big part of the future for this team, no doubt about that.

That said, you need more than one face to compete in the NHL. Arizona is hoping that the young forward to join Keller is Dylan Strome, who was selected by the club third overall in the 2015 NHL draft, after only Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. After a dominating 15 game stretch in Tucson of the AHL (8-18-26), Strome was recalled by the Coyotes and will play tomorrow night in Edmonton.

While this season is essentially over from a playoff standpoint, there is a lot to watch in Arizona. Keller has emerged, and now it is Strome’s turn, after getting his confidence going in the AHL, to emerge. If he can, then the future will have begun in the desert.

Relax, Don’t Do It: 

Yesterday’s 4-2 victory in Boston over the Bruins was one of the most complete efforts of the season by the Edmonton Oilers. It was a good note to end a bad road trip, which saw the team get embarrassed twice and come out with a 2-3-0 mark. Edmonton hosts Arizona tomorrow night in what is basically and earl season must-win as the Oil try and climb back into the playoff race.

If Edmonton falls out, however, they become prevalent in the rumor mill for all the wrong reasons. The Oilers, a team many thought would be fighting for the Cup this spring, very well could be selling off assets at the deadline.

Among those possibly for sale? Pending UFA’s Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu and Mike Cammalleri, along with veterans Eric Gryba and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Maroon, not surprisingly, was connected to his hometown St. Louis Blues if he is a rental, while Nugent-Hopkins has been connected to the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers in the last few days.

If I’m GM Peter Chiarelli, I’m not doing anything in terms of selling off assets right now. I wait until the last second to sell and pray that this team digs themselves back into the race. If I’m Chiarelli, I’m actually looking to add pieces to help this team. A winger that can score would go amiss, nor would a more stable backup goaltender.

All The Kings’ Men:

A Cinderella start to the season in LA has all of a sudden fallen into the rear-view mirror. The Kings have fallen out of first in the division, and sit just two points ahead of Calgary for home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs as we approach September. After a terrific first month of the season, the Kings have been one of the worst teams in the NHL this month.

Why is that? The loss of Jeff Carter has killed LA offensively, the team simply can’t score right now. Veteran Brooks Laich was brought in to help, but his contract has since been terminated after clearing unconditional waivers this afternoon.

LA can play defense with the best of them, but until the Kings figure out a way to put the puck in the net, they’ll keep sliding down the playoff chart. This is a big test for GM Rob Blake, I’m not sure he can wait until February for Carter to return. One possibility? Marian Gaborik isn’t that far from returning, maybe he can help.

The Rest Of The Pack:

– Vegas just keeps winning. After a slight bump in the road, the Golden Knights returned him and took over first place in the Pacific Division. I’m still not sure this is going to last, I just can’t see it, but this has been a great story in the season’s first two months. If the winning continues, we may have to change the narrative around David Perron and James Neal come deadline time.

– The Calgary Flames, unlike last season, are on fire as we move past November. Why is that? Johnny Gaudreau is playing elite offensive hockey again. Whatever the reason, Gaudreau wasn’t very good to start last season and it was part of the reason why the Flames struggled. Now? He’s inside the top-five in scoring in the NHL and has the Flames offense as one of the better groups in the league. Good thing, because Calgary’s defense has surprisingly been pretty suspect.

– Right behind the Flames in the standings are the San Jose Sharks, who are currently heading east. The storyline to watch with this team during the next week? What is going on in net? Martin Jones is under the weather and while he is travelling with the team to Philadelphia, the club is bringing three goaltenders. Jones has been very solid this season for the Sharks, as per usual.

– The injury bug is starting to hit the Vancouver Canucks, who have started to slow down a bit as of late. That said, Vancouver is still firmly in the playoff picture thanks to the play of their young studs. We talk a lot about Clayton Keller in Arizona, but Brock Boeser is playing some sensational hockey for the Canucks and is another candidate for rookie of the year honors. Boeser, along with Bo Horvat, appear to be the next duo for the Canucks when the Sedin twins eventually move down the line.

– The Ducks continue to battle injury issues and remain in the playoff push out West. That said, Anaheim has really struggled to keep pucks from the net and John Gibson is starting to show signs of fatigue. Anaheim has done a really good job staying in it to this point, but the Ducks are showing signs that they might now be able to hang on much longer. Luckily for them, reinforcements are coming soon. Let’s just hope Ryan Kesler remembers his pants this time.

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NHL Playoff Predictions

Photo Credit: Connor Mah/Flickr C.C 2.0

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