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NHL 2021-22 Pacific Division preview: Seattle Kraken to choose identity in inaugural season

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The NHL 2021-22 season kicks off on Tuesday with a full 82-game schedule set to run until April 29. This year 32 teams, with the addition of the Seattle Kraken, will battle it out with the hopes of hoisting the coveted Stanley Cup in what will be the first regular-season since the pandemic struck mid-season in March 2020. 

The league is split into two conferences: the Eastern and Western Conferences and returns to its original four divisions: the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific, with eight teams in each. 

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Read below for a breakdown of the Pacific Division.

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SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 09: Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (90) skates during a timeout during the San Jose Sharks game versus the Vegas Golden Knights on October 9, 2021, at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 09: Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner (90) skates during a timeout during the San Jose Sharks game versus the Vegas Golden Knights on October 9, 2021, at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Matt Cohen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Largely considered the weakest division in the league, the Pacific also houses one of the best teams in the NHL: the Golden Knights.  

Since its inception in 2017, Vegas has made the playoffs every season, even reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Last season, the Knights finished second in their division with a 40-14-2 record. Part of what’s made this possible is Vegas’ “go big or go home” mentality. 

Vegas will be missing a big piece of their Stanley Cup puzzle with the trading of Marc-Andre Fleury. Robin Lehner, who was acquired in a trade with the Maple Leafs, is taking over and even though he helped Vegas reach the conference final in 2020, Fleury’s shoes will be hard to fill. 

The Knights have also attempted to solve their power play issues in the offseason with the additions of Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick. 

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Oct 5, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Seattle Kraken defenseman Vince Dunn (29) celebrates with forward Ryan Donato (9) and forward Morgan Geekie (67) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (19) after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 5, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Seattle Kraken defenseman Vince Dunn (29) celebrates with forward Ryan Donato (9) and forward Morgan Geekie (67) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (19) after scoring a goal against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
(Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports)

And then there were 32. 

The biggest challenge for the Kraken this season will be canceling out the noise. Questions about unity and chemistry will of course be the main concerns but Seattle will also have the pressure of living up to the history set by division-rival Vegas: four seasons, four playoff appearances. 

Seattle chose their star players from the goal up. Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer will be in the net after leaving the Avalanche following a solid year. He went 30-9-1 with a league-best of 1.95 goals against average and tied the league lead for shutouts with seven. 

Top defenseman and newly named team captain Mark Giordano followed suit after getting picked up in the expansion draft where the Kraken also picked up Jamie Oleksiak, signing him to a five-year $23 million contract. 

Jaden Schwartz, Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle are the projected top line but Seattle’s defense should be the star of the show. 

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Alex Chiasson #39 and Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a second period goal against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Four of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 24, 2021 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

Alex Chiasson #39 and Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a second period goal against the Winnipeg Jets in Game Four of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 24, 2021 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 
(Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images))

The same team that produced the dynasty of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier has now made just two playoff appearances over the last 15 years. While this seems bad for the Oilers, a closer look reveals a team with stunning potential.

Last season, Edmonton finished second in the division but was swept by the Jets in the first round. The season before that also featured a second-place finish but the Oilers lost in the qualifying round — a technicality of the season altered by the pandemic. So you have a team with strong regular season performances but can’t seem to translate that to the playoffs. 

The Oilers have Connor McDavid. Pretty simple. He was awarded the Hart Trophy after putting up 105 points with 33 goals and 72 assists but you can’t win a cup with just one player. 

To help, the Oilers added Zach Hyman who had 33 points with the Leafs last season, Warren Foegele who had 20 with the Canes and Derek Ryan who had 13. Not astounding numbers on their own but certainly dangerous when put together. 

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VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 09:  Vancouver Canucks left wing Nils Hoglander (21) skates up ice during their NHL preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on October 9, 2021 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

VANCOUVER, BC – OCTOBER 09:  Vancouver Canucks left wing Nils Hoglander (21) skates up ice during their NHL preseason game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on October 9, 2021 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Canucks missed the playoffs last season after finishing seventh in their division with a 23-29-4 record. In fact, Vancouver has only made the playoffs twice in the last eight years with just one second-round appearance. 

A major overhaul in the offseason seems to be working towards that but defense stands to be the biggest issue plaguing the Canucks this season. 

Travis Hamonic won’t be on the ice for the season opener after being placed on waivers, the team announced Monday. Olli Juolevi was traded to Florida for forward Juho Lammikko and defenseman Noah Juulsen and Tucker Poolman will have to deal with the pressures of overcoming a lackluster year. 

Oliver Ekman-Larsson should freshen things up after being acquired in a trade from the Coyotes

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 9:  Gabriel Vilardi #13 of the Los Angeles Kings shoots the puck during shootouts against the Anaheim Ducks at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 9:  Gabriel Vilardi #13 of the Los Angeles Kings shoots the puck during shootouts against the Anaheim Ducks at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kings’ captain Anze Kopitar says Los Angeles is done with the rebuild and ready to “make some noise,” and Los Angeles has certainly taken the steps in the offseason to make the case for being serious playoff contenders this season. 

The Kings went straight to the vets to draw out an immediate impact. Kopitar and Dustin Brown will be joined by Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson while veteran Alexander Edler comes in to offer direction for the younger defenseman.

The Kings will likely split goaltending duties between Jonathan Quick and Calvin Petersen, although 2021 could prove to be a transitional year. 

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KENT, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 02: Nathan Bastian #14 of the Seattle Kraken battles in front of the net with Oliver Kylington #58 of the Calgary Flames during the first period of a game between the Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken at accesso ShoWare Center on October 02, 2021 in Kent, Washington. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

KENT, WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 02: Nathan Bastian #14 of the Seattle Kraken battles in front of the net with Oliver Kylington #58 of the Calgary Flames during the first period of a game between the Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken at accesso ShoWare Center on October 02, 2021 in Kent, Washington. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Flames are one of the teams this year whose season could legitimately go either way: boom or bust. The focus will be on the team’s forwards to sway that in Calgary’s favor. 

Despite the shortened season, Johnny Gaudreau was way off the mark on scoring last season. He had 49 points (19 goals and 30 assists) compared to the previous seasons’ 58 points (18 goals and 40 assists). Both are way off from his career-best in 2018-19 when he had 99 points (36 goals and 63). 

Forwards Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk are in the same situation.

Blake Coleman could be the boost Calgary needs, having signed a six-year $29.4 million contract this summer. 

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FILE - In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021 file photo, San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane (9) watches during an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in San Jose, Calif. The NHL found no evidence that San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane bet on NHL games or tried to throw games after investigating allegations made by his estranged wife. The NHL released the findings of that investigation, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021 file photo, San Jose Sharks left wing Evander Kane (9) watches during an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in San Jose, Calif. The NHL found no evidence that San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane bet on NHL games or tried to throw games after investigating allegations made by his estranged wife. The NHL released the findings of that investigation, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
((AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File))

Issues off the ice seem to be the Sharks’ biggest problem this season. Evander Kane, the team’s leading goal scorer last season, was left off the team’s opening night roster. First accused of betting on NHL games, Kane is now reportedly being investigated by the league over allegations that he used a fake vaccine card. 

Tomas Hertl enters the season with the Sharks but it could be his last over unsettled contract negotiations that are complicated by San Jose’s cap situation.

The good news is Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson can easily pick up the slack, and making the playoffs could be motivation for Hertl to get the deal he’s eyeing. 

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 9:  John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks protects the goal during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 9:  John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks protects the goal during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images
(Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

Seems like an odd thing to say but the Ducks will have to score if they want to win. For a team that ranked last in goals per game, the Ducks have had a relatively quiet offseason. In fact, Anaheim’s top scorers were Max Comtois and Adam Henrique who scored a combined 28 goals.

The Ducks are surely relying on their young forwards to boost production but finishing at the bottom of their division with a 17-30-9 record doesn’t seem promising.

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