The first Western Conference game of the season featured the two latest expansion teams last night as the Seattle Kraken traveled to Sin City to take on the Vegas Golden Knights. Unlike when Vegas traveled on the road for their first game versus the Dallas Stars, the newest expansion team did not pull off the win.
Instead, the Kraken made a storm drive to make the game close before eventually losing on a goal that created a little bit of controversy thanks to ambiguity in the “kicking motion” rule. So congratulations to the newest fan base, you are officially welcomed to the NHL where the rules are made up and the consequences can be massive.
But what does the rest of the season hold for the Kraken? Will they be another success story right out of the gate as an expansion team, or will they struggle to break into the playoffs? Who will win the Central Division?
Read on to find out what we think, and then bookmark this to laugh at each one of us at how wrong we were, because hockey is weird — and that’s why the games are played.
Taylor: The one thing I feel confident about in the Pacific Division is that, once again, there will not be a Wild Card team out of this one. While putting the Seattle Kraken in as a playoff team makes for a feel-good story, I just don’t see them putting together some kind of Vegas Golden Knights-esque Cinderella run. I have them on the outside looking in, while the Los Angeles Kings make strides as they rebuild with some exciting pieces. The San Jose Sharks are an unmitigated disaster right now.
David: Two expansion teams at the top? My pet theory is that modern expansion teams succeed because they don’t have the “luxury” of treating their forward lines like a law of diminishing returns. Yes, Vegas had Ryan Reaves in their bottom six their first year but they also had Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar early on in their bottom six too. As for Seattle, they have players like Mason Appleton, Ryan Donato and Morgan Geekie as depth - players with low-key talent, and I love their forecheck. I’d be bullish on the Edmonton Oilers if Holland didn’t go out and destroy an already-thin blueline. I don’t like the Calgary Flames much, but they’re sneaky good defensively.
Tyler: I actually think this division is better than people give them credit for. Future Presidents’ Trophy winner Vegas is a step above the rest (Edmonton would be as well if they had reliable goaltending), but I could see any team outside of the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles as a playoff contender. The Vancouver Canucks have a bounce back season to squeeze into the second Wild Card spot.
Mark: Vegas would be middle of the pack in the Central, but they’ll run away with the Pacific. Calgary is either good or bad, and this is a year for good. Beyond that, I’m picking the Kings ahead of the Kraken, mainly because they’ve done a great job of grooming their prospects, and youth will be served. Seattle will make the playoffs just to show the league that half the teams in the NHL are worse right now than if they had just started from scratch. Beyond that, see schadenfreude comment from the division on the other coast. The Pacific gets four playoff teams because the top four will rack up so many points against the bottom four, while the middle six in the Central will tear each other apart. It’s a math thing having nothing to do with skill or talent.
Trent: Vegas wins. I think the Oilers have enough offensive talent to finish second. Everybody else ties for last. BUT just so I don’t end up on a cold takes highlight reel after Seattle wins the President’s Trophy, I put them third.
Greg: Vegas is Vegas. They’ll probably take this division. I wanted to put the Kraken in the second place. I like them. However, I don’t want to see another season like we had with the Golden Knights first year. I don’t want the expansion team to make the Final in their first season. Edmonton still has Connor McDavid, which I think is enough to get them into the fourth spot and the final playoff position in the division.
Taylor: I could see the questionable goaltending for the Colorado Avalanche, the team’s only real weak area, opening the door enough for the Connor Hellebuyck-led Winnipeg Jets to actually win the Central this season. The Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars are likely to duke it out for the third seed, while the other hopes to land in the Pacific side of the bracket for the playoffs. The Nashville Predators have a lot of holes, and even with good goaltending, I don’t see how they aren’t in the bottom half of this division.
David: Dallas has so much depth in their top six, but so many wasted spots in their bottom six. There’s a reason Tampa kicked it up a gear after signing Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow and it’s because it crystallized their offensive depth. I think Dallas’ power play is gonna carry them through games they might otherwise struggle in. As for the rest, I like Minnesota for the same reason the models do: they’re consistent. I also believe Kirill Kaprizov is every bit the player they paid for, and my god; that new line with Kaprizov - Joel Eriksson Ek - Mats Zuccarello is the Patrice Bergeron line of the West. Winnipeg is the dark horse with their revamped blueline. I originally had Dallas at three, but then Cole Perfetti made the Jets lineup. If he delivers and Pierre-Luc Dubois returns to his Columbus Blue Jackets form, I could even see them fighting Colorado for the top spot.
Tyler: Outside of Nashville and the Arizona Coyotes, this division is pretty stacked. Someone has to end up sixth, and unfortunately for Stars fans, I think that ends up being Dallas, thanks to subpar goaltending (and an unwillingness to call up Jake Oettinger), old age, and, yes, injuries. Marc-Andre Fleury breathes life into the Chicago Blackhawks, and Colorado will finally take the next step and reach the Cup Final.
Mark: The netminding in the Central is nuts good, and if someone gets hot, he could carry any of the middle six teams into the playoffs (see Juuse Saros from last year). Colorado should win, Arizona should be Houston – where it would be more fun to beat them. Winnipeg has the best goalie, so second. The Stars are healthy, so third. The Wild whine unless you feign respect, so fourth. Saros > Jordan Binnington. Finally, did Fleury look at that defense before he signed his contract?
Trent: I think we all know who is winning the Central, so I won’t waste space talking about the machine that is the Colorado Avalanche. Connor Hellebuyck is 85% of the reason the Jets take second. I simply do not respect the Minnesota Wild, for personal reasons, so I have them outside the top three. The Blackhawks will be dangerous—I like their youth, Fleury still has a lot of game left, and the veterans are still very good, but it may not be enough. The St. Louis Blues and Predators round out the bottom but for the [Insert New Location Here*] Coyotes. I’m torn on the Stars. I really am. The front office seems to think the roster and the bench are in the right spot for a deep run. Literally everyone outside of the organization expects mediocrity. I think the refreshed health will make the Stars better than the “outsiders” are saying, but I don’t expect them to be the Avalanche. (*I have no real information on this, but you have to admit things are looking bad in the desert.)
Greg: Colorado should be crazy good again this year. They have one of the best players in the game (Nathan MacKinnon). Of course you can throw others in there as well. Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are just a few. Winnipeg should come in second. There could be a log jam in the middle of the division. Minnesota, Dallas, St. Louis and Nashville could all be fighting for the final two playoff spots. I’m going with Minnesota and Dallas, mainly because I’m a fan of the Stars and I hate St. Louis and Nashville more than Minnesota.