Predicting where the Calgary Flames will finish in the new-look Pacific division
By Josh Werle, Staff Writer
After what feels like an eternity, the hockey world is finally returning to some form of normalcy. The fans are back in the stands, and the players are set to play a full 82-game season. After competing in the inaugural Northern Division last season, in which all of the Canadian teams only got to compete against each other, the Calgary Flames will now return to the NHL’s Pacific Division.
With the removal of the Arizona Coyotes and the addition of the Seattle Kraken mixing things up, here’s a prediction of what the NHL’s Pacific Division standings will look like and where the Calgary Flames fit in.
The playoff lock
There’s only one playoff lock in the Pacific Division. The Las Vegas Golden Knights have proven that they are one of the best teams in the NHL, and there is no reason their success shouldn’t continue this year. Even with the loss of reigning Vezina champion Marc-André Fleury, the Golden Knights are still in incredible shape with Robin Lehner starting in the crease. They still have the dominant lineups that carried them to the semi-final round of the playoffs last year. Although they have been plagued with some early season injuries, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone should be able to amplify their chemistry once again this year. Defensemen like Alex Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez fill out Las Vegas’ team, giving them depth in all the right places. Las Vegas should easily be able to make the playoffs, and are all but guaranteed to take one of the top spots in the Pacific Division.
The playoff golfers
Hockey fans like to make jokes about certain NHL teams “hitting the golf course early.” This is usually in reference to the teams who don’t make the playoffs, and are presumed to be golfing while some of their peers compete for the NHL’s most coveted prize. I hope they have good golf courses in California, because all three of the golden state’s teams are probably going to miss the playoffs this season. From 1997 to 2019, at least one team from California made the playoffs. The previous two seasons did not feature any of them, and I fully expect that trend to continue this season.
The Anaheim Ducks have one of the best goaltenders with John Gibson and some seriously good prospects like Trevor Zegras. That being said, a solid goaltender and a few prospects will get you nowhere in the NHL and the Ducks should be near the bottom of the league leaderboard.
The Los Angeles Kings are in a similar situation, except for the fact that they still have some of their previous Stanley Cup winners kicking around to give them an occasional boost. Drew Doughty, Anže Kopitar and Jonathan Quick might return to their Stanley Cup winning form at some points during the season, but they won’t be consistent enough to make the cut.
The San Jose Sharks are the best of the bunch, as they have a solid defensive lineup with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson leading the charge. Their offensive roster also packs firepower with Tomáš Hertl and Logan Couture. That being said, their offseason goaltending changes could have been better and Evander Kane’s recent legal issues have done nothing positive for this team. The Sharks are likely to just barely miss the cutoff for the Pacific Division teams.
The playoff hopeful
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the Edmonton Oilers are not a playoff lock. Sure, they are a playoff hopeful and will almost undoubtedly make the cut, but I simply cannot refer to them as a lock just yet. Having two of the best offensive players in the entire league on your team will surely help you perform. However, as we witnessed in their playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets this spring, if those two have an off night it will be a long night for the rest of the team. Re-signing Darnell Nurse (albeit to a horrendously large contract), and acquiring Zach Hyman were great offseason moves, but they didn’t address their primary area of concern.
Out of the 32 NHL teams, 20 of them made some form of goaltending change. The Oilers were not one of those teams and they needed it the most. Mike Smith is fantastic, but at 39-years old he simply should not be expected to be a starting goaltender anymore. I would also hesitate to refer to his backup, Mikko Koskinen, as an NHL level goaltender at this stage.
Don’t be expecting a run like the 2018 Vegas Golden Knights from the Seattle Kraken, but do expect them to at least be a playoff hopeful. They have plenty of young talent as well as some proven league veterans, like their new captain Mark Giordano. Their biggest strength is undoubtedly their goaltending lineup of Phillip Grubauer, Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord, who will give them some incredible depth in that position.
The Vancouver Canucks were a part of one of the most impactful offseason trades, as they acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from Arizona. After re-signing Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, they now look to be in good enough shape to make a push for the playoffs.
Finally, we are left with the Calgary Flames. They are certainly a playoff hopeful team, but as the rest of this section indicates they are going head-to-head with a lot of hungry squads. All eyes are on Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, who will certainly need to have a very productive season if the Flames have a shot at the playoffs. The team will also need to rely on their starting goaltender Jakob Markström, who should be able to handle playing the vast majority of their hockey games this season.
After losing their captain to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, I would look for players like Matthew Tkachuk to continue to be the heartbeat of a team that certainly needs a solid boost if they wish to contend for the Stanley Cup.