The calendar has turned over to September, which means one thing: hockey is nearly back. Captain’s skates are starting, prospects are getting ready for their camps and development tournaments, and the rest of the players are slowly making their way back to the rinks for training camps later in the month.
And with another offseason coming to a much anticipated close, there are some new looks around the league as many players are swapping jerseys. Over the month of September, tune in to our division previews series for a recap of some of the biggest moves per team in the offseason and a look at what the storyline for the upcoming season might be. Some players have yet to sign as of the writing of the article and are left out of the key subtractions category but are also not with the team they played for last season.
First off will be the Pacific Division!
Anaheim Ducks 2023–24 preview
The Anaheim Ducks are looking to finally turn the corner on their rebuild and return to a competitive position in the league. After a few seasons of seeming stagnation as they let their prospects develop and move up the depth chart, will they finally see some growth in 2023–24?
Last season was the worst in Ducks history, so up is really the only direction to go from here. With another year of development for young stars like Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Jamie Drysdale, and the likely addition of second overall pick Carlsson, Anaheim should at the very least be an exciting team to watch.
The additions of the offseason show a clear direction for the team’s development. Toughness on the back-end. Gudas, Hagg, and Lyubishkin are all big, physical defenders. Anaheim clearly wanted to make their team harder to play against and find ways to wear down the opposition in what is turning into one of the most offensively packed divisions in the league.
A big question mark for any success the Ducks may or may not have, however, is in net. Trade rumours have swirled around John Gibson for seasons, but even if he stays in Anaheim, he has struggled with recurring injuries the last few seasons and his statline is continually getting worse. It may be time for Lukas Dostal to get a bigger role in the crease.
Most other teams in the division are far stronger on paper or got better this offseason, so it is difficult to see Anaheim improving their standings position much and they will likely finish in the bottom couple of spots for another season.
Calgary Flames 2023–24 preview
In the midst of a locker room blow-up, the Calgary Flames have had a lackluster offseason. Although some important culture moves were made, notably a change at head coach, the roster was barely touched. Which is concerning when a chunk of the team’s core, Elias Lindholm (though he may be willing to stay), Mikael Backlund, and Noah Hanifin, are rumoured to be wanting out, with leading scorer Toffoli already having been traded away.
A key theme the Flames seem to be banking on is that last season’s underperformance was a fluke and a result of poor coaching, locker room dynamics, and sheer bad luck. This makes sense, given Calgary had the league’s lowest shooting percentage last season and lost countless games by just a single goal.
The talent on the roster is there for the team to compete and with a new mentality in the front office and on the bench, it may finally be a chance for some of the younger players to make an impact in the NHL. Notably, Dustin Wolf, who has won the AHL goalie of the year award two years in a row, is poised to challenge in the Flames’ crease in 2023–24.
Calgary should see improvement this season and will hopefully have a new culture and approach that will let some of the offensive talent shine to help the team match up against the others in this division. The Flames should be in competition for a wild card spot this season.
Edmonton Oilers 2023–24 preview
After a disappointing second round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Edmonton Oilers are heading into 2023–24 with a new sense of determination. Losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions two seasons in a row has shown this group what it is going to take to go all the way to hoisting the Cup.
Last season, the Oilers hit 50 wins in the regular season for the first time since the 1980s. This group is largely unchanged from 2022–23, with the only real changes being in the depth forward positions. The core is the same with the added benefit of having one more year developing and growing together.
One area the Oilers were let down throughout last season and the playoffs was in net. Jack Campbell struggled and Stuart Skinner was worn out by playoff time. The hope is that the former can rebound off of a disappointing first season in Edmonton and the latter will have gotten more used to the workload of a starter in the NHL to have improved durability in 2023–24.
With two of the best players in the world, one of the most offensively packed teams in the league, a historically dominant power play, and slowly improving depth, the Oilers should easily be competing for the division title, possibly the top few standings positions in the league, and maybe even the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles Kings 2023–24 preview
This offseason gave the Los Angeles Kings another key piece to continuing their meteoric rise back to the top of the league after a few disappointing rebuilding seasons. They’ve accumulated one of the best prospect pools in the league that has slowly been graduating into bigger roles in the NHL. And, they’ve leveraged acquired countless key pieces to their roster, including Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Gavrikov, and most recently, Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The Kings have crafted one of the deepest rosters in the league that can compete in nearly any facet of the game. They finished tenth in goals for last season with a potent offence that only got better with the addition of Dubois. They have two of the best defensive forwards in the league with Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault and two of the better defensive defenders in Drew Doughty and Gavrikov.
However, the area that they were let down a bit last season, and still may be, is goaltending. They are projected to start the season with Pheonix Copley and Talbot, with Rittich challenging for a spot as well.
Copley was serviceable when called on last season, but has never been near a starter’s spot otherwise. Talbot has struggled for most of the last five seasons. And Rittich is also historically a backup.
The skaters on the Kings’ roster are more than enough for them to be competing for a divisional playoff spot. But they may find they lost some points and games due to having weaker goaltending.
San Jose Sharks 2023–24 preview
The San Jose Sharks have a clear direction right now: rebuild. This is not a team that will compete for anything but the draft lottery, nor will they even be a chaos producer within the division by winning games and taking points away from the teams competing. After trading away their best player, Karlsson, they do not have the star power or depth remaining to pose much of a threat.
Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture are still solid players who will be most of the driving force behind anything the Sharks produce, but they can’t do it alone. San Jose will be relying on a bunch of depth players or players on “show-me” type deals being put into positions to give them a chance to break out.
On defence and in net, the Sharks have a lot to be desired and those positions will be spots of difficulty all season long. Karlsson’s absence leaves the team without a legit top defender. They may not even have a defender who would get top pairing minutes on any other team in the league. And in goal, San Jose will be keeping their fingers crossed for Blackwood to be healthy and find some of the success that helped him have a fantastic rookie season with the New Jersey Devils a few years ago.
The Sharks are destined to be at the bottom of the division this season and there is a very good chance they will be even worse than they were in 2022–23.
Seattle Kraken 2023–24 preview
The 2022–23 season was a huge success for the Seattle Kraken as they made the playoffs and won a series for the first time in franchise history. They did so off of one of the biggest year-over-year turnarounds of the last couple of decades. Seattle’s roster may not have the most star-power, but they are one of the deepest teams in the league that can match up against nearly any team and roster composition.
Most of the moves made over the offseason were replacements. The roster is about the same quality as it was in 2022–23. Which is a fantastic sign for the team in terms of gauging their chances of replicating last year’s results. Reigning Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers will be able to take a much bigger role this season as well, which is good news considering how well-rounded his game is early on in his career.
For both of their seasons thus far, goaltending has been an issue for the Kraken. Martin Jones, who provided some stability in the crease to keep the team competitive through last season, has signed elsewhere. Leaving the crease back to Philipp Grubauer, who has struggled in his time in Seattle. The team will need him to find a new level to his game if they want to improve on last season’s results.
Assuming that last season was not a fluke, the Kraken should finish approximately where they did in 2022–23. They will firmly be in a wild card spot and competing for a divisional spot.
The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the most chaotic organizations over the past few seasons with questionable roster moves and personnel decisions keeping them top of mind in the hockey world. They’ve tried to usher in a new era, but it is a slow process that seems to be pointing towards an inevitable rebuild being needed.
Last season, the Canucks showed some promise after a coaching change. Just enough to lift them out of contention for the draft lottery. Over the offseason, the team did not make any significant moves that will improve the roster on paper, unless buying out Ekman-Larsson is considered improving the team.
There are plenty of weak spots on the roster, but the biggest is going to once again be defence. Quite simply, the team does not really have a defensive defender and has struggled with that side of the game for years. Sometimes, they are bailed out by Thatcher Demko. But if he is hurt or slumping, like last season, it adds a huge barrier to the Canucks’ success.
Although they won’t be near the bottom of the division as they have too many star players to struggle that much, the Canucks do not appear to have the depth to be serious competitors for a playoff spot and will finish somewhere in the lower-middle of the division.
Vegas Golden Knights 2023–24 preview
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights are poised to compete for the ultimate prize once again in 2023–24. With a roster that is virtually unchanged year-over-year, it is hard to see a situation in which they do not mimic their performance from last season.
They have lost a key part of the franchise, with original member Smith being traded away in the offseason. But he was the only real change to the roster. So the team that won the Pacific Division and finished fifth in the league is basically the same.
The biggest question mark for the Golden Knights will be on offence. They can score, but they went through stretches last season while working around various injuries where the offence let the team down. Specifically, if Jack Eichel was not in the lineup or scoring, the rest of the team was being held off the scoresheet as well.
Vegas will be in competition for the top divisional spot once again, but as has been the case during their history, injuries may play a huge role in the storyline of the season. As the Golden Knights have shown, however, they do not let their season get derailed by injuries.
Stay tuned over the next month as we get you prepared by previewing each division in the leadup to the 2023–24 season!
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire