by PuckStopsHere on 09/26/09 at 09:18 PM ET
I am continuing with my pre-season predictions today. I have already done the Northwest Division and today proceed to the Pacific Division.
Here is my predicted order of finish of the Pacific Division teams:
1. San Jose Sharks. This team won the West Conference last year, but stumbled in the playoffs. This is a team that clearly has the talent to make a run. Evgeni Nabokov is a very good goaltender who has consistently been good and sometimes outstanding. He will be given the lion’s share of the work with rookie Thomas Greiss the likely backup. On defence, Dan Boyle has been a top performer and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is quickly becoming one as well. Rob Blake had a very good comeback year last year, but at age 39 might be hard pressed to do it again. There may be depth issues if one of these guys fails or gets hurt. At forward, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are all stars. They have been downgraded in some minds due to San Jose’s lack of a playoff run, but the talent is there (and players like Steve Yzerman once were downgraded the same way until winning their cups). Dany Heatley is added to this group and he has tremendous talent as well. Devin Setoguchi, Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski all provide very good depth to the team and might become breakout stars in their own right.
2. Anaheim Ducks Defensively this team has changed tremendously. Last year at this time their top three defencemen were Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin and their top defensive line was Sami Pahlsson, Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer. Only Scott Niedermayer remains. This defensive transition may move the team backwards a bit, but a lot of talent remains. Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Hiller are the top two goalie system in the NHL. It is quite reasonable to imagine one (probably Giguere) being traded to fill a hole elsewhere. On defence, Niedermayer is joined by Ryan Whitney and newcomers Nick Boynton and Steve Eminger. This could be a pretty good defence corps but it has a lot of new bodies. Their forward unit is built around stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both of whom could establish themselves as dominant NHL superstars with a small step forward. Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul provide some good depth.
3. Dallas Stars This is a team that barely missed playoffs last year despite a lot of things going wrong. They suffered injuries to Brenden Morrow, Sergei Zubov and Brad Richards. Marty Turco had an awful start. Sean Avery was a failed experiment. Likely that won’t all go wrong again, but the core of this team is aging so they may not take a step forward even without as problem-filled a year. Turco returns in goal and this time has a capable backup in Alex Auld. Their defence is unspectacular with Stephane Robidas, Matt Niskanen and Trevor Daley carrying the load. It could be a problem. If they can remain healthy, Morrow and Richards join a pretty good forward unit including Mike Ribiero, Loui Eriksson, Mike Modano and James Neal. Too many once key players are at ages where they are in decline for this team to be near the top and their coach has been downgraded from Dave Tippett to Marc Crawford, but there is too much here to be a bottom feeder.
4. Los Angeles Kings Goaltending could be a make or break position for the Kings. Last year Jonathan Quick had a solid season. Can he do it again? Eric Ersberg and maybe Jonathan Bernier are young players with the potential to breakout. If none of them can carry the load it will be a long year for the Kings. Their top scoring defenceman from last year in Kyle Quincey is gone without replacement. Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Sean O’Donnell will try to carry the load, but there are no proven stars here. At forward Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alexander Frolov are young enough that they may continue to improve and are full of talent. Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus and Jarret Stoll are some of the veterans that will provide depth. This team has enough young talent that they may take a step forward this year, but they will need somebody to take over in goal and settle that question for it to happen.
5. Phoenix Coyotes The problems in Phoenix have their roots off the ice. The team is bankrupt and potentially moving pending a summer of litigation. Their support at home has been largely eroded as a result of these problems. It will be very hard to have success on the ice in that environment despite some potential. Ilya Bryzgalov is a good goalie. Ed Jovanovski, Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek and Adrian Aucoin could be key parts in a solid defence. Shan Doan, Peter Mueller, Matthew Lombardi and Scott Upshall could be solid parts of a forward unit and youngsters Kyle Turris and Viktor Tikhonov are among the players who could take a big step forward and join them. The potential is there, but the team has so many off-ice problems that it will likely end quite badly.
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