Pacific Division predictions

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) battles for a loose puck with Vancouver Canucks defensemen Tucker Poolman (5) Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) battles for a loose puck with Vancouver Canucks defensemen Tucker Poolman (5) Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports /

4.  Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas as a hockey team reminds me now of a drunken gambler who’s lying in a ditch somewhere with the smell of urine on his pants and a black eye.

They’re copying the Flames’s version of building a hockey team with free agency and trades, which is not going to cut it.  They keep going after the big fish in trade or free agency, and in many cases they land them. They got Alex Pietrangelo. They got Jack Eichel. They got Mark Stone. They got Robin Lehner.

But what’s it gotten them as a franchise?  One single solitary unlikely appearance in a Cup final. Zero cups won.

What Vegas as a franchise doesn’t seem to understand is the NHL is not the NBA – one player will have an effect up to a point, but only up to a point. Hockey is much more of a team game, the best teams build through the draft and aim to build the best TEAMS, not the ones with the flashiest names on the roster.

They also have the dubious distinction of being the team with the biggest cap overage – just over $6.5 million, to be exact, which is why they sacrificed Evgeni Dadanov to bring Shea Weber’s contract into the fold and not forfeit draft picks.

This is why a lot of draft pick capital had to be sacrificed – either in the form of players received from the expansion draft or the from the entry draft. It is now to the point where they only have a mere three entry draft picks on their roster, that’s it. That increases to seven if you could the expansion draft, but that’s still not really a lot considering that the Oilers and Kings both have that amount of draft picks in their forward ranks alone.  After all if you go big game hunting in trade that means you have to sacrifice prospects or entry draft draft picks in that hunt.

They’ve also developed a reputation for not treating their core players very well – ask Max Pacioretty last offseason if he wanted to be traded somewhere else for “future considerations” – aka nothing but cap relief, which will probably affect their ability to draw free agents in the future – not that they’ll have the cap space to do it anyway….

They’re lucky they’ve gotten off to an 11-2 start to the season, but they’re not good enough to stay there so expect them to drop back down to earth soon enough.

The Knight’s top six of Stephenson-Eichel-Stone and then Marchessault-Karlsson-Smith are two pretty good lines, but just like the Flames last season, most of those guys are playing with shooting %’s above their career averages so expect the scoring totals of those guys to come back down again. Eichel has 14 points in 13 games, everyone else has 10 points in 13 games. Impressive, sure, but ultimately a mirage.

As you would expect when you go big game hunting, depth has be sacrificed to pay for it – and Vegas’s third line is a prime example of that. Phil Kessel has done fine, going 1-4-5 in 13 games, but the other two players on that line – Mike Amadio and Brett Howden – are both 1-1-2 in 10 and 13 games respectively.

Their fourth line fares better with Carrier-Roy-Kolesar. Carrier has five points in 12 games while Roy has seven in 13. Kolesar has three points in 11 games.

Lacking overall depth in the forward ranks compared to the rest of the Pacific Division.

On D, their pairing is the dual Alexes of Martinez and Pietrangelo. Pie man is living up to his contract with 10 points in 13 games but Martinez is struggling with but a single assist in 13 games.  The second pairing is in a similar situation, where Shea Theodore has 3-6-9 in 13 games, while Brayden Mcnabb only has four assists in 13 games. OK, but not great.

The bottom pairing has Zach Whitecloud and Nicholas Hague, who both have 1-3-4, Whitecloud in 13 games, Hague in 12. Again, OK but nothing to write home about – typical of the Knights who have to fill in their roster with these types of players because no cavalry is riding in from the farm team at this point in time.

The biggest concern with Vegas, however, is their goaltending. Robin Lehner is out for the season with injury, and as is the case with Vegas since they don’t have the cap space to go out and get a viable alternative they are manning their nets with two unproven commodities in Adin Hill and Logan Thompson, who between the two of them have barely 100 NHL games of NHL experience combined. 

What this means is this is my most educated guess for how Vegas will fare this season going forward. Their goaltending is doing great right now, but frankly I wouldn’t expect it to hold up.

That means that if there’s a team that’s going to emerge from the doldrums in the division because they’re finished their rebuild, they have a shot at the roster spots of both Calgary and Vegas.

But one never knows with these things – Vegas has defied the odds before, they might slip into the playoffs in a wild card spot or they may surprise and move up into the top three.

Pity Jack Eichel, for if Vegas’s team craters and they can’t get out of it – which they probably wouldn’t be able to – he may go down in NHL lore as the most talented player to never make the playoffs.