This is the division that the Stanley Cup currently calls home. Some can argue (not me...but some) that this was the toughest division in the NHL last year but that will probably not be the case this year and the teams in this division have gone through significant changes
Let's start things off with the Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks, (who knew all they had to do was take "Mighty" out of their names and they'd win the cup, how long until we start hearing suggestions to change to the Toronto Maple Leafs to just the Toronto Leafs?)
Brian Burke is a genius simply put. He took Vancouver from crap to a solid team and did the same with Anaheim. His team went through some significant changes in the off season. They've effectively lost both Scott Neidermayer and Teemu Selanne and that will definitely hurt. Burke added a big wild card in Todd Bertuzzi and this really could go either way but if he puts up any numbers this team is going to be very solid.
Last season the Stars had to go most of the year without Brendon Morrow and Mike Modano so having them healthy and ready to go this season will be a big boost. Dallas decided to stick with pretty much the same team this year and if Ribeiro can play as well as he did last year, and with Morrow and Modano back in the fold this team should be decent. If Dallas wants to make a serious run this year they may need to add a sniper as the team high for points last year was Mike Ribeiro with 59. Look for Dallas to make a few moves during the season.
Lets face it, last year the LA Kings just plain sucked. LA finished with a league low 27 wins. The Kings took charge this off season and added a lot of talent that could really help. Additions include Michal Handzus and wingers Kyle Calder and Ladislav Nagy. LA is going to have a very different look this year. Lubomir Visnovski proved last year that he can be an offensive threat from the blue line and LA locked him up for 5 more years. Playing against the Kings this year will not be easy.
How does a team coached by the greatest player in the history of the sport finish dead last in the Western Conference? Well apparently it's pretty easy. Phoenix didn't really add any impact players over the off season opting more for depth players. For this team to be competitive Shane Doan will have to lead the way and Ed Jovonovski needs to have a healthy season which is something he has been unable to do for a number of years. Unfortunately I don't even see The Great One being able to drag this team into the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks
Last year was a great year for the Sharks but unfortunately their playoff run ended in the second round at the hands of the Red Wings. This team is stacked and built to go deep in to the playoffs which is precisely why GM Doug Wilson pretty much left the team as it is. There is not much to say for this team. The only way they will be able to improve upon last season and go deeper into the playoffs is to learn from the disappointment of last season. The talent is there now the experience needs to be there as well.
Here's how I see the Pacific goin' down.
1. San Jose Sharks
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. Dallas Stars
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Phoenix Coyotes
I think that I already called the Atlantic Division the toughest in hockey, but this division is a pretty close second as it features two early Cup favourites, a perennial playoff team, a fast rising squad and the greatest player to lace it up (sure he's on the bench but he's still there...).
I have long been a huge supporter of the San Jose Sharks. Out of all of the southern teams, this is clearly the one that does things the best. They have a strong organization from management all the way down to the players and have some of the best support of any team in the league. Last year I picked them to be Stanley Cup Finalists for the entire season and part of me sees no reason why that can't happen again. I see them as being an easy pick to be in the Conference finals at least this season.
The Sharks biggest stumbling block is definitely their cross state rivals, the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks shocked very few people by winning the Cup last year and despite the losses of Teemu Selanne and (maybe) Scott Niedermayer, this team still has an incredibly amount of talent. They made solid signings by picking up Shneider and Bertuzzi to plug those holes, plus their young group of Perry, Getzlaf, Pahlsson, and Moen will all be one year older and better prepared. Lastly, this team has some serious talent in its system, many of whom should be ready to step up, or could be used as trade bait to fill more immediate concerns. Even without Neidermayer, they can still lay legitimate claim to having the best defense in the league, and Giguere and Bryzgalov are probably the best 1-2 combo in net in the league. this team should take their division and put up a realistic chance of repeating.
Next I'll look at the bastard child of the California teams, the Los Angeles Kings. I think that the Kings have some serious potential to be an elite team in the NHL!!!!...in 2-3 years. Their core group of talent is all below 25 years old and they have Marc Crawford behind the bench. If this team wasn't playing the Ducks and Sharks 8 times a season then they could very likely sneak into the playoffs, but alas. Give them a couple of years though of constant improvement and they will be a scary team. But for now, they should have another season that doesn't continue to the spring.
Speaking of teams that will have short seasons, we have the Phoenix Coyotes. This team is pretty brutal right now and in need of a whole lot. In recent years they have tried to add a group of Veterans/Gretzky buddies from Owen Nolan to Jeremy Roenick to Curtis Joseph, but none of them have proven to be the answer. They have a solid group in the farm system, including 3rd overall draft pick, Kyle Turris, who will hopefully be given some time to develop. I hope that this team slows down on adding veterans for the time being and just focuses on rebuilding, otherwise there will be too much pressure on Turris and co and that won't be good for anyone.
Lastly, we have the Dallas Stars, the true wild cards of the division. They have an incredibly solid defense from top to bottom, but also have some of the leagues best defensive forwards, including perennial Selke nominee, Jere Lethinen. But they have two big question marks, can they score, and can Marty Turco be consistent all season? I'm really not sure on all of them. I think that this is a team that will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. The West is just too tough for them.
So my standings come down to...
1. Anaheim Ducks
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Dallas Stars
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Phoenix Coyotes
Until next time,