Adam Pyde

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Pacific Division

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Pacific Division

We’re getting closer and closer to the unofficial midway point of the NHL season with the All Star Weekend in Columbus. That means it is as good a time as any to go back in time and check back in on my pre-season predictions.

I said I was going to be 100% right at the time and as time has told, I sure wasn’t. However, I wasn’t totally out to lunch either. Goes to show that I’m just about as good at this kind of thing as all the fancy people making big money in the mainstream media.

Actually, I’m a bit better because I’m willing to admit I’m wrong instead of throwing a temper tantrum and blocking 100 people on Twitter every time I’m wrong.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

So first lets take a look at how I had the Pacific shaking out, where the team actually is, what I thought about them in the pre-season, and what I think of that team now.

Calgary Flames
Pre-season ranking: 7
Current ranking: 5 (49 points, no wildcard)

What I said then:

You can’t punch pucks into the net no matter how well Bob Hartley coaches and deploys this group of players.

What I say now:

Well they’ve been less scrappy and punchy than I had anticipated and all the better for it. Goes to show just how much a hot start can do for you. They banked enough points to be in the playoff conversation for a decent chunk of the year, though I doubt they have the guns to make it into a wildcard spot.

Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau has been dynamite. He’s been the best Flames player at making something out of nothing. Glad to see he isn’t having the creativity stifled out of him. When a player is that talented you have to accept the mistakes and turnovers or you won’t get the gamebreaking plays. When healthy, Mikael Backlund has been great and Sean Monahan is taking steps. Jiri Hudler continues to be one of the best scoring wingers that people don’t know exist.

TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are a dynamite duo on defence and even Dennis Wideman has been able to contribute offensively, although he cannot do much else reliably. Kris Russell has continued to play well but the third pairing of, generally, Deryck Engelland and Ladislav Smid is a gong show. There is “tough to play against”, but you must have the ability to play for that to matter. Those two are just bad. The Flames are being outscored by about three-to-one when they’re on the ice. That is AHL level.

Goaltending has been solid for the Flames. Kari Ramo isn’t anything to write home about, but Jonas Hiller has been admirable. Although they aren’t really winning any games on the backs of their netminders.

The possession numbers aren’t kind to the Flames at all, but it isn’t so much from a shots-against stand point (8th in the NHL) as much as the teams inability to generate offence outside of a few players (27th in shots-for per game). That can make it hard to win those one goal games and even harder to continue those miraculous third period comebacks that have disappeared as of late.

Arizona Coyotes
Pre-season ranking: 6
Current ranking: 6 (36 points)

What I said then:

They weren’t good enough last year, and they aren’t really any better this year. They really need everything to go right to have a shot.

What I say now:

For a team that made its identity on defensive hockey, they’re not so great at it this year. You can just see when you’re watching the games that the positioning and systems have fallen off a bit amongst the forwards and defenceman. Its uncertain why this is happening exactly. The personnel is largely the same.

Usually a strong veteran forward core lends itself to strong systems but it isn’t working, much the same as it isn’t working in New Jersey this year.

The root of the problem lies in goaltending, but is it a bit of a chicken and the egg argument? Are the systems falling apart because the players are forced to overcompensate for goaltending, or is the goaltending exposed because the systems are falling apart. I don’t think a lot of people like to credit how deeply connected the two facets of hockey are interconnected.

My vote goes to the goaltending letting the team down though. Mike Smith has proven to be the goaltender he was for much of his career and not the guy with a great season and two okay ones. When, the now traded, Devan Dubnyk was in net he put up starting goaltender numbers and the team was able to go 9-5-2.

Looks as if this team is going to be entering wholeheartedly into the McEichel sweepstakes as they just traded Dubnyk and are exploring trade options with two-way center Antione Vermette and offensive defenceman Keith Yandle, among others.

Edmonton Oilers
Pre-season ranking: 5 (no wildcard)
Current ranking: 7 (29 points)

What I said then:

Getting better but that center ice is paper-thin now, let alone once Draisaitl or Mark Arcobello blow out a shoulder to become a true Oiler.

What I say now:

Good news: Neither Arcobello or Draisaitl blew out a shoulder.

Bad news: I have managed to run a blog post fittingly titled “This Guy Scored” where I track all the times the Oilers forgot what they were doing. Lets take a looksy at some stuff I posted after a loss to the Flames…

tgsflames tgsflames2 tgsflames3

Yeah that basically sums up the season. It happens every game. Believe me. If you want to read something more in-depth you have this article.

Vancouver Canucks
Pre-season ranking: 4 (no wildcard)
Current ranking: 3 (51 points)

What I said then:

They might be able to do it, and there is some uncertainty in Anaheim as well as some of the teams that may compete for a wild card. They may have a young kid or two surprise. Ultimately, the offence isn’t enough.

What I say now:

They are what everyone thought they were. A team that is pretty average that doesn’t have the depth to really be more than average. The offence comes and goes and goes and goes and goes with 1.6 goals per game from December 1 to January 14.

Up front, the forwards are kind of messy. The talent is there to be good but streaky good. The first line is always going to produce because the Sedins and whoever is with them are wizards. The third line has been a bright spot for most of the season with Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson and Linden Vey/Zack Kassian at least breaking even. The fourth line is a bit of a disaster at times but can usually hold its own.

The second line is just a black hole though. Alex Burrows is still a good hockey player. When he’s on the ice, the puck typically is going towards the opposing net and he’s good at winning board battles and creating havoc in front of the net. But Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino are not second line players. Currently, they’re fighting it out for the David Booth “Where Offence Goes To Die” Memorial Trophy. If the Canucks can ever get that line figured out, they might actually be able to win a round.

The defence has been pretty average as a group. Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are dynamite as a pairing, but Kevin Bieksa without Dan Hamhuis (groin injury) is a disaster and the third pairing of Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber is equivalent to two random fans getting to play defence in an NHL game. The biggest issue though is the lack of any player possessing rushing ability to help diversify the breakout and create offence from the back-end.

The biggest issue for the Canucks may actually be goaltending. Ryan Miller has not been good and for $6 million a year you would hope he would be. He hasn’t been awful either, but he has been coming off at times as selfish and a bit moody. By all accounts, he gets to pick his starts and seems to avoid the top teams in the NHL and feast on the poor teams. Not sure how well that bodes for playoff success.

Anaheim Ducks
NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks
Pre-season ranking: 3
Current ranking: 1 (62 points)

What I said then:

Considering all the changes, I wouldn’t be shocked if they struggled out of the gate and fail to bank up points to lead the division again. I can’t count them out though.

What I say now:

They’re much better than I anticipated considering all the roster turnover. For the most part, every player has transitioned quite well this season. Ryan Kesler has been a big addition as he anchors the second line and can take pressure off Ryan Getzlaf. He’s also managed to stay healthy this season which is a huge plus for Anaheim. You would like to see a little more out of players like Jakob Silvferberg, Andrew Cogliano and Emerson Etem but luckily players like Matt Beleskey and Pat Maroon have stepped up.

Their young studs on defence continue to take steps forward. Sami Vatanen is becoming an excellent blueliner and Hampus Lindholm is right behind him. Cam Fowler continues to play solid and Francois Beauchemin is having another quality season. The only thing holding this defence back is that they don’t quite have someone who can compete with the top players that the Ducks will have to go through on their way to a Cup. There isn’t a player they can rely on like Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Duncan Keith, or Brent Seabrook.

Goaltending has been good enough to win games but you have to wonder if it will let them down like it did in last years playoffs. Frederik Andersen is playing well, but he’s not taking home a Vezina trophy any time soon. Ilya Bryzgalov has not been great as a backup this season.

But the biggest concern with this team is luck. You have to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good, but they have the best NHL record in 1 goal games this season with an astounding 21-0-6 record through 44 games. Some of that is coaching, as Bruce Boudreau teams have historically done well in those situations. But you can’t deny that an element of luck is involved as those are basically one bounce games. We’ve seen other teams through the years cave over the course of a season that have had similar situations (past iterations of the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild come to mind) and the Ducks have to be able to buck the trend.

San Jose Sharks
Pre-season ranking: 2
Current ranking: 2 (53 points)

What I said then:

They’d have to implode worse than any team in recent memory to miss. I can’t even think of a team as good to implode so bad they missed. They’ll make the playoffs just by showing up at the arena. Seriously, shake it off.

What I say now:

They’re rounding into form a bit after a tumultuous start. They aren’t quite as dominant as they have been in years past though. The offense is a little dryer and they dont’ dominate the puck like we’re used to seeing.

One issue this team has had is beating the teams they are supposed to beat. Until about the last month, the Sharks had been sub-.500 against non-playoff teams while boasting an approximately .650 points percentage against playoff teams a.k.a. “Shorking”. More recently, both marks have leveled off close to about .560 which is good and bad. Ideally, you’d be getting a few more points but it also provides a better indication of exactly where this Sharks squad is at.

As far as the roster goes, the forwards still score well. The defence defends well enough. However, the goaltending is a little weak. They don’t have a goaltender that you really feel confident in and it shows in some of the comments that come out of San Jose from time to time.

Also, depending who you believe, there is some dysfunction between management and the coach on who gets to play on a nightly basis with management interfering with the lineup. You usually only hear that about non-playoff teams because management wants to see what they have in prospects. It’s unusual to hear reports of that about a team that is supposed to challenge for a championship. That makes predicting just where this team is going a bit of a chore. Playoffs? Yes. Contenders? I can’t say.

Los Angeles Kings
Pre-season ranking: 1
Current ranking: 4 (50 points, wildcard)

What I said then:

Collection of players all in their prime. Easily could repeat. This team is pretty awesome.

What I say now:

Various runs of bad luck and poor play have hindered their ability to be the dominant team we see every playoffs.

The goaltending hasn’t been very good. Jonathon Quick isn’t the goalie he was when he won a Vezina. That season was an aberration, but he’s still usually a pretty reliable netminder but hasn’t been able to string a number of quality starts together. Martin Jones has been good when he has gotten the chance to play, but that’s not terribly often.

The defence is strong once again. Doughty is an amazing player but the Kings are going to need to find an addition to lessen his load this season. Doughty’s up around 30 minutes a game and that needs to come down if they want to go far in the playoffs. The suspension for off-ice issues that was handed to Slava Voynov has had a big effect on the defensive usage of players.

The forwards were doing quite well, but recently times have been a bit more hard. Almost $12 million dollars tied up in Mike Richards and Dustin Brown is not great cap management for the limited offence those players provide but it hasn’t quite turned into an issue just yet for the Kings. A larger issue is the recent hit they’ve taken to their secondary scoring with Tyler Toffoli (mono) and Tanner Pearson (fractured leg) going out with injury. Toffoli will only be out a month, but Pearson may miss the rest of the season. The team is going to have to lean even heavier on their grinding “playoff” style to compensate.

The fact that they play a “playoff style” of hockey during the regular season doesn’t lend it to dominance the way you’d expect. Wearing teams down and always having the puck helps you win games, but it really takes effectiveness in the playoffs. For that reason, this team can’t be overlooked.

They have to go for it a bit this season too as this is their last year with key players still on cheap contracts and other players coming up on expiring contracts over the next two seasons.

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