2012 NHL Preview: The Pacific Division

Pacific Division

Often considered the forgotten conference the Pacific division is home to some of the best teams in the league along with struggling franchises. It is the division that many look to as a perfect example of teams that don’t belong in the league. Yet at the same time it is proof that the NHL is one of the best leagues in the world with so many possibilities. Last year one of the more polarizing divisions in the league would have its day once again. The Los Angeles Kings would prove that how you finish a season is much more important than how you start a season. They would ride a late season hot streak into the playoffs to win their first Stanley cup in franchise history. It would be yet another champion continuing the evenness of the league with another new champion. They would not finish at the top of the league though as that title would go to the Phoenix Coyotes. The controversy surrounding the Coyotes would not die down last year as they would finish first but still remain in financial trouble. With people demanding that the Coyotes leave for a better market they continue to play well. The San Jose Sharks would continue their long streak of successful seasons finishing in second. Yet still the Sharks would be overshadowed by their in state rivals in the Kings. Behind the Kings this year would be another team silently struggling as they continue to struggle on-ice. It does not end there though as they are in a similar position as the Coyotes with very little keeping them in place. The worst team of the division would be the Ducks who could not get out of the basement of the division. The Ducks would continue their fall from the Stanley Cup Champions as they continue to try to compete. The Pacific division is not the most popular and they fall under the radar many times. That doesn’t stop them from producing some very good teams including this year’s defending Champions. Now the questions for the division is whether or not they can produce another champion or will they remain under the radar for another year.

 

Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are a team that has experienced plenty of success in the past winning a Stanley Cup in 2006-07. They had seen success in the past but lately have not been able to get back to that level. Last year the team would go through two very distinct levels as they would start the season off bad under Randy Carlyle. With the team struggling the management would make a chance hiring the then available Bruce Boudreau who had just been fired from Washington. The Ducks would respond well with the new bench boss but they could not overcome their terrible start to the season. Now they are hoping for a new season and a new start under Boudreau to open the year. They will hope that Boudreau’s style of team will matchup better with the Ducks after it failed in Washington. Boudreau would be fired from the Capitals because he tried to fit his system to a team that would not work with it. Now he is with the Ducks and will look to establish that defensive style with a team that looks to be better suited to it. The Ducks won a Stanley Cup with that style and are looking to get back with it as they have concentrated on the back-end of the team this year. The Ducks will look to build that same type of team that won them the Stanley Cup and they have the right coach to do it. The problem is they may not have the talent that they need as they will fight for a playoff spot but not much more.

 

Strength:
Goaltending
– Jonas Hiller has proven to be one of the best goalies in the league if he is healthy and if he does stay healthy this year the Ducks will be in good shape in net with little concern for one of the most important positions on the ice 

Weakness:
Depth
– The Ducks have talent but most of it is at the top line with not much else behind it as a run of injuries could sink any chances of them winning another Stanley Cup as an injury could completely change a team in this shortened season 

Biggest Addition:
Sheldon Souray, D (Free Agent)
– Souray has been a solid leader and a great defenceman for a long time now and his addition to the blue line of the Ducks will be welcome as his shot alone will provide some great offensive opportunities by the net 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The team would lose a few players that had an impact on the team but they would be replaced most notably Lubomir Visnovsky would leave but Souray will make up for that as the Ducks did not get any worse

 

Dallas Stars:

200px-Dallas_Stars_logo.svg

The Dallas Stars are one of the few teams still struggling to make it despite a good history on the ice. The Stars were a team built around stars like Ed Belfour, Mike Modano, and Brett Hull who would lead the team to a Stanley Cup Championship in 1998-99. Since then though the team has continued to fall into irrelevance and has continued to struggle to win and to pull in the fans they had in the 1990s. The key for them to surviving in a crowded market is fairly simple, just win. The Stars need to win to stay in Dallas but last year that goal was not achieved. The Stars would finish in 4th place in the division and out of the playoffs and force the team to rethink their roster for this year. They would go out into the free agent market in the offseason to add more firepower this year as they tried to keep up in the new NHL. They would get rid of old stalwarts like Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott and would bring in new blood like in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. They would not replace veterans with rookies but they would replace grit with skill. The Stars are looking for a different attitude this year as they will move away from the grinding style and try to be more skilled. It is a good plan in the NHL but the fact is a few players will not do much for them this year as they will need more if they hope to make the playoffs.

 

Strength:
Offensive Firepower
– New additions like Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Derek Roy all had more than 40 points last year and they will all be playing for the Stars this season who immediately upgraded their scoring ability with three moves 

Weakness:
Defence
– The Stars would upgrade their offence in a big way but they would forget about the defence as their signings would not address the issues of their blue line or their goaltending leaving a much bigger hole on the back-end of the ice 

Biggest Addition:
Jaromir Jagr, RW (Free Agent)
– He is not a young buck anymore but his year as a member of the Flyers he would see a resurgence and now he will move on to Dallas to try to continue his second time around by leading the Stars’ offence 

Biggest Loss:
Sheldon Souray, D (Free Agent)
– As the Stars went signing big offensive talents they would not have much room for the contract of Souray and so he would leave, taking with him solid defence and the ability to score from the blue line that they wouldn’t replace

 

Los Angeles Angels:

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The Los Angeles Kings are team that the NHL would like to be one of the more successful franchises in the league. The main reason is the simple fact that Los Angeles is the biggest West Coast market in the NHL. This would happen once when the best player in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky would come to town but would not last too long after Gretzky would leave. This was until last year when they would ride a massive hot streak into the playoffs to win their first Stanley Cup. Last year the Kings would get hot at the right time and finish in their place in the division while grabbing a playoff spot. They would not get any colder in the playoffs riding their hot streak to a very dominant run at the Stanley Cup. Now the Kings look to this shortened season to try to defend their crown as the Stanley Cup champs. The Kings may be the team best equipped for a run at the Cup this year as they are the most complete team in the league. There were no additions and only one loss for the team that know each other better than any other. They will have a head start this year as the only team that has remained completely intact from a year before. This will be an advantage especially with the extra rest that other Stanley Cup teams do not get. The Kings will be good again this year and will compete for the division title and possibly a Stanley Cup.

 

Strength:
Stability
– They are the only team in the NHL to remain almost completely unchanged with only Ethan Moreau would leave after retiring in the offseason but other than that the team is the same as the team who won the Stanley Cup last year 

Weakness:
The Hangover
– The Champions in every league in every sport always suffers a big letdown the next season as repeating as a champion is one of the toughest things to do in sport and the Kings will need to overcome that letdown to repeat 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Kings would stay unchanged throughout the offseason and there is not much to say they should have changed anything as the defending champions believe they are set for another run at the Cup 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Kings would not lose any big contributors in the offseason with Ethan Moreau the only player who will not be back this year as all of the players on the defending champions chose to stay for another run at the championship

 

Phoenix Coyotes:

coyotes12

The Phoenix Coyotes are at the centre of controversy in the NHL and it is not for their play on the ice despite multiple playoff appearances. Last year the Coyotes would win the Pacific Division and move all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Instead of their performance they would be in the headlines of the NHL for their constant ownership circus. The Coyotes are in the very centre of the debate around struggling teams. They are a team who cannot seem to find an owner that will stay with the team for longer than a year. A big part of that is the fact that the Coyotes lose money before they even start a season. They are constantly in the conversation by many fans and analysts to be the next team to move back to Canada. Despite these distractions the Coyotes have become a constant presence in the playoffs. They have quietly become better and better as a team using the outside talk as a rallying cry for those on the team. The Coyotes are looking to do that once again this year as they hope to take it one step further into the Stanley cup. The Coyotes are a team on the rise and this year they are trying to continue their upswing but the pressure from the outside is getting bigger. Now without a full season the Coyotes will be in financial trouble again and the talk about relocation will continue. If they can put it away like they have before they will be back in the playoffs and could go far in the playoffs.

 

Strength:
Goaltending
– The Coyotes are made up of a number of good players but very few stand out that was until last season when Mike Smith would have the year of his life carrying the team through the playoffs and if he can continue this it will be a big boost for the team 

Weakness:
The Circus
– The scrutiny cannot be filtered out when it is the reason you are in the news almost every week and eventually it will take its toll as they need to try to leave the business up to the businessmen and just play hockey

Biggest Addition:
Steve Sullivan, LW (Free Agent)
– Sullivan is a tough grinder who can put the puck in the net his 48 points last year will be welcomed especially when the Coyotes lost a major contributor on offence in Ray Whitney and Sullivan will be looked at to fill the void 

Biggest Loss:
Ray Whitney, LW (Free Agent)
– Whitney was a major contributor on offence with 77 points last year and he will be missed as he decided to go to Dallas in the offseason as it will be hard to replace his output on the offence this year

 

San Jose Sharks:

640px-SanJoseSharksLogo.svg

The San Jose Sharks are a very consistent team although their consistency is in being underachieving every year. They are one of the deepest teams in the NHL yet they continue to fall short of winning a Stanley Cup. Last year was no different as they would finish second only one point behind the Phoenix Coyotes. They looked like a good team again heading into the playoffs but their constant playoff struggles hung over their heads. They would once again disappoint losing in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks go into 2013 looking to the same team to finally break the cycle as the window closes. The team is not getting any younger as they have been together for some time now and if they do not win anytime soon they will start to lose players. The Sharks will look to these veterans once again led by captain Joe Thornton. Thornton is the emotional and physical leader of a very physical team in his 14 year career. The Sharks are a grinding team that seems to be built for the playoffs yet they can never seem to perform up to their talent in the postseason. This year they will hope that a short season can help them take their usual regular season pace into the playoffs. With fewer games to play the sharks are hoping that their strong midseason form will appear in the playoffs. The Sharks are a good team and will make the playoffs again this year but the big question will be if they can perform when it matters most.

 

Strength:
Deep Talent Pool
– The Sharks are a talented team but and the talent runs much farther than just their top line as they have three lines full of very good forwards and defenders that make them one of the deepest teams in the NHL 

Weakness:
Age & History
– Time is running out for many of these players as they will not be in the league much longer and for them the lack of performance in the playoffs has become their legacy as they look to change it although its weight is huge 

Biggest Addition:
Brad Stuart, D (Free Agent)
– The Sharks are deep and the addition of Stuart just adds another blue liner who will have an impact on the team as he is responsible on the blue line and has the ability to score from the point proving to be a well-rounded player 

Biggest Loss:
Daniel Winnik, LW (Free Agent)
– Even though the Sharks are very good in their top three lines the loss of a proven contributor will always hurt and that’s what they lost in Winnik who was not one of their top scorers but was a good part to their secondary scoring

 

Prediction:
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. Phoenix Coyotes
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Dallas Stars
5. Anaheim Ducks

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