Welcome back to another edition of Making the Grade, where everyone gets to wallow away over their preseason predictions falling apart. The Pacific Division is a mix of top contenders and teams on the edge of something great. With one goal in mind to start the season, some groups have shown promise, and some have felt like a letdown. What teams have conquered every limitation, and what teams have yet even to take a step? We are going to discuss that today, so without further ado, let us begin.
Is your team making the grade? Check out our midseason grades.
Midseason Grade: D
The last five years have felt like a fever dream for this team. It is like the movie Groundhog Day; only the comedy is unintentional. The Ducks’ expectations have remained the same each year, with the hope of this core nearing contention. But how long until this team realizes they are trying everything to do absolutely nothing? Any signing or player drafted has stalled, and the team seems to be waiting for a player to spin straw into gold.
Fans believe goaltender John Gibson has been an outlier on this mess of a team, with the thought that if he were on a better team, he would be elite, but statistics do not prove this. In 32 games played, he has a record of 8-20-4, with -12 goals saved above expected and a save percentage of .892. In addition, players like Jakob Silfvergberg, John Klingberg, and Cam Fowler have struggled immensely and look to be on their way out.
Midseason Grade: C-
When this team overhauled a struggling core, there was this sentimental feeling of hope in Calgary. The idea was to bolster the top 6. Acquiring superstars Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in a blockbuster trade? That is a start. Going big game hunting for Nazem Kadri? Even better. It felt like this was the year the Flames were going to catch fire and be true cup contenders.
But halfway through the season, it is clear this flame is torched. The team looks like it is giving up on the season, with players failing to gel with the defensive system head coach Darryl Sutter runs. This coach’s struggling message reflects on the team’s discipline, as they sit fourth in the league for penalty minutes. Goaltender Jacob Markstrom has worked as well, with a mere goal saved above the expected of 1.2 and goals against an average of 2.86. With the amount of cap spent to retain this core, it is worrisome that they have failed to win.
Midseason Grade: C+
Free Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Get them out of this depleted franchise. The Edmonton Oilers have two of the top three players in the league on their team, yet have failed to build a proper core around them. The ongoing trade rumors have made Jesse Puljujarvi nearly worthless, and overpaying for players has limited the team with cap space. Darnell Nurse has played horrendously, with 46 defensive zone giveaways and -6 goals expected when he’s on the ice.
But the major flaw is in goaltending. The Oilers signed goaltender Jack Campbell to a contract worth 5 million dollars annually over five years. The goal was to have stability in the net for when the team made its eventual cup run, but things have not gone to plan. To say Campbell has been disappointing would be a prenominal understatement. He has -10.8 goals saved above expected and goals against an average of 3.35. The Oilers will look to the trade deadline to bolster their core and expect to make a deep run despite the flaws.
Los Angeles Kings
Midseason Grade: B+
When a team goes through its inevitable rebuild, the Los Angeles Kings will be the blueprint they follow. This team is on the right track, and they have developed players extraordinarily well. This year has been another step in the road, with players like Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson, and Phillip Danault proving they are the pieces for the future. Defenseman Drew Doughty has played like the star he is, scoring 31 points in 51 games while starting 37.3 percent of shifts in the neutral or defensive zone. Their powerplay success rate is 23.7 percent, proving they can make teams pay for their mistakes. This team shows promise in scoring, and it shows night in and out.
But while their offense does its job, it is time to address the elephant in the room: goaltending. For how good he has been his whole career, Jonathan Quick looks like a shell of himself. With -14.5 goals saved above expected and a goals-against average of 3.41, it is clear he is not the answer anymore. Goaltending is the x-factor come playoff time, and if the Kings cannot find stability in the net, they will be knocked out early.
San Jose Sharks
Midseason Grade: C-
The time has come to admit that there is no boat big enough for this Sharks team. This team has stalled; with immovable contracts and inconsistent play from stars, the team has no real hope for the future. Superstars Timo Meier and Logan Couture have played up to expectations, doing their best to carry this franchise to a brighter tomorrow. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a defensive liability, with 17 defensive zone giveaways and an on-ice goals percentage of 38.5. This team is just swimming with no land in sight.
But there is one bright spot. After a few years of injuries and inconsistency, defenseman Erik Karlsson is back. His playstyle is back to being elite, with 66 points in 51 games and 7.9 goals above expected; his offensive metrics can be utilized as a trade piece come deadline day. Expect the Sharks to sell high on Karlsson to help fully kickstart their inevitable rebuild.
Midseason Grade: A
The Seattle Kraken are fulfilling expectations given to them last season. This team is terrifying to play against, as their depth can outrun anyone in a game. They do not have one superstar; instead, they run four complete lines of hockey that are successful come playoff time. With a takeaway percentage of 56.55, they are proving they can handle defensive pressure extravagantly. Expect this team to be a dark horse contender, as that grit and solid defensive structure will be tough to beat.
Vegas Golden Knights
Midseason Grade: B
The Vegas Golden Knights play a boring style of hockey, but it has been working so far for them. Instead of being flashy and every man playing their own style, head coach Bruce Cassidy has forced them to drop their ego and play as a team. They sit tenth in the league for faceoff win percentage at 51.91 percent and are proving they can create space by firing 105 high-danger shots. This team is going to play a full sixty minutes and beat a team by one mistake, as they sit 11th in the league for powerplay success at 23.3 percent. Do not count this team out or treat them like an underdog because that is where they thrive.
Midseason Grade: F-
What is there to say about this team that has not already been said? This season has been a considerable step back for the organization. From the mishandling of Tanner Pearson‘s injury to the unprofessionalism shown in the Bruce Boudreau firing, this season has been a disaster for Vancouver Canucks fans. During the offseason, the Canucks front office chose star forward J.T. Miller over their captain Bo Horvat and left a mark in the locker room. The worst-case scenario has been worse than ever before. It is as if this team is trying to put in a screw by beating on it with a hammer since every move turns into a poor one.
With trade rumors of the whole team, expect them to be hardcore sellers come trade deadline day and rebuild the core slowly. This core is not a contender, regardless of who steps up in the locker room. The front office is expecting different results with the same motions, and it is driving this team off a cliff.
Midseason Grade: C-
On any given night, a team can win. But in a playoff series, it becomes a war, not just a battle. Most of these teams can load up and send players out for a hard battle, but when it comes to a 7-game series, do not expect much from this division as a whole. Each team has a chance to win, but it is unclear if they will be able to take that next step or stall out. If these teams fail to gain momentum and goaltending at the right time, then it is going to be a long off-season.
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