The Sharks have made it clear that they believe they can get back to the playoffs next season, and arguably the best thing they have going for them is the division within which they reside. After spending last season in an extremely top-heavy (and now nonexistent) West Division due to temporary realignment, San Jose will be back in the Pacific Division for 2021-22, and it projects to be a much less daunting group.
Gone to the Central Division are the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes. Joining the Pacific -- and in most cases re-joining -- are the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and the expansion Seattle Kraken. The Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights also will remain the Sharks' divisional foes in the Pacific.
Of the eight Pacific Division teams, only the Golden Knights and Oilers made the playoffs last season. And as things currently stand, Vegas is the overwhelming favorite in the Pacific, with not a whole lot separating the other teams. Really, the Pacific projects to be the worst division in the league next season. And if the Sharks' stated intentions are in fact true, that's great news for them.
The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is just days away, and free agency will open up in a week. Obviously, there's bound to be considerable changes to the rosters of every Pacific Division team, but after Wednesday's Expansion Draft, we have a pretty good idea of what the inaugural Kraken roster will look like. And frankly, the Sharks probably aren't all that intimidated by the newest member of the league.
Seattle's roster is headlined by veteran defensemen Mark Giordano and Adam Larsson, whom they plucked from the Flames and Oilers, respectively. Upfront, the Kraken added two notable forwards in Jordan Eberle and former Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi, who combined for 33 goals and 64 points last season. In net, it looks like former Florida Panthers goalie Chris Driedger primarily will man the pipes for Seattle, who had strong numbers in a backup role last season but has only 38 games of NHL experience under his belt.
Generally speaking, the Kraken opted for cheap, young players in the Expansion Draft, and the result is the foundation of a roster that, on paper, probably isn't a serious playoff contender. Granted, they can still strengthen the inaugural roster through trades and free agency, but barring a major move, nothing is going to move the needle all that much.
So, if the Sharks miss the playoffs, it probably won't be because of the Kraken. At least not right now.
At least three and no more than five Pacific Division teams will make the playoffs next season. You might as well etch the Golden Knights' name in stone in first place. Beyond them -- and it's a steep drop -- the Oilers probably have the best roster, and probably should be penciled into second.
After that, though, it's anyone's guess. If you're wondering why the Sharks might believe they can end their two-year playoff drought, look no further than the division.