by PuckStopsHere on 10/02/08 at 02:10 PM ET
Yesterday, I posted my Northwest Division predictions and today I will proceed with the Pacific Division. The Pacific Division has the most serious contenders of any West Conference division. They could very easily have more playoff teams than any other division in the conference.
1. Anaheim Ducks The Ducks were the team who looked most likely to win the Stanley Cup, aside from Detroit. Once Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne rejoined the team, they were very strong. It did not work out for them and they lost in the first round of the playoffs, but they return with essentially the same team that won the 2007 Stanley Cup. They have two very good young rising stars on offence in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and the best group of defensive forwards in the NHL today. They have a very strong group of defencemen with Chris Pronger, Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin expected to get most of their ice time and they have a very good goalie in Jean-Sebastien Giguere. This is a team to watch out for and a team that might be able to win the Stanley Cup should Detroit fail.
2. San Jose Sharks The Sharks have been the best team in the NHL to not have a significant playoff run in the last few years. This cost Ron Wilson his job. He was replaced by Todd McLellan, who will likely be a step backward at coach (as Wilson is one of the better coaches in the NHL). They have a good group of forwards built around Joe Thornton, who include Milan Michalek, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo (the latter two are coming off poor seasons). Their defence is solid, but might have some question marks as high profile newcomers Dan Boyle and Rob Blake showed defensive lapses last season. Their goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, was a workhorse last season who got more credit than he deserved for his work (he should not have been a serious Vezina candidate). This team looks likely to once again be one of the top teams in the NHL, but will need some upsets to have a protracted playoff run.
3. Dallas Stars The Dallas Stars had an up and down year last season. At times they were one of the hottest teams in the league and at other times one of the coldest. They had a significant playoff run, making the semi-finals. Offensively, they look for Brad Richards to bounce back into form in his first full season in Dallas. He joins Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribiero (who probably overachieved last year) and an aging Mike Modano as the top forwards. On defence aging veterans Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher are the anchors. Both are injury risks. Marty Turco is a very good goalie who gives the Stars strength in goal. This team will likely be more consistent this season, but it is not clear that their point total will improve.
4. Phoenix Coyotes Phoenix made a big step forward last season when they acquired Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers to be their goaltender. With strong goaltending the team showed a real improvement. They acquired Olli Jokinen in an off-season trade to bolster their offence. He joins Shane Doan and Peter Mueller as legitimate scorers. They have a strong defensive group as well led by Ed Jovanovski and Derek Morris. This is a team on the rise, but it will be tough to catch the top three in the division.
5. Los Angeles Kings It is clear that the Kings are not planning on being in the running this season. The spent all summer to barely reach the salary floor. They do have a good group of young forwards including Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alexander Frolov, but little depth. Their defence should be porous, with second year man Jack Johnson given the chance to be the go to guy. Jason LaBarbera performed admirably behind a weak defence last year and will have to do it again this year. This is a team in the race for a lottery draft pick. Trading away Lubomir Visnovsky and Mike Cammalleri this summer may have weakened an already bad team.
The best three teams in the Pacific Division are probably the best three teams in any division in the league. Phoenix is gaining fast and could be there if any of them falter. Los Angeles is an also ran.
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