Only three teams from the Pacific Division will head to the postseason this week, as the Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights will represent the Pacific in the annual tournament for hockey’s holy grail.
Both the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings dropped from the playoff ranks, while the Edmonton Oilers once again proved to be a massive disappointment and finished 14th in the conference. For five of the division’s eight clubs, this summer will be about change and about righting the wrongs that forced them outside the NHL’s annual postseason battle.
Today’s blog will focus on the non-playoff teams, with thoughts on the Flames, Golden Knights and Sharks coming later in the week with my opening round playoff predictions. We’ll go through the non-playoff teams in order of how interesting their off-seasons could be.
We start with arguably the most interesting team to watch this spring and summer, the Edmonton Oilers. Just what the hell is Bob Nicholson going to do?
Sources has indicated that change within Edmonton’s management ranks could come as early as this week. The club is on the hunt to replace POHO/GM Peter Chiarelli, and will likely be looking to revamp their entire management team. Bottom line is, the way Edmonton has done business over the years simply isn’t working. They need massive change and they need it now.
A new GM and possible a new President of Hockey Operations is obvious, but the club is almost surely going to be looking for a new Head Coach as well. Sources have indicated that Ken Hitchcock will not be back behind the bench next season, but that he will remain with the Oilers in a type of ‘advisor’ role. What exactly that is will be determined by the new management team.
The Oilers were sent into a panic and heard the message loud and clear from Connor McDavid last Monday in Las Vegas. Change will be coming to their management and coaching staffs, and you best believe to their roster as well. Expect analytics to finally be used here and expect speed and skill to be the strengths of this roster next season.
Dallas Eakins is the leading candidate to take over as Head Coach and I’d expect an announcement shortly after AHL San Diego’s playoff run comes to and end, whenever that might be. The Ducks nearly pulled the trigger in mid-November on firing Randy Carlyle and ‘recalling’ Eakins, but waited and eventually decided on Bob Murray getting on the bench and seeing things first-hand.
I’d expect the Ducks to lead a youth movement next season, with Gulls’ fixtures Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Max Jones making the jump to Anaheim on a full-time basis. In addition, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Ducks explored the market on long-time mainstays Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. There will also be conversations with both Patrick Eaves and Ryan Kesler about whether continuing their careers is in their best interests.
It won’t be a full-scale rebuild, but the Ducks are going to retool this summer and trend towards younger skill. Quietly one of the best teams of the cap era is about to look vastly different and will be worth watching this summer.
Los Angeles Kings:
The Kings made it official on Sunday that interim bench boss Willie Desjardins will not return next season. That makes will bring the number of new coaches within the Pacific to three. Former Sharks and Oilers coach Todd McLellan is the leader in the clubhouse for this job, and reports from The Fourth Period have the sides negotiating a deal as we speak.
McLellan didn’t achieve the level of success he was hoping for in Edmonton, and while he didn’t help his case with the Oil the roster he was given simply was not good enough in each of the last two seasons. McLellan will get a fresh start, if this deal gets done, under his former player in Rob Blake.
As for the roster, the Kings have some interesting options. Their system simply isn’t good enough prospect wise and their NHL roster is too old and too slow to compete currently. Jonathan Quick looked done this season, while Anze Kopitar returned to normal levels.
Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty both look to be over the hill and on the decline, while Tyler Toffoli endured a nightmare season. LA’s core pieces were not good enough, and I think it is fair to question whether or not they can rebound. These are older players with a lot of miles already on their wheels.
If Blake was smart, he’d begin a mini-rebuild in LA. I don’t think that is the direction the Kings go, however. They are a complete wild card this summer.
Although Elias Pettersson stole the show and both Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser continued their strong play, the Canucks once again were a bad hockey team. The system looks loaded and the future is bright, especially with Quinn Hughes on board and another top-ten pick on the way.
That said, eventually all of the promise must give way to results. Vancouver is in the market for a President of Hockey Operations, who will be tasked with evaluating GM Jim Benning. Think of it as the Canucks searching for their Brendan Shannahan.
The Canucks have done a really good job of amassing young talent, but have failed in a big way with procuring NHL veterans to help that group. That has to change if Vancouver is to avoid the same fate as Edmonton and rebuild this properly. How they handle this off-season will be interesting, especially if they bring an outside POHO into the fold.
Give the Yotes credit, they were the most banged up team in the division and they finished ahead of all of the teams listed in this article. Arizona’s defensive play took a huge step forward, and they have some nice young pieces that should be strong compliments up front moving forward.
That being said, the Coyotes missed the playoffs not just because of injury, but because they also simply do not have a difference-maker up front. The Yotes must find a way to add that elusive focal point, that top-line forward that can push possession and rack up the points.
Arizona isn’t that far off from being a consistent playoff team. I truly believe they have a strong system, a strong belief system and the depth to contend in the west. Until they find that big gun, however, this is their reality. I don’t expect a ton of movement in the desert, but Arizona would be foolish to not go hard after a big gun via free agency or trade.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Connor Mah C.C 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/40263796@N05/19438702321