Tuesday, October 1, 2013

NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

We are in the home stretch now as the NHL preview heads to the West Coast to look at the Pacific Division. It includes the final three Canadian teams and the entire state of California. Oh, and Phoenix. Let's get this started.

Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks surprised a lot of people last year, finishing second in the Western Conference before being knocked out in the first round. It'll be hard to keep up with the pace from last year. Francois Beauchemin had a Norris calibre season last year. Will he be able to do that again? Viktor Fasth broke on to the scene as well, providing some stability in the net Jonas Hiller hasn't been able to the last couple of seasons. The known quantities from the Ducks are Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf putting up points and Teemu Selanne lacing up the skates. Bobby Ryan is gone, but Anaheim got a decent return for him including Jakob Silfverberg. It'll be an interesting season for the Ducks, but they'll be in a fight to make the playoffs this season.

Calgary Flames
Remember when Calgary were up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals? That season started 10 years ago. A lot has changed since then, especially since last year. Jarome Iginla was finally traded after a couple of years of speculation. Long-time goaltender Miika Kiprusoff retired just before the season started. The silver lining for the Flames is they'll get a long look at many of their young prospects as they don't have much else. The addition of Jiri Hudler will help guide some of these players on and off the ice as they learn the NHL game. Defensively, new captain Mike Giordano (that still sounds weird) will lead this defence core into the season. They'll have their work cut out for them as new starting goalie Kaari Ramo has 48 total games played in the NHL over his career. Unfortunately for the Flames and their fans, the most interesting story for the team will be how Burke and Feaster work together. They won't even sniff the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers
I really liked the moves Edmonton made in the offseason. They were able to unload Shawn Horcoff's contract, brought in David Perron to add some physicality to the top 6, and addressed their defence in the draft and through free agency. The Oilers signed Andrew Ference away from Boston, and he has already become Edmonton's captain. His leadership for a young defensive core will do wonders for the team. Unfortunately, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss the first month and Sam Gagner will most likely miss the first two. It's forced Taylor Hall into the first-line centre roll for the team. It leaves the team very shallow down the middle, which is one of the strengths of the best teams in this division. If Devan Dubnyk can keep the team in it while they wait for their centres to come back, the Oilers might sneak into a playoff spot. If not, it'll be another long winter in Edmonton.

Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are a team built for playoff success. They showed it when they won the Cup as an eighth seed in the 2011-12 season. Last year, they made a valiant run before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. The good news for the Kings is they've essentially returned the same team as last year. Los Angeles remains a physical team, and that is how they generate most of their offence. Anze Kopitar is still a playmaker, while Mike Richards and Jeff Carter can play physically and put the puck in the net. They are still a tough, defensive unit behind Drew Doughty. The Kings have a lot of stability and consistency on the blue line as well. Anchored in net by Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles will be scary. Quick's ability allowed them to trade back-up Jonathan Bernier to the Leafs for Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin, and pick. Frattin will add some more speed to the forward group. It's pretty much a lock that L.A. will make the playoffs again.

Phoenix Coyotes
With the ownership situation seemingly resolved in Phoenix, it's time for the city to focus on the actual game of hockey again. The strike shortened season was one to forget, especially after the success of the last full season. One of the factors leading to the downward trend was the injury to Mike Smith who played so well for the Coyotes. Now healthy, Smith should be able to lead the team back to some of the success they saw before. Phoenix also has many talented young blue liners, led by Keith Yandle who is just entering his prime. Oliver Ekman-Larsson should continue emerge as one of the game's best offensive defencemen. Upfront, Shane Doan is back for another season with the Desert Dogs. That is also one of the negatives for the team as many of their forwards are entering the twilight of their careers. It'll be hard for them to keep up with the fast-paced play of the regular season. If the offence can find ways to score, the Coyotes can make a run for the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
Every year it seems writers and other forms of media want to convince readers and listeners the Sharks' window to win a championship has closed. But, most years, the team responds by putting together a great regular season before falling short in the playoffs. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the faces of the franchise since the 2004 lockout. The next big thing for the Sharks is Logan Couture, who is almost ready to supplant Thornton and Marleau. Add in a dash of Joe Pavelski and the team still has some gas in the tank. The defence has a nice balance of stay-at-home and puck-moving defencemen. Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic lead the charge from the back end to feed the offence. Antti Niemi is thankful for those two getting the puck out of his end consistently. Niemi was a Vezina contender last year and has the potential to do that again. It seems like the Sharks are destined to make the playoffs again, but how far will they go?

Vancouver Canucks
So, after all of that, the dust settles and Roberto Luongo is still a Vancouver Canuck. The least likely outcome happened, and the Canucks and Luongo have to repair a fragile relationship. With new coach John Tortorella, it might be easier to do so with a new voice in the room. In reality, nothing major has changed for the Canucks' roster other than the loss of Cory Schneider. The Sedins will still work their magic together; a healthy Ryan Kesler for a full season will help their depth at centre; Kevin Bieksa again leads the defence which will try to block more shots under Tortorella's system. The only difference that could effect the Canucks is if they buy in to what Tortorella is preaching. I think they do and make the playoffs again.

So, that was a quick breakdown of the seven teams in the Pacific Division. Now, let's see how they shake out in the standings.

  1. Los Angeles Kings
  2. Vancouver Canucks
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Phoenix Coyotes
  5. Edmonton Oilers
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. Calgary Flames
Obviously, based on this, I think the Ducks were a fluke last year and can't sustain that level of play. With both Western Conference divisions now done, I believe Phoenix and Winnipeg makes the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Oilers, the injuries to start the season will just be too difficult to make up.

Well, there you have it. That's how I think the NHL will finish after 82 games. How do you think the season will go for all of the divisions. Sound off in the comments below or let us known on Twitter - also below.

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