Rapid Fire: Pacific Division – Daily Face-to-Face

By: Mike McKenna

Each season brings new hopes and new faces to NHL teams. The inevitable turnover of staff in search of the magic combination is endless. At the start of the 2021-22 season, I have a fire question for each team in the Pacific Division.

Anaheim Ducks

Are Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale enough to make the Ducks competitive?

Anaheim is playing hard. The Ducks have guts, they’re well coached by Dallas Eakins, and John Gibson has the ability to steal games when he’s not chasing the puck. Maxime Comtois had a good year and is going in the right direction. But this is a team that lacks skill and is in desperate need of a superstar. Can it be homegrown? Trevor Zegras lit up the world junior tournament for Team USA and did the same in the AHL before making the jump to the big club. Drysdale was outstanding in the AHL before being called up to the Ducks. Both have extremely high ceilings and are stars in the making. Anaheim is going to need the two to play beyond their years to stand a chance of making the playoffs.

Calgary Flames

Will enough players join The Darryl Sutter Way?

This offseason, general manager Brad Treliving has attempted to match the personality of the Flames with that of their head coach. Darryl Sutter demands responsible defensive hockey. Will the additions of Blake Coleman, Tyler Pitlick, Erik Gudbranson and Brad Richardson help them get over it? Last season, the Flames were rather pedestrian defensively, finishing 16th in goals conceded. It doesn’t matter if your team can score, but Calgary has struggled at times, finishing 20th on offense. On the eve of his second season as a head coach, Darryl Sutter needs his best players who aren’t called Tkachuk to embrace the tough, tough hockey style he prefers. And the Flames have yet to find a way to build offense in today’s fast-paced NHL.

Edmonton Oilers

Was the 2020-21 regular season defense a mirage?

Mike Smith reappeared in goals and the Oilers under Dave Tippett finished 12th in goals against. But in the heart of Edmonton, he’s an offensive juggernaut led by the game’s most gifted player and eternal MVP: Connor McDavid. And a guy named Draisait, who’s also a former league MVP. Now Zach Hyman is in the mix. The common question in Edmonton has been depth forward – and that’s a very real concern – but the rest of the test is whether the Oilers are capable of playing the defense necessary to win the playoffs. The top teams were able to contain the Oilers’ puck possession play and feed off turnovers. The Edmonton roster has a frightening amount of skill, but there aren’t many names that stand out as responsible two-way players. And, despite the arrival of Duncan Keith, there are still question marks in defense and in goal.

Kings of Los Angeles

Can the Kings find the chemistry early and lead it to a playoff appearance?

The Kings are brimming with young talent and have made some smart moves this offseason by bringing in veterans Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson and Alex Edler. Los Angeles were loose defensively last season and Jonathon Quick’s game continues to erode, but more starts for Cal Petersen should help. The big hit was Phillip Danault, whose two-way play down center is invaluable for a team that needs to isolate some of its young players. Quinton Byfield, Akil Thomas, Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev were very good in Ontario (AHL) last season and will try to buy time with the Kings. GM Rob Blake has done a good job putting together a squad that should improve their offense. If head coach Todd McLellan can find the right chemistry and systematic balance early in the season, Los Angeles should have a solid shot at making the playoffs.

San José sharks

Can the Sharks really expect to be competitive with 15 of their players making less than $ 2.5 million?

San Jose’s best player last season was Tomas Hertl. Six of his teammates earn more money. The bottom line is that the Sharks have a ton of money tied up in underachieving players and so far their prospect pool has not been able to fill the veteran NHL void. Martin Jones received a ton of criticism for his below average goaltender and he was replaced by Adin Hill and James Reimer. There’s a ton of pressure on Hill to prove that he can’t just be a starting NHL goalie, but an elite goalie. All while playing behind a porous defense. It’s one thing if your big guys are producing, but that hasn’t been the case in San Jose over the past two seasons. There are real doubts the Sharks have the depth to be a threat again.

Seattle Kraken

Will the Kraken be able to forge a true identity?

The success of the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season has given Seattle hope that their team can be strong from the start. But as special as it was for Vegas, it will be twice as difficult to replicate – or even come close to – for the Kraken. Seattle has a solid group of veteran players and a good mix of score, courage and leadership. They have Stanley Cup champions. They have players eager to improve their game and a quality starting goalkeeper in Philipp Grubauer. Hiring Dave Hakstol as head coach has raised eyebrows, but his communicative skills should serve him well with the expansion squad. If the Kraken can find something to collectively rally and join in, they stand a chance. The team must bind immediately. It’s up to the management group and the coaching staff to make it happen.

Vancouver Canucks

Will Elias Pettersson be healthy all season?

Vancouver has spent the offseason getting out of bad contracts and revisiting the franchise’s appearance on the ice. Conor Garland will have an immediate offensive impact and increase the level of competition for the team. Jason Dickinson’s 200-foot game will be a perfect match for head coach Travis Green. Oliver Ekman-Larsson should help the Canucks’ transition play and provide some isolation for Quinn Hughes. Thatcher Demko is on the verge of stardom and Jaroslav Halak was a smart signing. But all of Vancouver goes through Elias Pettersson. When he’s in the lineup, the Canucks score 2.96 goals per game. When absent, that number drops to 2.43. For a player whose game revolves around world-class shooting, missing 30 games last year with a wrist injury is a break from worrying. If Pettersson is healthy and in line for 2021-22, Vancouver is likely to be a threat.

Vegas Golden Knights

Has the magic dissipated?

Marc-André Fleury. Ryan Reaves. Nick Holden. Nate Schmidt. Paul Stastny. Tomas Nosek. It’s all gone in the last calendar year alone. That’s a lot of glue leaving Las Vegas. There aren’t many players left from the original 2017-18 Misfits and the expectations of the Stanley Cup have completely changed the complexion of the organization. Fans have been particularly touched by Fleury’s trade and apprehension is palpable in Sin City for the first time in team history. The Golden Knights have dominated the last two regular seasons only to see their offense disappear by the time of the playoffs. Could they need help at the center? Sure. Almost any NHL team could do it and there is hope that the off-season acquisition of Nolan Patrick will flourish. Peyton Krebs was the WHL’s leading scorer last year and should be a factor. But as tight as VGK is against the salary cap, the answer will likely have to come from the locker room and expectations are sky-high. There is a ton of pressure. It’s the polar opposite of the carefree mentality and proving the world wrong about the inaugural season, when an entire city fell in love with hockey. The Golden Knights need to keep the game fun.

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