NHL 2009-10 Preview: Pacific Division
By Alan Bass
1. Grit mixed with talent: The Ducks are still the same basic team they were when they won the Cup in 2007, minus a few guys. And Getzlaf and Perry are much better now. They signed Saku Koivu this summer, a great move to bring in some veteran play and leadership. They also brought in former draft pick Joffrey Lupul, who will be able to put up at least 20 goals. In the ’09 playoffs, the Ducks showed why they won the Cup a few years ago, and are looking to have a more successful regular season than their last campaign. Key stat: Anaheim’s top three players, statistically in ’08-09 had a combined 222 points and 300 PIM.
2. Return on Chris Pronger: I’ve been the biggest advocate of the Ducks’ return on the Pronger trade. It may not pay off this season, but it will surely pay off in the next five years. Getting Luca Sbisa (a future top-four defenceman), Lupul, and two first-rounders (both of whom will most likely be in the top-25) was a great deal for an aging Chris Pronger. If the Ducks draft well enough, they will be able to shove the trade in the Flyers’ face in a few years. Key stat: Joffrey Lupul was in the top-60 among forwards for goals last year with 25.
1. Must win now: Much of their team is getting older, and with the salary cap most likely not going up anytime soon, the Ducks may lose many key members of the squad. Therefore, they need to win now. They can’t wait a couple years and expect to get better. This is the best Anaheim will be for the next few seasons and they need to show the hockey world they can win again.
2. Lack of prospects: The Ducks’ best prospect is Jake Gardiner, a defenceman who is not going to be the best player on the team. He may contribute a fair amount on both sides of the puck, but when your best prospect is a future top-four D-man at best, it’s not very impressive.
The Duckies have a great team and are poised to have another great season, especially if they have to face the Sharks again in the post-season. They have a very similar team to the one that won the Cup in ’07 and it’s hard to believe that they won’t be contenders once again.
Prediction: Second in Pacific. Fifth in West.
1. Return from injuries: With so many players injured last season, the Stars couldn’t expect to go anywhere. Now with Scott Glennie preparing to jump to the NHL in a couple seasons, captain Brenden Morrow returning, and goaltender Marty Turco (hopefully back to his normal self), the Stars can look to do some serious damage in the West. Key stat: The Stars lost 372 man games to injury last season, fifth in the League.
2. Mixture of young and old: On the veteran side, you have Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas, Jere Lehtinen, and Marty Turco. On the young side, you have Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Fabian Brunnstrom, Trevor Daly and Tom Wandell. The Stars look good. Key stat: The Stars have 17 under-30 players and seven 30-and-over players—a good ratio.
1. Defensive depth: Other than Robidas, the Stars do not have any star defencemen. They have some okay talent in Niskanen, Daley, Fistric and Grossman, but none of those will be winning games for you anytime soon. Dallas needs to give its star goalie a bit of a break if the team wants to win. No goalie (unless his name rhymes with Smarty Frodeur) can win games by himself.
2. Goaltending questions: Good segue, huh? Marty Turco has been extremely shaky in recent years (forgetting the injury-plagued 2008-09 campaign). He is still doing well, but not nearly as well as he could be. Turco has much more potential (strange word to describe a 30-some-year-old goalie) and needs to show that he can put up great numbers. A team can’t win without a solid goalie in net.
After a terrible season last year where the majority of the team was injured, the Stars made some nifty moves and are ready to compete again. They have some good talent on their team and look like they’re capable of making the playoffs. How far they go in the postseason, however, is anyone’s guess.
Prediction: Third in Pacific. Eighth in West.
San Jose Sharks
1. Talent: Still one of the best teams in the League, the Sharks have yet to prove that they cannot succeed in the regular season. We all know they can succeed in the regular season. They’ve shown it every year since the lockout. Key stat: The Sharks have had at least 99 points every year since the lockout.
2. Division: They are in arguably the weakest division in the Western Conference, and will have an inflated point total because of that. Not to say they don’t deserve 100-plus points - on the contrary. But ,if they get 115 points, they are really only as good as a 100-point team. (Did that make sense?). Key stat: The rest of the Pacific teams had a combined 148 wins—worse than any other division in the West.
1. Playoffs: Do I really need to explain this?
2. Grit: This is why the Sharks do not succeed in the playoffs. They have extreme amounts of talent on the roster, but they are beaten by anyone who can push them around (see Ducks, Anaheim, 2008-09 playoffs). The Sharks lack the physical play needed to succeed in the post-season, and Doug Wilson did not do anything to address that issue this offseason.
Still the best team in the League on paper, the Sharks have some big things to prove. We all know they can win in the regular season, but it is time now to win in the playoffs. If they fall very short once again this season, expect there to be some major shake-ups in the front office. Doug Wilson swore he would give the team a facelift this off-season and he has not done anything close to that.
Prediction: First in Pacific. First in West.
1. Prospects: If there’s one plus in the Coyotes’ organization through all this uncertainty, it’s that they have some great prospects going through the organization. Kyle Turris is now a regular NHLer, along with Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, plus Oliver Ekman-Larsson got drafted. If the finances hold out for a few years, this team could really become a playoff contender by 2012. Key stat: The Coyotes were ranked second in The Hockey News’ 2008-09 version of Future Watch.
2. Motivation: Do any of the players really want to move? I don’t think so, and neither does the NHL. The players know if they play well and draw in fans, there is a better chance of them staying put. Put it this way: If you play badly, you’re going to have to move with your wife and kids and start a new life somewhere. If you play well, you can stay where you are. Which one do you want? Key stat: Jim Balsillie has 240 million reasons why the Coyotes should play poorly this season.
1. Financial problems: This is the obvious one for everyone, but it will greatly affect the on-ice product. If Don Maloney cannot spend money on players, then he will not be able to improve his team.
2. Defence: Ed Jovanovski is getting up in years. Adrian Aucoin was a good signing, but hasn’t had a great season for a while (and is also getting older). Keith Yandle was re-signed and Jim Vandermeer can contribute a bit; however, the defensive corps is not nearly as good as it could be. Oliver Ekman-Larsson may also make an appearance this season, after the Coyotes wind up in last place, by the second month.
Analysis: Hang in there, Phoenix. You could wind up like Pittsburgh as far as talent goes. There are some great prospects and players in the organization. If the finances work out for another year or two, this team could make the playoffs.
Prediction: Fifth in Pacific. 15th in West.
Los Angeles Kings
1. Young talent: Brayden Schenn is now a part of the Kings’ organization, while Dustin Brown, Oscar Moller, Anze Kopitar, Teddy Purcell, Wayne Simmonds, and more, are just reaching their potentials. They also have a tonne of young goaltenders in the organization, including Jonathan Bernier, Jeff Zatkoff, Jonathan Quick, and Erik Ersberg. Key Stat: The Kings were the top-ranked team in THN’s Future Watch and had three players ranked in the top-31 NHL prospects.
2. Defence: No one can be quite sure yet if the Kings’ defence is good or still just young and promising. Drew Doughty has shown he can play in the big leagues, while Matt Greene and Jack Johnson are also playing well. Rob Scuderi was a good pickup for LA, as he should be able to give them some great help and support to their weak offence. Key stat: The average age of LA’s top-six defenders is 24.5 - and it will be even lower if Colten Teubert or Thomas Hickey join next season.
1. Offensive depth: When your top forward is Dustin Brown and your second-line headliner is Michal Handzus, you’re not looking too good. The Kings have the defence and goaltending, but they really need some support on offence if they hope to get closer to the playoffs.
2. Management: I’ve never quite been a fan of Dean Lombardi. Or Terry Murray for that matter. I saw Murray firsthand in Philadelphia, during the years he coached the Flyers, and he just never seemed like a big time coach. Lombardi hasn’t made the necessary moves to keep his team as competitive as they should be.
Analysis: The Kings could finish anywhere from sixth to 14th in the West. They have some great talent, but not too much experience (which I’ve never been a fan of, anyway). If the young guys simply go out and play the game they love, and have fun with it, this team could do some serious damage. Look for them however, to spend one more year golfing in April, before they become a serious contender.
Prediction: Fourth in Pacific. Tenth in West.