Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports
With the NHL basically at its week-long all-star break, we decided to take stock of every franchise and project where we see them going the rest of the season.
We began the process Monday with a look at the bottom-four
teams in the Pacific Division. Today, we’re turning our attention to the top-four Pacific teams, and we’ll continue analyzing four teams per day right through the NHL’s return to action on Feb. 6.
Standings Position: 1st
Projection: Battling it out for the top spot in the division, possibly winning a playoff round.
Why: In just their second season of operations, the Kraken have cleared the bar set by the Vegas Golden Knights for expansion-franchise on-ice results: despite a 13–10-3 home record that leaves much to be desired, when they’re hot, they’re white-hot. The Kraken have had winning streaks of five games, seven games, and eight games. They’ve got terrific scoring balance, a surprisingly effective defense corps and decent enough goaltending to be supported by their offense. And they’re projected by Cap Friendly to have more than $4.9 million in cap space by the March 3 trade deadline. Would Sharks winger Timo Meier look good in Kraken colors? You’d better believe it.
Even if they don’t make a big move at the deadline, let’s face it – the Kraken are playing with house money the rest of the way this year. The post-season feels like a virtual certainty for them, and although Seattle’s roster is largely playoff-unproven, the great first half of the season has given GM Ron Francis all kinds of runway left to stick the landing. And Kraken fans will be thrilled to see the team continue to lay the foundation for future, deeper playoff runs.
Vegas Golden Knights
Standings Position: 2nd
Projection: Pushing for the top spot in the Pacific, yet perhaps being upset in the first round.
Why: After surging into the top spot in the Pacific early in the season, the Golden Knights have stumbled of late, winning just two of their past 10 games (2-6-2). Like the Kraken, they’re a major “meh” team at home (14-13-0), so they’ve been overtaken for the top spot in the division by the Kraken.
coach Bruce Cassidy has called out star center Jack Eichel for his lack of impact during their current slump, and Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon will have $3.8 million in cap space to help them improve – even more cap space than that if star forward Mark Stone, unfortunately, misses any more time due to injury.
Regardless, we see Vegas as a playoff fixture in the Pacific, and we see McCrimmon being prepared to offer one of the organization’s first-round
draft picks in a trade for the right player. But once they get to the post-season, will the Golden Knights fail in the first round or win a couple of series?
We’re leaning toward the failing-in-the-first-round side of things. In five of their past eight losses, they’ve surrendered four or more goals, exposing their defense as in need of assistance. That isn’t going to cut it come playoff time.
Roster change is coming, and they still might not have enough quality depth to push them past the first round.
Los Angeles Kings
Standings Position: 3rd
Projection: Sticking in the mix for the top spot in the division, being a big player by the NHL trade deadline, winning a round or two in the post-season.
Why: The Kings are another of the NHL’s consistently inconsistent teams, putting up no bigger win streak than a couple of four-gamers. They’re otherwise going through short bursts of strong play and short stretches of subpar performance.
That said, whispers from some scouts put Kings GM Rob Blake in a position where he’s ready to be one of the most active GMs by the
trade deadline. L.A. is capped out, now and by March 3, but they need another goaltender – veteran star Jonathan Quick is on a ghastly nine-game losing streak, and his season save percentage of .881 is alarming, to say the least – and help on defense is also a target for Blake.
From a positive perspective, the Kings have solid balance in their top-nine group of forwards and have a mix of youthful vigor and savvy experience in the lineup. If Blake can tweak the roster the right way and they get average-to-slightly-above-average netminding, the
Kings have the potential to go on a deep playoff run. The future has arrived in their competitive cycle, and Blake should be pushing the group to new heights as soon as possible.
Standings Position: 4th
Projection: Trying to fend off Colorado, Calgary and Minnesota for a wild-card playoff berth and not doing well if they make it to the post-season.
Why: The Oilers probably didn’t want the all-star respite to arrive, given that they went 7-1-2 in their 10 games before the break. Still, despite their rebound, their early-season woes were such that they’re still only three standings points ahead of their archrival in Calgary and the Colorado Avalanche, with the Avs holding two games in hand. They’re not nearly out of the danger zone of missing the playoffs, and GM Ken Holland is under enormous pressure to avoid that fate.
Clearly, the Oilers need more depth on the back end, but Holland is projected to have just $1.125 million in cap space to use by the deadline. He’s in a sticky situation, and Edmonton fans are in no mood to hear any more excuses for failure by this group. A year with a first-round flameout, or worse, a year with no playoffs at all. will
spark calls for significant change – other than superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, of course. No one in their right mind would trade those two talents, but something major will have to change if post-season success proves elusive.
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NHL Check-In: Keeping Up With the Pacific Division – Part 2
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