The Edmonton Oilers are in a new division and the entire conference has a new look for this coming season. The Oilers are an improving team, but they’re facing some impressive “establishment” teams and a few risers who appear to be a step ahead. The top three finishing teams in the Pacific are through, with two ‘wild card’ seeds coming from the best remaining records in the Pacific and Central Division.
PACIFIC DIVISION 2013-14
- #7 CALGARY FLAMES: The only thing that can keep the Flames from drafting #1 overall is Jumpin’ Jay Feaster, and he’s hell bent for leather. The team that needs Steve Tambellini refuses to give up, although their stalking of the clearly done Kipper makes me think they may have a plan that involves tanking. We’ll know they’re crazy when Sean Monahan breaks camp with the big team–he’ll be their Sam Gagner by the New Year. There are some nice things here, and if the Oilers get a chance to grab Backlund or Glencross–or both–it would behoove them to do so, forthwith!
- #6 ANAHEIM DUCKS: I’ve never been convinced the Ducks are a team with sustain and they’ve just traded one of their difference makers to Ottawa. The top end of their offense is terrific and I do think the Penner addition was a solid move but in a division where 3 through 6 may be decided in the final week Anaheim looks like the odd duck to me. Selanne’s possible return would improve their odds, but this is the one team in the division whose defense looks aged. The Ducks have been up and down like a yo-yo in recent years, I think that continues with a subpar 2013-14. The Ryan trade changes the team in a big way, as the club is now waiting on the youngsters to grow up in a heartbeat. Oiler fans know that it doesn’t always happen in a straight line.
- #5 PHOENIX COYOTES: This is a team with Stanley calibre blue but the offense is strictly Punch and Judy and and their $5M forwards are Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan. Goals for will be their issue, with the defense (led by OEL) getting them close to the post-season. The Coyotes have many brilliant players (Martin Hanzal) and some terrific prospects (Oil King Samuelsson) but don’t have near enough offense for this season to my eye. WARNING: They don’t appear set up front (11 forwards according to capgeek) so some late summer activity could change this ranking.
- #4 EDMONTON OILERS: This is the season Taylor Hall puts this team on his back and carries them into the post-season. It won’t be easy–and a losing streak or the usual string-of-pearls injuries could derail them–but coach Dallas Eakins is going to ride these kids like a rented mule into the second season. The other item is the power of the disconnect from the Ralph Krueger system. Dellow’s big data set shed tremendous light on what was happening on-ice, and a new, more NHL friendly system could have tremendous effect. We’ll know early: if the 2line is looking good via shot differential and we’re saying nice things about the third line, then Krueger’s folly may have been a thing.
- #3 VANCOUVER CANUCKS: The vaunt have some cracks and holes but there’s still plenty of fuel in this roster. The piss cutter Sedins remain freaks of hockey nature, Roberto Luongo remains a strong #1 and their defense is exceptional. A year from now, maybe we can talk about the Oilers passing the Canucks. Not this winter. The Canucks have some youngsters who will play more prominent roles this season (Kassian, Schroeder) and if they catch fire Vancouver could press for the division title.
- #2 SAN JOSE SHARKS: Smart decisions everywhere for this veteran team, and honestly they could win the Stanley and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Veterans Thornton and Marleau along with young vets like Couture and Pavelski (along with Raffi being signed) give them plenty of power up front, and a defense that bends but doesn’t break means they’ll push for the regular season crown. One worry: Dan Boyle, now 87 years old, may begin to tire at some point. Beware of Tommy Wingels.
- #1 LOS ANGELES KINGS: A strong team with one Stanley in their pockets and the window of opportunity wide open is led by perhaps the most dominant player in the division (Kopitar) and some outstanding veterans (Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) among the 12 forwards. Their goalie is famous and good, and they have a veteran defense, which boasts Doughty and Voynov and dammit if this Muzzin fellow doesn’t look like the real deal, plus Regehr and Mitchell and Matt Greene. Depending on what line he plays on, Matt Frattin could post an impressive number. A great GM works in Los Angeles.
Some time in April, the Oilers will be on the road in a playoff game. It’s been a long, long time.