So last week we took a look at holiday presents for each of the teams in the NHL Pacific Division. Today we will take a look at the biggest reason why each of the teams in this division find themselves where they are.
We’ll go in order of the standings and break down the top reason for success or failure as we inch towards the middle of December.
NHL Pacific Division Notebook
Los Angeles Kings (43 points):
After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings look like shoe-ins for the dance this year. Why the turnaround in Southern California? There are a few reasons, but to me Anze Kopitar’s season is the biggest. Kopitar struggled mightily last year, never looking right after World Cup of Hockey. He posted 12-40-52 in 76 games and never really dominated the way we are used to seeing.
This season? Kopitar is already at 16-22-38 in 31 games and is a huge reason for the Kings offensive outburst this season. With Kopitar back in form, the Kings have been able to put the puck in the net while continuing their strong defensive play. Amazing what happens when your best players play like your best players.
Vegas Golden Knights (39 points):
I hate overreacting and giving out awards this early, but Jack Adams front runner Gerard Gallant is the biggest reason for the historic start in the desert. Vegas plays a dominating team game and has found ways to win without having a ton of talent on the roster.
Vegas play within the system every single night and the effort level on this team is through the roof. There are no excuses for bad efforts, and you can see the Golden Knights winning games solely on their effort level and system. Gallant has done a terrific job with this team and I think he is the biggest reason why the Golden Knights are where they are.
San Jose Sharks (35 points):
One could argue the Sharks start to the season has been very good. I would argue that the Sharks have yet to hit their potential. Why is that? Defending Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns has actually struggled quite a bit offensively so far this season. Burns scored 29 times last season but has lit the lamp on just four occasions this year.
The Sharks are still in a playoff spot, but I’d argue they could be right there with the Kings at the top of the division if Burns was playing his elite-level game. Luckily for the Sharks, Burns is starting to round into form and appears to be picking up steam. That should propel the Sharks ahead of Vegas in the coming weeks.
Calgary Flames (34 points):
Johnny Gaudreau scored just 18 goals last season, his first full campaign under 20 in his NHL career. This season, Gaudreau already has 12 tallies and appears poised to hit 20 yet again this season. Gaudreau has registered 12-25-37 in 30 games this season and has been the driving force behind the Calgary offense.
The Flames’ defense and secondary scoring has falter in a big way this season, but Calgary is still in a Wild Card spot thanks to Gaudreau’s heroics on the top-line. It was a tough year last season, but the man they call ‘Johnny Hockey’ is back to his elite offensive level and leading the Flames.
Vancouver Canucks (32 points):
The young guns in Vancouver have Canuck fans once again excited about the future and present of this franchise. Brock Boeser has registered 15-12-27 in 27 games this season and appears to be the next franchise forward for this team in transition. Boeser is my personal pick for rookie of the year at this time, he’s been super impressive to me.
Bo Horvat is expected to miss the next six weeks, but he’s gone 10-10-20 in 28 games this season and appears to be another nice cog for the future up front. Sven Baertschi (8-10-18), Jake Virtanen (4-3-7) and Nikolay Goldobin (1-1-2, four games) have all contributed up front this year as well and should make for a bright future in Vancouver. The young guns are the reason the Canucks are still in the running for a playoff spot.
Anahiem Ducks (31 points):
Injuries are the reason why this western finalist from a year ago finds itself on the outside looking in at this point of the season. The Ducks have been without defenders Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm for long stretches this season, while up front Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Eaves have also missed a ton of games. If the Ducks were at full strength, I think they would easily be inside the top three in this division.
Edmonton Oilers (26 points):
What a complete and utter mess this once promising franchise has turned into this season. Many people, myself included, had the Oilers inside the playoffs this season and contending for the Stanley Cup. Instead? Edmonton’s season is likely already over.
The biggest reason for this failure of a season? Management. Peter Chiarelli traded away Jordan Eberle for a massive downgrade in Ryan Strome, then failed to replace Eberle’s goals in the lineup. Chiarelli also bought out Benoit Pouliot and tried to replace him with Jussi Jokinen, only to deal Jokinen a month into the season.
Chiarelli also failed to replace the injury Andrej Sekera, didn’t sign an NHL-level backup goaltender, overpaid to keep Kris Russell and intentionally made the team’s forward group worse. This is on management, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Chiarelli lost his job because of it.
Arizona Coyotes (19 points):
The Yotes simply can’t get any saves, and that has them in the position they are currently in. Antti Raanta simply wasn’t good enough to start the season, and now he finds himself injured. Louis Domingue was horrible for the Coyotes, and ended up getting himself traded to Tampa Bay about a month ago. Now, Scott Wedgewood has the reigns for the Yotes but there are severe limits to his ability.
Arizona has some very good veteran defenders and talented young forwards, but they’ll be a basement team until they start getting saves on a nightly basis.