NHL Pacific Division preview: Seattle Kraken set to debut, but a familiar team will rule

SAN JOSE – Back are the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks. Gone are the Arizona Coyotes, and in comes the expansion Seattle Kraken.

No, the Pacific Division isn’t exactly how the San Jose Sharks and their fans remember it being prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t necessarily mean things will be any easier for the Sharks after they played in a thrown-together West Division with Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Vegas last season.

The Sharks finished seventh in that division, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

“Do you call it tougher than last year? I don’t know,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said of the Pacific. “We haven’t seen some of these teams in a while and haven’t played against them, so there are a lot of unknowns.”

This season, the playoff format reverts back to what it was from 2013-14 to 2019-2020, when the top three teams in each division automatically qualify, and two other spots in each conference are filled by the next two highest-placed finishers based on regular-season record.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or in what division in this league, there’s so much parity,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, you’ve got to get 95 points-plus to be a playoff team probably, and that’s not easy to do.”

Here’s a look at the Pacific Division, in predicted order of finish.

1. Vegas Golden Knights

2020-2021 RECORD: 40-14-2 (second in West Division)

COACH: Pete DeBoer, third season

LEADERS: F Mark Stone, F Max Pacioretty, D Alex Pietrangelo, G Robin Lehner

TOP NEWCOMERS: F Evgenii Dadonov, F Nolan Patrick, G Laurent Brossoit

KEY DEPARTURES: G Marc-Andre Fleury, F Ryan Reaves, F Cody Glass

ANALYSIS: Barring a spate of injuries, the Golden Knights are the favorites to win the division. They acquired Dadonov to help improve their power play and brought in Patrick to solidify their center depth. Perhaps there’s a question about the Golden Knights’ goaltending, as the Vezina Trophy-winning Fleury was traded to Chicago for salary cap reasons. Lehner, with a career .918 save percentage, takes over the unquestioned No. 1 goalie with Brossoit as the backup. Lehner hasn’t played more than 50 games in a season since 2017-18 with Buffalo, and will likely be asked to play the bulk of the games this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the extra work. Reaves’ departure could be felt as well, particularly in the locker room.

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2. Edmonton Oilers

2020-2021 RECORD: 35-19-2 (second in North Division)

COACH: Dave Tippett, third season

LEADERS: F Connor McDavid, F Leon Draisaitl, D Darnell Nurse, G Mike Smith

TOP NEWCOMERS: F Zach Hyman, F Derek Ryan, D Duncan Keith

KEY DEPARTURES: F James Neal, D Adam Larsson, D Ethan Bear

ANALYSIS: The Oilers have only made it to the second round of the playoffs once since they drafted McDavid in 2015. They’ve tried to address some of their forward depth issues with the signings of Hyman and Ryan, and hope Keith’s winning pedigree rubs off on some other players. Still, there’s one wonders about the depth on the back …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

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