NHL Division Preview: Pacific
The NHL regular season officially begins on Oct. 7, but the retooling and reshaping of many teams has been going on for months. CBCSports.ca offers you a glimpse at what teams across the league have done in the off-season with a series of six divisional previews — today, we feature the Western Conference's Pacific Division.
1st in West, 1st in Pacific in 2009-10
51-20-11 (113 pts.) — 14-6-4 vs. Pacific Division — lost Conference final to Chicago (4-0)
Wiping away most of the playoff underperformer tag they've been carrying around for the past few years, the Sharks haven't made the sweeping changes they might have if they'd been bounced in the first or second rounds (again). The biggest change in San Jose was the decision to re-evaluate goaltending — first by picking up Antero Niittymaki and then snatching up Antti Niemi, the goalie that had a big hand in sweeping them out of the conference finals.
When a team gains a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender and retains the parts that made it powerful in the first place (re-signing Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau), you can only expect a repeat regular season with a strong possibility of finally capturing the big prize.
The retirement of Rob Blake also makes for an interesting storyline, as the team is once again without a captain, one year after Marleau was stripped of the 'C' in favour of Blake. Who will step up and when?
Notable additions: G Antti Niemi (Chicago), F Jamal Mayers (Calgary), G Antero Niittymaki (Tampa Bay)
Notable subtractions: G Evgeni Nabokov (Europe), F Manny Malhotra (Vancouver), F Brad Staubitz (Minnesota) D Rob Blake (Retired)
Notable Quotables: "Antti [Niemi]’s play last season speaks for itself. Our goal this summer was to create the best goaltending unit we could and we feel we have successfully done that." — San Jose GM Doug Wilson to the team's website
Outlook: It's not hard to see the Sharks making the playoffs and it's not hard to see them getting guaranteed home-ice advantage for a deep playoff run. But how hard is it to see them lifting the Cup?
4th in West, 2nd in Pacific in 2009-10
50-25-7 (107 pts.), 13-7-4 vs. Pacific Division — lost in 1st round to Detroit (4-3)
The regular season's biggest surprise was the contrast between the performance of a team whose future rode a figurative rollercoaster in the off-season. A 107-point campaign by the Coyotes was more than a pleasant surprise follwing a spring and summer filled with bankruptcy and arbitration hearings.
Now that the feel good part is over, it's time for the cold hard stats portion. Phoenix may not have made the playoffs if not for 14 shootout victories in the 20 opportunities that were presented. That amount of wins corresponds perfectly with the difference in the victory column from 2008-09 to last season (36 to 50).
You can choose to look at the Coyotes as team that thrives under pressure or one that may have had an inflated seeding. It's possible to see both after watching them bow out in a hard fought, full seven-game series to an always tough Detroit team.
The biggest move this off-season isn't to Winnipeg, Hamilton or the like — it's importing Ray Whitney. The darling of the trade deadline waited until free agency to find a team willing to give him the contract length he desired. Phoenix is banking the 38-year-old can produce over the next two seasons.
Notable additions: F Ray Whitney (Carolina), F Eric Belanger (Washington), F Andrew Ebbett (Minnesota),
Notable subtractions:F Patrick O'Sullivan (Carolina), F Matthew Lombardi (Nashville), D Zbynek Michalek (Pittsburgh), D Jim Vandermeer (Edmonton) F Daniel Winnik (Colorado), F Jared Staal (Carolina)
Notable Quotables: "They were one of the teams that came calling the earliest. And they were serious about the offers that they made… I watched a lot of their games last year, and I watched the playoffs as well, and I saw the direction that they’re going … it’s an organization that’s going in the right direction and I thought they’re not that far from taking another step." — Ray Whitney on why he signed in Phoenix to the team's website
Outlook: Phoenix has taken players considered mere odds and ends in other organizations and cobbled together a team with enough experience and youth to make them a legitmate playoff threat. Now all they need is a real owner.
6th in West, 3rd in Pacific in 2009-10
46-27-9 (101 pts.) — 15-6-3 vs. Pacific Division — lost in 1st round to Vancouver (4-2)
The Kings may have failed in their "shoot for the moon" attempt at landing Ilya Kovalchuk, but this year's team is no worse for it, if not better off.
Since Kovalchuk's montstrous contract is now New Jersey's problem, the L.A. lineup that snared its first playoff appearance since the lockout is largely intact, with a mix of veterans and youth filling out the ranks. Last year's playoff spot was no fluke and the addition of defenceman Willie Mitchell will only help — if the injury that sidelined him for 34 games and the balance of the playoffs is behind him.
Mitchell forms a preliminary pair with Drew Doughty, who put up impressive numbers (along with an Olympic gold medal and Norris Trophy nomination) in his sophomore year. The tandem could push both players to a spectacular 2010-11.
The only glaring subtraction from the team is winger Alex Frolov, but with the reportedly tepid relationship he had with head coach Terry Murray, free agent pick up Alexei Ponikarovsky should fill in nicely.
Notable additions: D Willie Mitchell (Vancouver), F Alexei Ponikarovsky (Pittsburgh)
Notable subtractions: F Jeff Halpern (Montreal), F Fredrik Modin (Atlanta), F Alex Frolov (NY Rangers), F Raitis Ivanans (Calgary), D Sean O'Donnell (Philadelphia)
Notable Quotables: "That was intriguing coming down here. To play with a player like [Doughty] — how I play the game, it seems like [we] would complement each other really well." — Kings' defenceman Willie Mitchell to the team's website
Outlook: They may not be the biggest threat in the division but a repeat effort from their youngsters will have the Kings in the playoff mix when April rolls around.
11th in West, 4th in Pacific in 2009-10
39-32-11 (89 pts.) — 7-13-4 vs. Pacific Division — missed playoffs (1st season)
A slow start by the Ducks in 2008-09 was erased by a late charge to make the post-season. They repeated that feat last season — save the late charge and the playoff berth.
Injuries were partly to blame for Anaheim's first failed attempt at making the post-season since the lockout. Ryan Getzlaf missed 16 games, including 12 with an ankle sprain and four with a leg laceration. Teemu Selanne was out 28 games with various injuries, but still managed to put up 27 goals and 48 points in 54 contests with the club.
Both will be back for this season but it will once again come down to the health of their team, which solidified its mix of youth and experience by re-signing Selanne and Bobby Ryan.
On the back end, they lost one of the league's most decorated defencemen in Scott Niedermayer, but did an admirable job bringing in a new crop of blueliners, highlighted by the hard-hitting Andy Sutton. He may not be the Chris Pronger-type of nasty, but is an 'expert' at moving opposing players, mostly by stapling them to the end-boards.
Notable additions: D Andy Sutton (Ottawa), D Paul Mara (Boston), D Danny Syvret (Philadelphia [sent to minors]), F Aaron Voros (NY Rangers), D Toni Lydman (Boston), F Jason Jaffray (Calgary [ACL tear])
Notable subtractions: D Scott Niedermayer (Retired), D Aaron Ward (Retired), D Steve Eminger (NYR), G Joey MacDonald (Detroit), F Nathan Oystrick (St. Louis), D James Wisniewski (NY Islanders)
Notable Quotables: "Over the years, we’ve let some things get away here. Trying to keep up with the cap and change things over, the size, the willingness to block shots – especially killing penalties – had disappeared last year. There wasn’t that desperation in our group to do those sorts of things. If you get a few guys doing it, it becomes contagious. So having Andy here should be very good for us." — Ducks GM Bob Murray on Andy Sutton to the team's website
Outlook: There is no doubt the Ducks have the right pieces to make the playoffs and do some damage while they are there, it's just a matter of whether those pieces can withstand the damage doled out by 82 regular season tilts.
12th in West, 5th in Pacific in 2009-10
37-31-14 (88 pts.) — 11-8-5 vs. Pacific Division —missed playoffs (2nd season)
This season, Stars fans won't be looking for new faces so much as getting used to not seeing the old ones. Mike Modano is not skating with the club for the first time in two decades. Marty Turco won't occupy the Dallas net for the first time in 10 years. The team will also miss the dependable two-way play of retired forward Jere Lehtinen.
The Stars now enter the Brad Richards era … but will it be short lived? Richards is set to earn $7.8 million US in the final year of his current deal and was one of the lone bright spots (24 goals, 91 points) in a dismal campaign. The pressure will be on to lock up their No. 1 centre or face another franchise player leaving town.
While Modano's departure came at a time most thought he might hang up his skates completely, Turco's exit was evident in February when the team brought in Kari Lehtonen via trade. With Lehtonen's history of groin injuries (missing 51 games in the 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons with Atlanta), the addition of Andrew Raycroft was a good move as his time in Vancouver (9-5, .911 SV%) shows he can play the role of reliable backup.
Notable additions: D Brad Lukowich (Vancouver), G Andrew Raycroft (Vancouver), F Adam Burish (Chicago)
Notable subtractions: F Mike Modano (Detroit), G Marty Turco (Dallas), F Jere Lehtinen (Retired)
Notable Quotables: "[Raycroft] worked with [Roberto] Luongo last year and he’s a veteran guy and he’s going to come here and push me to play better and I’m going to try to push him…what makes goalies better is when you have somebody pushing you and you have to go the extra mile to earn the ice time. That’s good." — Stars No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen to the team's website
Outlook: After two years of missing the playoffs, time expired on the Stars' most recognizable players. Work still needs to be done to fix up a Dallas team that wants to avoid a third straight early summer — and that includes locking up Richards.
with files from the Associated Press