• Drew Weber

Pacific Division Offseason Recap

Updated: Oct 7, 2019

The Pacific Division was the weakest in hockey last season after sending only three teams to the playoffs and possessing the worst combined goal differential in the league (-85).

A large part of this is due to the decline of the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, both of which fell far out of the postseason race before the trade deadline. Meanwhile, teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes have failed to be competitive for the better part of a decade.

Still, the division had Stanley Cup contenders in the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, and Vegas Golden Knights. Although Calgary and Vegas were eliminated in the first round, San Jose went all the way to the Western Conference Final, losing in six games to the eventual champions—the St. Louis Blues.

Teams have changed management, dealt with salary cap issues, and acquired star players in the last few months, thus setting a new landscape for the struggling division.

Calgary Flames (50 - 25 - 7 , 107 Points)

Additions: (F) Milan Lucic, (D) Brandon Davidson, (G) Cam Talbot

Subtractions: (F) Garnet Hathaway, (F) Curtis Lazar, (F) James Neal, (F) Anthony Peluso, (F) Kerby Rychel, (D) Oscar Fantenberg, (D) Dalton Prout, (D) Michael Stone, (G) Mike Smith

Unknown: (F) Matthew Tkachuk

The Calgary Flames finished first in the Pacific Division but fell in the opening round of the playoffs to the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche. Despite this collapse, the club trusted its core and decided to make minimal changes to its roster.

The team, however, did make two swaps with the Edmonton Oilers, one via trade and one via free agency. 

The trade with Edmonton involved sending over James Neal for Milan Lucic, with Edmonton retaining $750,000 of Lucic’s contract per year. Both players performed below their pay grade last season, but a change in scenery may spark a resurgence in them.

And, after letting Mike Smith walk in free agency, the Flames signed former Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. Smith, coincidentally, went on to sign a one-year contract with the Oilers.

Calgary also bought out the final year of Michael Stone’s contract, saving $2.5 million this season but costing them $1.17 million next season.

But even with the buyout, Calgary still has just $7.75 million in cap space to sign high-profile RFA Matthew Tkachuk

Tkachuk put up 77 points in 80 games last year, similar to the production of Ryan O’Reilly and Sean Couturier. 

While both of those players are making under $7.75 million, they each signed their deals four years ago, during an era when only 13 people in the entire league made over that dollar amount. Today, there are 40 players making over $7.75 million as more expensive contracts have become increasingly common. 

If the Flames want to keep the young forward, they’re going to need to find a way to clear up more cap space.

San Jose Sharks (46 - 27 - 9 , 101 Points)

Additions: (D) Dalton Prout, (D) Trevor Carrick

Subtractions: (F) Joonas Donskoi, (F) Micheal Haley, (F) Gustav Nyquist, (F) Joe Pavelski, (D) Justin Braun, (D) Joakim Ryan

The San Jose Sharks were two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final when they were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in Game 6. The Sharks pushed their chips all in but didn’t come up with the championship, and now the exodus of talent due to the salary cap has caused them to lose valuable assets for nothing.

The most valuable asset forced out by the salary cap was captain Joe Pavelski

As the season came to an end, it became apparent the Sharks would have to choose between signing Pavelski—their leading goal scorer and 13-year veteran—and 29-year-old superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson

On June 17, the Sharks ultimately chose Karlsson, signing him to an eight-year, $92 million contract. This freed Pavelski to speak with other teams, and he soon signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars.

San Jose also let forwards Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist walk in free agency and traded defenseman Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 third-round pick.

One player who will be back, though, is veteran Joe Thornton. Thornton signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the team in early September, although he says he knew he would return shortly after the season ended.

However, Patrick Marleau—who was rumored to be coming back to the Sharks after being bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes—is no longer in the running for a return.

The Sharks lost over 60 goals of production this offseason and now have at least four roster spots available for the likes of Sasha Chmelevski, Lukas Radil, Dylan Gambrell, Joachim Blichfeld, Ivan Chekhovich, Alexander True, and Tim Heed to fight for in training camp. 

But making up for that lost skill will not be an easy task.

Vegas Golden Knights (43 - 32 - 7 , 93 Points)

Additions: (F) Nicolas Roy, (G) Garret Sparks

Subtractions: (F) Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, (F) Ryan Carpenter, (F) Daniel Carr, (F) Erik Haula, (F) Tomas Hyka, (D) Colin Miller, (G) Maxime Legace

The Vegas Golden Knights were knocked out of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks after one of the most infamous penalty calls in NHL history. The pain continued into the offseason as salary cap issues forced the team to part with players they can’t afford to replace.

The majority of Vegas’ salary cap struggles were caused by the new contracts for Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, Alex Tuch, and Nate Schmidt kicking in. During the offseason, the cap hit for these players went from $20.425 million to $33.1 million.

These raises forced the Golden Knights to make three major trades over the summer:

1) Erik Haula to the Carolina Hurricanes for Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2021. 

2) Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick.

3) Nikita Gusev to the New Jersey Devils for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

Gusev is an especially big loss as he had the potential to become an impact player in the NHL after leading the KHL in points and assists last season with SKA St. Petersburg.

The Golden Knights also gave up a fourth-round pick to send the infamous David Clarkson contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Garret Sparks. Ironically, the Maple Leafs signed Clarkson to the seven-year, $36.75 million deal back in 2013.

Vegas did at least do a good job of getting draft picks in exchange for the lost personnel, snagging five selections for the players while only giving up one. As of writing this, they have 24 picks over the next three drafts.

Despite this loss of talent, the team still has all of its core pieces—including a dangerous second line consisting of Pacioretty, Stone, and Paul Stastny. This line was a force against the Sharks in the playoffs, and they now have the opportunity to play together for an entire season.

Arizona Coyotes (39 - 35 - 8 , 86 Points)

Additions: (F) Phil Kessel, (F) Carl Soderberg

Subtractions: (F) Josh Archibald, (F) Nick Cousins, (F) Laurent Dauphin, (F) Alex Galchenyuk, (F) Mario Kempe, (F) Richard Panik, (D) Kevin Connauton, (D) Dakota Mermis, (G) Hunter Miska, (G) Calvin Pickard

The Arizona Coyotes missed the playoffs for the seventh-consecutive season in 2019—the second-longest active playoff drought in the NHL (First: Buffalo Sabres). But while they lost supporting players like Josh Archibald and Nick Cousins, they managed to bring in two strong assets via trades.

First, the Coyotes acquired Carl Soderberg from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Kevin Connauton and a 2020 third-round pick, helping the team improve its depth at center. Soderberg registered 49 points last season, a total which would have led Arizona despite him playing under 18 minutes a night with the Avalanche.

Four days later, the team sent Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph to the Pittsburgh Penguins to obtain high-profile winger Phil Kessel, as well as Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth-round pick. Kessel scored at a point-per-game pace last season, producing almost double that of Coyotes scoring leader Clayton Keller.

With the addition of Kessel and Soderberg, along with Nick Schmaltz’s new seven-year, $40.95 million deal and Mike Ribiero’s buyout penalty, the Coyotes have under $200,000 in cap space. However, they will be able to exceed the cap by $5.1 million since Marian Hossa—who is making $5.275 million per season—is on long term injured reserve. 

For more information on how cap relief works with LTIR, click here

Vancouver Canucks (35 - 36 - 11 , 81 Points)

Additions: (F) Micheal Ferland, (F) J.T. Miller, (D) Jordie Benn, (D) Oscar Fantenberg, (D) Tyler Myers 

Subtractions: (F) Brendan Gaunce, (F) Markus Granlund, (F) Ryan Spooner, (D) Ben Hutton, (D) Derrick Pouliot, (D) Luke Schenn

Unknown: (F) Brock Boeser

The Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a four-year postseason drought and on a stretch of eight years without winning a playoff series. While there is still a lot of work to do before the Canucks becomes competitive again, they did make improvements in their middle six by acquiring J.T. Miller and Micheal Ferland.

Miller came to Vancouver through a trade with the Tampa Bay Lighting, with the Canucks giving up Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick, and a 2020 conditional first-round pick. 

Ferland, on the other hand, signed a four-year, $14 million contract with Vancouver in free agency.

Both players have put up over 40 points in each of the last two seasons and will likely serve as the supporting cast to Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.

However, Boeser is one of over 10 high-caliber RFAs who have yet to sign contracts with their teams. Boeser scored 26 goals and was third on the Canucks in points, so the 22-year old is a must sign for a franchise with such a thin forward group.

But Vancouver only has $5 million in cap space to bring Boeser back, which is likely not enough to reach an agreement. The Canucks are short on cap space for two reasons:

First of all, they signed free agent defenseman Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million contract. Myers should help bolster a blue line that was ranked in the bottom third in goals against last season, although the long term improvement of Vancouver’s defense likely lies with Quinn Hughes.

The team also suffered a $3 million recapture penalty—which counts against the salary cap—when Roberto Luongo retired. The Canucks heavily front loaded Luongo’s final contract in the league so he could make the same amount of money with a significantly lower cap hit. This is something the NHL wanted to prevent, so they added in a rule that penalized contracts like Luongo’s when the CBA was renegotiated in 2012-13.

The resulting $3 million cap hit will stay on Vancouver’s books until the end of the 2021-22 season, making not just Boeser’s contract more difficult to sign, but also the new deals for Pettersson and Hughes that will need to be negotiated before 2021.

Anaheim Ducks (35 - 37 - 10 , 80 Points)

Additions: (Head Coach) Dallas Eakins, (F) Nicolas Deslauriers, (F) Andreas Martinsen, (D) Michael Del Zotto, (D) Chris Wideman, (G) Anthony Stolarz

Subtractions: (F) Corey Perry, (F) Adam Cracknell, (F) Kalle Kossila, (F) Kevin Roy, (F) Ben Street, (D) Jake Dotchin, (D) Jaycob Megna, (D) Andrej Sustr, (D) Andy Welinski, (G) Chad Johnson

The Anaheim Ducks had a miserable 2018-19 campaign that saw them go on a stretch where they lost 19 of 21 games. After a year like that, changes should be made.

One change came behind the bench, with Dallas Eakins stepping in as the team’s new head coach.

Eakins last coached in the NHL when he spent 18 months with the Edmonton Oilers between 2013 and 2015. Edmonton had a terrible 36-63-14 record in that span before he was fired, but this was a pre-McDavid Oilers team that had limited offensive talent and the worst defense in the league.

Eakins went on to coach the San Diego Gulls, the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, where he led the club to four winning seasons and three playoff appearances in four years.

Another drastic change happened in Anaheim on June 19 when the Ducks bought out the final two years of Corey Perry’s contract.

Perry had an unproductive and injury-filled year leading to his buyout, but that does not discount his historical impact on the franchise. He spent 14 years in Anaheim, totalling 776 points in 988 games, and managed to win the Stanley Cup with the team in 2007 as well as the Hart Trophy and Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy in 2011. 

After the buyout, Perry signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Dallas Stars.

One smaller note with Anaheim’s offseason centers around Michael Del Zotto.

Anaheim acquired Del Zotto last season by sending Luke Schenn and a 2020 seventh-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks. Then, after playing just twelve games for the franchise, Anaheim moved Del Zotto to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2019 sixth-round pick at the trade deadline. He played just seven games with Blues, all in the regular season, before becoming a free agent and signing back with Anaheim on a one-year, $750,000 deal. 

So, Del Zotto has either joined or left the Ducks organization three times in just seven months.

Edmonton Oilers (35 - 38 - 9 , 79 Points)

Additions: (General Manager) Ken Holland, (Head Coach) Dave Tippett, (F) James Neal, (F) Riley Sheahan, (F) Josh Archibald, (F) Markus Granlund, (F) Tomas Jurco, (F) Gaetan Haas, (F) Joakim Nygard, (G) Mike Smith

Subtractions: (F) Milan Lucic, (F) Ty Rattie, (F) Tobias Rieder,  (D) Jason Garrison, (D) Kevin Gravel, (D) Alexander Petrovic, (D) Andrej Sekera, (G) Anthony Stolarz

Unknown: (F) Jesse Puljujarvi

After another disappointing season and four years of Peter Chiarelli, the Edmonton Oilers finally brought in a reputable general manager: Ken Holland.

Holland was the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings from 1997 to 2019, where he was able to take his team to the playoffs for 18 consecutive years and win three Stanley Cups in the process. 

While the Red Wings already had elite firepower like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, and Nicklas Lidstrom on the roster, Holland continued to add high-level talent to the club by drafting players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall. He also pulled off trades to acquire the likes of Chris Chelios and Dominic Hasek while bringing Brian Rafalksi and Marian Hossa to the team in free agency.

Holland inherited a dynasty in Detroit, but he’s coming to a team that is the opposite. Edmonton has become perennial bottom feeders since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, making the playoffs just once since then. 

Although they have held a top-five draft pick six times since 2010, two of those selections are no longer on the team (Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov). 

A third one, Jesse Puljujarvi—who was drafted fourth overall in 2016—is also looking to leave the organization and has signed a one-year contract with Karpat of the Finnish League, where he intends to play unless the Oilers move his contract. 

Outside of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton has been riddled with terrible drafting, bad contracts, and some of the most questionable trades in NHL history. Now, it’s up to Ken Holland to fix that.

Here to help Holland repair the damage is new head coach Dave Tippett.

Tippett was a head coach in the NHL from 2002 to 2017, leading the Dallas Stars (2002 - 2009) and the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes (2009 - 2017). His teams finished first in the Pacific Division three times and qualified for the playoffs in eight of his first nine seasons before the Coyotes entered a rebuild and went five straight years without a postseason appearance.

Los Angeles Kings (31 - 42 - 9 , 71 Points)

Additions: (Head Coach) Todd McLellan, (F) Martin Frk, (F) Mario Kempe, (D) Joakim Ryan

Subtractions: (F) Jonny Brodzinski, (F) Brendan Leipsic, (F) Nikita Scherbak, (D) Dion Phaneuf, (G) Peter Budaj

Unknown: (F) Adrian Kempe

The Los Angeles Kings are in rebuild mode after finishing last in the Pacific Division with just 71 points, their worst since the 2007-08 season. The team hasn’t been able to maintain the success they had in the early 2010’s, having won just a single playoff game since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014.

To help facilitate the rebuild is new head coach Todd McLellan

McLellan has spent 11 seasons as a head coach for the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers.

During his seven years in San Jose, McLellan brought the team to the playoffs six times—including three straight Pacific Division championships and two consecutive Western Conference Finals.

He went on to coach the McDavid-led Oilers after he parted ways with the Sharks in 2015 and proceeded to take Edmonton to the second round of the postseason in 2016-17.

The Kings were otherwise quiet in the offseason because they made most of their moves prior to the 2019 trade deadline to acquire assets for their pending UFAs. Their summer highlights only include shedding Dion Phaneuf’s contract and adding Martin Frk, Joakim Ryan, and Mario Kempe in free agency.

Interestingly, Mario Kempe’s brother—Adrian Kempe—also plays for Los Angeles. However, Adrian is still an RFA and has yet to sign a contract with the team. A Kempe family reunion could be in the cards for the Kings, but only if they come to terms with the unsigned brother.

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