How the Calgary Flames stack up to the rest of the Pacific Division ahead of the 2022-23 NHL Season
By Matthew DeMille, Contributor
The 2022-23 NHL season is less than a month away and Calgary Flames fans are finally breathing a sigh of relief, as their team is coming off their most hectic and historic offseason to date. The Flames’ tumultuous summer began after their second round loss in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to their rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, and was later followed up by the exit of superstars Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk.
But before the dust of Gaudreau’s and Tkachuk’s departure could even settle, Flames general manager (GM), Brad Treliving, was able to adjust his club’s trajectory from a full fledged rebuild back to a Stanley Cup contender. This came in the acquisition of forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Mackenzie Weegar, among other assets, from the Florida Panthers as an exchange for the already outbound Tkachuk. The Flames would continue to bolster their forward core as they signed former Colorado Avalanche and Stanley Cup Champion Nazem Kadri to a seven-year contract while dealing long-time Flame Sean Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens.
With so many bodies coming and going from the Flames roster this offseason, it is hard to determine if the team is at a better or worse position than they were in the season prior. That being said, the Flames should fare rather well among their Pacific Division rivals. The loss of Gaudreau and Tkachuk will be less detrimental than originally thought, however it is unlikely that they will finish atop the Pacific Division this season. The new recruits should give the Flames enough firepower to comfortably clinch a playoff position and finish either second or third in their division.
This is how the rest of the division should shake out.
Locking it down
Season after season, Edmonton’s goaltending situation has been a laughing stock across the entire NHL. It is hard to take a team seriously when their crease is guarded by Mikko Koskinen and 40-year-old Mike Smith. With Smith shelving himself on the Oilers’ long-term injured reserve and possible retirement imminent and Koskinen departing to HC Lugano of Switzerland’s National League, the Oilers were in the market for a new goaltender. Under the age of 40, of course.
The answer came in former Toronto Maple Leafs starter, Jack Campbell. With Connor McDavid at the helm, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in close proximity, and a competent and reliable goaltender between the pipes, the Oilers have made themselves a real threat across the entire league. The Pacific Division is theirs to lose at this point.
The Los Angeles Kings are making a gradual return to their Stanley Cup winning form we saw in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. During the offseason, the Kings signed Swiss forward Kevin Fiala to a seven-year deal following a trade with the Minnesota Wild. Fiala, who posted a career-high of 85 points last season, is an excellent addition to Los Angeles’ top six. The forward group will be rounded out by Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo, who— like Fiala — had notable performances last season.
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, the Kings are forecasted to pose an average age of about 26.5 years. With a team that young, it looks like the Kings may have locked up a top three spot in the Pacific Division for this year and the years to come.
Abysmal. That’s the word that first comes to mind when discussing the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken. It was expected, however. It would be hard to replicate the success the Vegas Golden Knights found in their first season as a franchise. Nonetheless, Kraken GM Ron Francis is avoiding a similar season in their second go-round.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Andre Burakovsky were brought in to put some pucks in the opposition’s net and to help a drowning forward group. Jared McCann, the leading scorer for the Kraken, scored a measly 50 points in 74 games last season and fell well under the point-a-game mark. The new additions will also be joined by potential ‘Rookie of the Year’ nominee Matty Beniers and Shane Wright— the projected first overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft who fell to fourth. Don’t be surprised to see the Kraken rise from the deep and secure themselves a wildcard spot this season.
The Vancouver Canucks have their eyes set on a bounceback season having missed the playoffs by five points last April. Internal issues plagued the team early into the season, as both GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green found themselves without work in early December.
Top line center J.T. Miller is coming off a career-high 99-point season, while his linemates Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are expected to increase their production totals after they struggled to create any sense of offense last year. Replacement GM Patrik Allvin also made a respectable splash in free agency this summer, landing the highly touted forward Andrei Kuzmenko from the KHL and former Toronto Maple Leaf, Ilya Mikheyev. With the exception of Quinn Hughes, the biggest concern facing the Canucks now is their defensive lineup. As for their odds to make the postseason, there’s a 50/50 shot.
Swing and a miss
The future is bright for the Anaheim Ducks, just not the immediate future. In recent seasons, Ducks management have parted ways with many of their veteran skaters, including longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf, to make room for their young, up and coming talent. Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, and Jamie Drysdale have already broken through the ranks and will lead the fairly fresh faced team in the coming — and hopefully future— seasons.
The three will soon be joined by Mason McTavish, who recently won a World Junior Championship. The Ducks may be a force to be reckoned with in due time, but for now they will offer little competition within their division this season.
Having missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year, the San Jose Sharks cleaned house over the summer and relieved both their GM Doug Wilson and head coach Bob Boughner of their duties. Under the new management of Mike Grier as GM and David Quinn as head coach, the team had a rather active free agency period but failed to gain much traction against other teams in their division. Expect the Sharks to miss the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
The glory days for the Vegas Golden Knights have come and gone and their Cinderella story phase has reached the end of the page. After cashing in on his sweepstakes last season, the entirety of the Golden Knights success is riding on an otherworldly performance by Jack Eichel. Otherworldly and free from injury, mind you.
Yet, it’s not just Eichel’s health that is a wildcard for the Golden Knights. Captain Mark Stone missed significant time last season after injuring his back and starting goaltender Robin Lehner will miss the entire 2022-23 season after undergoing hip surgery. The slew of long-term injuries, inadequate asset management and the loss of their starting goaltender will presumably leave the Golden Knights out of the playoff picture.