by PuckStopsHere on 01/16/13 at 01:22 AM ET
Today I will continue my pre-season predictions for the upcoming season. Yesterday I posted my Northwest Division predictions and today I am moving onto the Pacific Division.
Given the shortened season, my predictions this season are even more uncertain than they usually are. A few lucky or unlucky games will be a more significant portion of the season. The reduced sample size this season will make things unpredictable and the NHL is hard to predict in the best of times. Since a savvy hockey prognosticator is hard-pressed to predict as many as 60% of the season's games correctly one can draw some conclusions about the NHL. The savvy picker will pick the best team that is most likely to win in each game and 40% of games the weaker team will win essentially due to luck. Since either team is capable of winning any game due to luck, the stronger team wins based on luck 40% of the time as well. It is only 20% of the time that the stronger team wins because they are the stronger team. This signal from stronger teams winning because they are stronger teams is at best seen in only one in five games. As a result there is lots of noise in this signal and this noise makes predictions difficult.
Here are my Pacific Division predictions:
1. Los Angeles Kings - They are the defending Stanley Cup champions. I would argue that they were not the best team in the league but they are the best team in this division. Many teams have a Stanley Cup hangover after a Stanley Cup win due in part to their abbreviated summer. With a lockout, their summer was not abbreviated. Jonathan Quick should provide strong goaltending - though it will be hard for him to match last season. Drew Doughty is one of the best defencemen in the world and Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene are strong depth. Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown are a good group of forwards with Justin Williams and Simon Gagne, if he can stay healthy, providing depth. This team had a very good run in the Stanley Cup playoffs and was a better team than their record showed in the regular season. They should remain among the top teams in the NHL.
2. San Jose Sharks - They have been the best team in this division for most of the last decade. Those days are coming to a close. Antti Niemi is not a top level goalie. They have some strong veteran defencemen in Dan Boyle, Brent Burns, Brad Stuart and Douglas Murray. They problem is none of the group are young and improving. Only Burns is below 30 years old. Their top scorers over the last decade have been Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and they are both 33 years old. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski might be able to take over if they begin to decline. A healthy Martin Havlat wouldn't hurt either. This is a formerly top team that could have another year near the top but their downhill slide seems inevitable.
3. Phoenix Coyotes - General manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett have done a remarkable job given limited resources. Mike Smith had a strong comeback season last year in goal and should be able to provide another strong season. Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Rotislav Klesla lead a solid underrated defence. Their offence won't be strong with aging Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata leading the way. Lauri Korpikoski and Martin Hanzal are leaders among their depth players. I can't see this team scoring much, but they will be hard to score on. No team will do more with less this season.
4. Anaheim Ducks - Jonas Hiller has been a strong goalie in the past and if he is fully recovered from his vertigo issues could post an All Star season. On defence Francois Beauchemin and Bryan Allen lead up the old guard. Cam Fowler may be able to make a big step forward if he gets past his defensive lapses and Sheldon Souray may still have some hockey left in him. There is some big named offensive talent here in Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and the rumored to be traded Bobby Ryan. The problem is there isn't much useable depth beneath these guys. Anaheim's frontline talent should keep them out of the cellar and with some luck could push for a strong finish, but i don't think they are a top team.
5. Dallas Stars - They made waves this summer signing Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney and trading for Derek Roy. I am not impressed. It is an aging group that could fall off significantly. Loui Eriksson and the unsigned Jamie Benn are their most talented returning forwards. Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and the aging Stephane Robidas lead their defence. Kari Lehtonen is a solid but unspectacular goalie who is yet to have a truly great season and it is starting to look like he never will. Dallas looks like a team where new ownership threw some money at some aging free agents in hopes that it would help lead them to bigger and better things, but that strategy rarely works. I predict that it won't this time.
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