2013-14 NHL Preview: Pacific Division (Part 2)

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The new alignment for the NHL was big for teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets as they were able to move to their respectful places in the Eastern Conference. It would be the main story for the majority of the preseason when realignment was brought up. These teams would finally get a move to a place where they belonged rather than staying in the west and having another bad travel schedule. The teams that moved to create a better schedule were not limited to these two teams though. The Vancouver Canucks have sat in the West conference since they were first introduced in the league but they have taken a strange position. Vancouver is situated along the west coast and yet they were placed among the Northwest division. This division included teams that made sense like Edmonton and Calgary but they would also have two teams in the middle of the continent. The Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche would welcome the Vancouver Canucks often in the season and would see the Canucks travel far into the heart of USA to play multiple games. It was another situation that wasn’t ideal for the Canucks as the travel would mean they had to cross multiple time zones in multiple games each year. Now the Canucks move to their rightful place in the Pacific division where they will keep their Canadian games against the Flames and Oilers but would get the games against the Pacific coast teams. The Canucks now will have to play three teams that are a simple flight south for them in California which will make life easier for them this year. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets will not be the only teams that have a better travel schedule than the rest as the Canucks are going to be happy about the new alignment as well. The Canucks will be joined by their Canadian brethren from the Northwest as they join the Pacific Division. It will be a division that is hoping to get more exposure with the addition of the Canadian teams as the Pacific has never been the focus of most. The West coast teams have always taken a backseat to the East in terms of coverage as they have almost become the forgotten teams. The best players in the west have a hard time getting recognition like those in the East with everyone constantly talking about those players and teams in the hotbed of hockey. Now with the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames the recognition will increase as Canadian teams will always get more focus. The Pacific division has seen plenty of changes and as they move into the new season there will be plenty to watch including the next three teams in Part 2 of The Sport Addiction Pacific Division Preview.

 

Phoenix Coyotes

phoenix_coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes are probably one of the most popular teams for NHL writers as they have held headlines for years. None of these headlines have been very positive though as the Coyotes have made news thanks to their ownership issues. For years the coyotes have been the example of a team that should not be held up any longer. With the NHL taking ownership in 2008 the NHL has owned and operated the team out of their own pocket. So the prevalent theory would be that they were prime for relocation to a market that wanted a team like Winnipeg or Quebec City. The NHL refused to relocate and continued to look for buyers to take over the team. This year everything would come down tighter to the wire than ever before with the city looking to revoke the lease on the arena if there were no new owners to help fit the bill. The NHL would finally find a new owner George Gosbee and IceArizona Acquisition Co. and the lease would be approved just in time. The Coyotes would finally see a new owner and the team would finally get some stability after years of never knowing what is next. They will look to take this newfound stability into the 2013 season and get back to the playoffs. The offence struggled to get going last year as Shane Doan, Antoine Vermette, and Keith Yandl doing fine but not good enough. Now Mike Ribeiro will be added to the mix in an attempt to provide the top players with a proven playmaker. If Ribeiro can produce like he has and make those around him better the Coyotes will have a better offence but not a great one. The defence is looking to meet expectations this year as they were touted as one of the deepest groups in the NHL but were not very impressive last year. This year, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zbynek Michalek lead the way for the group while plenty of young talent waits in the wings. In net Mike Smith has emerged as a solid goaltender with nothing to fear about him yet. The coyotes are glad to be done with their ownership questions right now and hope that they do not return as the distraction might end up in relocation. The Coyotes will benefit from the lack of distraction but it won’t be enough to bring them into the playoffs this year.

 

Strength:
Peace of Mind for Now
– The ownership questions are done for the time being and that is news to the players ears as the questions can get back to hockey and not business as they get to focus on the sport rather than the off the ice issues

Weakness:
Offensive Production
– Adding Mike Ribeiro will help but the Coyotes need a game changer if they hope to increase the production on offence with the team full of great players that would not be first liners on most teams

Biggest Addition:
Mike Riberio, C (Free Agent, Was)
– The offence has been the struggle for Phoenix and Mike Ribeiro will look to change that as he will come in as the top line centre and try to improve this offence with his playmaking ability while also trying to reach the 20 goal point this year

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Coyotes would not let any of their corps go this year and although they lost a few players none will have much of an effect on the team this year as none of the players lost played a major role

 

San Jose Sharks

san_jose_sharks

The San Jose Sharks have gained and proved a reputation for the last decade as they have been one of the best regular season teams and then falters in the playoffs. As the time has passed the Sharks have continued to make the playoffs and yet have not won the Stanley Cup. They have won multiple President’s trophies in that time and again have not been able to win when it really matters. Their reputation as choke artists has been solidified and no matter how well they may do the question will always be if they can win the big one. The failure has also left plenty of questions about the players who continue to march towards the end of their careers and are running out of time to win. That is especially true this year as the veteran corps of the team could move on after this season. Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, and Danny Boyle will all be free agents at the end of the year and will have to make a serious decision as to whether they believe the Sharks can win the Cup. This season may mark one of the last chances that this group of Sharks can win the Stanley Cup as they may just have to start a rebuild next year. Despite many believing that the Sharks are firmly in the hands of Logan Couture there is no doubt that Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau lead this offence. Along with these three Brent Burns and Raffi Torres create a good, although not great, offence. The defence will once again be led by Dan Boyle in his contract year and Matt Irwin make up the top pairing that includes a number of solid defencemen. These blueliners may not be the biggest names and may not be the flashiest in the league but all make up a very tough defence. In net Antti Niemi will once again be the solid backstop that the Sharks need if they hope to get to the Stanley Cup. The Sharks will not be one of the top three this year but a wild card spot is likely for them. They will disappoint again though and come up short of the Stanley Cup leaving the free agents with a major decision in the offseason as a rebuild could be in the near future for the Sharks.

 

Strength:
Defence
– The blueline has only one major star in Dan Boyle but the rest of the defence is solid as they continue to do what they need to shut down offences and give Antti Niemi plenty of support for the season

Weakness:
Time is Running Out
– With three of their best players looking at free agency after this year the Sharks are possibly looking at the last year that this team is together which can put a lot of pressure on the team this year and may see them choke again

Biggest Addition:
Tyler Kennedy, RW (Trade, Pit)
– He won’t light this offence on fire but he can keep up with the speed of the offence and will provide some toughness and good secondary scoring for the team that will help to replace Ryan Clowe who was traded last season

Biggest Loss:
T.J. Galiardi, LW (Trade, CGY)
– Galiardi was a promising young talent and with the veterans of this team possibly leaving the Sharks could have used a young talent that would step up if there was a hole to be filled either this season or in the offseason

 

Vancouver Canucks

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The Vancouver Canucks will enjoy their new division where they can just stick to travelling up and down the West Coast. The travel schedule will be a good thing too as this veteran team is beginning to see their window close. The Canucks came so close to getting that elusive Cup but have not been able to get it. As the years go on their star players take another step towards the end of their careers and there will not be much time for them to get back to the Finals. The Canucks know this and so they went with a bit of a last-ditch effort to try to get everything they can out of their veterans. First the Canucks would sign John Tortorella to coach the team after he was fired from the New York Rangers. Tortorella is a major change from their former coach Alain Vigneault as he will not be as friendly as their former coach. Tortorella is rough and old school coach that will not let any of these veterans get away with anything and that could be good for the team. The next major move would be to solve the goalie debate that had been a part of this team for the past two seasons. They would trade Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils handing the team to Roberto Luongo. The Canucks go into the season with Luongo as their top goaltender in the hopes that the battle is behind him and will not distract him from returning to form. In front of Luongo will be a good group of defenceman that the Canucks have prided themselves on for years. Alex Edler, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis, and Kevin Bieksa will continue this tradition and give Luongo the support he needs. The offence is a bit of a concern at times for the Canucks as they have periods where they score plenty but then they go into long slumps where nothing can be done. The Sedin brothers make up the corps of this offence along with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler who will all be under fire from new coach john Tortorella. The Canucks are running out of time but they are still a good team and a playoff appearance is in their future as they have a chance if Tortorella can get the most out of these players.

 

Strength:
Defence
– The Canucks have always been a strong defensive teams and John Tortorella will only add to that as he has been known to add an edge to his teams that makes them better defensively and more responsible in their own end

Weakness:
Aging Corps
– The Sedins are not young anymore and that is true for most of their best players as the Canucks are an aging team that is running out of time to win the Cup with many of the players losing in danger of losing a step

Biggest Addition:
John Tortorella, Head Coach
– Tortorella has a reputation of being a very tough coach that can rub players the wrong way but there is no doubting that he can get the most out of them even if it is just for a short time and if he can do it for the Canucks they may just get over the hump

Biggest Loss:
Cory Schneider, G (Trade, NJ)
– The Canucks finally made a decision on their goaltending situation as they sent Cory Schneider packing but if Luongo struggles they will question the decision as they sacrificed the future for an immediate solution

 

Atlantic Prediction:
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. San Jose sharks
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Phoenix Coyotes
7. Calgary Flames

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