by PuckStopsHere on 09/28/10 at 01:50 AM ET
Here is the second instalment of my pre-season predictions. The Northwest Division is here.
These predictions are a best guess at this point. We know that injuries, slumps, streaks, trades etc. will occur and this will change things in unpredictable ways. This is my best guess on the order of finish in the Pacific Division.
1. San Jose Sharks - San Jose downgraded in goal. Evgeni Nabokov is a better goalie than either of Antero Niittymaki or Antti Niemi who will replace him. These are two goalies capable of getting hot and having a solid run at some point in the season, but neither is likely to be among the top goalies in the league. San Jose should repeat as division champ despite the downgrade. Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are a very good group of forwards and give the Sharks as strong a top foursome as any team in the league. Dan Boyle is a good offensive defenceman and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a good defensive one. San Jose’s defence is quite strong. San Jose is about as strong as any team can be in the salary capped NHL.
2. Los Angeles Kings - The biggest strength of the Kings is defenceman Drew Doughty, who has become a top defenceman at an incredibly young age. One wonders how good he can become if his development continues for several years. Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi are some of the Kings other top defencemen. Anze Kopitar is the top offensive player on the team. He was the top scorer in the league for the first few weeks of the year last year. Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth are other top offensive players, but neither is likely to be among the NHL’s top scorers. Alexander Frolov has departed and has no clear replacement. In goal, Jonathan Quick was the clear number one last year. He was fourth in games played among goalies with 72 games played, but did not post league leading stats. Rookie Jonathan Bernier is likely to challenge him for the number one job or at least reduce Quick’s workload. Bernier is a top contender for the Calder Trophy at this point. The Kings will likely be in the race for the division lead, but I think they will fall short again.
3. Phoenix Coyotes - Phoenix took a huge leap forward last year. The climbed 28 points last year, but that surge is likely too big to be sustained. Shane Doan was their top offensive player last year with only 55 points. Matthew Lombardi was the only other player to clear 50 points on the team last year and he is gone to Nashville. Their per game ice time leader on defence was Zbynek Michalek and he too is gone. Such is life for a team under NHL ownership, it is hard to hang onto key players when free agency hits. Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski are the top remaining defencemen. Last year, Ilya Bryzgalov was given a lot of credit for the turnaround of the Coyotes last year and he is a good goalie, but it is not reasonable to expect him to be runner up to the Vezina Trophy. There is a ton of off ice baggage that could ruin the season as well as the search for new owners continues. The bottom could fall out, but I think this bunch is capable of a middle of the road season around the middle of the NHL standings.
4. Anaheim Ducks - The retirement of Scott Niedermayer leaves the Ducks with a hole on defence. Lubomir Visnovsky and Paul Mara could be their top pair. Both may be beginning to slow down. Anaheim longs for the days that Niedermayer and Chris Pronger patrolled their blueline. Their offence is strong. Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry are all very capable offensive players and Jonas Hiller is a solid goaltender. If Anaheim can strengthen their defence they could be a strong playoff team again, but the defence is a liability.
5. Dallas Stars - Dallas is into a rebuild. In the last couple years Mike Modano, Marty Turco, Sergei Zubov and probably Jere Lehtinen (rumors say he may return) are all gone. Their new goaltender is Kari Lehtonen. He has potential to be a solid goalie, but he has had a lot of injury problems in the past few years. Andrew Raycroft will be the backup if Lehtonen gets hurt. Their defence isn’t much better. Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley will likely have the most ice time and that doesn’t scare the opposition as much as it scares Star fans. They have some offensive potential. Brad Richards rebounded from a couple below par years to score 91 points last year. He likely will regress a bit. Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribiero and James Neal are a pretty solid forward group. Dallas will keep their head above water most nights with their offence, but they should have trouble in their own zone.
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