Ryan Kesler

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What October has in store for Pacific Division

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In an age of parity, a slump or hot streak can often be explained – at least in part – by a team’s schedule.

That’s not meant to discount strong play or wobbly goaltending, or any other factors that go into winning and losing. Even so, the answer to the question “What’s wrong with Team X?” can sometimes be “they’re tired and on a long road trip.”

With that in mind, let’s look at what October has in store for NHL teams. Since the Pacific Division features Anaheim and Arizona, we’ll start here. The goal is to cover all four divisions by the end of this weekend.

For a deep dive on PHT’s Pacific Division materials, check out this preview.

Anaheim Ducks (Beat Coyotes 5-4)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Philadelphia
Mon, Oct 9 vs Calgary
Wed, Oct 11 vs NY Islanders
Fri, Oct 13 @ Colorado
Sun, Oct 15 vs Buffalo
Fri, Oct 20 vs Montreal
Tue, Oct 24 @ Philadelphia
Thu, Oct 26 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 28 @ Tampa Bay
Sun, Oct 29 @ Carolina

The Anaheim Ducks are dealing with a blistering array of injuries, making the start of their schedule a good news/bad news situation.

Beginning 2017-18 with four straight games at home (not to mention six of seven in Anaheim) makes for a more comfortable situation, even if few of their key players come back during this stand. (Ryan Kesler isn’t walking through that door anytime soon.)

On the flip side, if the Ducks stumble, they’ll also be losing home games. So far, they managed to beat the Coyotes, so at least there’s that.

Even when the road games start to pile up, the Ducks only face one back-to-back set in October.

Arizona Coyotes (lost to Ducks)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Vegas
Tue, Oct 10 @ Vegas
Thu, Oct 12 vs Detroit
Sat, Oct 14 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Chicago
Tue, Oct 24 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

After a narrow loss to begin the season against the Ducks, the Coyotes embrace a fairly Ducks-like schedule, right down to finishing October with a back-to-back set that’s part of at least four road games against East teams. (The Coyotes face a five-game trip, as you can see; they begin November back at home.)

The Coyotes face two home-and-home sets with teams that carry some mystery in the Golden Knights and Stars. Will Vegas be as vulnerable as expected? Could Dallas live up to the hype? The Coyotes will serve as an early barometer for both teams.

Overall, this is a friendly schedule for the upstarts.

Calgary Flames (lost to Oilers 3-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Winnipeg
Mon, Oct 9 @ Anaheim
Wed, Oct 11 @ Los Angeles
Fri, Oct 13 vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 14 @ Vancouver
Thu, Oct 19 vs Carolina
Sat, Oct 21 vs Minnesota
Tue, Oct 24 @ Nashville
Wed, Oct 25 @ St. Louis
Fri, Oct 27 vs Dallas
Sun, Oct 29 vs Washington

This is not exactly a friendly start, especially if the Jets’ 7-2 loss to Toronto was a mere hiccup for a dangerous team. The Flames face two back-to-back sets, with the first starting at home against the Senators and then transitioning to Vancouver the following day. Back-to-back sets stand as the most obvious opportunities to rest Jaromir Jagr, if Calgary goes down that route.

On the bright side, there aren’t any enormous road trips yet.

Calgary needs to get everything in order by the end of October; Oct. 27’s home date against the Stars begins a seven-game homestand.

Edmonton Oilers (beat Flames)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ Vancouver
Mon, Oct 9 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Ottawa
Tue, Oct 17 vs Carolina
Thu, Oct 19 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 21 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 24 @ Pittsburgh
Thu, Oct 26 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 28 vs Washington

Connor McDavid and the Oilers get to ease into their roles as favorites with a light, low-impact October.

The Oilers get to play four of their first five games at home to start the season (counting the McDavid showcase to open 2017-18) and don’t face a back-to-back in October. Much like the Flames, they’ll want to finish the month on a high note; Oct. 26 begins a five-game homestand.

Los Angeles Kings (Shut out Flyers 2-0)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 @ San Jose
Wed, Oct 11 vs Calgary
Sat, Oct 14 vs Buffalo
Sun, Oct 15 vs NY Islanders
Wed, Oct 18 vs Montreal
Sat, Oct 21 @ Columbus
Mon, Oct 23 @ Toronto
Tue, Oct 24 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 26 @ Montreal
Sat, Oct 28 @ Boston
Mon, Oct 30 @ St. Louis

After one home game and one road contest to start the season, the Kings are slated for extremes of stands and trips.

At least there’s an opportunity to build early confidence, as Saturday’s road game isn’t exactly a cross-continent trek against the Sharks. Two back-to-back sets and that month-ending six-game road swing stand as big obstacles. That said, the Kings will enjoy a lot of home-cooking in early November, so they need to hang in there.

Another bright side is that the Kings aren’t expected to travel as rigorously as they have in the past.

San Jose Sharks (Lost 5-3 to Flyers)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 12 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 14 vs NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 17 vs Montreal
Fri, Oct 20 @ New Jersey
Sat, Oct 21 @ NY Islanders
Mon, Oct 23 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Oct 26 @ Boston
Sat, Oct 28 @ Buffalo
Mon, Oct 30 vs Toronto

Much like their BFFs in Los Angeles, the Sharks see dramatic shifts in home and road runs. They didn’t begin their season-opening five-game homestand on a high note with a loss to Philly.

One nice thing for San Jose is that there aren’t any back-to-backs in October. That’s especially nice for an aging core, although those achy legs might have appreciated such a friendly schedule deeper into the season.

Oct. 30 begins a home-heavy run: five in a row and eight of nine at home stretching into November.

Vancouver Canucks (open season on Saturday)

Schedule

Sat, Oct 7 vs Edmonton
Tue, Oct 10 vs Ottawa
Thu, Oct 12 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 14 vs Calgary
Tue, Oct 17 @ Ottawa
Thu, Oct 19 @ Boston
Fri, Oct 20 @ Buffalo
Sun, Oct 22 @ Detroit
Tue, Oct 24 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 26 vs Washington
Mon, Oct 30 vs Dallas

The Canucks are another team, like the Kings and Sharks, who rotate home and road runs. They face a road back-to-back wedged into that five-game swing in mid-October.

If the goal is to tank, you almost wonder if Vancouver would’ve welcomed an especially grueling start to the season.

Vegas Golden Knights (first-ever game tonight)

Schedule

Fri, Oct 6 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 7 @ Arizona
Tue, Oct 10 vs Arizona
Fri, Oct 13 vs Detroit
Sun, Oct 15 vs Boston
Tue, Oct 17 vs Buffalo
Sat, Oct 21 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado
Mon, Oct 30 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 31 @ NY Rangers

The Golden Knights play their first game that “counts” against the Stars tonight, but must wait until Tuesday for their first-ever home game. Their patience is rewarded with a seven-game homestand, though.

Vegas will began as a franchise with a back-to-back set, one of two in October. Things go pretty road-heavy to end October and begin November.

If some early wins help draw in extra fans, this could work out nicely for the Golden Knights.

Injury pauses start of Antti Raanta era in Arizona

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With Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler headlining a dizzying list of injured Ducks, Anaheim won’t open its season at full-strength. On the other hand, the Arizona Coyotes won’t dress their would-be new starting goalie in Antti Raanta.

The team announced that Raanta is sidelined with a “minor lower-body injury,” so Louis Domingue gets the nod, instead.

The holding pattern lingers

At 28, Raanta’s been waiting for a chance to be a top guy for a long time – excelling as a backup for both the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers – so this really has to sting.

And, really, it likely stings quite a bit more than it would for, say, Scott Darling.

Both backups were traded into intriguing opportunities, but while Darling signed a four-year, $16.6 million deal, Raanta didn’t get a new contract with the Coyotes. Instead, he’s in a high-pressure contract year; the Coyotes could easily decide that he’s not the goalie of the future. Meanwhile, goalies like Darling and Frederik Andersen got their money before they stopped a single puck for new teams.

(Raanta probably relates more to fellow former Rangers backup Cam Talbot, who didn’t receive an extension with the Edmonton Oilers until midway through his first season.)

The Coyotes deserve kudos for taking their potential new goalie for a test drive rather than splurging on an extension right away. That said, there’s the potential for an especially cruel turn for Raanta.

Prove it (again)

Consider this: Domingue ($1.05M) actually carries a slightly larger cap hit than Raanta ($1M). There’s at least a chance that he might outplay Raanta, especially if this is the type of issue that lingers.

In the bigger picture, this remains a golden opportunity. Just check out Raanta’s sparkling stats from the past three seasons:

2014-15 (Chicago): 12-7-4, .936 save percentage, .936 GAA

2015-16 (Rangers): 18-11-6, .919 save percentage, 2.25 GAA

2016-17 (Rangers): 26-16-8, .922 save percentage, 2.26 GAA

With what could be a stout Coyotes defense, it’s perfectly realistic to picture Raanta transitioning from a backup with strong starter numbers to a proven number one.

Can you blame Raanta if there’s at least a slight fear that this opportunity will split through his fingers, though?

* – Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a little banged-up but playing, so the Coyotes have their own injury challenges. Just nowhere near as many as the Ducks are facing.

Don’t be surprised if Kings, Ducks, Sharks finish with similar records

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Heading into the 2017-18 season, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Anaheim Ducks, a solid amount still going to the San Jose Sharks, and a pile of doom and gloom for the Los Angeles Kings.

Some of this comes down to crummy luck, but here’s an observation: it’s highly likely that the three California teams will finish very close in the standings.

Let’s consider the state of each team.

To go even deeper, check out PHT’s detailed preview for the Pacific Division.

Waddling through injuries

My goodness are the Anaheim Ducks banged up right now.

The OC Register’s Eric Stephens reports that Ryan Getzlaf won’t play in the Ducks’ season-opening game against the Arizona Coyotes. With John Gibson doubtful, it all adds to a troubling situation. Resounding workhorse Ryan Kesler could be gone for quite some time. Kesler is on IR with wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Patrick Eaves, and Ryan Miller. Woof.

It’s a testament to what GM Bob Murray’s built that the Ducks still have a fighting chance, as young players like Rickard Rakell bring something to the table.

Still, even well-stocked teams can only withstand so many injuries. Anaheim might just pay the price for its deep playoff run in 2016-17, not to mention the emphasis on aging, physical forwards in the well-compensated duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

In an NHL with injuries turned off like a video game, the Ducks would be one of the NHL’s deepest teams.

Sharks getting sleepy?

Even in losing 5-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, the Sharks put on a pretty good show. When those top-end players are clicking, they’re still pretty special.

That said, consider how old those guys are. Joe Thornton might be the next Jaromir Jagr in aging like hockey-themed wine, but he could also slip at 38. Joe Pavelski, somehow, is 33 already. With a shaky year or two in Minnesota in mind, many might be surprised that Brent Burns is 32. Paul Martin is 36 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a high-mileage 30. Even younger cornerstones Logan Couture (28) and Martin Jones (27) aren’t necessarily spring chickens. Joel Ward is 36 and even a supporting guy like Jannik Hansen is 31. This is an old group despite allowing Patrick Marleau to leave for a three-year term.

(Yes, Marleau was great last night, but the Sharks still made the difficult-but-necessary choice there.)

Although there’s skill in players such as Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, being a regular contender has generally limited the Sharks’ ability to surround those aging veterans with a ton of talent.

A slip is coming, and the drop could be sharp. The Sharks just have to hope that it doesn’t come now.

Reports of Kings’ demise exaggerated?

Look, there’s no doubt that the Kings’ salary cap situation is … appalling.

In the long-term, GM Rob Blake has a mess on his hands that Ron Hextall might have winced at early in the Flyers rebuild. Even in 2017-18, there are some problems.

Still, it’s easy to get swept into excessive pessimism and forget that it wasn’t all bad for the Kings; it’s also possible that their luck might go up a tick.

Don’t forget that the Kings still dominated puck possession in 2016-17. Also don’t forget that, even at their best, the Kings tended to struggle during the regular season. Los Angeles ranked third in the Pacific during its two championship seasons; the Darryl Sutter Kings won two Stanley Cups and zero division titles.

Anze Kopitar‘s contract looks scary, yet a 2017-18 rebound is far from unreasonable. They can still revv up “That ’70s Line” with Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli (or at least elements of that). Perhaps system tweaks will allow Drew Doughty to be the fantasy-friendly scorer many dreamed of?

Now, again, there’s some negative stuff. Even beyond predictably depressing updates about Marian Gaborik, the Kings’ defense looks to be without Alec Martinez for some time.

***

With the Central Division looming as a threat to take as many as five of the West’s eight playoff spots (for all we know), the Pacific Division could come down to the Edmonton Oilers and two other teams.

Don’t be surprised if one or more of those positions become, well, a battle of California. And don’t count the Kings out altogether in that joust, either.

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

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Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

Under Pressure: John Gibson

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This post is part of Ducks Day on PHT…

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry carry big-time pressure into every Anaheim Ducks season as the team’s dynamic, highest-paid duo. There’s a strong chance Cam Fowler will feel some of that heat after signing a big extension that kicks in starting in 2018-19.

Still, as much as those guys might sweat being under the microscope, their contracts run for quite some time.

John Gibson, on the other hand, will see his future determined by how he – and his team – performs during the next season or two.

Now, technically, 2017-18 isn’t a contract year for Gibson.

When it comes to prominent players, it often feels like they face the possibility of two contract years, at least if they falter during that penultimate one. The logic is simple enough: if a team views you as a part of its core, then it will often get an extension settled as early as possible, frequently when said player still has a year remaining on their current deal.

(Connor McDavid is the splashiest, most recent example. Fowler is the latest Ducks player to get that nod, with some surprise considering the many trade rumors that followed him.)

Let’s consider the many factors that could influence Gibson’s outlook and his future with the Ducks.

Strong – but limited – showings

As a second-round pick (39th overall in 2011, by Anaheim), Gibson has come along nicely. He played three games in 2013-14, 23 in 2014-15, 40 in 2015-16 and then 52 last season after Frederik Andersen was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

(You could say Gibson “won” the goalie battle with Andersen, but Andersen’s accountant would probably beg to differ.)

At 24, Gibson has shown strong signs of being legit. His 2016-17 campaign was his best with a 25-16-9 record and a strong .924 save percentage, and it was in stride with his very impressive .922 career mark.

Still, he hasn’t shown that he can carry the workload of a big-money, top guy yet considering his 52-game peak. Sure, 118 NHL games is a reasonable body of work, but especially fickle types might say that the jury is still out. At least if Gibson wants that big franchise money, especially since he’s been solid but unspectacular in the postseason so far.

“What have you done for me lately?”

It’s also worth noting that you could claim that the Ducks can be a little fickle with their goalies.

With the threat of an expansion draft looming, it was understandable that GM Bob Murray decided to make a choice, opting for the cost-controlled, higher-pedigree Gibson over Andersen.

Still, whether it has to do with an organizational mindset or life as a budget contender, it’s remarkable how disciplined the Ducks have been when it comes to avoiding huge commitments to their goalies. Whether it be Jean-Sebastien Giguere leaving despite a Stanley Cup ring, Jonas Hiller’s failed reign, Andersen losing the joust with Gibson, or even Brian Burke staying true to his word in trading Ilya Bryzgalov, the Ducks aren’t afraid to switch gears in net when other teams might panic.

Right now, Gibson seems like the guy in net, and a good one in that. He can’t rest on his laurels, though.

Ryan Miller factor?

When the Ducks signed Ryan Miller, it seemed like a smart move, and also a clear case of getting a once-proud goalie to wind down his career as a backup.

Even so, Miller instantly becomes the most qualified backup in the NHL; he’s not that far removed from being a respectable starter. Anaheim likely views its window of contention as vulnerable with Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry all at age 32 already. If Gibson falters, he could conceivably lose significant stretches of starts to Miller.

The two goalies even have matching two-year terms and are carrying nearly identical cap hits, so it’s not as though Miller lacks any staying power, even if his advanced age limits the threat to Gibson overall.

***

Again, Gibson’s numbers and potential shine brightly right now, and every sign points to him being an important part of the Ducks’ future.

The franchise’s recent history indicates that he’d be foolish to assume it’s a done deal, though.