While the NHL season is still more than two months away, it seems as though most teams have finished their free agent shopping and are now focused internally on roster decisions they’ll have to make. We’ll take a look at some of the options teams will have this fall, starting with the Pacific Division.
Anaheim Ducks – 2015-16 division winners Anaheim were discussed at length last weekend, with seemingly way too many bodies than roster spots on their blueline. With between seven and ten players who deserve to be in the NHL next season (depending on how you feel about youngsters Shea Theodore and Andy Welinski), the team is still expected to make a move to shore up their forward group.
Los Angeles Kings – Like the Ducks, the Kings have quite a few options on their back-end after signing Tom Gilbert to a one-year contract. With four spots locked up between Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb, the last two will be some combination of Gilbert, veteran Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene. That’s to say nothing of NCAA transplant Paul LaDue who will figure into the Kings’ plans before long.
San Jose Sharks – It’s said that depth down the middle is a key to success in the NHL, and the Sharks have that in spades. It looks like they’ll go into next season with at least six forwards who are capable of playing center. Often last season the top line was made up of three of them, with Joe Thornton between Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski. If the team wants to move the young Hertl back to his natural position (as they did at points last season), they’ll have to find ice-time for him behind Thornton and Logan Couture.
Arizona Coyotes – The crunch has already started to affect Arizona, as the team bought out veteran Antoine Vermette recently to open up a spot for one of their young forwards. With Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak both leaving junior after huge seasons, they’ll look to make the jump to the NHL this season. The Coyotes may ice one of the youngest lines in the league this year, if Strome ends up between Max Domi and Anthony Duclair like many have speculated. Another spot could open up if RFA Tobias Rieder ends up overseas next season, as has been rumored lately.
Calgary Flames – Will top pick Matthew Tkachuk break camp with the Flames, and where will he play? Many eyes will be focused on the second-generation NHLer this fall, as he tries to force his way onto the Flames roster. Otherwise, the Flames have some decisions to make on the blueline if Ladislav Smid declares himself healthy enough to start the season and Dennis Wideman remains on the roster. Jyrki Jokipakka hopes he did enough last season to deserve a spot, but if both veterans are around when October 12th roles around, he may find himself on the outside looking in.
Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are one of the hardest teams to figure out in the league, as they seem caught somewhere between rebuilding and trying to contend. Outside of their top-four, it’ll be a battle for the defensemen in camp to lock up a spot. Luca Sbisa has a contract that will probably guarantee him a spot, but his diminished play and injury history makes him a poor choice for the Canucks. If they decide to contend, icing him every night ahead of younger, more effective defensemen seems unwise.
Edmonton Oilers – It’s been long said that the Oilers don’t have any defensemen, and while it may still be figuratively true based on the overall skill, the team actually has too many bodies for their back end under contract. After trading for Adam Larsson, the team has eight defenders worthy of NHL time, including Jordan Oesterle who many believe proved his ability last season. One of them though, former captain Andrew Ference, may be on his own way out as he has stated more than once he’s heading to retirement if the Oilers’ buy him out. They haven’t been able to yet because of Ference’s lingering injury, but the two sides should come to an agreement before camp.