by PuckStopsHere on 09/30/11 at 04:57 PM ET
I continue with my regular season predictions today. Yesterday I looked at the Northwest Division and today I am looking at the Pacific Division.
1. San Jose Sharks - The Sharks won the season last year and they should be able to repeat. They came out better (at least in the short term) in a series of trades with the Minnesota Wild by picking up Brent Burns, who should be their top defenceman. They also acquired Martin Havlat, who is a solid scorer if he stays healthy. Gone are Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks have a deep offence. Their three top scorers from last year in Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski remain along with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe. On defence, Burns will lead a group that includes Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers. Antti Niemi is an unspectacular starting goalie, but he is solid. This is one of the better teams in the NHL and they could have a Stanley Cup run with the right bounces. That would go a long way to end the undeserved criticism the team has had recently.
2. Los Angeles Kings - Drew Doughty is signed longterm. I believe damage was done during the public contract negotiations and it is quite possible he doesn’t complete his contract in Los Angeles. Doughty is a very good defenceman if his late arrival in training camp does not hurt him. Error prone Jack Johnson is an offensive talent, but he is likely the number two defenceman on the Kings. Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi provide defensive play from their defence. Anze Kopitar is a very good two-way forward who should lead the team in scoring. Newly acquired Mike Richards is also a top two-way forward. Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Simon Gagne are depth players who could all have solid seasons. Jonathan Quick is a solid but unspectacular goalie and Jonathan Bernier is a very good backup. Los Angeles has a good team and will push San Jose but I don’t think they can catch them. I think the residuals from the Doughty situation will likely be a problem and they will not have as strong a defence as the Sharks.
3. Anaheim Ducks - Anaheim had front-end talent and terrible depth last year. They have the reigning MVP in Corey Perry, who will have a hard time repeating that season. Ryan Getzlaf is probably their top player and should be their top scorer if he stays healthy. Bobby Ryan and 41 year old Teemu Selanne are the only other forwards who can be counted upon to produce offensively. On defence Lubomir Visnovsky had a career season last year and Toni Lydman was very good as well. The rest of the position players did not produce. Many were worse than “replacement level’ talent. This made Anaheim the worst team by Corsi rating last season. This problem is solvable as it should be possible to find more depth. When Andrew Cogliano is the big off-season addition and Francois Beauchemin was the trade deadline addition, it probably isn’t enough to fully solve the problem. The top line will continue to play very good hockey and the other lines will get beaten. That will keep Anaheim back from the top contenders. Jonas Hiller is a good goalie if he is over his vertigo problems. If he isn’t, Anaheim will find it hard to finish as high as third in the division.
4. Phoenix Coyotes - The Coyotes have done very well given their off-ice uncertainties. Keith Yandle is a good offensive defenseman. Adrian Aucoin and Derek Morris provide some solid depth, though both are aging. Shane Doan and Ray Whitney were the top scoring forwards last year and both are well into their 30s. The hope is that young players like Martin Hanzal, Kyle Turris and Lauri Korpikoski can take over the load. I am sceptical. Jason LaBarbera and Mike Smith should share the goaltending. Both have shown signs that they can do a good job as number one goalies and both have given us reasons to doubt that they can be solid starting goalies. This team doesn’t have an abundance of top talent and many of their top players are aging. Dave Tippett has been a very good coach with this bunch and will keep them above water most of time, but it will be hard to stay a playoff team.
5. Dallas Stars - Dallas is another team with financial difficulties. They are more likely to be solved than Phoenix’s problems, but in the short-term things are not good. They do not have the strong coaching or management that Phoenix has and have fallen faster and should be in the cellar in the Pacific Division. Loui Eriksson is the top remaining talent. He has Mike Ribiero, Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn as offensive depth. Their defence should be porous. Alex Goligoski is the top offensive talent. Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley are as good defensive defenceman as the team has to offer. Kari Lehtonen has never lived up to his second overall selection in the 2002 draft and he will be the top goalie. He isn’t good enough to stop the barrage of shots he should face behind the Dallas defence. The main problem in Dallas is that they have not had ownership in the last few years and that GM Joe Nieuwendyk is not strong enough to keep the pieces together. This team will fall out of playoff contention.
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