The Pacific Division: we see them 21 times a year and all we can ever really remember about them is that we have to wait until 9 p.m. to see puck drop.
The Pacific hasn't produced a Presidents' Trophy winner since the 2011-2012 Vancouver Canucks and hasn't won a Stanley Cup since the 2014 L.A. Kings. In a literal sense, that's not a very long drought period at all. But since the Kings' most recent title, the division has been by-and-large the worst off statistically. Last year, they produced just three playoff teams (the Central and Metropolitan Divisions had five teams each go, the Atlantic also had three), they averaged the least divisional points at 87, the least average Goals-For at 237, and the second-highest average Goals-Against at 248 (the Atlantic had 257). In addition, each team had a well below-average power play.
That's not to say they don't win at all- the Calgary Flames posted the second-best record in the league last year, behind just Tampa Bay in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. The Vegas Golden Knights defied all expectations and played in the Stanley Cup Final their very first year in the league in 2018. The Anaheim Ducks were consistently near the top of the standings up until this past year.
Let's take a look at the Pacific Division going into the 2019-2020 season and what the Predators should expect when they go out west.
The Ducks had an incredibly injury-riddled 2018-2019 season; the only player to see action in all 82 games was center Adam Henrique. Their four highest point scorers- Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, and Henrique, in that order- all recorded negative on-ice ratings. They had the lowest goals-for in the league at 199
Naturally, the Preds went 1-2-0 against them.
Goalie John Gibson truly played his heart out even with his defense frequently collapsing in front of his crease. Gibson faced the sixth-most shots at 1,838 and made an equally ranked 1,685 saves in the process, all while maintaining a .917 save percentage (just 0.01 behind Pekka Rinne). Gibson recorded his best save percentage against the Preds last year at .931. He has a career 6-8-1 record (regular season and playoffs) when playing Nashville.
Especially in the early years of his career, Ryan Getzlaf has haunted the Preds. Getzlaf has played 40 career regular season games against Nashville and has a blistering 44 points and a +16 rating over that span. Though he's slowed down his production against the Preds in the past few years, he has still lead the Ducks in points almost every year since the retirement of Teemu Selanne in 2012.
Outside of Getzlaf, the emergence of Rickard Rakell has given the Preds fits as well. For almost his whole career, Rakell has been almost a point-per-game player when facing the Preds. He's played 15 regular season games against Nashville with 14 points posted.
Rakell's linemate, Jakob Silfverberg, has never been terribly unmanageable for the Preds, but having the two on the same line could prove to be trouble to a slow defensive pair. In other words, please pull Dan Hamhuis and Matt Irwin out as soon as those two's blades hit the ice. Rookie Sam Steel is projected to be the center that lines up with Rakell and Silfverberg, according to Daily Faceoff, so jumping on Steel's inexperience may be a good way to slow that first line.
The Coyotes, slowly but surely, are rejoining relevancy in the NHL. They finished 18th in the league last season- a demonstrative improvement from the five straight seasons of not clearing 20th in overall rankings. Arizona certainly isn't the highest scoring team- Clayton Keller, the team's reigning point scorer, tied with 10 other NHL players for 121st league-wide. The Coyotes finished behind just Anaheim and Los Angeles and tied Dallas for the least goals-for in the regular season (209). On the other hand, their penalty kill was close to excellent with an 84.96% kill rate and they were just behind Calgary for the most short-handed goals scored (16).
The Coyotes went 2-1 against the Preds and only allowed them six goals in those three games.
Arizona made a few personnel changes this summer. Among their moves, they traded center Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph to Pittsburgh for Phil Kessel, defenseman Dane Brooks, and a 2021 fourth round pick. They also traded D-man Kevin Connauton to Colorado for forward Carl Soderberg. Oh yeah, and former Preds assistant coach Phil Housley is now their assistant coach.
Phil Kessel had a very productive 2018-2019 season in Pittsburgh. He scored 82 points, 12 power play goals, and a career-record 10 game-winning goals. The Coyotes may be catching him at the latter half of his career, but he's shown no signs of slowing down. Kessel has spent his entire career thus far in the Eastern Conference, meaning he's only faced the Preds twice per season for the last six seasons. Even though we haven't seen him often, Kessel has 18 points in the 23 regular season and playoff games he's played against us. He's not an extreme burden, but since the Preds will now see him an extra game per year, they need to be able to close down his quick forecheck.
Keller is signed for another eight years with Arizona, and as he grows he will more than likely continue to increase his skill, but he hasn't proven to be much of a problem for the Preds.
The Coyotes got a great goaltending year out of Darcy Kuemper. He, Adin Hill, and Antti Raanta combined to tie Penguins for the sixth-best team save percentage in the league at .913- just a hundredth of a point shy of tying the Preds. Notably, and embarrassingly, the Preds were shut out by Hill during his seventh ever NHL game on Nov. 29.
The Flames were the Regular Season Western Conference Champions this past season. Maybe they'll hang a banner for it so everyone can lay off us about it. They tied Boston at 107 points to be the co-league runners up and tied San Jose for the second-most goals for in the league. Calgary was truly no joke all season, until they lost to Colorado in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Calgary, like Arizona and Anaheim, went 2-1 against the Preds last year.
Besides trading (former Predator) James Neal to Edmonton for Milan Lucic, the Flames had a quiet offseason.
Johnny Gaudreau had a spectacular year; he exploded for a career-record 99 regular season points, eight game-winning goals, 245 shots on net, posted a +18 on-ice rating, and finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy (league MVP). He tied with Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon at just seventh in the league for points. Gaudreau has absolutely ripped the Preds apart in his five young NHL seasons. In the 15 career games facing Nashville, he's tacked on 21 points for a +9 rating. Not to mention he's on the first line with Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm- the potent trio combined to produce nearly a third of the entire team's points. Monahan hasn't been quite as brutal for the Preds, but he still has 16 points in 18 career games played. Lindholm just spent his first full season in Calgary after arriving in a trade from Carolina, but blistered Nashville for five points in three games. Of the 11 total goals the Flames scored against the Preds last year, the trio was at least partially involved in eight of them. The worst part is, they're all essentially the same age, and let's just say that age is young.
Even at 35, defenseman Mark Giordano had one of the best years of anyone in the league, and was rewarded with the Norris Trophy as a result. Giordano posted the best +/- rating in the entire NHL at +39 while also recording career-record 74 points and 57 assists. Among the Flames, he had the best defensive point shares and averaged the most ice-time of any non-goalie skater. Over his 13-year career, Giordano has amassed 23 points and a whopping +15 rating facing the Preds.
Winger and notorious pain-in-the-rear Matthew Tkachuk is another weapon the Flames have in their tool belt. Tkachuk is literally a point-per-game player- he's played eight career games against the Preds and has eight points to go with them.
Games against Calgary should make everyone nervous. If the Preds can't seal up their defense when that Flames' first line comes out, there is always going to be trouble.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisatl, and some other guys. There you have it: your 2019-2020 Edmonton Oilers!
It's really not much of an exaggeration. You'd think that the bottom-feeding Edmonton front office would have at least tried to make some roster moves this summer, but alas, they did not. What did they gain? James Neal? Josh Archibald? Mike Smith? Not a very impressive list, really. They drafted speedy defenseman Philip Broberg eighth overall, but he might need a year before turning pro. They lost forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who signed with the Finnish Liiga's Karpat Oulu squad after failing to land any other offers from NHL teams. Puljujarvi has been more or less considered a bust, but the fact remains that the Oilers used up their fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft on him.
The Oilers went 1-1-1 facing the Preds this past season.
Connor McDavid, if he were on literally any other team in the league, would probably be a Stanley Cup Champion by now. He has no business being as ridiculously talented as he is. McDavid was second only to the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov for most points scored last season. In just his four NHL years, he's been on three All-Star teams, has won the Art Ross Trophy twice (award for the league's point leader), the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding regular season) twice, and the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) for the 2016-2017 season. Last year, he recorded a career-record 116 points. Yes, 116. He also has a career +49 on-ice rating. Again, I did say that right.
Against the Preds, McDavid is essentially a point-per-game guy with nine points over 10 games. However, he has a -7 rating playing defense against Nashville. McDavid struggled in this regard last year. In 2016-17 and 2017-18, McDavid had a +20 and +27 rating, respectively. Last year he finished the season with only a +3. The fluctuation in McDavid's can be partially attributed to Zach Kassian, McDavid's linemate on the right wing. Kassian sat for the sixth-most penalty minutes in the league last year at 102. In addition, Edmonton's first-line left defenseman, Darnell Nurse, sat for the 15th most minutes at 87 and first-line right defenseman Adam Larsson recorded a devastating -28 last year. If you're Connor McDavid, it's probably hard to bear the weight of a dumpster-fire defense while trying to win your team games. At least his misery is shared by Leon Draisaitl.
Draisaitl finished fourth in the league for total points last year (remember, McDavid finished second) and doubled his goals from 25 in 2017-18 to 50 this past season. He and McDavid are probably the most potent duo in the NHL right now. They just have no backup and no other offense. Unless you're an Oilers fan, you should be thankful that these two aren't paired up on a different team with at least a minimally decent offense.
Los Angeles Kings
It's hard to compete in the NHL these days when your four highest-paid players are, a) some of your oldest, and b) have either No Movement or No Trade Clauses in their contracts. Thus is the reality for the Los Angeles Kings.
Unless you're Ottawa, you couldn't have had a worse year than the Kings. Only Anaheim was the other team to record fewer than 200 goals-for- they had 196, L.A. had 199. The Kings had the third-worst penalty kill and tied with Florida for the most shorthanded goals-against at 13. Their eight highest scoring players recorded negative on-ice ratings, and not just like -1s or -2s, we're talking well over -10 for each of them.
They dropped all three games against the Preds, allowing 10 goals in the process.
To make matters worse, they hardly made a blip on the radar this offseason. They were able to snag two first rounders in the draft; taking center Alex Turcotte at #5 and defenseman Tobias Bjornfot at #22. Unfortunately for the Kings, Turcotte decided to stay another year in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and not sign an official deal with the team for the time being. Bjornfot did sign his three year, entry-level contract with Los Angeles in July, and could easily debut for the team in October. They also signed/re-signed both of the Kempe brothers, Mario and Adrian. Mario Kempe's signing comes off more as a pity deal than anything else. He's 31 and has never played a full NHL season, with only 13 career points. Adrian Kempe is still young, at 23, and puts up decent enough numbers, but is really no one to get excited for.
They're going to need Bjornfot, too. Drew Doughty needs a new defensive partner, and neither Joakim Ryan or Ben Hutton are going to cut it. Ryan is 26 and has yet to play a full NHL season, and Hutton has a career -75 rating. Doughty had the worst year of his career last season. He notched just 45 points and finished with a very out-of-character -34 rating, which was second only to Buffalo's Rasmus Ristolainen's -41 for the worst +/- of 2018-2019. Since the Kings' most recent Stanley Cup season in 2013-2014, Doughty has played 15 games against Nashville and has nine points but a -8 rating.
I will never understand the Kings' decision to sign then-34-year old Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year contract last June. He posted a -26 rating his first season back in the NHL since 2013. I just don't see this panning out in some profound way for L.A.
Captain and center Anze Kopitar also had a terrible year. He finished the season with his second-fewest career points (60), second-most penalty minutes (30), and worst on-ice rating (-20).
San Jose Sharks
Despite being the second oldest team in the league, San Jose had a largely great year. They finished the regular season with the second-most goals for (289), the sixth-best power play percentage (23.65%), and the sixth-most shots on goal (2,708). The Sharks' biggest detractor was their goaltending; they had the worst team save percentage in the league at .889, which does not bode well when you concurrently had the second-least shots against in the league, at 2,323.
The Sharks went 2-1 against the Preds, with a total of 12 shots for and 12 shots against.
Goalie Martin Jones did not have a good year. Jones was second only to Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck in total goals allowed at 176. Of goalies who played over 50 games last year, Jones had the worst save percentage of anyone- .896. Of goalies that played over 1,000 minutes, Jones allowed the most goals, at 138. His backup, Aaron Dell, didn't provide much relief. Dell played 25 games last year (Jones played in the remaining 62) and allowed a whopping 70 goals. The rest of the Sharks team, on the other hand, created enough of a blazing offensive year to neutralize their goaltending woes.
The Sharks were the fourth-best team in the league at converting their shots into goals at a 10.7% success rate. They had the third-most even strength goals (223) and sixth-most power play goals (57). Their first forward line can be credited with a good portion of this offensive push. Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Kevin Labanc all recorded the best years of their careers in 2018-2019. The trio finished third, fourth, and seventh in San Jose's scoring, respectively. And they were rewarded accordingly, too. Couture was named captain on Sep. 12, Meier received a four-year contract extension, and Labanc signed on for another year as well. The Couture-Meier-Labanc line is a steady offensive threat, but the Preds have been able to overpower their backcheck. The three of them have played a combined 41 games against Nashville and have a disproportionate collective -19 rating.
With the loss of Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, and Evander Kane are now power-housing the second line. Burns also had the best year of his 16-year career with 83 total points. He accounted for five points in the three games the Sharks faced the Preds last season. Hertl, you guessed it, also had a career year. His 74 points were his most ever, and had three points in three games against the Preds. Kane didn't record a career high in points, but he did sit for his most penalty minutes yet, spending 153 total minutes in the sin bin in the regular season alone.
The Canucks are back into the contention fold after Elias Pettersson's Calder-winning season. They've stockpiled and groomed enough high draft picks to fill out the stoutest roster they've had since their 2011 Cup run. 2017's draft yielded Pettersson, 2018's yielded defenseman Quinn Hughes, and this year's draft yielded forward Vasily Podkolzin.
The Canucks went 1-1-1 against the Predators last year.
During the offseason, Vancouver signed ex-Hurricane/Flame forward Michael Ferland to a four year contract, ex-Canadien Jordie Benn for two years, and ex-Jet Tyler Myers for the next five years. The Canucks observed their lacking defense and bulked up with Benn and Myers accordingly. As for Ferland, he will likely wind up on the second line with Pettersson and newly re-signed Brock Boeser. Ferland recorded his best career +/- rating last year at +13. He has seven points and a +7 rating in the 11 career games he's played against the Preds. Boeser lining up with a rising Ferland could prove troublesome for the Preds; Boeser has played six career games against Nashville and has effectively recorded a point per game (Boeser was put on concussion protocol on Tuesday after being hit by Ottawa's Chris Tierney).
Which brings us to Pettersson. Pettersson is not bulky in any way, which in one way is a negative, but has proven thus far to be a positive attribute. He slips around like silk on the ice and is able to stealthily space himself out to snipe with breathtaking speed. He accounted for the Canucks' most power play goals (10), highest aggregate point shares (7.8), and joined Boeser in the team's only two hat tricks of the season. Pettersson skated in all three games against the Preds and came away with three total points. Controlling him on the Boeser-Ferland line is going to be a challenge for the Preds; they're three young guys who can skate circles around a defense.
Benn is really a nice pickup for Vancouver. He's 32, but had the best year of his career in 2018-2019. He posted 22 points, 124 hits, and a +15 rating; not the craziest stats by any measure, but is going to be a quality force on the Canucks' projected third defensive tandem with young Troy Stecher. Stecher could improve is career -11 rating facing the Preds with a seasoned Benn skating alongside him.
The Canucks now have two Calder winners on their squad. Myers, who won it with Buffalo in 2010, became more of a target for the Preds once he transitioned to the Western Conference with Winnipeg. As a Jet, Myers played 23 regular season and playoff games against the Preds and has 12 points, but sat for 30 total penalty minutes in that time. Daily Faceoff currently projects Myers to Line up with Alexander Edler on the first line defensive tandem- and luckily for Nashville, Edler hasn't been very potent during games against them.
Myers and Edler will be feeding pucks to center Bo Horvat, who recorded his highest point total last year but it still stuck with a -50 career on-ice rating. Horvat finished just behind Pettersson for the Canucks' leading scorer with 61 points.
One player the Preds, and everyone else in the league, should watch out for is Quinn Hughes. Hughes has played five NHL games and already has three assists.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights, after their 2017-2018 anomaly of a season, have begun to comfortably settle into mediocrity. They finished third in the Pacific and lost to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs. In virtually every statistical category, they're situated at or near the middle of the league. Vegas did have the fourth-highest Corsi For and Corsi +/- ratings, but those are the only measures wherein they were in the top five. Scratch that, they are the fifth-oldest team in the league (Nashville is sixth- yikes).
The Golden Knights went 1-2 against the Preds last year.
The biggest news out of Vegas during the offseason was the eight-year contract extension bestowed upon William Karlsson. Though Karlsson didn't have as insane of a year than his 2017-2018 Lady Byng-year, the Golden Knights know how integral he is to their still adapting system. He and Jon Marchessault will likely be on the second forward line along with Reilly Smith. This line- Vegas' three highest scoring players- hasn't had a whole lot of success against the Preds; between the three of them, they've only recorded seven points in six games as members of the Golden Knights.
Vegas got fleeced in the Nikita Gusev trade. New Jersey gave them a third-round pick in 2020 and a second-round pick in 2021 for the winger who's been tearing up the KHL with SKA St. Petersburg. Just in last year's KHL season, Gusev recorded 82 points in 62 games with an insane +39 rating. It's a baffling move on Vegas' part.
Forward Mark Stone was acquired by the Golden Knights through a trade with Ottawa at this year's trade deadline for young stud defenseman Erik Brannstrom and a draft pick. Stone jacked up his production last year for both teams- recording a career-record 33 goals and 73 points. Up until February, Stone was a career Eastern Conference guy. In Ottawa, Stone played eight games against the Preds with five points. Once traded, Stone played two games against the Preds with two points. It's just two games, but Stone wind up thriving on a more skilled line in Vegas with Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny than what he was stuck with in Ottawa. That's a potential problem for the Preds; Pacioretty, in just two games as a Golden Knight, has three points and a +3 rating against Nashville. Stastny has spent almost his entire career gaining experience facing the Preds while playing for three Central Division teams (Colorado, St. Louis, & Winnipeg) over the course of 12 years. Pacioretty and Stone will be able to feed off of Stastny's experience and really cause trouble for the Preds.
It's worth mentioning that the three aforementioned "new guys" were the only Golden Knights who increased their season production rather than decreased it- as all of the 2017-2018 Golden Knights did.