2010-11: 47-30-5, 99 points (t-4th in West)
Thanks to the incredible finish by winger Corey Perry in which he scored 19 goals in the Ducks' last 16 games en route to the Hart Trophy, the Ducks stormed into the playoffs with room to spare last season, only to be shown the door in the first round by the Nashville Predators. And after standing pat for the most part during the offseason, the Ducks appear confident that Perry can put up similar numbers in 2011-12.
Along with center Ryan Getzlaf and left wing Bobby Ryan, Perry is part of what is arguably the most dynamic line in the NHL, a trio that combined for 103 goals and 245 points last year. Factor in the ageless Teemu Selanne, who decided to come back for yet another season after putting up an amazing 80 points at the age of 40 last year, and the Ducks should have no trouble getting production from their top two lines.
Along with center Ryan Getzlaf and left wing Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry is part of what is arguably the most dynamic line in the NHL.
Their offensive production extends back to the blue line as well, as Lubomir Visnovsky had a resurgent season at the age of 34, posting career-highs with 18 goals and 68 points while getting top-pairing minutes. Combined with second-year power play specialist Cam Fowler, the Ducks get more offense out of their defensive unit than just about any team in the league. Questions remain, however, about Fowler's prowess in his own end. While Visnovsky is paired with stay-at-home defenseman Toni Lydman, allowing him to take chances in the offensive end, Fowler's style of play warrants a defensive-minded partner even more,a role that the Ducks hope that last season's trade-deadline acquisition Francois Beauchemin can provide over the course of an entire season.
One of the few moves they did make over the summer was to bring in center Andrew Cogliano in a trade with Edmonton. A former first-round draft pick who has never been able to put it all together, the Ducks are hoping that a change of scenery and a more stable organization will bring out the talent that he has.
Perhaps the key to the season, however, lies with goalie Jonas Hiller. Capable of carrying a team on his back for significant stretches, Hiller missed significant time in the latter half of last season with a mysterious case of vertigo. No explanation was ever given, and Hiller should be ready for the season, but should that affliction arise yet again, the Ducks could be in trouble.
Even if Hiller stays healthy all season though, the Ducks will likely be fighting for a playoff spot. It seems unreasonable to expect Perry to put up another 50 goal season, and the Ducks defense still leaves much to be desired. Look for them to make the playoffs in one of the 6-8 seeds in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
2010-11: 42-29-11, 95 points (9th in West)
To show just how competitive the Pacific Division is, the Stars' 95 points last season left them one slot and two points shy of a playoff berth, but finished in last place in the division. Their success last year caught many people by surprise, and they'll have to do the same in 2011-12 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The biggest change is not a good one, as the Stars lost franchise center Brad Richards, who signed the biggest free agent contract of the offseason with the New York Rangers. Without Richards as his pivot, it remains to be seen if last year's breakout star Loui Eriksson can repeat or improve upon his 73-point season. Eriksson could be paired with Mike Ribeiro, who gets promoted to number 1 center by default with the departure of Richards. However, the Stars are hoping that 22-year old Jamie Benn can claim that spot after showing good chemistry with Eriksson when Richards went down with a concussion last year. If so, Ribeiro will skate with captain Brendan Morrow and newly-signed Michael Ryder.
Despite the Stars' lack of depth at forward, however, it's nothing compared to their defensive corps. Stephane Robidas is the team's number one defenseman and provides a reliable presence, but the team will also be relying on Sheldon Souray, who still owns one of the hardest shots in the league but is a shadow of his former self and makes the Titanic look quick and nimble.
Kari Lehtonen will start the season as the number one goaltender, and while you could do worse, you could do a whole lot better too.
The Stars are still looking for a replacement for their franchise center, and while that person might be Benn, it's likely going to take him a few years to grow into the role, just it will likely be a few years before the Stars grow into a playoff team again.
Los Angeles Kings
2010-11: 46-60-6, 98 points (7th in West)
Already one of the most promising young teams in the league, the Los Angeles Kings were part of the biggest trade of the offseason when they acquired Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards in a shocking blockbuster deal that sent power forward Wayne Simmonds and top prospect Brayden Schenn to Philadelphia along with a second round pick.
The Kings also breathed a huge sigh of relief when they finally came to terms with 21-year old franchise defenseman Drew Doughty after a two month holdout, agreeing to an 8-year, $56 million deal, preserving the Kings' young core that is the envy of the entire league.
If they can keep some of their more injury-prone players on the ice (a big IF) then the Kings should contend for the Pacific Division title and one of the top spots in the West.
With great two-way forwards in Richards and captain Dustin Brown, the Kings will once again rely on the bulk of their scoring to come from star center Anze Kopitar, already a point per game player at 24 years old and still getting better. He missed time with a broken ankle last season, but as long as he can stay healthy, he'll again be the player that opposing teams gameplan around. But even if you stop Kopitar, the Kings boast some serious depth at forward to pick up the slack in players like Justin Williams, free agent acquisition Simon Gagne, and Jarret Stoll. The real question is whether or not they can all stay healthy, as both Williams and Gagne have a long history of missing time due to various injuries.
With Doughty back in the fold and the forward strength up front, the Kings' power play should be significantly better than last season when they ranked a disappointing 21st in the league. And with fellow Olympian Jack Johnson alongside Doughty on the blue line, plus stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, the Kings defensive corps will be well-stocked in front of goalie Jonathan Quick, who quietly put up some of the best numbers in the NHL last season (2.24 GAA, .918 SV%), and is money in the shootout.
All in all, the Kings boast one of the best young rosters in the league and have a bright future ahead of them. If they can keep some of their more injury-prone players on the ice (again, a big IF) then they should contend for the Pacific Division title and one of the top spots in the West.
2010-11: 43-26-13, 99 points (t-4th in West)
After a season in which their ownership situation and rumors of relocation dominated the storylines around them, the Phoenix Coyotes managed to surprise their critics once again by making the playoffs for the second straight season, only to get unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.
The underwhelming performance by goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in that series might have played at least a small part in the team's decision to trade his rights to Philadelphia (where he signed a 9-year deal), but it was primarily a simple situation of a star player reaching free agency and the franchise being financially incapable of re-signing him. Mike Smith was brought in from Tampa Bay to try to fill that void, but he's never been able to hang on to a starting job for more than a few months. Without their franchise goaltender between the pipes, it's going to be tough for the Coyotes to make it back to the postseason given their lack of offensive firepower.
The team's offense still runs through their ageless captain Shane Doan, whose 60 points was enough to lead the team in scoring for the 7th straight season, a streak which doesn't look to be ending any time soon. Doan will once again skate alongside 39-year old Ray Whitney, and with fellow veteran Daymond Langkow looking like the third member of the top line, the Coyotes will be counting on a trio that is a combined 110 years old to supply the bulk of their scoring.
The rest of the Phoenix forward ranks are a mix of third-line/borderline second-line skaters who last year were the embodiment of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Truly, the job done by head coach Dave Tippett last season makes it pretty amazing that he did not win his second straight Jack Adams award. Players like Taylor Pyatt, Lauri Korpikoski, Radim Vrbata, and Matin Hanzal may not be household names or fantasy hockey studs, but they fit well into Tippett's defensive-minded system and produce enough scoring to get by. The offseason addition of the physical presence of Raffi Torres was also a wise move, and will make the Coyotes that much more unpleasant to play against this year.
On the blueline, Keith Yandle had a breakout year with 59 points, although his deficiencies in his own zone are still glaring at times (Tippett still won't play him on the penalty kill). He'll once again be paired with veteran Derek Morris, whose solid all-around play is a good complement to Yandle's style. They'll also have to make do without Ed Jovanovski for the first time in five years, as the veteran returned to Florida with a lucrative new deal. Adrian Aucoin and Michal Roszival will provide a solid second pairing, and the Coyotes will round out the unit with some combination of 20-year old prospect Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Rostislav Klesla, Nathan Oystrick, and David Schlemko.
The Coyotes are one of the few teams in the NHL who can say that their head coach makes a huge difference in terms of the quality of hockey on the ice, but even Dave Tippett will have trouble making it back to the playoffs without a true number one goalie. Make no mistake about it, his system works and he knows how to select the right people to play it, so the Coyotes will be in the playoff hunt all season. Just don't bet on them to make it to the dance for the third year in a row.
San Jose Sharks
2010-11: 48-25-9, 105 points (2nd in West)
It's hard to imagine a team that has been both successful and disappointing as the San Jose Sharks have been over the past decade. After five division titles and three trips to the Western Conference Finals in the past seven years, but no trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Sharks made some big changes in the offseason to try to help them take that last step.
High-scoring winger Dany Heatley was traded to Minnesota in exchange for the speedy Martin Havlat, who doesn't have quite the offensive prowess of Heatley and has battled injury problems in the past, but as one of the fastest wingers in the league, offers a new dimension to the San Jose attack. Also gone is Devin Setoguchi in a separate trade with the Wild that brought back defenseman Brent Burns, which should alleviate a lot of the pressure that fell upon the shoulders of number one defenseman Dan Boyle last year.
As one of the fastest wingers in the league, Martin Havlat offers a new dimension to the San Jose attack.
Paired with franchise center Joe Thornton and winger Patrick Marleau, Havlat could do some serious damage in a Sharks uniform, and with strong offensive weapons like Joe Pavelski and Ryan Clowe, and the still-improving Logan Couture back in the fold, the Sharks' top-6 will once again be one of the best in the conference. Couture in particular was very impressive last year, his first full season in the league, and should only get better given the talent that surrounds him. The signings of Michal Handzus and Andrew Murray will also give them some solid depth down the middle on the bottom two lines.
Defensively, the pairing of Boyle and Burns should be a solid if unspectacular one, counted on more for its offensive contributions than its defensive ones, so veteran additions Jim Vandermeer and Colin White will provide a serviceable second pair that could see a lot of time against opposing teams' top lines. In the end, the Sharks' biggest weakness still rests with their defensive corps, which will put some added pressure on starting goalie Antti Niemi, but it shouldn't be anything that the former Stanley Cup winner can't handle.
The Sharks will once again be among the West's top teams, and will be battling it out all season with the Kings and Ducks for the division title. But the regular season is not where they need to make their impact. Two straight exits when they were one step away from the Stanley Cup Finals means that anything less than a leap over that final hurdle will spell a disappointing season in San Jose.
Breakout star of the Pacific Division:
Jamie Benn, center, Dallas Stars
Projected order of finish:
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Phoenix Coyotes
5. Dallas Stars
- ANAHEIM DUCKS
- DALLAS STARS
- LOS ANGELES KINGS
- PHOENIX COYOTES
- SAN JOSE SHARKS
- ANTTI NIEMI
- ANZE KOPITAR
- BOBBY RYAN
- BRENDEN MORROW
- CAM FOWLER
- COREY PERRY
- DAN BOYLE
- DREW DOUGHTY
- DUSTIN BROWN
- JAMIE BENN
- JOE THORNTON
- JONAS HILLER
- JONATHAN QUICK
- KEITH YANDLE
- LOGAN COUTURE
- LOUI ERIKSSON
- LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY
- MARTIN HAVLAT
- MIKE RIBEIRO
- MIKE RICHARDS
- PATRICK MARLEAU
- RYAN GETZLAF
- RYANE CLOWE
- NHL PREVIEW
Fan Hub Action
Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
best player ever…..
Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
We don’t need to be hopeless about the situation bryant his. Because even david villa situation also up to the level of his own to…
Maritess Lim April 28th
I still believe in KOBE’s power…… He is still the best…… He will make it possible no matter what……
mimi_aragon84 April 28th
I feel no pity for him. First of all, it is EAGLE, COLORADO, not Eagleton, secondly he enjoyed success and adulation from fans from 2003…
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