It's never too early to take stock of where teams stand in the NHL. The 2019 NHL Draft has passed, and many of the big names in free agency have found a home for this season, so this is as good a time as any to look at the balance of power in the Pacific Division. We asked nine NHL.com staff writers for their opinions on which team will be the best in the division this season. Here are their thoughts:
Tim Campbell, staff writer
Calgary Flames: The Flames, with 107 points, were the cream of the crop in the Western Conference last season and they are in no way diminished this season, returning a dangerous top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm. Forward Matthew Tkachuk had 77 points (34 goals, 43 assists) and is an emerging elite player. Calgary scored 289 goals last season, tied with the San Jose Sharks for the most in the conference, and allowed 223 goals (fifth). The Flames defensemen feature Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, and with T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin in the top four, the group underscored Calgary's consistency last season. It all adds up to a solid list of credentials for a Stanley Cup contender.
Video: 31 in 31: Calgary Flames 2019-20 season preview
Nick Cotsonika, columnist
Vegas Golden Knights: A full season of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone could make a good team a great one. Which is the No. 1 line? Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith, or Pacioretty, Stastny and Stone? Forward Alex Tuch seems ready to take another step too. On defense, the Golden Knights have several young players on the rise. The only question is which one makes the team. In goal, they still have Marc-Andre Fleury. They should have plenty of motivation after blowing a 3-1 series lead -- and a 3-0 lead in the third period of Game 7 -- to the Sharks in the Western Conference First Round.
Video: 31 in 31: Vegas Golden Knights 2019-20 season preview
William Douglas, staff writer
Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights are probably the team in the Pacific Division with the best balance of veterans and young players. Pacioretty should be fully adjusted and more comfortable in playing in Las Vegas this season. There's plenty of offensive talent with Pacioretty, Stastny, Marchessault and Tuch. Fleury is still an elite goalie, but he'll turn 35 on Nov. 28 and Vegas may want to manage his workload after he played 61 games last season (35-21-5, 2.51 goals-against average, .913 save percentage). To do that, the Golden Knights will need more from backup Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 save percentage).
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
San Jose Sharks: This was a difficult decision because none of the top teams in the Pacific made any significant offseason additions and I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon of the Arizona Coyotes yet. I'll pick the Sharks despite the departure of captain Joe Pavelski, who signed with the Dallas Stars as an unrestricted free agent, and some remaining uncertainty about the return of center Joe Thornton. While everyone has been waiting for the Sharks' Stanley Cup window to close because their core was getting older, they've gradually been transitioning to their next generation. Forward Logan Couture, who had 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists) in 81 games last season, appears ready to take over the captaincy at age 30 and lead a talented forward group that includes Tomas Hertl, 25, Timo Meier, 22, Evander Kane, 28, and Kevin Labanc, 23. With Erik Karlsson, who re-signed for eight seasons, expected to be healthy after playing through injuries last season, San Jose will have perhaps the strongest top three on defense in the NHL with him, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Video: 31 in 31: San Jose Sharks 2019-20 season preview
Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
Vegas Golden Knights: They have unfinished business after their season ended abruptly in Game 7 of the first round. The Golden Knights have one of the best workhorse goalies in Fleury (35 wins, eight shutouts last season) and arguably the deepest forward group in the Western Conference, including two first-line caliber units. Vegas also has a potential breakout defenseman in Shea Theodore, who should be a fixture on the first power play with the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line, especially after Colin Miller was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 28. Coach Gerard Gallant (.567) has the fourth-best winning percentage among coaches who have been in the NHL each of the past four seasons (behind Barry Trotz .634; Jon Cooper .622; and Mike Sullivan .580). NHL.com's fantasy department projects Vegas for 45 wins, one more than the Flames and two more than the Sharks, putting the Golden Knights in line to win the Pacific for the second time in their first three seasons.
Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
Calgary Flames: Coach Bill Peters made good use of his best players on the way to a first-place finish in the conference last season, and there's no reason to think there would be a significant drop-off. Gaudreau should exceed 80 points for a third straight season; he had 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) last season to lead an offense that scored 3.52 goals per game, which tied the Sharks for second in the NHL (Tampa Bay Lightning, 3.89). The Flames had the best home record (26-10-5) and road record (24-15-2) in the West, the power play ranked 18th in the NHL (19.3 percent) with Gaudreau (27 power-play points), Lindholm (26), Tkachuk (24), Monahan (23), and Giordano (21), and they led the League with 18 shorthanded goals. The defensemen are anchored by Giordano, Calgary's captain, with Hamonic, Hanifin and Brodie.
Video: Johnny Gaudreau comes in at No. 7 on the Top 20 Wings
Tracey Myers, staff writer
Vegas Golden Knights: Vegas is going to rise to the top of the Pacific standings. This is a strong team that became stronger with the trade for Stone from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 25. The Sharks will challenge for the division despite losing Pavelski. The Coyotes will be better, and I believe they're ready to get back to the postseason. But the Golden Knights are too complete a team to be denied in the Pacific this season.
Dave Stubbs, columnist
Vegas Golden Knights: I'm going with Vegas as the cream of the Pacific, as much for Fleury, the face of this team, as for his strong supporting cast. From their dreamy inaugural season run, to the Stanley Cup Final, to their burst balloon of first-round elimination at the hands of the Sharks last season, it says here that the Golden Knights are good for a 100-point-plus season, finishing ahead of the Flames and Sharks as division champions. Stone will provide added offense, sure to improve a power play that ranked 25th last season (16.3 percent). There's good depth up front, seasoning and young blood on the blue line, Gallant behind the bench, and what's not to like about the best pregame show in the NHL?
Video: Mark Stone lands at No. 13 on the list
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Vegas Golden Knights: The division looks to be a three-team race between the Golden Knights, Flames and Sharks. The Flames are strong offensively and defensively, but goalie will be a question mark with David Rittich and Cam Talbot. The Sharks lost free agents Pavelski (Stars), Gustav Nyquist (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Joonas Donskoi (Colorado Avalanche) from their forward group in the offseason. As such, the Golden Knights look to be the most complete team of the bunch. The late-season addition of Stone (11 points in 18 games) adds punch to a lineup that already had Pacioretty (22 goals), William Karlsson (24 goals) and Stastny (42 points in 50 games). Defensemen Nate Schmidt, 28, and Theodore, 24, are in the prime of their careers, and Fleury showed he has plenty left in the tank.
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