There have been many, many changes in the Pacific Divison this summer.
As has occurred in net and on the blueline, the general managers of the seven Pacific teams have been busy trying to upgrade their clubs in a never-ending sequence of “trying to keep up with the Joneses.” Or in the Pacific’s case, the Ducks.
As with the other positions, here’s where everyone stands. The arbitrarily-chosen metric to determine the potency of a forward group is high-danger scoring chances for, as defined by War On Ice. Basically, it’s chances right out in front of the net in the slot, and off rebounds. Granted, these numbers can be depressed by a really, really bad defensive group that is hemmed into their own zone a lot.
And in terms of comparing, I’m sticking to the nine most used players to keep things simple and ignoring the fourth line pluggers.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, Andrew Cogliano, Corey Perry, Nate Thompson, Patrick Maroon, Matt Beleskey and Rickard Rakell.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 694 (14th in NHL)
Changes: The Ducks brought in Shawn Horcoff (via free agency) and Carl Hagelin (in a draft-day trade with the Rangers), while a healthy Jiri Sekac should help their top nine depth. They lost Matt Beleskey to free agency, though.
Breakdown: The Ducks have a group that’s a bit top-heavy, but their “top” is really good and their summer additions balances their roster out a bit. There’s less of a drop-off from Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler to the rest now.
The Verdict: Slightly upgraded.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Shane Doan, Sam Gagner, Martin Erat, Tobias Reider, Antoine Vermette, Lauri Korpikoski, Kyle Chipchura, David Moss and Joe Vitale.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 658 (24th in NHL)
Changes: Added Boyd Gordon in a trade from Edmonton and Brad Richardson, Steve Downie and Antoine Vermette (who returns with a Cup ring) via free agency. David Moss and Martin Erat seem to be gone to the wilds of free agency, while Sam Gagner (Philadelphia) and Lauri Korpikoski (Edmonton) were traded away.
Breakdown: The Coyotes weren’t great last year. There is no Oliver Ekman-Larsson in their forward group to carry the mail. Gordon and Richardson are useful players who will help out, but the team may struggle to score.
The Verdict: Slightly downgraded from last season, if that’s possible.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, Lance Bouma, David Jones, Joe Colborne, Josh Jooris, Curtis Glencross and Mikael Backlund.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 653 (25th in NHL)
Changes: Added Michael Frolik via free agency. Fundamentally, a full year of Sam Bennett basically takes Glencross’ spot in the top nine, too.
Breakdown: The Flames added some top-six depth with Frolik, but it seems like they expect the offensive growth to come via (a) their defensive group improving and (b) Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett transforming from prospect caterpillars into scoring-machine butterflies.
The Verdict: An obvious upgrade in depth, but it’s unclear if Frolik alone will become a scoring machine or if he’ll be used as a catalyst for others. Or neither of those things could happen.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Teddy Purcell, Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall, Matt Hendricks, Benoit Pouliot, Boyd Gordon and Derek Roy.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 681 (18th in NHL)
Changes: Lots of new faces up Highway 2, with Connor McDavid (the draft), Mark Letestu (free agency) and Lauri Korpikoski (Arizona) replacing Boyd Gordon (Arizona) and Derek Roy (free agency).
Breakdown: The Oilers’ forward group has been hamstrung by injuries and a bad defensive group over the last while, but they are going to be deeper and different this season. I’m not sure if making so many radical changes will create chemistry right away, but it’s also obvious that the chemistry that Edmonton had last season wasn’t really working.
The Verdict: If McDavid can be a competent NHLer, the Oilers will be significantly deeper offensively. I’m not sold that Letestu and Korpikoski are much better than the guys they supplant, though.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Dwight King, Marian Gaborik, Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 710 (11th in NHL)
Changes: The Kings added Milan Lucic from Boston, while losing Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll to free agency.
Breakdown: The Kings get bigger, swapping Williams for Lucic. The team has the benefit of some young, emerging depth guys, and I imagine Tanner Pearson eats up most of Stoll’s lost minutes.
The Verdict: Slightly upgraded.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto, Melker Karlsson and James Sheppard.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 791 (4th in NHL)
Changes: Joel Ward added through free agency, more or less filling Sheppard’s old spot.
Breakdown: That top six is nasty, as the Sharks can rotate a bunch of bodies in and out and have good match-ups. Adding Joel Ward adds some much-needed physicality to the group.
The Verdict: Ward adds both timely goals and the ability to wear the other team down physically. The Sharks are slightly upgraded.
Last Season: The nine most-used forwards were Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Jannik Hansen, Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins, Shawn Matthias, Derek Dorsett and Linden Vey.
High-Danger Scoring Chances For: 746 (6th in NHL)
Changes: No changes. (Okay, they lost Matthias to free agency, but they didn’t bring anyone in or shuffle the deck much.)
Breakdown: If it ain’t broke… The Sedins get a lot of attention, but there’s some good depth in Vancouver. There was no particular need to overhaul their group, so they didn’t.
The Verdict: The Sedins are getting older, but they remain potent, as do the Canucks.