2010/2011 Divisional Previews, Part Two – Pacific Division
Last week I published my preview of the Northwest Division and this week I’ll be tackling the Pacific Division. Again, my preview for each team will feature key additions and subtractions, top prospects, and my observations and some possible storylines. Also, my preview is organized in order of where I believe each team will finish. Hit the jump for my thoughts!
San Jose Sharks
Key Additions: Antti Niemi, Antero Niittymaki
Key Subtractions: Rob Blake
Top Prospects: Thomas Greiss
Observations & Storylines: Lose one Russian goalie, but add two Finns! The time-splitting duo of Niemi and Niittymaki should give the Sharks two dependable goalies who won’t get overworked as the season crawls on. It also gives them something else in net – one Stanley Cup ring per player. These men, one older and one younger, each have gone through the ringer to win the Cup and may give the Sharks a better chance in net than Evgeni Nabokov ever provided. With Rob Blake retiring and the Sharks not bringing in a capable replacement, there’s a big hole to be filled on the blue line. All the pieces should be in place for the Sharks to win another division title, but the team still has that spectre of spring failure hanging over their heads. I think the Sharks will finish first.
Los Angeles Kings
Key Additions: Alexei Ponikarovsky, Willie Mitchell
Key Subtractions: Alexander Frolov
Top Prospects: Jonathan Bernier, Brayden Schenn, Colten Teubert
Observations & Storylines: My gut instinct tells me Schenn and Bernier, while prospects at the moment, will make the club and have a huge impact on the team’s success this season. Adding Willie Mitchell shores up an already-strong defensive corps (Doughty, Johnson, Greene, Mitchell, and Scuderi are the top five…adding in Teubert to that would make it ridiculous) and his drive to prove he’s a quality defender should be the fire that drives him. Further expounding upon Bernier, a Bernier/Quick tandem ought to be scary in net. The only weak spot the Kings exhibit is their average forward ranks, who can all pretty much grind it out but is limited to the top four or five forwards for scoring. To me, the Sharks, Kings, and Coyotes will battle it out for the division with the Kings and Coyotes fighting to pick up the Sharks’ scraps. Second place for the Kings, but barely.
Key Additions: Ray Whitney
Key Subtractions: Zbynek Michalek, Matthew Lombardi
Top Prospects: Kyle Turris, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mikkel Boedker
Observations & Storylines: What a difference a coaching change can make. Dave Tippett has turned the Coyotes around seemingly, with a ragtag roster. There was little roster turnover over the summer, which should give the Coyotes better stability. An improvement on their first-ever 100 point season? Doubtful, but the consistency should still be there. With the Coyotes, it isn’t about the pieces but the sum of the parts and with Tippett coaching and Bryzgalov in net, the pack should be just fine. They’ll take third in the division, losing out to the Kings for second by a few mere points.
Key Additions: Toni Lydman, Andy Sutton
Key Subtractions: Scott Niedermayer
Top Prospects: Emerson Etem, Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa
Observations & Storylines: The Ducks have two great scoring lines, a bunch of second pair defensemen, and a great Swiss hope in the form of Jonas Hiller. Unfortunately, the Ducks don’t have the system in place to take advantage of such meager troops unlike other teams. Losing Scott Niedermayer will hurt the team especially, who has become a shell of the former Cup winning team in 2007. Lydman and Sutton are fine defensemen but the scoring from the blueline that the Ducks lost in Niedermayer’s retirement hasn’t been addressed. Plus, this whole Bobby Ryan contract debacle is a pain in the butt. I’d expect Cam Fowler to contribute immediately and, if he has a stunning camp, Emerson Etem ought to get a 9-game try out. The Ducks are missing a lot of pieces and they’re looking at 4th place in the division unless a lot of good karma hits the team.
Key Additions: Adam Burish, Kari Lehtonen
Key Subtractions: Mike Modano, Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen?
Top Prospects: Scott Glennie
Observations & Storylines: Modano and Turco are gone. Holy crap. Jere Lehtinen could be gone, too. It’s a very different team in Dallas, even if only two or three players have departed. It’s incredibly doubtful Kari Lehtonen will be able to be good enough in goal to save the team’s season, so there’s a possibility Jack Campbell makes the jump to the NHL. The James Neal contract issues are also disheartening for Stars fans. I just don’t see this team doing anything noteworthy this season. Last in the Pacific for the Stars.