Who Will Win the Pacific Division in 2017?

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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

7.Vancouver

So both head coach Willie Desjardins and general manager Jim Benning expect the Canucks to make the playoffs this season. Unfortunately for them, they should be about a good 10-20 points off their prediction and both could lose their jobs by April.

Simply put, the team just can’t get out of the way of their own stupidity. They have drafted poorly for so long and have not been able to sign good veterans to keep the team competitive while the Sedin twins hit the twilight of their careers. It’s pretty amazing to think now that it has been five years since they have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and now they have fallen in such hard times. But that’s what you get when you have some really poor management.

If Ben Hutton and Bo Horvat can continue to prove that they might be future faces of the franchise, than this season would not be a waste, but otherwise, expect this to be quite a depressing year for Vancouver as they could end up winning the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes.

6. Arizona

Meanwhile, the Arizona Coyotes still lack plenty of quality, but there is plenty of youth on the roster. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair were fun to watch last season. Now it is Christian Dvorak’s, Jacob Chychrun’s and Lawson Crouse’s turn to impress head coach Dave Tippett to prove that they can stay in the big club at such a young age.

Eventually, someone not named Mike Smith and his terrible contract needs to start and be an upgrade in goal for Arizona and an actual forward needs to lead the team in scoring, let alone be among the best in the league at it.

The other thing to look at this season with Arizona is how much improved they are in defense. Last season, they were a poor possession team and gave up sixth most goals in the NHL. To fix this problem, Alex Goligoski, Luke Schenn and Jamie McBain were acquired in the offseason. Goligoski will certainly be a welcome addition, but there is plenty of doubt for how well Schenn and McBain can perform. Either way, Arizona probably won’t make the playoffs again, but checking out how the new additions can improve the team’s analytical and goal scoring data will be interesting.

5. Edmonton

Speaking of interesting, there is nothing more interesting in the NHL than seeing if Connor McDavid can become the best player in the sport. At only 19 and only 45 NHL games under his belt, McDavid showed enough to keep fans hungry for more and not having expectations wane. If anything, his 48 points during that span made fans wanting more and he is already off to a good start with six points in two wins over Calgary.

If the rest of his skilled forwards can produce and gel the way he has all season, this Oilers team might finally begin to see progress after so many years in the wilderness. Cam Talbot will have to do better to put an end to Edmonton’s miserable run of bad starting goaltending and Adam Larsson will have to prove that he is a worthy top pairing defenseman after being picked up from the controversial trade that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey.

There are plenty of pieces to like in Edmonton, and having center line depth of McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl is beyond appetizing, but the question will be if this is genuinely a talented team or one with a few great pieces covering up plenty of weaknesses. This season is truly an important one to find out.

4. Calgary

On the other side of Alberta, this could be a critical year for Calgary. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are now the two best players on the team and the acquisitions of Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott should make the rest of the team better. Lastly, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk will continue the streak of solid top ten picks the Flames have drafted the last four years.

That being said, there’s nowhere to go but up for Calgary’s defense. Last year, they sat dead last giving up 260 goals. With Elliott and Chad Johnson in goal, the tandem should perform much better than what Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller produced last season. Along with that, Mark Giordano has struggled with injuries after every all-star break the last couple of seasons that has prevented the Flames from maximizing their potential along the blue line. Still, Dougie Hamilton is hitting the prime of his career and should be able to step up as a top pairing defender when needed. The rest of the defense from last year is intact, which is quite perplexing considering how poor Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman are at the stages of their careers. The production defensively could decide what direction Flames management will go into at the trade deadline and in next summer’s offseason.

3. Anaheim

Randy Carlyle. Good night everyone.

But in all seriousness, Anaheim still has all the pieces in place to make another run at, at least, the conference finals. John Gibson could overtake the newly acquired Jonathan Bernier and the Ducks wouldn’t skip a beat. At the end of the day, Anaheim was one of the best puck possession teams last season and were just a few fine margins away from making it to the second round of the playoffs. Even if you don’t like Carlyle for his tactics, it’s quite difficult to see how much worse he can make Anaheim for, at least, this season in that department.

Unfortunately, the Ducks scored 18 goals in their seven game series with Nashville and only two of them belonged to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry combined. Both are hitting their age-32 seasons and will have to start overcoming doubt as to whether or not they’re long-term answers as top line forwards.

In defense, Kevin Bieksa has Brooks Orpiked his way to the bottom pairing while the team is still waiting for Hampus Lindholm to sign his contract extension after sitting out all offseason as a restricted free agent. Unfortunately, the Ducks are in a nasty cap crunch as they only have less than $1.5 million to work with. If only it would be that easy to trade away Clayton Stoner. If that can’t happen, could the Ducks end up trading a piece that’s a bit too valuable for them to get under the salary cap, like a Jakub Silfverberg, Cam Fowler, Simon Despres or even Gibson? Either way, nothing is ideal for a team that should be thinking about maximizing their potential while Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are still good players. Until then, there’s a lot of questions that need to be asked over there.

2. Los Angeles

There are also plenty of questions that need to be asked in Los Angeles too. With Jonathan Quick out for potentially half the season, Daryl Sutter’s systems will really be put to the test this season. Already in their first two games, they have been out-shot by the Sharks and Flyers. Also, the losses to Marian Gaborik and Milan Lucic are quite profound as the likes of Dwight King and Trevor Lewis have to play top six forward minutes to start the year. There’s really nothing much to add about the Kings because this seriously could end up being the beginning of the end of a once proud franchise.

1. San Jose

Finally, San Jose had it’s days in the sun after making their first Stanley Cup finals appearance last season. It wasn’t so much that the Sharks were analytically better than most teams last season. Instead, it was more to do with the fact that their power play clicked at the most perfect time after so many years of under-achievement and Martin Jones absolutely stood on his head all postseason.

Jones returns again and hopes to build on a fantastic first season as starting goaltender. The two major changes on the roster were Mikkel Boedker replacing the retired Dainius Zubrus while David Schlemko replaces the always terrible Roman Polak. That being said, Boedker has to be a much better puck possession player if he can help San Jose in a positive way. Otherwise, there is not that many weaknesses for a Sharks team that, by default, could win this division with ease.

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