We’re at the midpoint of the NHL’s regular season, and we’re here to continue bringing letter grades for each of the league’s 32 teams.
We began the process this past Thursday with the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division. Friday, we examined the Atlantic. Saturday, we turned our attention to the Central, and today, we finish things off with a look at the Pacific.
1. Vegas Golden Knights (28-14-2, 58 points)
The Golden Knights burst out of the gate with a 13-2-0 record, and although they’ve cooled off since then (going 15-12-2), they’re still the best team in the Pacific, with 58 points in 44 games.
First-year Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy has benefitted from solid goaltending by Logan Thompson and Adin Hill. His offense has come mainly from the Knights’ deep group of forwards and veteran defensemen Shea Theodore (22 points in 29 games) and Alex Pietrangelo (28 points in 35 games).
Vegas has the NHL’s 11th-best offense and 12th-best defense, a nice balance that bodes well for them for the rest of the season. But they need to get back to their early-season form to fight off the rest of the Pacific’s playoff contenders, who are moving close to them in a hurry. Grade: A
2. Seattle Kraken (26-12-4, 56 points)
Many people believed the Kraken would be an improved group in their second season of on-ice competition. Few believed they’d be this good, putting up a better points percentage than the first-place Golden Knights and riding an eight-game win streak.
They’re tied with Boston for the second-best goals-for per game (3.76), and they’re the best road team (16-4-2) in the Western Conference.
Full credit to Seattle GM Ron Francis and coach Dave Hakstol for arguably the deepest collection of forwards and an underrated defense corps. At some point, we’re likely to see some regression from them, but they’re firmly on track to be a playoff team, and that’s an incredible achievement at this point in the organization’s history. Grade: A+
3. Los Angeles Kings (25-15-6, 56 points)
The Kings have relied on their offense and journeyman netminder Pheonix Copley to overcome a subpar back end.
Fortunately for them, their top nine scorers on offense produced 266 points – an average of nearly 30 points per player – and their top-four blueliners have combined to generate 77 points.
That said, they’re only five points out of falling into one of the wild-card positions, and the two teams that currently occupy the wild-card slots – Calgary and Edmonton – have two games and one game in hand, respectively. One losing streak and the Kings will be fighting for their playoff lives.
They’re a powerful group with the puck in their hands, but they need to tighten up play in their own zone if they want to be Stanley Cup front-runners. Grade: B+
4. Calgary Flames (21-14-9, 51 points)
It’s been a largely disappointing season for the Flames, who won the Pacific with relative ease last season. Despite an admirable job from GM Brad Treliving to keep the team competitive after the departures of star forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames were hurt by a seven-game losing streak in November and a five-game losing skid in December.
They also haven’t been helped by the subpar play of No. 1 goalie Jacob Markstrom, with a .893 save percentage in 30 games. Coach and world-class snarl champion Darryl Sutter is doing his best to keep the Flames competitive, but their streaky play has put them in genuine danger of missing the post-season.
Obviously, that would be a massive letdown from a team with aspirations of a deep playoff run. They really have nobody to blame but themselves for where they are at the moment, but they still have time to stabilize and improve their play in their remaining 38 regular-season games. Grade: B
5. Edmonton Oilers (24-18-3, 51 points)
Like the Flames, the Oilers are performing far below expectations. The astonishing play of superstar Connor McDavid (37 goals and 73 points in 45 games) and the superb support play of star forwards Leon Draisaitl (42 assists and 68 points), Zach Hyman (20 goals and 47 points), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (32 assists and 53 points) has kept Edmonton from falling further in the Pacific standings.
However, their defense is porous (averaging 3.29 goals-against per game), and marquee off-season signee Jack Campbell has been a disaster (.883 SP) in net.
Oilers GM Ken Holland is under all sorts of pressure to improve this squad, and while they’ll get a bump in offense when injured winger Evander Kane returns to action, offense isn’t their problem. They’re in the market for a stay-at-home D-man, but those are in short supply. Defensive improvement has to come from within, and there are legitimate questions about whether that’s possible. Grade: B
6. Vancouver Canucks (18-22-3, 39 points)
It’s been one giant soap opera of a season for the Canucks, and not in an entertaining way.
Vancouver began the year 0-5-2, and after they composed themselves and had a run of halfway-decent games, they’ve gone 7-9-0 in their past 16 games. They’ve dropped seven of their past nine games, and they’re just five points ahead of the seventh-place Sharks.
This should be the final wakeup call for those with the Canucks under the misjudgement a retool is what’s best for this franchise in the months and years ahead. Their defense – the NHL’s third-worst at 3.93 goals-against per game – is a mess-and-a-half. Their offense has been top-heavy, and everyone expects GM Patrik Allvin to unload star forwards Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser before the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline. This organization is going nowhere fast, and the pain of a full rebuild is yet to come. Grade: C
7. San Jose Sharks (13-23-8, 34 points)
With a five-game losing streak to begin this season, the Sharks gave everyone a good look at the agony that was ahead. They’re currently on a skid in which they’ve dropped 10 of their past 13.
We all suspected the Sharks would be at or near this position in the standings, and GM Mike Grier is taking his time evaluating what the organization has to build on.
They’ve got veterans Logan Couture, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl. They have the old-school points machine Erik Karlsson, veteran blueliners Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matthew Benning, and greybeard goalie James Reimer.
Grier is believed to be fielding offers for Karlsson in particular. While you can understand why the Swedish defenseman is in such demand, Grier’s job is to give a full makeover to the roster as they put newer, younger players in place.
The status of the team at the moment is far from the best in the NHL. They’ve got the NHL’s 11th-worst offense (3.02 goals-for per game) and the fourth-worst defense (3.73 goals against per game). There are just too many holes everywhere, and real improvement will likely take a while. Grade: D
8. Anaheim Ducks (12-27-4, 28 points)
To think that some people – this writer included – thought Anaheim could challenge for a playoff spot this season. Yikes, and we’re sorry, but whoa, what a mess the Ducks have been thus far this year.
Anaheim started the season terribly (1-6-1 in their first eight games), continued the season awfully (they went 5-15-3 in 23 games beginning Nov. 6 and lasting through December 23), and they’ve currently dropped five of their past seven in regulation time (2-5-0).
They’re 23 points out of fourth place in the division, and to watch them regularly this year is to see a team almost comically mismatched against above-average opponents and still mismatched against the NHL’s lesser lights.
Their season, in effect, is over. Now it must be about development and change for the seasons to come. GM Pat Verbeek will be one of the busiest movers and shakers on the trade market heading up to the March 3 trade deadline, and we should expect to see him trade his many veteran assets for draft picks and prospects. Grade: F