The Good but Forgotten Division (Pacific Division Preview)

The Pacific Division was the most successful division last year as they sent four of the five teams in the division to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Dallas Stars they were the odd one out missing the playoffs. Meanwhile half of the playoff teams in the Western Conference were represented by the Pacific and that meant they had a good chance at making it far. The San Jose Sharks remained the top of the division last year and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The Pacific division does not get a lot of attention even though it is a very good division. This lack of coverage has led to many rumours including the Phoenix Coyotes who were almost out of the league. The Coyotes last year were very close to becoming the Winnipeg Jets but thanks to the NHL executives they will remain in the league for now. With the East Coast media focusing on those teams the California teams tend to get little to no coverage but with this little coverage they remain some of the best teams in the NHL. This year the division will look to remain the best division in the NHL.

Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are one member of the three California teams that are a part of the Pacific division. They were first created by Disney as the Mighty Ducks but changed their name and their image and since then have been a force. The Ducks changed their name and won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 but have struggled to return to that success. They have still been a successful team as last year they finished in second place in the division. Moving into the playoffs they were surprised by the Nashville Predators. The Ducks were carried by a breakout performance by Corey Perry who won the Hart Trophy and the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy for the most goals. The Ducks learned their faults in last year’s loss to the Predators and move into the new season hoping to fix these issues.

The Ducks have been looking for a goalie for years but have not been able to find one meanwhile the defence first attitude of former GM Brian Burke remains with the addition of a good offence. On offence the Ducks will lean on the Hart Trophy winner, Corey Perry, for their top scoring. Meanwhile the secondary scoring will come from two very good offensive weapons in Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf. With these three players on the top line the Ducks have a very potent scoring line that will provide the majority of their goals this season. In the back-end of the offence the Ducks have a number of good but aging weapons. Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are on their last legs and have begun to slide in their production. The Ducks attempted to get younger with a number of signings but the one that may bring the most to the Ducks will be Andrew Cogliano. Cogliano became a casualty of the Oilers youth revolt and his own failure to produce. If Cogliano can produce like he did in the NCAA he will add some needed secondary scoring. Another player that the Ducks will hope to get out of a slump is Jason Blake who has not been able to reach his potential for the past few years. The Ducks’ offence has a powerful top three but the rest of their offence is full of struggling players that have the potential to provide goals but have recently been unable to do so. The offence will be good with the top three but in today’s NHL you need more than one line to do well. On defence the Ducks were not the best last year as they had only one player on the blue line with more a good +/-. This player was Toni Lydman who will play alongside Lubomir Visnovsky who has the ability to join the rush and produce on offence. The Ducks will also be looking to some young prospects in Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa to provide some more minutes. The new addition to the blue line is Kurtis Foster who the Ducks will hope can provide yet another offensive defenceman. The defence is pretty solid this year and will give the offence some support. The goaltending is a big question for the Ducks as they believed they found their goalie of the future in Jonas Hiller. Hiller started to raise questions in February after he suffered symptoms of vertigo that eventually ruined a great season. Hiller can be great but his health is in question and with Dan Ellis as a backup the Ducks may have some issues in net. The Ducks are looking to improve on last year but the aging of their offence will put a lot of pressure on their top three. Unless the Ducks can get better performances out of some aging players the Ducks will be limited when teams can shut down their top three. The Ducks have not gotten much worse and could make the playoffs this year but they may have to fight for it.

Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars have become less and less important in the Texas sports industry with every team getting better except the Stars. The Stars have now missed the playoffs for three straight years and have not been making a lot of improvements. Last year Dallas finished in last place for the division but just out of the playoffs in 9th position. The Stars have finished just two points out of the 8th spot and the last playoff spot. The Stars leaned on brad Richards last year to provide their offence and battle it out to the end. They have also traditionally been a gritty team that depends on grinders instead of pure skilled players. The Stars have continued their slide down the standings over the years and hope that they can stop this slide. The Stars have a number of holes that they will need to fill if they hope to get back to the playoffs this year.

The Stars lost their biggest name in the offseason and will be struggling to stay competitive in a very good division. The Offence will be worse this year after Brad Richards left the team in the offseason as the most sought after player in free agency. With the loss of Richards the Stars will look to Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow to fill the production hole. The Stars will also look to their biggest acquisition on offence in Michael Ryder to produce some goals. Other than these top three players the Stars do not have very dependable secondary scoring. The Stars will look to Jamie Benn as well to fill in the second centre spot along with Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson. The Stars not only lost Richards but also traded away James Neal which will again make the offence suffer. The Stars may struggle to score goals this year but the one positive for this offence is they are tough. The Stars have a number of big skaters that may be able to cause some havoc around the opponents net. With Steve Ott leading the charge on pests in the NHL, especially now that Sean Avery has no team, he will be able to get under the skin of the other team. Meanwhile Morrow, Eric Godard, and Vernon Fiddler will all be physical forces on the offence. The Stars lost a lot of skill on offence but they may be able to pull out some wins by sheer force. If Dallas can plan accordingly with their personnel the season might not be as bad as many think but the offence will struggle without Richards. On defence the Stars have some bright spots as the pairing of Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski will be a solid pair that has the ability to have an impact on this team. The biggest addition for the Stars will be Sheldon Souray who the Stars signed in the offseason. Souray will provide a booming shot from the blue line and give the offence some support. With the way the offence is built putting the puck to the net will be essential and Souray can provide this. Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, and Mark Fistric will fill out the defence and are a mix of offence and defence for the Stars. Dallas’ defence will be improved but the issue will be whether or not it is improved enough to make up for the lack of offence. In goal the Stars will look to Kari Lehtonen as their top goalie as he will need to prove he can be one of the best in the league. Lehtonen last year refocused in the offseason to ensure that he could play a full season in-goal. Lehtonen this year will need to take one more step to become a great goalie and will try to do this as the top goalie this year. To take some of the pressure off Andrew Raycroft will start a few more games this year and will hope to stave off two young goalies that are ready to be called up. The Dallas Stars will have some issues on offence this year but their defence has improved. The lack of offence is a little scary for the Stars this year and without any true snipers on the team they will be hurting for goals. The Stars may extend their playoff drought this year as they will need to start rebuilding now after they miss the playoffs again.

Los Angeles Kings

The L.A. Kings have been one of the forgettable teams in the past and in the present as they do not get a lot of coverage. The biggest press they got was when Wayne Gretzky came to L.A. and the eyes of the NHL world were focused on them. The Kings recently have gone back into the irrelevant pile but not because of their performance. With the east coast media focusing on the more traditional teams the Kings lose focus from the media. The Kings though have still remained a very strong team and have built themselves up to a perennial playoff team. They have built a team from within and become a good contender when it comes to playoff time. Last year the Kings finished in 4th place in the division but it was good enough for the 7th spot in the conference. The Kings took on their in-state and divisional rivals the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. The Kings kept the series close but lost in 6 games to the Sharks eliminating them from the playoffs and ended the season in a disappointing fashion. This year the Kings have made a few moves but all will be key to improving the Kings and maybe finally getting some recognition.

The Kings have struggled to get far in the playoffs and have tried a couple of things to do this but have usually leaned on their top line to produce. The Kings have one of the best players that nobody talks about leading the team on the top line. Anze Kopitar has been a very good top line centre for the Kings and they will continue to play him alongside the gritty Dustin Penner who they got last year in a trade at the trade deadline. The Kings have also added some secondary scoring when they took advantage of Philadelphia’s firesale. The Flyers released their two top players in order to change the culture and the Kings took complete advantage of this as they signed former Flyer captain Mike Richards. Richards will provide another centre for the Kings that will provide a good one-two on offence. Both centres have the ability to be a top centre on the team and will have the wingers to support them. Kopitar and Richards will have a host of support in Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams. The Kings will most likely keep the two newcomers together as the Kings have also signed Simon Gagne who will likely play with Richards on a line as both played together last year in Philadelphia. The offence for the Kings is much improved with the addition of another solid line with Richards and Gagne added to Kopitar and Penner. This is good news for the Kings’ offence as they will be much more powerful with these top four forwards and a host of other 20-goal scorers. The defence for the Kings is one of the best in the NHL and will continue to be this year as they have the same group as last year. With Drew Doughty signed the Kings will have their top defender who will jump in to help an already good offence. Doughty will also have some help with Jack Johnson who is another young defensive standout that has shut down teams. With these two young defenceman the Kings will add the veteran presence of Rob Scuderi. The Kings will be solid defensively again this year after they ranked 6th in goals allowed last year and will have the offence to support them. With Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown supporting on the defensive side of the ice it will be a very stingy defence again this year. In goal the Kings do not have one of the top-tier goalies but Jonathan Quick is one of the better goalies in the league. Quick is solid and has the ability to steal some games. There is no question that Quick is the top goalie and will be able to plug up the net along with his stingy defence. The Kings have been a good team in the past years but have just made the playoffs. This year the Kings are poised to take their season another step as they may be challenging for a berth in the Stanley Cup. Expect the Kings to compete for the division this year and they will definitely make the playoffs with a good chance at making the finals.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes were in hot water last year as the rumours continued about their franchise demise. Last year it reached the closest it had ever been as the fans in Winnipeg were looking for a team and the Coyotes were finding it hard to get an owner. The Coyotes were owned by the NHL last year and as the season progressed the future of the franchise was in trouble. The Coyotes had one potential owner in mind but a community group then took the NL to court to prevent the sale. The lawsuit scared the potential owner who changed his deal making it less likely to happen. In the end the Coyotes remained in Phoenix with a new owner and taxpayer money to keep them afloat. The Coyotes will be back in Phoenix this year as the only casualty was the Atlanta Thrashers and after a first round exit in the playoffs the Coyotes hope that they can take last year’s success into a new year with a new life.

The Coyotes made it to the playoffs last year but were eliminated in the first round and this year they are hoping to improve on their regular season performance. The Coyotes will also have to deal with the still shaky ownerships situation off the ice as it could once again be the last year for a team in Phoenix. They will need to focus on just on the ice performance however and the team from the desert will try to make the playoffs yet again. The offence is essentially unchanged this year as the Coyotes made a lot of moves but no real impact moves. The Coyotes will attack with the pack mentality that they have in the past with no real lights out player that can score every time he has the puck. The biggest contributor has always been Shane Doan who is the top of the record book in Phoenix in every category. Doan will be leaned on again but the team is bigger than the single players as they continue to find ways to score goals every night. The Coyotes will also look to Ray Whitney, Tom Pyatt, Lee Stempniak, and the rest of the offence to produce the scoring behind Doan. They will also hope that Kyle Turris can step up more this year and be a good second star behind Doan. The Coyotes offence is not overly good when you look at it on paper but somehow they find ways to score. This will not change this year as the only moves that were made added some muscle to the fourth line with Raffi Torres. The offence will produce without a superstar and will be the same type of offence as last year. On defence the Coyotes made little changes again keeping their core from last year’s playoff team. They did make one key move however and it was not beneficial to them as Ed Jovanovski left the team. This will leave a big hole in the defence as Jovanovski ate up a lot of time and was able to be a hut down defender for the team. Keith Yandle is the anchor in the defence with both the offensive and defensive capabilities. He will need to be great if he hopes to replace Jovanovski and take over as the top defender. Yandle will have help with a great shut down pair in Adrian Aucoin and Rostilav Klesla. The defence will be solid but without Jovanovski they may struggle. In goal the Coyotes will have a new look after Ilya Bryzgalov left to free agency as the top goalie in the free agent pool. The Coyotes will start Mike Smith, the former Lightning backup, as they try to recover from the loss. The top goalie spot might be a bit of a battle as the Coyotes also signed Justin Pogge and Curtis McElhinney and will also have Jason LaBarbara as their backup. The goalie situation in Phoenix is shaky and could be a big issue if they hope to make the playoffs. The Coyotes may be distracted by off-ice issues and that could but a damper on the season. As for their on-ice performance the Coyotes might be in trouble as their offence does not have a true scorer with only Shane Doan reaching 20 goals. The defence is the biggest issue and it will mean that the Coyotes won’t be in the playoffs this year as they join Dallas as the bottom of the division.

San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks have been one of the strongest teams in the Pacific division and in the Western Conferences. The Sharks last year rode their top line of Danny Heatley, Joe Thorton, and Patrick Marleau for their offence. It was considered one of the best top lines in the league and produced the majority of their points. This launched the Sharks to the top of the division and second place in the conference. With this spot the Sharks moved on to the Western Conference where they lost to the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks have been one of the best teams in the league for years but have continued to collapse in the postseason. The Sharks are continually a Stanley cup favorite but have never been able to translate their regular season success into a Stanley Cup. This year the Sharks hope that they can finally breakthrough the last barrier and make it into the Stanley Cup Finals.

The San Jose Sharks have always been top-heavy as they have relied on their top line to produce the offence but this year they will try to add some more depth. On offence the Sharks concentrated on their top line of Patrick Marleau, Danny Heatley, and Joe Thorton to produce the majority of their offence. With Heatley gone the big three are no longer the concentration of this team. Instead the Sharks added depth but will still have a good top line. With Thorton and Marleau still in the top line along with Joe Pavelski the Sharks hope to see their production recover from a bad season. Meanwhile the other lines will give the top line some support this year. Couture was a great addition to the Sharks last year and they are hoping that he can continue his development and become a top-tier threat. After losing David Setoguchi the Sharks looked to get their speed back trading for Martin Havlat. With Havlat in the second line along with standout sophomore Logan Couture, who came close to the Calder Cup last year. The Sharks also added Michal Handzus to give even more depth on the offence. With some new part and some mainstays the Sharks are beginning to get more depth on their offence. This is bad news for other teams as the Sharks have gone far with one big line but now may go even further with multiple lines that can score goals. On defence the Sharks lacked the toughness that is need in the playoffs and this showed against the Canucks. This year the Sharks made a few changes to help this defensive corps. The top line will still feature two good offensive movers in Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray. Boyle is the shooter of the two and has no problem jumping into the rush while Murray is more stay at home but has the ability to move the puck into the rush. Murray is also the team’s best checker who will get some company in that role with the signing of Brent Burns and Jim Vandermeer. Burns and Vandermeer will add the more checking as Murray was the only player that seemed to have a big physical presence on the blue line last year. The defence will also get some help from Thorton who is a great two-way player and the newcomer Michal Handzus. The Sharks defence tends to work by committee as they ask their offence to get involved in the defence and they do this with great success. The added physicality on the blue line will make the Sharks better especially when it comes to the playoffs. The Sharks goaltending is essentially in no danger as Antti Niemi and Antero Nittymaki will return. Neither goalie has proven that he can be a true starter but Niemi’s late season play has given him the starting job. If Niemi struggles the Sharks may return to a two goalie system that they used in the beginning of last year. Even if the system does change to two goalies both of these goalies have the ability to win games for their team but may not have the ability to do it consistently as a starter. The San Jose Sharks have made a few moves but every one of them has been a calculated move to move on further in the playoffs. With a deeper offence and a defence that everyone gets involved in the Sharks are looking to finally get into the Stanley Cup Finals. These moves will definitely add what is needed to make a good run as they will make the playoffs and will be close to the Finals if they can stay healthy and everyone performs as they need.

Predictions:

1. San Jose Sharks

2. Los Angeles Kings

3. Anaheim Ducks

4. Dallas Stars

5. Phoenix Coyotes

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