#1 San Jose Sharks
Coincidence is funny sometimes. A few hours before I was writing this article, news broke out that Erik Karlsson gets traded to the Sharks. I also had San Jose slotted in to go #1 even before the announcement of the blockbuster trade so this was mean’t to be.
This team keeps finding ways to get good players on the team whether it’s trade or drafting, GM Doug Wilson gets the job done and he is the reason why the Sharks have been a consistently great team. Even with Thornton, Pavelski, Burns and Couture getting older, the Sharks keep drafting excellent talent that will back those players up and provide a great future for the club. Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi and even Kevin Labanc have provided great secondary support for Couture and Pavelski, who had average seasons compared to what they can achieve.
The Sharks now have Evander Kane for a full season as well. He came in as a late season pick up from Buffalo and was able to fit in like a glove in Northern California.
This is easily the best team the Sharks had on paper in many years and I’ll bet this team is better than the one they had in 2016 when they went to the Stanley Cup finals against the Penguins. Expect them to take advantage of a very weak Pacific division and tear up the Western conference.
#2 Calgary Flames
The Flames I see as a team that can come together and play well as a cohesive unit if they put their mind to winning. The Flames have a very good team on paper but last year they had no emotion nor spark to drive them to a playoff spot. That prompted a shake up in the off-season as the Flames acquired two players who feel they have something to prove in Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. They’ll provide the fire the Flames need as it’s their last chance to prove they can play up to their potential. Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland were subsequently shipped to Carolina as a result of the trade. The Flames also signed James Neal, who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals in two straight seasons, offers character and an insight of what the finals are like. He’ll be an asset going forward.
The Flames have a very good defensive core plus a fast, skilled, and speedy top 6 forward group. If they can find chemistry and get a good rhythm going, they’ll easily be a playoff team. I think they’ll struggle early on in the season but will find their groove from there on in.
#3 Vegas Golden Knights
The best expansion season from a major league sports team in history is under the books and what a thrilling journey it was for the Vegas Golden Knights. The team of “Golden Misfits”, a team that had players that were outcasted by their former NHL clubs came together and played an incredible brand of hockey that nobody expected.
Now we’re in year two and already this team is going through a shakeup. Perron and Neal are gone but they now have Pacioretty and Statsny. If you ask me, I think the latter is far more valuable than the former. Patches needs a rebound year and he’ll get one with Vegas without question.
Fleury needs to continue to be his superstar self if Vegas wants to make the playoffs this season and I think he’ll be successful. He’s been better in the last 3 seasons than he has been his entire career. Signs point that he’s one of guys who goes through his prime later than most athletes. Luckily for Vegas, that time is now.
It’ll be a tougher year for Vegas, as they can’t sneak on opponents anymore plus Nate Schmidt is suspended 20 games for a supposed drug violation. Schmidt was a valuable asset for Vegas last season and his services will be missed for the first quarter of the season. That’s unless they prove the suspension was unjust and reversed during training camp.
#4 Edmonton Oilers
Last season, a lot of people have claimed high expectations that the Oilers were going to be a force to be reckoned with last season. Sadly for the Oilers, it didn’t come to be. McDavid was the only bright spot the Oilers had last season as he won the NHL scoring title even on an under-performing team. Not much has changed since the off-season and the same glaring holes in the Oilers weak spots are still there.
The special teams were dreadful for the Oilers the prior season placing dead last on the powerplay and 25th on the penalty kill. Goaltending isn’t where it’s supposed to be and the defencemen for the club give opposing forwards too much space on the ice.
A big positive is the fact that the Oilers have the best player in the world in Connor McDavid and studs such as Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Regardless, this team still needs a few areas improved if they want to be a playoff team and I doubt this year will be their year.
#5 Los Angeles Kings
The Kings pride themselves by playing very sound defensive hockey. They were #1 in both goals against (203 GA) and penalty kill (85%) last season. When you’re the best at both of those categories, your defense is like a wall that can’t be run through or climbed over. Goaltender Jonathon Quick has been outstanding plus the coaching structure contributed to the success on defence.
L.A. will continue to be great defensively but not as good as they were a year ago. It’s hard to see Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown continue their amazing play as they age. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk signed to a 3-year deal in July, teams like Calgary, St. Louis and San Jose have made strides ahead of L.A. this summer as they’ve acquired more impact players than the Kings. The team itself isn’t worse, but they did get 1 year older and in today’s game, age means a lot and is more crucial than ever before as players are having shorter careers because of how fast the game is played. Unfortunately, the Kings are not a fast skating team so that could be a problem for them. Signs indicate that this might be a trying time for the Kings this season.
#6 Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks were one of the better defensive teams last season. They’re usually in the playoff hunt more times than not but were easily dismantled by the Sharks in 4 games last season during the Western conference quarter-finals last season. Fast forward 5 months and the Ducks haven’t changed their team very much. Their outlook isn’t overly favourable because Getzlaf and Perry are already 33 years old. Their best years are behind them. Kesler has a brutal hip injury he may not ever recover from. He may even miss the entire 18/19 season because of it.
Their defensive core is in good shape and are a tough group for forwards to compete against but their depth up front is an issue. Rickard Rakell is Anaheim’s only bonafide goal scorer and besides Getzlaf, nobody on the Ducks scored over 50 points. The scoring won’t go up with the current group and that lack of offensive punch is what will bite the Ducks during the season. Goaltender John Gibson has to be outstanding in order to give the Ducks a chance but he is simply not a brick wall. Expect a downward trend for the Ducks this season.
#7 Arizona Coyotes
Another year, another chance of scoring a draft lottery pick. I want to be excited for the Coyotes. I really do. But, even for a rebuilding team, they don’t have a lot of high-end prospects. Dylan Strome is the exception and he has a fantastic opportunity to make the team this season. Clayton Keller can build off his successful rookie campaign plus Alex Galchenyuk is away from the drama that’s happening in Montreal. He has a chance at a fresh start and be an integral part of the Coyotes in the future.
If the Yotes can get a win in their first 10 games of their regular season this season, they can consider themselves more successful compared to the same stage of last season. It took the Yotes 12 games to get their first victory and it took them 21 games to get their first win in regulation during the 17-18 campaign. Surely they can do better right? Let’s pray for them.
#8 Vancouver Canucks
Let’s face it, the Canucks suck. But, it’s not all that bad. Unlike bottom-feeders like the Coyotes, Habs or Senators, the Canucks have an amazing list of prospects that tell the tale of what the future is in store for them. Elias Petterson is an insanely great talent and will make the team out of camp (pending injuries of course) and Thatcher Demko is arguably the best goaltending prospect in the NHL. They also have a great defensive prospect in Olli Joulevi as well. They have players currently on the roster that are still growing in their own too. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat shined last season and have a great opportunity to be the leaders of this club as the Sedin twins are now retired.
The 2019 draft is in Vancouver next June and consensus is that the Canucks will be very involved in that draft. They might even score a lottery pick and draft Jack Hughes as their new franchise centerman.
Regardless how Vancouver performs this season, the future is bright on the West Coast and they’ll be a great team once again.