- Online sportsbooks have released odds on the prospective winner of the NHL’s Pacific Division
- Thanks to their blockbuster acquisition of Erik Karlsson, San Jose is the de facto favorite
- Despite having the best player in the NHL in Connor McDavid, the Oilers have the third longest odds to win the Pacific
With the 2018-19 season only 16 days away, Bovada has posted odds to win each NHL division. Oddsmakers and pundits alike are expecting a hard-fought battle between the Knights (+280) and the Sharks (+240), but the fight for the division is a lot more open-ended than bookmakers would lead you to believe.
The Ducks, Kings, Flames, and Oilers all boast talented lineups (on paper, at least) and each of these teams has a legitimate chance to surprise and capture a division title. Arizona and Vancouver have a bevy of intriguing young talent, but their best days are ahead of them and their chances to make the playoffs, much less win the division, are negligible.
Read on to learn about each team’s odds and outlook as we sit on the precipice of a new season.
2018-19 Pacific Division Odds
San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson pulled off yet another brilliant blockbuster trade less than a week ago, acquiring two-time Norris Trophy winner and former Senators captain Erik Karlsson for two depth players (Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo) and a package of futures. The Sharks had a fairly quiet season offseason otherwise, with their only other significant transaction being the re-signing of 2018 trade deadline acquisition Evander Kane to a multi-year contract.
It’s likely that Karlsson and Burns each score 18+ goals and 70+ points, and San Jose’s breadth of back-end options means that neither of these two will have to spend their top minutes on the penalty kill
The addition of Erik Karlsson gives San Jose what is (nearly) inarguably the best defense core in the NHL, one that also features perennial Norris candidate Brent Burns, defensive stalwart Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and two defensively responsible, minute-munching top-4 defenders in Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun. San Jose’s back-end depth is unparalleled, and the envy of the rest of the NHL; it’s likely that Karlsson and Burns each score 18+ goals and 70+ points, and San Jose’s breadth of back-end options means that neither of these two will have to spend their top minutes on the penalty kill or against opposing team’s best forwards.
Instead of opting to bolster their forward lineup via either free agency or trade, the Sharks are relying on their young guns to continue to blossom under the tutelage of veterans Joe Thorton (who returns to the Sharks after missing a majority of the season with a knee injury), Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski. The Sharks are hoping that Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc can build on promising rookie campaigns, and the Tomas Hertl can solidify himself as a 55+ point top-6 player. If everything goes right for the Sharks, they’re going to be tough to beat.
San Jose Sharks Key Additions/Departures
Vegas Golden Knights
On paper, things look good for the reigning champs of the Pacific Division. Yes, they lost two key players from their magical 2017-18 campaign in James Neal and David Perron, but they supplemented this loss with the acquisition of close friends and team USA linemates Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. If these two can replicate the chemistry they’ve shown on international ice, and if the Smith-Karlsson-Marchessault line can continue to improve, Vegas is going to be lethal.
However, these are big ifs that Vegas is relying on. As we pointed out in our article covering the implications of the Pacioretty deal, all but three Golden Knights skaters had the best statistical seasons of their careers last year. While it’s going to be difficult for the Golden Knights to repeat this, it’s by no means impossible. The most important Golden Knight is still easily Marc-Andre Fleury, and if he’s able to find his Vezina-caliber game again for long stretches of the season, the Golden Knights are poised to contend for the Pacific division title.
However, the Golden Knights will be in tough without their #1 defenseman in Nate Schmidt, who’s sitting the first 20 games after violating the NHL’s PED policies. Every point is so important in the race to capture a division title, and the Vegas Knights are going to miss out on a few due to being without the services such an integral member of their roster for nearly 25% of the season. For this reason, they don’t provide great value at +280.
Vegas Golden Knights Key Additions/Departures
Much like the Sharks, Anaheim Duck’s strength lies in their defense. A top-4 of Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Montour is mobile, reliable, and able to get it done at both ends of the ice. It’s likely that this young top-4 group (the elder statesman is Fowler, who’s only 26) will be even stronger than last year simply by virtue of having an additional year of experience under their belt.
Not to mention that they’ll be playing in front of phenom John Gibson, who is criminally underrated around the league and hasn’t posted a SV% under 0.920 (despite facing the highest shots/game of any goaltender over this period) in his three seasons as the Ducks’ starter.
However, some legitimate questions swirl around the Ducks’ forwards. The Sharks absolutely demolished the Ducks in four games in the 2018 playoffs, and the once-dominant Getzlaf-Perry duo looked old, slow, lazy, and undisciplined. Perhaps we’re being too harsh, as Getzlaf still scored 61 points in 56 regular season games last season, but there’s much less reason to be sanguine about Corey Perry’s disastrous 2017-18 campaign, where he looked totally disengaged and scored 17 goals in 71 games, followed by zero points in the post-season. The Ducks will get a big boon if Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves can return from injury and make effective contributions, but this is a big if.
The Ducks will get a big boon if Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves can return from injury and make effective contributions, but this is a big if.
In a league that’s indisputable trending towards speed, the Ducks are going to need to bank on four veteran forwards to regain their form if they even want to get within striking distance of a division title. That’s a long shot, in our eyes.
Anaheim Ducks Key Additions/Departures
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings, once frequently derided as old and slow under Darryl Sutter, managed to rebuild their reputation as an up-tempo hockey team under new head coach John Stevens. Anze Kopitar posted a career-high 35 goals and 92 points at the age of 31, and earned himself his first ever Hart Trophy nomination. Similarly, Dustin Brown posted a career 61 points after not posting more than 36 points in any of his last five seasons.
However, the Kings new identity seemingly evaporated in the first round against Vegas, as they were handily swept in four games, looking slow and ineffective in comparison to the Knights.
So what will the Kings look like this year? It’s really hard to say. There’s no doubt that having a healthy Jeff Carter (limited to 27 games last year) will be a massive boost, as will the continued growth of sophomores Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe. Gabriel Vilardi looks like he could step in and make an impact immediately, as well.
However, we doubt the Kings are a real threat for a division title. Their defense is run of the mill (yes, Doughty and Muzzin are incredible talents) but a top 4 that also features Fobort and Phaneuf is suspect. Plus, if the aging and oft-injured Jonathan Quick goes down with another serious ailment they’ll be totally sunk. Playoff team? Yes. Division winner? Probably not.
Los Angeles Kings Key Additions/Departures
After an incredibly disappointing 2017-218 season that saw them finish well below expectations with 84 points, the Flames made some serious changes in the offseason. Gone are key cogs of the year previous in Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Troy Brouwer, and in are Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, James Neal, and Derek Ryan. On paper, the Flames look even better than they did last season, and they looked mighty fine on paper last season.
James Neal is a great addition to the top-6, and if Sam Bennett finally breaks out, the Flames are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
The Flames forwards, led by Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, are deep and all responsible in their own end. James Neal is a great addition to the top-6, and if Sam Bennett finally breaks out, the Flames are going to be a force to be reckoned with.
However, the onus is on the perennially underachieving Flames to prove their doubters wrong. The one sore spot in their lineup is Mike Smith, who’s going to be 37 in March of this year. If he goes down with injury ( which he usually does) the Flames are lacking proven depth in the backup position. However, the Flames are a solid bet to be a great team this year.
Calgary Flames Key Additions/Departures
The Edmonton Oilers, in our eyes, are the most intriguing option on the board, merely by virtue of having the best player in the league in Connor McDavid. However, the Oilers are still rife with problems, as they lack any offensively capable D (exacerbated by Sekera’s long-term injury) and they’re slow on the wings.
Milan Lucic had a brutal 2017-18 campaign (seriously, the guy put up 10 goals on McDavid’s wing, which almost defies imagination), and Peter Chiarelli only has the cap space to chase bargain bin wingers, which in this case are Ty Rattie and Tobias Reider.
However, Connor McDavid can mask all of these problems. He really is on another plane than any other player in the league, and he’s likely to up his game to a new level heading into the 2018-19 campaign.
The other player who can mask the deficiencies in the Oilers’ lineup is Cam Talbot, who had a horrendous 2017-18 season, posting a pedestrian .908 last season. If he can get back to playing Vezina-level hockey as he did in the 2016-17 season, Edmonton could be a contender to win the division.
Edmonton Oilers Key Additions/Departures
The Coyotes are bound to improve from last season, where they got a mere 70 points, but they’re still a team in flux. John Chayka is a trading wizard, but given his budgetary constraints, there’s a limit on how much he’s really able to improve the Coyotes.
The acquisitions of Alex Galchenyuk and Vinnie Hinostroza were very good ones in our eyes, and look for these two players to blossom when they’re used in roles that better suit their strengths. However, the Coyotes have neither the depth in their forward lines or their defense to pose a legitimate threat for the division title. We wouldn’t write them off for sneaking into a wildcard spot though, and they’re a smart bet for the over on regular season point totals.
Arizona Coyotes Key Additions/Departures
To be frank, the Canucks pose about as close to a 0% chance of capturing a division title as the laws of probability allow. What happens when you replace two hall of fame players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the already concussed Antoine Roussel and a 32-year old, over-the-hill Jay Beagle? You get a bad, bad team. Yes, the Canucks have a promising stead of young players waiting in the wings, but their time in the limelight is still a long way down the road.
Additionally, the Canucks had arguably the worst defense corps in the league last year, and they responded by bringing back the exact same 8 defenders. Look for the Canucks to be a bottom 3 team this year, and far away from even remotely approaching a division title.
Vancouver Canucks Key Additions/Departures
Which Team Offers to Most Value to Bettors?
At +650, we like Edmonton’s chances. Converted to implied probability, this means that the Oilers have a 13.3% chance of winning the division.
A motivated Connor McDavid and bounce back years from a few players could send Edmonton soaring to a division victory.
A motivated Connor McDavid and bounce back years from a few players could send Edmonton soaring to a division victory. They aren’t the safest bet, but then again, neither is betting against a player as good as the otherworldly Connor McDavid.