Pacific Pool Party is a weekly column where Ryan Lambert breaks down the Canucks' biggest rivals in the Pacific Division.
Heading into Deadline Day, there was a fuzzy division between the teams that were “in it” in the Pacific Division, and those that were not.
The ones that were clearly on the shopping side (Vegas, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary) went shopping, the ones that were clearly on the selling side sold (San Jose, LA, Anaheim), and the one that was in the middle (Arizona) didn’t do anything of note.
Fair to say that the sellers and do-nothingers are not particularly interesting. Neither the Kings nor Ducks really loaded up on deadline day; the Kings’ big move was the Toffoli trade that fetched them a big, if reasonable, price from Vancouver. Likewise, the Ducks’ big acquisition was the first-round pick and B prospect they got from Boston for Ondrej Kase last Friday, but they also took on the David Backes contract.
On Deadline Day, they added Danton Heinen for Nick Ritchie, and their other moves involved an AHLer and fourth-round pick, and Christian Djoos. LA got a fourth for a depth defenceman.
The overarching theme for the buyers at the deadline is that they uniformly identified their problems and addressed them to varying extents.
We’ll start with Vancouver for obvious reasons. Their big acquisition was Toffoli last week and while they paid a dear price (I’m thinking more Tyler Madden than the second-round pick), I don’t think it was by any stretch outrageous. Madden produces in college but doesn’t really drive play much and has to put on a lot of bulk to really be pro-ready. He’s not going to overwhelm any adults any time soon, even if he has a nice ceiling.
Adding Louis Domingue was clearly just cover for whatever is going on with Markstrom, as long as it’s relatively short-term. They gave up nothing to get him. I think that’s a nice little deadline week out of Jim Benning, but the roster still has a couple holes that could be exposed if Markstrom is out longer than a week or two.
The real problem is that the other two teams that are in serious competition for the top spot in the Pacific — Edmonton and Vegas — more directly and impactfully addressed their obvious needs.
It’s rote at this point to say the Oilers needed more NHL-caliber wingers but the repetition doesn’t make it less true. So they went and got two clear NHL talents who are, if nothing else, interesting.
Andreas Athanasiou has some obvious holes in his game (defence and hockey IQ), but as long as he can keep up with Connor McDavid he’s going to have utility as a guy who can put the puck in the net a little bit. He’s certainly an upgrade on Josh Archibald, McDavid’s most recent regular left winger.
Then there’s Tyler Ennis, who still looks like a really solid middle-six contributor who can play up in the lineup if need be. If we’re looking at the Oilers’ depth chart, that gives them a bunch of useful left wings, in addition to figuring it out on the right side once Kassian comes back from his dumbass suspension.
The Mike Green addition gets a resounding “eh.” Didn’t cost them much, might help their second-unit power play a bit. That’s about it, but if you’re worried about the second-unit power play with this team, it has bigger problems. Overall, though, it was a really positive day for the NHL club without a significant cost.
Not so much for their provincial rivals, the Flames. It’s hard not to like the upside of Erik Gustafsson as an offense-driving defender, and the cost wasn’t too dear, but it’s tough to see him being a huge driver for them or getting them over any kind of hump. Derek Forbort is a depth defenceman at best, a seventh D to round out the roster a little more. That’s fine, but nothing compared to the Oilers’ big day.
Finally, Vegas upgraded big-time in goal, getting Robin Lehner out of Chicago for a relatively low price.
Malcolm Subban is not an NHLer from what I’ve seen, Slava Demin wasn’t even a top-10 prospect for them, and the second-round pick is what it is. Lehner’s been slumping a bit lately but the team in front of him sucked very badly, so going from that to a team with an xGF% in the high 50s over the last 25 games or so is going to be a mega upgrade.
Lehner can either push Marc-Andre Fleury (who’s having a very bad year) or take over from him; probably doesn’t matter which it is, but the goaltending situation had to improve, and now it has, with arguably the best goaltender available.
That they then went out and added Nick Cousins, who’s a solid depth forward, for a fourth-round pick next year is a nice bonus, too. They were already the best team in the division on paper, held back (as much as a first-place team can be, one supposes) by bad goaltending. And that shouldn't be an issue anymore, so it's an unequivocal win at the deadline for a team that's getting pretty good at that sort of thing.
In the last little while here, Vegas has edged ahead of the pack (albeit with some extra games played) to put pressure on Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary below them. Adding a goalie who has been elite as recently as six weeks ago and a solid bottom-six forward only increases that pressure, but those teams at least made additions that will keep them in the running for the long haul.
If I had to project the standings finish for the division as it stands now, after an eventful deadline, I would say it goes: Vegas [small gap] Vancouver and Edmonton [almost no gap] Calgary [medium gap] Arizona. And that’s with Arizona dropping out of the playoffs and being replaced by either Nashville or Winnipeg, but I would say anyone in the Wild Card picture right now is vulnerable.
Not so much at the top of the division, though. With these deadline-week additions, there’s now a clear top three in the Pacific, and it includes the Canucks. That is, unless all of Calgary’s stars get going at once — a distinct possibility.
Ryan Lambert is on Twitter @twolinepass.