2013-14 NHL Preview: Pacific Division (Part 1)

pacific_1

The NHL continues to grow and despite many teams in the south struggling to get by there is one area that is not following suit with other non-traditional markets. The west coast of the USA, or more accurately California, was never a hockey market when the Los Angeles Kings entered the NHL in 1967. It was one of the first major expansions in the NHL and they would look to the West Coast to add two teams. The California Seals and the LA Kings would join the league and would bring hockey to California. It was the first time that the NHL would move to a market that was never considered a hockey hotbed or that truly never paid attention to hockey. The NHL would be moving away from the Original Six era and exploring a new market and looking for their first expansion. It was an interesting time as the NHL would take its first big risk in going to a place that never really wanted a hockey team. Only one team would survive out of the original California teams as the Kings would stay and pave the way for future expansion. Through some struggles the Kings would come out to be a solid franchise in the NHL and the addition of Wayne Gretzky would help them to become one of the more popular teams in the league. As the Kings continued to stay strong the NHL would continue to expand to California creating the San Jose Sharks in 1991 and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Now the Anaheim Ducks, in 1993. Then the Ducks would win the Stanley Cup in 2007 bringing California teams to the forefront of the league. The Kings would add their own Cup in 2012 exposing the real development in the state. More players than ever are coming from the Sunshine state and the three teams have had a big part of this development. The California Teams are doing well and continuing to grow the sport in markets that were never considered hockey hotbeds. The NHL will help to continue this development this year when the LA Kings take on the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium in the Stadium Series. The game will be one of the six in the series and will put two California teams on the front stage. It will be yet another step to California becoming a hockey market that nobody can debate. The sport continues to grow along the coast as rumours of a team in Seattle arise the growth of the sport along the Pacific may continue to expand. The Pacific Division will get some new arrivals this year with the realignment of the NHL. The old Northwest division will join the Pacific division creating a truly West coast division that includes the first four teams in Part 1 of The Sport Addiction Pacific Division Preview.

 

Anaheim Ducks

anaheim_ducks

The Ducks were the team to watch after they won the Stanley Cup in 2007 but since then it has not been the same. They remain a good team but have turned into the team that makes the playoffs and then goes nowhere. They are always a team to watch in the regular season but the question for the team is whether or not they can get back to the Stanley Cup. For years the Ducks have been looking to a mix of players as they have not committed to being a veteran team or a young team. They have stuck with a mix of young talent and veterans and will do the same this year. Leading the way will be Teemu Selanne who will be the man who this team builds their season around this year. The 43-year-old Selanne will be entering his last season in the NHL after 22 years. He will be the point that everyone rallies around this year as they try to give Selanne one more Stanley Cup to go out on top. The team will rally around the veteran and will look to get over that hump that they have been trying to get over since 2007. Selanne will see some new faces on offence as Bobby Ryan is now gone to Ottawa while a young potential star in Jakob Silfverberg has come in his place looking to see what he can do on the top line. With Ryan gone the focus will shift to Cory Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Saku Koivu to pick up the slack and lead this team without one of the best offensive players. The defence will not see a lot of change as Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler leading the way along with Ben Lovejoy and Sami Vatanen who will enter their first full seasons in Anaheim. In net the Ducks will look to breakout star from last year Viktor Fasth who will take over full-time starter duties this year. Fasth could be the difference maker for this team this year but he will find a bigger challenge as the true starter for a full season. The Ducks are looking a mix of young and old talent once again this year but they are hoping an emotional edge will bring them back to the Stanley Cup. As usual the Ducks will make the playoffs but a Stanley Cup may not be in the cards for Teemu Selanne’s last season.

 

Strength:
Emotional Edge
– The best example is the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL as they would use the retirement of a legend to motivate them and win the Super Bowl and that is what the Ducks are hoping to do for Teemu Selanne as he will be the main story all year for this team

Weakness:
The Rut
– Teams can get into the rut that the Ducks are now in as they continue to be good enough to challenge the best teams but can never win the Stanley Cup and it is not easy to get out of it without a big mix-up in the organization

Biggest Addition:
Jakob Silfverberg, LW (Trade, LW)
– The young Swede showed signs of being a great player in Ottawa but there was not a lot of space for him to really breakout and he will be added to the top line in Anaheim giving him more opportunity to show what he can do

Biggest Loss:
Bobby Ryan, LW (Trade, Ott)
– Although a good young players is a solid addition sometimes the one you know is better than the one you don’t and Bobby Ryan was the one they knew would provide plenty of scoring and with him gone the unknown begins to creep in

 

Calgary Flames

calgary_flames

The Calgary Flames have been a team caught in a rut but not one where they have been winning. The Flames have regularly disappointed their fans coming up short time and time again. They have finished right in the middle of the conference for years and left many to state that they needed some kind of shake up. The Flames had consistently tried to patch this looking to fix the problems with free agents in order to get back into the playoffs. The time had come last year to begin the change though as the Flames would let loose the biggest sign of the old guard. Captain Jarome Iginla would be traded in a big loss for the team but a massive sign that things were about to change. The 2013 season will be about rebuilding for the Flames and for the city of Calgary it will mean a lot more. Calgary would suffer one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history this past summer when the Elbow and Bow Rivers would overflow and flood the area around them including the city. The entire Stampede Grounds and much of the Saddledome were under water. The hockey season begins and it will represent the rebuild of the city of Calgary as the Flames will carry the city on their back. They will do this without two of their leaders in Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kirpusoff are no longer with the team. After Mikka Kiprusoff retired this offseason the Flames will look to Karri Ramo who spent the last four years in the KHL. In front of him Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman will lead the defensive corps and try to provide the protection the Ramo will need. On offence the team will look to a number of veterans to provide depth. There are no standout stars on the offence but the Flames are keeping an eye on Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan who may have an impact in their rookie years. The Flames have talent in the minors but it will not show up this year and despite adding Brian Burke as their GM the Flames will see some growing pains. They are on the right path but that path may take a while as they will sit out of the playoffs this year and continue their rebuild for the future.

 

Strength:
Finally moving on
– Mikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla were great for the Flames but it was time to move on and the retirement and trade of these players represents that the Flames are finally ready to move on and prepare for the future

Weakness:
Still a Rebuild
– Although it is a good sign that the Flames are ready to move on with their franchise the fact is this is still the beginning of a rebuild and there will be plenty of growing pains and more changes as the Flames look to begin changing this team

Biggest Addition:
David Jones, RW (Trade, Col)
– A trade in the offseason would bring in Jones from Colorado where he would regularly score 20 goals and his addition is a good one as it immediately adds a dependable secondary scoring threat for the Flames

Biggest Loss:
Miikka Kiprusoff, G (Retirement)
– Iginla was gone last year and now the last hold over decided to leave as the constant name in the net will no longer be there with Kirpusoff’s retirement leaving a bit of an unknown in net for the first time in years

 

Edmonton Oilers

edmonton_oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are far from just starting their rebuild, in fact they may be on the third or fourth version. The latest version of the rebuild has resulted in the Oilers having a host of great young talent. The team has been getting better as the years have gone on but patience is wearing thin for the fans as they are sick of losing. The strategy of building the team from the draft is working for the Oilers but it is not working very fast and so changes needed to be made to get this team back into the playoffs. Last year there was a lot of hope in Edmonton as they seemed to be on the edge of being a playoff team but they would end up in 12th place and out of the playoffs once again. That finish would see GM Steve Tamballini and head coach Ralph Kreuger fired and replaced by a new regime. Former head coach Craig MacTavish would take over the GM duties and would hire one of the most sought after young coaches in Dallas Eakins. MacTavish would go to work for the 2013 season and clean out the old to bring in the new all the while keeping his young talent on the team. The offence has rarely been much of a concern for the Oilers with so many great young offensive weapons. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, and Linus Omark make up a solid offence with all producing fine. Where the issue lies is with the defence where the Oilers have struggled and they looked to change that this year. They would go out and get Andrew Ference from the Boston Bruins who will join Justin Schultz in his second year. The defence will still not be the best part of the team but they are starting to notice it with the addition of Ference and drafting Darnell nurse who will likely stay in the OHL another year before making an impact in the NHL. In net there are questions though as Devin Dubnyk might not be the goalie they need and Jason LaBarbera is a career backup. The Oilers are continuing to move in the right direction except on a different path. The Oilers will likely not finish below 12th this year but a playoff berth is unlikely until they can add more defensive help.

 

Strength:
New Leadership
– The Oilers were spinning their wheels in the past year but with a new GM and a coach that has developed some great young players, the Oilers are looking ahead with new leaders and a new attitude up front

Weakness:
Still Too Young
– The Oilers have great young talent on the team but to win anything the Oilers need to add some good veterans to lead this team and help to develop the young players on the team which is something they do not have right now

Biggest Addition:
Andrew Ference, D (Free Agent, Bos)
– The defence has been the biggest question for the Oilers in the past few years as they have stockpiled offensive talent but have ignored the defence and the addition of Ference is a sign that they have finally recognized the issue and are fixing it

Biggest Loss:
Shawn Horcoff, C (Trade, Dal)
– With such a young team a veteran presence is essential to put everything together and one of those players who brought the presence was Shawn Horcoff as the captain was not a part of the plans and their leader is gone

 

Los Angeles Kings

los_angeles_kings

The Los Angeles Kings went into the 2012 season as the defending champions and would try to overcome the Stanley Cup hangover. They would have a bit of an advantage to do it as they would not have the short time between championships that most teams would. Usually the Stanley Cup hangover happens because the team that wins the Stanley Cup has to go through the long marathon of the playoffs only to return the same time as everyone else. The playoffs are a long grind and taking it to the very end can take its toll on players. Then those players have to handle all of the offseason events that come with being a champion only to return a few short months later to train. Fitting training in to the offseason schedule can be a tough go and it the main reason why championship teams find it hard to repeat. The Kings would get some extra time though as the lockout would delay the start of the season and give players time to train on their own to prepare for the upcoming season. The Kings would do just that as they would start slow but come back in a big way and end up in the conference finals. They would come up just short of getting back to the Cup but they proved that they are here to stay. The Kings are back and ready to take another run at the Cup to try to be one of the era’s dynasties. They will return the majority of their team from the Stanley Cup as the Kings have remained one of the most stable teams in the NHL. They will go into the season with one of the most dependable goalies in the NHL in Jonathan Quick. On defence the Kings will miss Rob Scuderi as Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty are great players but do not stay at home. They will need to see that balance if they hope to give Quick the support he needs. The offence will see most of the same players including Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards who have all produced last year. The Kings remain a power in the Pacific division as they have proven that this team is full of great talent. They will stay in the playoffs this year and will once again be a factor for the Stanley Cup.

 

Strength:
Stability
– Changes can send a team into turmoil but the Kings have stayed strong with the same players and have created a team that does not need to learn how to play with each other and is ahead in their development together

Weakness:
Drawn Out
– The Kings have had some of the longest runs in the playoffs over the last two years and although they have had time off the grind may be getting to some of the older players as injuries may creep into the team

Biggest Addition:
Matt Frattin, LW (Trade, Tor)
– A young talent that was not given a lot of chances in Toronto to prove himself, both with the media and the coaching staff, will get his shot in LA and will look to be a solid secondary scoring threat for the Kings

Biggest Loss:
Brad Richardson, C (Free Agent, Van)
– Centres are hard to come by in the NHL and letting Brad Richardson walk away may not be the best idea as he was a player they could not afford but may come back to hurt them this year when they play Vancouver

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