The Pacific Division offseason ups and downs

March 18, 2015: Los Angeles Kings Center Anze Kopitar (11) [4984] celebrates his first period goal during the Los Angeles Kings game versus the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA.
Icon Sportswire

Teams evolve each offseason. Subsequently, so can their places in the standings. Over the last few seasons, based on how they’ve retooled, teams have trended in new directions while others maintained their positions. In the Pacific Division, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers re-emerged from the bottom of the standings, while the Los Angeles Kings’ success has dwindled since their 2014 Stanley Cup title.

Of the seven teams in the Pacific Division, four teams reached the postseason last year. This year, those playoff seeds will become even more coveted when one more team, the Vegas Golden Knights, joins the Pacific Division race. How a team handles the process of offseason retooling has become even more important. With that in mind, one must ask which teams in the Pacific Division transformed this offseason, and which eroded their value and chances at the Stanley Cup.

SAME: Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks may have been one of the quietest teams so far this offseason. To protect their plethora of defensemen at the expansion draft, they bribed the Golden Knights with Shea Theodore to ensure Clayton Stoner was selected. The loss of Theodore could certainly be felt in the near future, but not necessarily this upcoming season — they still have a strong defensive core to deploy.

Other than the loss of Theodore, there were few other changes to this Ducks team. Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier left in free agency for the Colorado Avalanche and was replaced by Ryan Miller. Nate Thompson and Emerson Etem both left when their contracts expired. To replace some of the forward depth that was lost, center Dennis Rasmussen joined the team.

The addition of Miller and loss of Theodore are the most noteworthy things the Ducks did this offseason, which is why their offseason moves shouldn’t be too influential for 2017-18. Their lack of offseason moves could have an impact. As strong as this team has been, its core is aging and didn’t do much to take the Ducks a step further. They have last year’s Western Conference Final appearance to build on, but it may not be enough to keep up with the rest of the conference after making minimal changes. Still, they should maintain their competitive status in their division.

UP: Arizona Coyotes

After this offseason, the Coyotes may not be the top team in their division, but they’re definitely shaping into contenders. The Coyotes of last year had a number of flaws highlighted by their struggles in net, lackluster possession (45.04 Corsi for percentage), and dreadful offensive generation and suppression (42.56 expected goals for percentage). General manager John Chayka made a number of major changes to this team to solve those problems.

Starting goaltender Mike Smith was traded to the Calgary Flames and replaced by Antti Raanta, who was acquired by the New York Rangers. Along with Raanta, the Coyotes received a first-line center – something this franchise has clearly been missing –  from the Rangers, Derek Stepan. Then, in another major trade, they brought Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Blackhawks for Connor Murphy. Besides those game-changing transactions, they also signed depth players Adam Clendening, Michael Latta, and Emerson Etem.

Between their latest acquisitions and core players, like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, and Christian Dvorak, the Coyotes are moving in the right direction. To start the season they do have one major hurdle to overcome – replacing Jakob Chychrun while he is out with a knee injury.

UP: Calgary Flames

The Flames slipped into the first wild card seed in the Western Conference with 94 points, but that success was quickly extinguished after a four-game elimination at the hands of the Ducks. Management tried to remedy what ended their postseason so quickly this offseason, but was it enough for them to move up in the standings?

Last season, the Flames didn’t have the most stable goaltending situation. Between Brian Elliot and Chad Johnson, the Flames needed more from their goaltenders. Next season, neither will be on the roster – they’ll have Mike Smith and Eddie Lack. Smith has clearly struggled in net, and Lack had an inconsistent season that was hindered by injury. By no means will this be the strongest tandem around the league. However, Smith and Lack both have shown their strengths at times in their careers, so there is potential.

*Chart via Dispellingvoodoo.com

The addition of Travis Hamonic strengthens their blue line, while Marek Hrivik gives them some forward depth. Plus, they extended key players Michael Ferland and Kris Versteeg, and bought out Lance Bouma.

The Flames still don’t look like a team that will lead their division, but they look like they can earn a wild card spot more securely than last season. If they do, maybe these changes will create postseason success.

DOWN: Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers finally reached the postseason this past year for the first time since 2006. Making the playoffs and actually battling until a seven-game elimination in the conference semifinals was a major accomplishment. Since then, though, they’ve made some questionable moves that could affect their chances of repeating that level of performance this season.

On ice, the Oilers’ biggest problem may be in net – but it’s not the play of Cam Talbot, who has been exceptional. The issue his how much they play him – 73 regular season games plus 13 postseason games last year. As it stands, they have Laurent Brossoit behind Talbot. If Brossoit isn’t steady enough, and they need a more capable backup goaltender, they have to find one rather than giving Talbot extra games if they want their success to be sustainable.

Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in a one-for-one trade was another questionable decision by general manager Pete Chiarelli. Strome could improve in Edmonton, but the loss of Eberle has to be supplemented, which is why forward depth is vital. While they lost Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick, they did sign Jussi Jokinen on a low-risk contract.

*Chart via Ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Leon Draisaitl, a restricted free agent, still hasn’t re-signed. His extension is likely to come with a steep cost. The Oilers have to find a way to afford that while juggling other expensive contracts (Milan Lucic, $6 million cap hit, and Kris Russell at $4 million), without losing players in the process as cap casualties.

The Oilers still are a competitive team, but they may not reach as high as 103 points next season – it seems more likely that their point total will drop and they will fall to a lower seed, especially if Talbot has to play as many games next year.

UP: Los Angeles Kings

The Kings, while led by general manager Dean Lombardi, tried to recreate their success from 2012 and 2014 in recent seasons. Unfortunately, the NHL has since evolved. The Kings’ style was less effective and they didn’t try to adapt to what was trending.

Now, the organization will be led by Rob Blake and coached by John Stevens instead of Daryl Sutter. Already, it has been established that they’re going to make changes to their tactics to become a more competitive team. They will try to find what’s missing between their strong possession numbers (54.98 Corsi for percentage, 53.95 expected goals for percentage) and goal scoring (48.85 goals for percentage).

Rather than renovating both their tactics and their roster, they’ve insisted on keeping most of their core together, hoping that a change in strategy will help the core reach its former glory. While the Kings may not seem like a strong enough team to win again based on what they’ve done this offseason, they do look closer to playoff contention again. Their offseason was a step in the right direction, just not as big a step as they need.

SAME: San Jose Sharks

Since their first-round elimination at the hands of the Oilers, the Sharks’ focus has been to re-sign a number of players. Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney, and Barclay Goodrow all were re-signed. They extended goaltender Martin Jones and first-pair defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Along with those extensions, they were faced with re-signing unrestricted free agents Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Both waited until free agency to make their decisions as they considered offers from other teams. Thornton ultimately re-signed for one year, while Marleau left for the first time in his career to join the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now, not only do the Sharks have to replace Marleau in their lineup, but they still have to complete their roster. Only 11 forwards, six defensemen, and two goaltenders are signed at the moment, with over $8 million projected in cap space remaining. They need to find forward and defensive depth to supplement their roster – a roster that hasn’t changed too much since their Stanley Cup Final loss in 2016 nor their first-round elimination in 2017. The Sharks aren’t a weak team, but they’ve done so little to supplement their core this offseason that their short-term future has to be questioned.

There’s still time to replace what value has been lost this offseason. The Sharks have to use their cap space wisely to do so. This team doesn’t look that much worse — Marleau at this point in his career was a third-line player — but they don’t look much better either. As it stands, they don’t like they’ll finish much worse than they did this past year, but they may not have improved enough to move up either.

UP: Vancouver Canucks

Over the last few years, the Canucks have clearly struggled. They have qualified for the playoffs only once the last four seasons and were eliminated in the first round that year. Last season’s 69-point performance that landed the Canucks at the bottom of their division was their worst since 1998-99.

They’re rebuilding a young core with Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, and Ben Hutton. Plus, they still have Daniel and Henrik Sedin for at least one more year. To play alongside them, they’ve added Alexander Burmistrov, Sam Gagner, and Michael Del Zotto. Also, without Ryan Miller, Jacob Markstrom has an opportunity in the starter’s net, with Anders Nilsson backing him up. Some of their recent draft picks, like Elias Pettersson — who was selected fifth overall this year — could become difference-makers as well.

Rather than continue to fall in the standings, the Canucks look like they may improve from their dreadful 2016-17 season – and while that may not be saying much, it’s an improvement nonetheless.

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