Way-Too-Early Power Rankings: Pacific Division Edition

This week on another edition of Way-To-Early Power Rankings, I bring you my predictions on the Pacific Division. This division features many prevalent rivalries, like the Battle of Alberta, the Sharks-Knights-Kings competition, and the Seattle Kraken and their battle to stay relevant. So, without further ado, welcome to my predictions of the Pacific Division.

8. Seattle Kraken

You thought I was kidding? No, this team's inaugural season was seen as underwhelming, to say the least. Nobody expected them to do what the former expansion team in the Vegas Golden Knights did, but the product we got on the ice was both bland and tedious, kind of like Seattle itself. The new up-and-coming fanbase has much to look forward to, with a goaltending duo looking to bounce back and a core that gained some needed talent.

The anticipated growth of the Kraken starts with the former second overall pick in Matty Beniers. In ten games with the Kraken, Beniers scored 9 points, despite the team being 28th in the league in goals scored per game. With an elite playmaker in Shane Wright to assist him, Beniers will be looking to continue that strong production. Along with a strong core in development, the goaltending looks to bounce back after an abysmally 2021-2022 season.

The tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger Despite starting for the Colorado Avalanche from 2018-2021, Grubauer left in free agency for Seattle's higher payGrubauer was the starting goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche from 2018-2021 but opted to leave in free agency for the payday in Seattle. He signed a contract of 6 years with an average annual salary of $5.9 million. That deal was viewed as a disaster after this season, as Grubauer was one of the league's worst goalies. The season ended with him posting goals against an average of 3.16 and a goal-saved above expected of -33.7. Driedger was unable to handle the workload, posting -1.7 goals saved above expected in 27 games started. To say this tandem needs to be better is an understatement.

7. San Jose Sharks

There is no boat big enough for this crew. A long swim lies ahead for the Sharks in 2022-23, as many questions linger and few answers are forthcoming. A trade that saw former star defenseman Brent Burns shipped off to the Carolina Hurricanes recently torn down the walls that compensated for their insufficient success. With the stepping down of general manager Doug Wilson after 19 seasons, this team seems to be in need of a long, desperate haul.

But sometimes there are no suitors are a yard sale. Players like Erik Karlsson and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic would have some name value if this was four to five years prior. For Karlsson, he hasn't played over 70 games since 2018, his best season coming in the shortened year when he scored 35 points in 43 games. But for Vlasic and Reimer, they are just analytically awful. Vlasic was ranked the 293rd best defenseman and had an xGF% of 46.3%. Basically, it's better if he's off the ice than on it. If you're a Sharks fan, it's better to take coverage than watch this Sharknado unfold.

6. Anaheim Ducks

They had a glimmer of hope at the start of last season, but this team is still a little short of being a true contender. They've made good use of their cap space, signing pieces such as John Klingberg and Ryan Strome to help balance out the star talent of Trevor Zegras. The main issue this team has is in their defensive structure, and although he is a star on offense, Klingberg's defensive game has never been prevalent. For Strome, he will likely be slotted in with Zegras, especially on the powerplay, so look forward to some of that action this season.

But the main question is in goaltending. John Gibson was injured this past season, only suiting up for 56 games. But in those games, he still did not look himself, plotting a goals saved above expected of -14.5, with goals against an average of 3.19. If he can get back to his normal self, then this team could potentially make a deep run, but until he looks ready, this team is going to need all the help it can get.

5. Vegas Golden Knights

Cry, Golden Knights fans, see how much we care. This team had a really unlucky 2021-22 season, with the injury and karma bug hitting them hard, but the injuries continue to implode as they head into the 2022-23 season. Their star goaltender and one of the only likable players in the organization Robin Lehner suffered an injury that will put him out for the entire season. After being disloyal to Marc-Andre Fleury and shipping him in a trade for officially nothing, the Golden Knights have nothing to fall back on.

Ah, but that's only the start of disloyalty. Vegas has been at the brink of the cap for quite a while now and throwing out big contracts to players like William Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo has caused them to have to move big contracts to get under the cap. One of those players was Max Pacioretty, who was traded along with defenseman Dylan Coghlan for nothing. Absolutely nothing. No draft picks, no players, just some extra cap room to use next season when Patrick Kane hits the market and they can sign him to a max deal.

4. Edmonton Oilers

Just so we are clear, the Oilers are much better than every other team below them, and it's not close. There is one thing Edmonton would kill for, and that is reliable goaltending, which the teams above Edmonton all consistently have. This was the downside to their stellar run to the Western Conference Finals, as goaltender Mike Smith has been rumored to be out for the entire 2022-23 season. With Mikko Koskinen leaving the NHL, the Oilers were in need of a strong, capable starter. Jack Campbell, who has been inconsistent, was signed to a $5 million dollar annually for 5 years. Until Campbell can prove he can be consistent, this Oilers squad will struggle.

But when you have one of the best duos in the league, there is always a chance to make a deep run, as McDavid and Draisaitl's 65-point performance in the playoffs proves this. No matter how much the defense struggles or goaltenders let in half-ice shots, these two always give this team a chance to win. This team will not finish in the top 3 in the division, but these two strengths alone give them an analytical edge and force their opponents to adjust their game plans.

3. Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings are an example of a rebuild done right. After their team aged and no longer could compete, they stripped it down and got new, young blood. This past season, they were ahead of schedule, being able to make the playoffs and take a stronger Oilers team to seven games. This year, the Kings' core has aged a little more, with the likes of Quinton Byfield and Alex Iafollo having more opportunities. But despite that, the Kings felt they needed one more superstar, and that can get wild.

The Kings made a big splash this offseason, acquiring Minnesota Wild star Kevin Fiala in exchange for a first-round pick and defenseman Brock Faber. Although he could've been a restricted free agent, the Kings inked Fiala to a massive, 7-year deal with an average annual value of $7.8 million dollars. The 85-point sniper will be slotted with talent through the lineup, with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, or Phillip Danault. With a strong defensive team and a superstar goalie in Johnathan Quick, be prepared to watch this team make a statement this season.

2. Calgary Flames

The Flames might be one of the only teams to lose their best players in an offseason and still improve. What looked like dark days immediately turned into a blessing, as the team was able to ink massive talent and shed awful cap. But it's not all rainbows and sunshine, as a superstar in Johnny Gaudreau will be missed in the locker room. The 29-year-old winger left the team for an underrated Columbus Blue Jackets team (more on them next week!) and it looked like the Flames were going to lose out on former first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk as well. It looked like the days of being a dominant regular-season team caught up with them. The end of an era.

But that is when the tides changed and the hockey gods felt poor for the Flames, and allowed them to overhaul their core. The Florida Panthers came calling for Tkachuk, trading a package that consisted of Johnathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, and a first-round pick. They then traded Sean Monahan for the cap relief to acquire Nazem Kadri in free agency. This team is going to be elite, with Vezina trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom defending the cage. Unfortunately, one team's talent and goaltending will surpass the Flames for first in the division.

1. Vancouver Canucks

Yes, this is the hill I will die on. I don't care if it's a hot take, it's something I fully believe will happen. Let's look at some of the basic facts: Their depth was improved with the solid fourth-line forward Curtiz Lazar. Both Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller were signed to long-term, reasonable contracts to keep the core around. Their new head coach Bruce Boudreau was able to take this team to the final games before being eliminated from playoff contention. Although it was a small sample size, this team looked legit, with a powerplay finishing 14th in the league with an 82.4% success rate. Under all these circumstances, they already have a shot at being a dark horse contender.

But their main prize for taking over the Pacific is their 26-year-old second-round goaltender who has proven he can lead a team. His name is Thatcher Demko, and he is a threat every night to steal a game. With the team, Demko saved 10.5 goals above expectation and had a goals against an average of 2.72. He finished top 5 in Vezina voting and is still at the age of development. There is great potential for this team if he can take another leap. Don't doubt Vancouver this season.

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