Inside Report: The Pacific division fields three Stanley cup contenders in the Dallas Stars, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks. The Stars are the most complete team, while the Sharks are the most talented team and the Ducks have the Stanley Cup experience. The Coyotes are going to be better and will push for a playoff spot while the Kings are going to be playing for a top 4 pick
1. Dallas Stars (45-30-7)
The Stars are a team that doesn‚Äôt have many weaknesses. They are strong down the middle, strong on the blue line and strong between the pipes. They have the perfect makeup to knock off the Detroit Red Wings. The Stars made a key addition during the off-season signing forward Sean Avery. Avery gives them a nasty edge and will play well with forward Steve Ott who is one of the league‚Äôs most underrated agitators. The Stars have a great mix of players upfront. Brendan Morrow (32 goals) is the team‚Äôs leader. He came up big in the playoffs. The Stars hope Michael Ribeiro (83 points) can have a repeat performance this season. Brad Richards will be the key. Richards who is the Stars highest paid player was a the Stars prize acquisition at the trade deadline. He struggled to find his game but should be fine in his first full season with the Stars. On the blue line Sergei Zubov will be sidelined with a hip injury but shouldn‚Äôt miss significant time.
2. Anaheim Ducks (47-27-8)
The Ducks struggled to find continuity last season with the trip overseas and the uncertain status of Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. Both players have been in training camp from day 1. The Ducks boast the league‚Äôs top defensive corps and goaltender J.S. Giguere is a proven winner in the regular season and post season. The Ducks have all the making of returning to the finals in 09 but the major issues the team‚Äôs offense. The Ducks offense ranked a dreadful 28th statistically last season. Why I like the Ducks to improve those numbers is Ryan Getzlaf (82 points and Corey Perry (29 goals) are only going to get better. Another reason is Teemu Selanne will on the team from day 1 so that will help the Ducks offensively. Chris Kunitz is a solid contributor who scored 21 goals last season. 2005 2nd overall pick Bobby Ryan could be counted on to make an contribution this season but cap issues may limit his time in the NHL this season. Ryan who lacks top notch speed is a proven goal scorer around the net. He‚Äôs a player to watch if he makes the big club. The key will be Brendan Morrison. If he can regain his old form the Ducks could be a force to reckoning with.
The Ducks dangled Bobby Ryan at the trade deadline last season and rumors suggest they may do the same this season. If Ryan doesn‚Äôt fill the void (2nd line winger) Burke may look to bring in a top line winger at the deadline and Ryan is his biggest asset
3. San Jose Sharks (49-23-10)
The Sharks come into the season with one of their most talented squads. The Sharks have brought in defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake and ownership is spending up to the cap to make a serious Stanley Cup run. Joe Thornton continues to put up M.V.P. numbers but does not come up big in the post-season. Thornton has no excuses anymore and must deliver this season. Word is Patrick Marleau is rejuvenated playing for a new coaching regime. He must re-gain his old form or he will be out the door. What happened to Jonathan Cheechoo? Only 23 goals in 07-08. He must improve his numbers for the Sharks to take the next step. The pressure will be on Cheechoo and Marleau to produce early and often. On paper this is one of the most talented teams in the league. Evgeni Nabokov like Thornton needs to perform better in the post-season. Without a doubt the Sharks will be a force this season but again I see them faltering in the playoffs
Patrick Marleau ‚Äì Marleau‚Äôs name comes up every year at the trade deadline and draft. If he continues to struggle, will the Sharks finally move him?
4. Phoenix Coyotes (38-37-7)
The Coyotes exceeded all expectations last season. The addition of G IIlya Bryzgalov changed the whole complexion of the team. Wayne Gretzky deserves a lot of credit for the way the Yotes performed last season who made a 16 point jump from the 2006-2007 season. The Coyotes won with goaltending and scoring goals was a issue. The Coyotes ranked in the bottom 10 of the league but that should change this season with the addition of Olli Jokinen (34goals-37assists-71points). Winger Shane Doan (28 goals) will be the beneficiary of Jokinen playmaking skills. Doan should see his numbers increase by at least 5. The loss of winger Radim Vrbata (27 goals) is going to hurt. This will put more pressure on 20 year old Peter Mueller (22 goals) The Yotes are young at forward but a player I like is center Martin Hanzal. He is currently 4th on the depth chart but he had a strong rookie season scoring 35 points. 19 year old Kyle Turris is currently the team‚Äôs second line center. Very talented player but the Yotes could use another veteran winger to play with Turris. Ed Jovanovski, and Derek Morris anchor the Coyotes blue line. Is this team a playoff team? Possibly but they need their young players to perform above expectations like the Penguins did two seasons ago.
Kevin Porter (6ft1 190 lbs) ‚Äì Porter was a standout at Michigan (63 points 07-08) and has great acceleration. Porter has had a strong camp and is pushing for a roster spot.
Derek Morris ‚Äì If the Yotes fall out of the playoff race near the trade deadline they will look to move D Derek Morris. Morris in the final year of his contract and will bring the Coyotes a nice return
5. LOS ANGELES KINGS ( 32-42-7)
Kings GM Dean Lombardi is going about rebuilding the right way; building his team through the draft. Lombardi made great decisions trading defensemen Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky and not trading for players like Mathieu Schneider just to get to the salary cap floor. Rebuilding mode has its consequences in the present and it‚Äôs going to be a long season. The Kings D gave up 266 goals last season which was third-most in the league and with the departures of Visnovsky and Blake, the Kings will likely surrender even more goals. The Kings blue line will be anchored by Jack Johnson. The 21 year old defenseman has the potential to be an All-Star player for years to come but he is still learning the position. Lombardi recently acquired Ducks defensemen Sean O‚ÄòDonnell to provide veteran leadership on a blue line that will need it
Up front the Kings are led by dynamic forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Both were 30 goal scorers last season and both are only going to get better. Alexander Frolov (23 goals ) has just begun to reach his potential and could join Kopitar and Brown in the 30 goal plateau. The negative for the Kings this season will be the absent of forward Patrick O‚ÄôSullivan. (O‚ÄôSullivan 23 yrs old) is in a lengthy contract dispute with the Kings
Patrick O‚ÄôSullivan ‚Äì O‚ÄôSullivan has turned down offers in excess of $4 million per season. As one source put it, this could end up to a situation similar to the Penguins and Petr Nedved. Hopefully the two sides come to an agreement but if not the Kings will look to shop O‚ÄôSullivan near the trade deadline