No division in the NHL loaded up quite like the Pacific Division this offseason.
After the Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team, just about each of their rivals loaded up at key positions and improved their rosters. Erik Karlsson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, and Alex Galchenyuk all joined teams in the Pacific Division this summer.
So, how do the Sharks stack up to their closest geographical rivals? Let's rank the squads in the Pacific Division from worst to first.
8. Vancouver Canucks
It will be odd to see the Canucks sans the Sedin twins this season. The last time the Sharks played the Canucks in the regular season without either Sedin in the lineup was April 9, 2000. San Jose lost 5-2 to Vancouver that day, and the Canucks only finished four points out of the playoffs that season.
Don’t expect a repeat of that mark this time around. Their young core will be buoyed by the arrival of Swedish center Elias Pettersson, but Vancouver is thin at just about every position. They’re (at least) a year away from being a Year Away.
7. Arizona Coyotes
When healthy, the Coyotes may be the most improved team in the division, and possibly the conference. Arizona is far from healthy, though. Galchenyuk and fellow center Christian Dvorak are dealing with lower-body injuries, and the former is considered “week-to-week.”
What appeared to be solid depth down the middle is a bit depleted to start the season, so the Coyotes dropped to second-worst in the Pacific from our post-Erik Karlsson trade rankings. Still, goaltender Antti Raanta is good enough (.929 five-on-five save percentage since 2013) to keep the Desert Dogs competitive.
6. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers will need to be better when Connor McDavid isn’t on the ice, and they’ll need better goaltending whether or not he is. Edmonton scored under 41 percent of the five-on-five goals when McDavid wasn’t playing last season, and workhorse netminder Cam Talbot posted the worst five-on-five save percentage of his career, to boot.
They should improve in both areas this season, particularly in the former as first-round picks Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto develop. Enough to overcome a 17-point playoff gap? That’s probably too much to ask.
5. Calgary Flames
In all, the Flames have s a new head coach (Bill Peters), two new, top-six wingers (James Neal and Elias Lindholm), a new top-four defenseman (Noah Hanifin), and a new middle-six forward (Derek Ryan). If Peters brought the strong possession game from Carolina and left behind the poor finishing, Calgary could return to the postseason.
But trading away top blue liner Dougie Hamilton was a big loss, and relying on 36-year-old Mike Smith to play close to 60 games is enough to give pause. The Flames should be better, but they’re still chasing the California-Nevada contingent.
4. Anaheim Ducks
Corey Perry’s out for months, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves are working back to full strength, and Nick Ritchie is holding out. Yet, we’ve seen this before: The Ducks treaded water in the face of devastating injuries much of last season, and still managed to clear 100 points.
Anaheim’s aging veterans will be another year older, but the young players playing in their place, such as young forward Troy Terry, have some pedigree. As long as John Gibson is in net and Hampus Lindholm’s leading the defense, the Ducks won’t decline too much.
3. Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown’s broken finger is a big injury for the Kings. The addition of Russian winger Ilya Kovalchuk -- as well as the presence of Jeff Carter for a full season barring injury -- will help mitigate it.
That will also take the pressure off of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was arguably better than ever last season. At 32 years old, asking for the same performance from Quick would be a tall older. As long as the offense produces, the Kings won’t have to.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights are arguably better than a year ago, but still might finish with fewer standings points. It would only be fitting after Vegas eschewed all conventional wisdom en route to winning the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
Still, the additions of Pacioretty and Stastny give the second-year franchise arguably the best top-six forward group in the Pacific. Defenseman Nate Schmidt will be missed as he serves a 20-game suspension for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury maintaining his 2017-18 form will go a long way towards ensuring another division title.
1. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have the best two defensemen in the division, and arguably the conference, after acquiring Karlsson. San Jose’s last two preseason games indicated that there’s still work to be done before the season starts, especially after giving up three shorthanded goals Sunday in Vegas.
Those aforementioned defensemen will go a long way, though. Plus, rookie center Antti Suomela’s preseason performance has to have quieted some of the concerns about the Sharks’ depth down the middle. If all goes right, San Jose is capable of winning the Pacific Division for the first time since 2010-11.