Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights

Pacific Division Will Be Ultra-Competitive in 2023-24

Last but not least in our offseason division roundup is the Pacific. It was a relatively quiet summer for Pacific teams, though there were a couple of big moves. But while most clubs didn’t swing for the fences, there’s plenty of talent in the division, which should make it ultra-competitive and the best Western division in 2023-24. 

Vegas Golden Knights

2022-23 season: 51-22-9, 111 points, 1st in Pacific (Stanley Cup champs)

Notable offseason moves:

Key departures:

  • Reilly Smith, Laurent Brossoit, Teddy Blueger, Phil Kessel

It was a very quiet offseason for the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Their most notable move was trading Reilly Smith to the Pittsburgh Penguins to free up some cap space. But otherwise, it was about tending to some housekeeping for general manager Kelly McCrimmon and his front office.

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McCrimmon managed to re-sign two key cogs in their Cup run: Ivan Barbashev, who re-upped for five years at $5 million per year, and Adin Hill, who signed for two years at $4.9 million annually. Hill finished with a save percentage above .930 in the playoffs, while Barbashev had 18 points in 22 games. 

The one notable item to keep an eye on for the Golden Knights is the health of Robin Lehner, who had hip surgery last summer and missed all of 2022-23. The Golden Knights will have to free up cap space if he’s ready to return, but there hasn’t been any word on his status. Otherwise, they’ll run back the same team and should be one of the favorites to win the Pacific Division and perhaps the Western Conference again. 

Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 season: 50-23-9, 109 points, 2nd in Pacific

Notable offseason moves:

  • Signed Connor Brown (1 year)
  • Signed Drake Caggiula (2 years)

Key departures:

  • Nick Bjugstad, Klim Kostin, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi

The Oilers didn’t have much wiggle room to work with this offseason due to being up against the salary cap ceiling. Their lone transaction was signing Connor Brown, who missed all but four games of the 2022-23 season after recovering from a torn ACL. 

When healthy, Brown is a solid middle-six forward who can contribute around 15-20 goals and 40-45 points. He’s effective in transition, can create off the rush, and is a good forechecker. He’s not much of a shooter, but he is a good passer. The Oilers’ depth up front should get a boost from adding him to the roster. 

Connor Brown Edmonton Oilers
Connor Brown with the Washington Capitals (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Otherwise, GM Ken Holland will run back close to the same team he iced in 2022-23. Prospects like Dylan Holloway and Raphael Lavoie could help the team take another step forward, and they’ll be hoping for a bounce-back season from Jack Campbell to help support Stuart Skinner. They should be in the thick of the race for first place in the Pacific due to their star power in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.  

Los Angeles Kings

2022-23 season: 47-25-10, 104 points, 3rd in the Pacific

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois
  • Signed Cam Talbot (1 year)
  • Signed Trevor Lewis (1 year)

Key departures:

  • Sean Durzi, Alex Iafallo, Gabe Vilardi, Joonas Korpisalo, Sean Walker, Cal Petersen, Rasmus Kupari

The Kings were one of the Pacific teams that went big-game hunting this offseason, and they got what they were looking for when they acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Winnipeg Jets. Going to Winnipeg were Gabriel Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari and a 2024 second-round pick, so the price wasn’t cheap.

Still, Dubois should give the Kings one of the best top-sixes in the Western Conference, as it already has Kevin Fiala, Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe and Viktor Arvidsson. Dubois’ counting totals may not be overly impressive, but he’s a strong driver of offense at even strength and will give the Kings an excellent 1-2 punch down the middle with Kopitar anchoring the top line. 

Since Dubois signed an eight-year deal worth $8.5 million a year, GM Rob Blake was busy clearing cap space. He traded Sean Durzi, who had a cap hit of $1.7 million, to the Arizona Coyotes for a 2024 second-round pick. He also moved Sean Walker and Cal Petersen in the three-team deal that sent Ivan Provorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets from the Philadelphia Flyers; Walker and Petersen ended up in Philly, freeing up $7-million-plus in cap space for LA. 

Pierre-Luc Dubois Los Angeles Kings
Pierre-Luc Dubois with the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

But even after shedding all that salary, the Kings did not have much room to add in net, one of their most pressing needs this offseason. They signed Cam Talbot to a one-year deal worth $1 million. He had a down year with the Ottawa Senators, finishing with an .898 SV%. But his underlying numbers weren’t awful, as he allowed only minus-0.7 goals above expected, meaning he essentially stopped what was expected of him. 

Still, the Kings are taking a big gamble on icing a tandem of Talbot and Pheonix Copley. Even though Talbot could bounce back, he’s 36 years old, and age could be catching up to him. Meanwhile, Copley has been a career journeyman. They can probably provide league-average goaltending, which should get them where they need to be during the regular season. But they may once again have to address goaltending ahead of the trade deadline if they want to make a deep run in the Western Conference playoffs.  

Seattle Kraken

2022-23 season: 46-28-8, 100 points, 4th in Pacific (WC1)

Notable offseason moves:

  • Signed Brian Dumoulin (2 years)
  • Signed Kailer Yamamoto (1 year)
  • Signed Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (1 year)

Key departures:

  • Carson Soucy, Ryan Donato, Daniel Sprong, Morgan Geekie, Martin Jones

On the heels of their first playoff appearance in franchise history in just their second season of existence, Kraken GM Ron Francis took a relatively quiet approach to the offseason. They made a few depth signings, but some of them could have a bit of upside. 

After not qualifying Daniel Sprong, the Kraken replaced him by signing Kailer Yamamoto to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2022-23 campaign, but when healthy, he can be a solid middle-six contributor. He finished with 20 goals and 41 points in 81 games in 2021-22. If he can get back to that level, he shouldn’t have much trouble replacing the production the team lost in Sprong. 

Kailer Yamamoto Seattle Kraken
Kailer Yamamoto with the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On defense, the Kraken decided to take a chance on Brian Dumoulin, who signed a two-year contract worth $3.15 million annually. He showed signs of decline with the Penguins this past season, but his role should get significantly reduced in Seattle with Vince Dunn and Jamie Oleksiak on the left side of the blue line. That likely means third-pair minutes for Dumoulin, who’ll replace Carson Soucy after he signed with the Vancouver Canucks. 

The big question for the Kraken will be in net. Philipp Grubauer was better this past regular season but still finished with an .895 SV%. Can he get that number above .900? And can Chris Driedger provide support as a 1B after returning from an ACL injury he suffered during the 2022 World Championships? He might be the key to the Kraken challenging for a top-three spot in the Pacific and pushing for 100 points again. 

Calgary Flames

2022-23 season: 38-27-17, 93 points, 5th in the Pacific

Notable offseason moves: 

  • Acquired Yegor Sharangovich
  • Hired Ryan Huska as head coach

Key departures:

  • Darryl Sutter, Tyler Toffoli, Milan Lucic, Troy Stecher

If there’s a team that feels like it’s had an incomplete offseason, it’s the Calgary Flames. Their lone move to this point was trading Tyler Toffoli to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round pick in the 2023 draft. They also replaced head coach Darryl Sutter with long-time assistant Ryan Huska. 

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Toffoli had the best season of his career in 2022-23, finishing with 34 goals and 73 points in 82 games. Losing him will sting, but Sharangovich showed scoring upside in his time with the Devils. Though he had a down season in 2022-23, he produced at 25-goal paces in his previous two NHL campaigns. He can return to that level if placed in the right role in Calgary. 

Other than that, GM Craig Conroy hasn’t made any other notable moves this offseason, which is surprising given the rumors around the team earlier in the summer. Frank Seravalli reiterated on the Aug. 21 episode of DFO Rundown that there’s no chance Noah Hanifin will re-sign with the Flames, so perhaps that’s a move that gets completed ahead of training camp. 

Noah Hanifin Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Seravalli also mentioned that Elias Lindholm’s camp has been listening a bit more about a possible extension with the Flames. There’s risk that comes with signing him to a max-term extension. But if the Flames are intent on making a trip back to the playoffs this coming season, they’ll need him on their roster. 

Otherwise, the Flames will run back close to the same team they had a season ago. It’s a talented group, especially defensively, but they’ll need a bounce-back from Jacob Markstrom. It also wouldn’t hurt to find a roster spot for Dustin Wolf to begin backing up Markstrom, given his incredible numbers in the AHL. 

Vancouver Canucks

2022-23 season: 38-37-7, 83 points, 6th in the Pacific

Notable offseason moves:

  • Signed Carson Soucy (3 years)
  • Signed Pius Suter (2 years)
  • Signed Teddy Blueger (1 year)
  • Signed Ian Cole (1 year)

Key departures:

  • Ethan Bear, Travis Dermott

It was another tumultuous season for the Canucks riddled by the controversy around Bruce Boudreau and how the organization handled his firing. But that’s in the past, and 2023-24 wipes the slate clean and gives everyone a fresh start. 

Aside from Boudreau’s firing, one of the Canucks’ biggest issues last season was having a blue line that lacked, well, defenders who could defend. GM Patrik Allvin addressed that this summer by signing Soucy to a three-year deal worth $3.25 million annually. 

Though he played a third-pair role for the Kraken, there’s a good chance Soucy logs top-four minutes with the Canucks. He’ll add some size on the back end at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, and an ability to defend the forecheck. He’s also an excellent rush defender, something the Canucks needed more of defensively. Ian Cole may not be what he used to be, but he’s still an effective third-pair defender with excellent defensive impacts. 

Carson Soucy Vancouver Canucks
Carson Soucy with the Seattle Kraken (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Another area of need for the Canucks was strengthening their bottom-six, which Allvin did by signing Pius Suter to a two-year deal worth $1.6 million annually. Suter has been one of the more underrated defensive forwards since entering the league three years ago. His offensive metrics suggest he may have a bit more to give in that department, too, but he’s a solid depth addition either way. Teddy Blueger should improve the bottom-six defensively as well. 

The Canucks are a better team than they were to end the 2022-23 season, but are they 5-6 wins better, the number they’ll likely need to clinch a playoff spot in the Pacific? A healthy Thatcher Demko will help and could be a difference-maker in the Canucks making or missing the postseason. 

San Jose Sharks

2022-23 season: 22-44-16, 60 points, 7th in Pacific

Notable offseason moves:

  • Acquired Mikael Granlund
  • Acquired Mike Hoffman
  • Acquired Jan Rutta
  • Acquired Anthony Duclair
  • Acquired Mackenzie Blackwood
  • Drafted Will Smith 4OA

Key departures:

  • Erik Karlsson, James Reimer, Noah Gregor

Once upon a time, the additions listed above would’ve suggested the Sharks are making a serious push to contend. That isn’t the case, though, as they’ll likely be in the thick of the Macklin Celebrini sweepstakes for the 2024 draft. 

Most of the additions above came via the Erik Karlsson trade, which sent the Swedish defender to Pittsburgh. In part of a three-team deal, the Sharks received Mikael Granlund and Jan Rutta from the Penguins and Mike Hoffman from the Montreal Canadiens. 

Granlund was never a good fit for the Penguins, so the Sharks are hoping he can bounce back in some capacity. He’s still a solid playmaker, which could prove valuable if the Sharks start playing some of their younger prospects like William Eklund. Granlund has two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $5 million, so if he bounces back, he could turn into trade bait down the road. 

Hoffman is in the same boat as Granlund, too. His best days are behind him, but if he can score goals this season, he should be a valuable commodity at the 2024 trade deadline; he has a year left on his deal at a cap hit of $4.5 million. 

Rutta doesn’t provide much offense, but he has a track record of being a solid third-pair defender. Contending teams are always on the lookout for defensive depth around the trade deadline, so Rutta will likely get dealt at some point; he has two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $2.75 million.  

Mikael Granlund San Jose Sharks
Mikael Granlund with the Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But even aside from the Karlsson trade, GM Mike Grier was active elsewhere on the trade market. He acquired goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood from the Devils in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2023 draft. Blackwood had fallen out of favor with the Devils due to Vitek Vanecek’s solid play and the emergence of Akira Schmid. Staying healthy has also been an issue for Blackwood, but he was a league-average netminder this past season. That would go a long way for the Sharks trying to improve. 

Finally, Grier acquired Anthony Duclair from the Florida Panthers. The winger missed a good chunk of the 2022-23 season recovering from a torn Achilles. But if he’s fully healthy, he’ll likely be the Sharks’ best trade chip ahead of next season’s deadline. He has one year left on his deal at a cap hit of $3 million and could produce 25-30 goals. 

The Sharks are an interesting team. On the surface, it might look like they’re trying to take a step forward in 2023-24. But without Karlsson, it’s hard to imagine where the offense comes from. They’re probably one of the worst defensive teams in the league, too, so I’d expect them to be in contention for Celebrini, Ivan Demidov and the other top prospects in the 2024 draft. 

Anaheim Ducks

2022-23 season: 23-47-12, 58 points, 8th in Pacific

Notable offseason moves:

  • Signed Alex Killorn (4 years)
  • Signed Radko Gudas (3 years)
  • Signed Alex Stalock (1 year)
  • Acquired Ilya Lyubushkin
  • Drafted Leo Carlsson 2OA 
  • Hired Greg Cronin as head coach

Key departures:

  • Anthony Stolarz, Max Comtois, Kevin Shattenkirk

The Ducks have plenty of young talent coming up through their pipeline, but it might still be a year or two before they propel the team up the standings. Until then, GM Pat Verbeek made some additions to help his club improve in 2023-24. 

The most notable move was signing Alex Killorn in free agency to a four-year contract worth $6.25 million annually. Killorn had long been a staple of the Tampa Bay Lightning and was highly productive over the last two seasons, totaling 123 points across 164 games. He is a prime regression candidate this coming season, but he should still give more support up front to Trevor Zegras and Mason MacTavish. 

One of the Ducks’ main issues for years has been their defense. They have exciting prospects like Owen Zellweger, Pavel Mintyukov and Tristan Luneau on the way, but they won’t all impact the NHL just yet. Until then, Verbeek signed Radko Gudas to a three-year deal in free agency and recently acquired Ilya Lyubushkin from the Buffalo Sabres. 

Radko Gudas Anaheim Ducks
Radko Gudas with the Florida Panthers (Photo by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gudas and Lyubushkin won’t provide much offense, if any, from the back end. But they should at least stabilize things a bit defensively. Still, the Ducks’ defense is a work in progress. A healthy Jamie Drysdale will help, but it won’t see significant improvement until Zellweger and Mintyukov are ready for regular roles. 

Verbeek also made a change behind the bench, hiring Greg Cronin to replace Dallas Eakins. Sure, the Ducks weren’t going to be playoff contenders regardless, but they lacked structure under Eakins. Cronin has been a successful head coach in the AHL for quite some time, so perhaps that translates to the NHL. Even then, it’ll likely be another year at the bottom of the Pacific standings, though they have much better odds of taking a step forward than the Sharks due to their young talent. 

Pacific Predictions for 2023-24

  1. Edmonton Oilers – 110 points
  2. Vegas Golden Knights- 107 points
  3. Los Angeles Kings – 102 points
  4. Calgary Flames – 98 points (WC1)
  5. Seattle Kraken – 94 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks – 90 points
  7. Anaheim Ducks – 67 points
  8. San Jose Sharks – 61 points

Even though the Golden Knights are the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Oilers are arguably the best team in the Pacific. McDavid is the best player in the world, and Draisaitl isn’t far behind him. They have a power play that could go nuclear once again because of those two plus Evan Bouchard quarterbacking it. Stuart Skinner looks like a solid starting netminder, and the team’s depth has improved in recent years. 

The Golden Knights won’t be far behind them, though. They’re essentially returning the same team that won a Stanley Cup, minus Reilly Smith. They’ll now have Barbashev for a full season, and they should be solid in net with Hill and either a healthy Logan Thompson or Lehner. 

The Kings have a solid team, but their goaltending setup is concerning. Talbot and Copley might be good enough to get them into a playoff spot in the Pacific, but even that could go sideways in a hurry. If the team underperforms, it’ll be because of their goaltending. Otherwise, the talent is there. 

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Assuming the Flames begin the 2023-24 season with the team constructed as is, they’re my bounce-back pick in the Western Conference. Losing Toffoli stings, but Sharangovich should replace some of his offense. The wear and tear of playing for Sutter seems to have had a significant toll on this team, so turning to Huska alone may be enough to give them a spark. Bounce-backs from Markstrom and Jonathan Huberdeau would go a long way, but the team has the necessary talent to be a playoff contender. 

As much as I like the Kraken, their goaltending is a significant concern. They got away with it last season, but I’m not sure they can again unless Dreidger returns to form. They’ll be in the playoff chase, along with the Canucks, but they might not have enough juice to clinch a postseason berth. 

Even though the Ducks and Sharks will likely be battling for lottery picks, the Pacific is easily the strongest of the two Western divisions. I may have four teams making the playoffs from the Pacific in my predictions above, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a team like the Kraken or Canucks ends up as the fifth Pacific team in the postseason. That’s how competitive the division should be. 

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Advanced stats from Money Puck

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