The season is closing in upon us, thus meaning it is time for everyone around the sports world to throw in their two cents. Predictions are a common thing and while there is some educated guess work surrounding making them sometimes, a lot is also just going off of the “eye-ball” test and what has been witnessed in the past. Again your Dallas Stars are getting very little love from many publications and websites, but in a way it is expected. More on that later this today.
For now, I wanted to take a few minutes to look around the Pacific Division and try to look at each team and where they might end up. For the last few seasons the Pacific has been one of the toughest divisions in the NHL, with at least four teams fighting for a playoff spot yearly. If the Stars had been able to win that final game last season and make it in, the Pacific would have had all five teams in the playoffs, leaving only three spots for the other two divisions. So the Stars don’t have an easy schedule. Depending on what the NHL does change next off-season with re-alignment and Winnipeg, the Stars could be playing their last season in the Pacific this year. Let’s start off looking at last season’s winner, the Tuna. Read on:
San Jose Sharks: Last season the Sharks again won the Pacific, finishing the second half of the season on fire. They overtook a falling Dallas team, fought off L.A. a lot of the time, and again sat in a great spot heading into the playoffs. Antti Niemi proved to be a huge part of the teams turn-around after a horrid start, and played great in the playoffs too. But another year without a Cup, and more frustration and changes in San Jose. The team traded twice with Minnesota and brought in big name talents in Brent Burns and Martin Havlat. The top talent is still there in Jumbo Joe, Marleau, Pavelski, and sophomore favorite Couture. They should boast one of the top power-plays in the league again, and with improved grit in the bottom six and their defense having some big guys, a solid PK as well. Playoff success in the form of a Cup or even making it to the finals is possible, but yet again we will all be expecting them to stumble in the West again. Prediction: First in the Pacific, 2nd in the West.
Anaheim Ducks: Last season’s 2nd place team in the Pacific was a little bit of a surprise. Sure they have talent, but almost everyone picked them to finish close to the playoff line in 8th. But Corey Perry took his game up to a whole new level in scoring 50 goals, dead-man-walking Teemu Selanne continued to work the fountain of youth over, and they surprised even after Jonas Hiller started having vertigo/head issues. Hiller says that he is health and okay now, and Teemu is back for another season (crap), so the Ducks again aim to capture playoff success again. But the team is kind of aged past Perry, Getzlaf, Fowler, and Ryan. For them to have a chance to repeat last year’s 99-point effort, they will have to avoid injury issues and Hiller having any more problems. Lubomir Visnovsky will need another amazing season as well, and while he is talented and superb, he is also 35 and having back-to-back career years in your mid-30′s is really hard. They will still compete, but they might have to do some fine-tuning on the market to improve or even match last season. Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific, 7th in the West.
L.A. Kings: Last season’s sexy pick in the West didn’t quite live up to the expectations. But that is not to say that they still aren’t one of the best teams. The Kings have built their current franchise the right way, drafting extremely well and stocking up young talent. Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar lead the way, but the team also has Johnson on the back end, a dream pair in net with Quick and Bernier, and still one of the best prospect systems in the league. But over the last season they have added pieces that really push them to contender status. The Mike Richards trade left them without two great young talents, but turned their top-six forward group into something most teams would drool over when combine with signing Simon Gagne. They are stacked with offense and should see their PP way above the underachieving levels that it was at last season. They might need a little more D help if some of their young guys are not ready, but do not be surprised if they overtake the Sharks and the predictions I have here are flipped. They are ready and committed to winning over the next few years. They could win or lose the division the final week of the year when they play the Sharks twice, and I think whoever doesn’t win it overtakes Detroit for 4th in the West. Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the West.
Phoenix Coyotes: Don’t look now, but someone looks worse off then the Stars in just about every way. While the ‘Yotes had put together a couple of great seasons and to trips to the playoffs, the wheels probably came off the wagon this summer. After watching a couple players leave last summer, the team lost their best player in Ilya Bryzgalov, and solid players in Fiddler and veteran Jovanovski. Stars fans rejoiced as we added Fiddler and have been cursing Bryzgalov for a few years. Now they are set to rely on former Stars back-up Mike Smith in net, not something most people are excited about. Doan is getting older still, and the offense is still lacking. They have two stud puck-moving youngsters in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the blueline, but their powerplay is lacking in talent and scoring 5-on-5 will be hard. They will continue to play the defensive style that Tippett preaches and he will again probably get more out of them then expected at times. But at the end of the season, this team is again going to be watching the playoffs (just how they did last year when they where in but got destroyed right away). With ownership and even if they will be playing in Arizona after this year really up in the air, nothing looks good right now for the Coyotes other then a couple of young guys. Prediction: 5th in the Pacific, 12th in the West.
Dallas Stars: You know the team, you know the moves. New coach, new players, no Richards. Ryder, Fiddler, Dowell, Dvorak, Souray, and Pardy add depth to the team across the board, but some offensive firepower is gone. Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn will have to be big and continue to improve. The top line of Morrow-Ribs-Ryder will have to continue to click and amaze at least close to the pace they did in the preseason. And the mix of young and old in the defense will have to be better then the group of years past (they should be), and help Kari Lehtonen back last year’s solid season with another. The question marks are up and down the roster, but they still have some gusto and spunk, and they are again embracing the underdog mentality. If Gulutzan can get a more consistent effort out of them and they don’t tailspin through the last third of the season, I really think they have a chance to surprise people. It’s not the supported pick, but I think I see something from them. And people picking teams such as Minnesota, PHX, and Calgary to finish above the Stars baffle me. They will have to fight off improved teams in St. Louis and Columbus or overtake someone, but I see them still being in the mix late in the season. Prediction: 4th in the Pacific, 8th in the West.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks Antti Niemi Brent Burns Corey Perry Dallas Stars Drew Doughty Ilya Bryzgalov Jamie Benn Kari Lehtonen Keith Yandle L.A. Kings Lubomir Visnovsky Mike Richards Phoenix Coyotes San Jose Sharks Teemu Selanne