In the first week of free agency, the Ducks have not done a lot. They have added to their defense corps with Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr who will fill in for the retired Francois Beauchemin and UFA Kevin Bieksa. There are significant questions about Ryan Kesler playing in the 2018-19 season. However, it is early in the offseason and the Ducks have some $11 M in cap space to fill in other holes with only Brandon Montour likely to be paid significant money. Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, and Andy Welinski are the other restricted free agents that will need to have new contracts.
Schenn and Sustr are an upgrade to the Ducks blue line, but not significant upgrades. It’s not difficult to improve from aging talents like Bieksa and Beauchemin but neither player makes the blueline much more mobile in today’s faster game. The Ducks will most certainly continue to be a playoff threat in the Pacific Division. Still, this team is no better than the one the Sharks dispatched in a four-game sweep.
The Arizona Coyotes have managed to fly under the radar a significantly and yet may be the most improved team in the Pacific Division. They traded Max Domi to the Montreal Canadiens for Alex Galchenyuk giving them some much-needed help at center. At first glance, it appears that the Coyotes have given up on a promising young player. In reality, Galchenyuk is only one year older than Domi despite spending double the amount of time in the NHL. They also went out in free agency and picked up Micheal Grabner. Grabner while not being as sexy a name of a James Van Reimsdyke or Paul Stastny is a great pickup for the Coyotes.
The Coyotes also locked up Niklas Hjalmarsson, Kevin Connauton, and Antti Ranta preventing them from looking to greener pastures. Overall the Coyotes are a much-improved team, the question is, is it enough to move significantly forward in the Pacific Division. This is a team that played some solid hockey to wind down the regular season and still has young players looking to break out. If they can avoid last seasons brutal start they should be able to move up the standings. Afterall there is really nowhere for this team to go but up at this point. A playoff team? I’ll believe it when I see it.
The Calgary Flames have been by far the most active of Pacific Division teams. They made one of the biggest trades of the off-season thus far acquiring Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and unsigned college player Adam Fox. They also signed James Neal to a 5-year deal that will see him paid $5.7 M AAV. Both Hanifin and Lindholm will need new contracts but with almost $13 M to spend the Flames should have no problem getting deals done for their new young additions.
Lindholm and Hanifin both have bright futures in the league. The question is, are the Flames better? One could argue that their forward group is better than it was last year, Lindholm and Neal will significantly improve their offensive output. Going into this season though it’s hard to see Hanifin replacing Hamilton and making the blueline better. Can Mike Smith at 36 years old give this team the goaltending it will need despite its defensive shortcomings? This team feels a lot like the Dallas Stars or New York Islanders of the past year. A ton of firepower but not enough to keep the goals out of their own net. This strategy might work in the regular season but always fails in the playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers have not done much of anything, and you can thank the lovely man pictured above. No, I’m not talking about Tomas Hertl or Paul Martin. Thanks to the albatross that is the contract of Milan Lucic the Oilers have been forced to do basically nothing. Sure they have made some minor additions in Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak, but neither addition really moves the needle. Ryan Strome and Darnell Nurse both need new contracts and the Oilers have only $8 M to spend.
The Oilers are not better but I would caution that this team isn’t as bad as it was last year. It is hard to rule out a team that has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl from playoff contention, but it’s unlikely they run away with the division.
Next: Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Vegas