Yes, the Vancouver Canucks need to sign their two young stars Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, and plenty of teams need to work their salary caps into order, but just for fun, I asked a mix of a dozen non-Pacific Division GM’s, player agents, and national broadcasters for their educated picks on the Pacific Division. Roughly totalled, the group brings approximately 400 years of direct NHL hockey exposure and experience to the table. I’m included in the twelve; I first covered the NHL and got sound bites for radio from a Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks game as a teenager in 1981. (And made $10 under the table!)
To simplify the math, for my own good, I used as simple a point system as possible. A first place pick earned the team eight points, seven points for second place, etc., down to one point for a last place selection. Like any poll, the number of first place votes is in (parenthesis). The selections weren’t too far off the wall for the most part, and the comments, as one might expect from this savvy group, were across-the-board interesting.
It was a bull market for the Golden Knights.
Ranking Poll Points (1st place votes)
Vegas Golden Knights 93 (9)
Edmonton Oilers 83 (3)
Vancouver Canucks 63
Calgary Flames 60
Los Angeles Kings 46
Seattle Kraken 39
Anaheim Ducks 23
San Jose Sharks 23
One of the reasons for the limited first place votes, besides the perceived strength of those two teams, is the fact that half of the division is considered “weak” and not capable of making a legitimate run to the top. That would be Seattle and the three Cali’ teams. Or as one pollster put it: “California will be dreamin’ as they cycle back on rebuilds.”
And oddly enough, as “unpredictable” as many said the top of the division could be as well, 75% went with Vegas. “They’re the clear favourite,” one GM said. Others thought the Oilers with the Zach Hyman addition would get over the hump, especially, as I’ve mentioned a few times, if Connor McDavid goes through a defensive transformation and sacrifices a wee bit of offense for some sustained two-way play. Kind of like a more modern Scotty Bowman to Steve Yzerman ‘Come to Jesus’ moment. It was a key factor in the 1990’s Red Wings going from entertaining “almosts” to two-time consecutive Cup champs. One senses “buy-in” is a key term in Northern Alberta this season.
“I have concerns about their goaltending,” one pollster said of the Oil’. Another questioned their D depth. “Balance” or “balanced” were words that came up more than once to describe the Vancouver Canucks. The Jason Dickinson add-on at third-line centre takes some pressure off the top-two groups and two pollsters specifically brought up the addition of Conor Garland as well. “This guy is the real deal,” one said. “He will bring a lot to the table,” was another comment from the cliche’ book. “Energy” was used to describe him and Dickinson, who has said himself he always wants to be hard to play against.
As for the Seattle Kraken pulling off something similar to what the expansion Golden Knights pulled off in 2017-’18, not many were buying in. More than one believed they’ll have scoring issues. “Will their D-corps and goaltending keep them in the hunt?” one asked. That said, one announcer had them in second place.
Los Angeles was clearly the California team the group felt was furthest along in a rebuild. One believed Drew Doughty would have a big year with the Winter Olympics at stake. Depending on who one consults with, at best he’s on the bubble for Team Canada at the moment. I say ‘not so fast’. Yes, the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist has a lot of mileage on him and he’s five years removed from winning the Norris Trophy, but he’s only 31-years-old and his overall situation is improving again.
BC fans should be encouraged that the Vancouver Canucks received one second-place vote and six third-place notches. Their lowest tally was one vote for sixth place. Generally, they were in the group with Edmonton, Calgary and Vegas, a top-half of the division that one pollster went as far as to describe as interchangeable.
I had the Vancouver Canucks third, expansion Seattle sixth, and like the majority, I had San Jose in the basement. They ended up tied in poll points at the bottom with Anaheim. The Sharks garnered six last-place votes, the Ducks four, and the Kraken two. Seattle actually snuck into the top-4 on four occasions, LA did so three times while never ranking higher than third. San Jose had one third-place vote, their only time in the top-half.
The truly fun, unpredictable reality of this: There’s always one bust out team in a division. Will this be the year it’s the Canucks? Or maybe the Flames? Or, uh oh Vancouver fans, the Kraken just down the highway? Three weeks and counting until we start to find out.