2010-11 Pacific Division Preview

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It’s that time of year again!!! The air is getting colder, and the sweaters are coming out.  The hockey sweaters that is.  From now until Opening Day of the NHL 2010 season, look out for new division previews, new in depth team outlooks, and big predictions and prognostications of the glorious season to come.  Today, we take a look at the Pacific Division, and what to expect this season.

2010-2011 NHL SEASON INFORMATION EXTRAPOLATION

By: Bryan Vickroy

1. San Jose Sharks

2009-10 Record:  51-20-11     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Joe Thorton, C (20-69-89)

Offense

The Sharks have nearly as many goal scorers on their roster as a shark has teeth.  Unfortunately, this is a group that overall comes up quite toothless when the games matter.

Goalies

Two imports with impressive resumes will take over for Evgeni Nabakov, who I guarantee packed up all his belongings as soon as the Sharks lost last spring.  Cup winner Antti Niemi was brought in after being a cap casualty in Chicago.  Antero Niittymaki was brought in before that to be the starter.  They have two solid goaltenders now who shouldn’t melt down like the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Top Player:  Joe Thorton, C.  Big Joe has long been criticized as soft, unable to win, and something of an unfinished product.  Thorton has been everything the Sharks could have wished for, scoring, distributing, and being a leader in the locker room. And showed he can win, at least in the Olympics.  His game will always seem incomplete without a Cup though.

Breakout Star:  Joe Pavelski, C.  No, this isn’t more shameless self promotion for myself, as I played with The Big Pavelski in summer league back in the day.  Any other time of the year he was a sworn and bitter rival who I had nothing but vile things for.  Today, high school is petty, and Pavelski has shown to be a proven goal scorer at every level of the game, from high school to college to Olympics, and even the greatest stage on Earth: the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Outlook

Long the cruxes of this team, the Pillsbury soft and weak goaltending seemed to be fixed.  The Sharks shouldn’t have a problem during the regular season and will continue to be one of the most entertaining teams in the league.  However, this team’s season doesn’t truly start until it makes it back to the conference finals, or even a Stanley Cup.  Best case scenario has San Jose celebrating and chasing their demons with 45 pounds of sterling silver.  Worst case has them flickering and falling back to the pack, and striking out early in the playoffs once again.

getzlaf

2. Los Angeles Kings

2009-10 Record:  46-27-9       2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Anze Kopitar C (34-47-81)

Offense

Besides the Devils, no other team flirted as hard with Ilya Kovalchuk than the Kings.  While this team lacks a true marquee name, it boasts a number of strong scorers who continue to get better with maturity and experience.  They will push the pace and forecheck relentlessly.  However, they need to learn that killer instinct to finish off goals, not to mention other teams.

Defense

This group is led by a not so mellow Jack Johnson, and his big, physical friends.  All of them are tall, possess booming shots from the point, and are not afraid to throw their giant bodies around.  This is a group that has been put together in house, so they have come up together throughout the years.

Goalies

While the rest of the roster has come together nicely for management, the goaltender position continues to be a danger for LA.  Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier are both hot shot prospects who have shown moments of brilliance.  But each has shown equally disturbing outings, and neither seems to want to take a firm grasp on the job.  While Quick had 39 wins last year, he was nonexistent in the playoffs.  Someone needs to take control of this job if the Kings want to be taken seriously.

Top Player:  Anze Kopitar, C.  One of the more unheralded scorers in the league.  Kopitar has been reliable and durable, and will continue to score 30 goals a season, if not more.  If linemates Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown can stay healthy, he will have a monster season.

Breakout Star:  Wayne Simmonds, RW.  The 22 year old put up 40 points last year, a career high.  He also made himself known with his play in the Kings’ short playoff run, playing some on the top line.  Look for his numbers to increase with his ice time.

Outlook

Los Angeles has been a darkhorse candidate out of the West for a couple years now.  While they may not have been world beaters, they did make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, giving the youth some much needed experience.  Best case scenario has the Kings continuing to develop strongly and begin to nip at the Sharks for division supremacy.  Worst case has the kids taking a step back and falling out of the playoffs for another year in Hollywood.

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3. Phoenix Coyotes

2009-10 Record:  50-25-7       2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Wojtek Wolski, C (23-42-65)

Offense

While many people were surprised by Phoenix last year, I was not.  Dumping The Great One for a real one, a coach that is, was the best thing this franchise has ever done in Phoenix.  This roster needed a teacher, and Dave Tippett fits the bill.  He has taught the kids on this team the fundamentals, and veterans like Shane Doan and Scottie Upshall have led by example.  They will struggle to score goals at any strength, but it’s a fight to the death to score one yourself.

Defense

The defensive corps of the Coyotes is a collection of tossed away parts and fresh faced kids.  Whoever is in there will be stingy though.  Phoenix gave up the fewest goals in the league last year, and will continue to play all out in their own end.  While they will not put up many points, the youngsters bring some offensive flair that has been missing since the days of Winnipeg.

Goalies

Ilya Bryzgalov had a breakout season last year, contending for the Vezina, setting team records for wins and shutouts, and impressing everyone in the hockey world.  Look for him to continue to rise toward the elite goaltender club.  Veteran minor leaguer Jason LaBarbera will get spot duty behind Bryzgalov.

Top Player:  Ilya Bryzgalov, G.  While people continued to be befuddled by the Coyotes winning, Bryzgalov befuddled everyone on the ice.  Look for him to have another strong season, and while he might not break franchise records again this year, he will definitely be in the running for the Vezina Trophy again.

Breakout Star:  Wojtek Wolski, C.  While he may have technically led the team in scoring last year, he only came to Phoenix at the trade deadline.  While he struggled to find his way with the kids in Denver, he averaged a point a game down the stretch to help the Coyotes put a stranglehold on their playoff positioning.

Outlook

Last year proved to be almost a Disney like scenario for this team that nobody wants, at least nobody besides Jim Balsillie.  The good vibes ran out in the playoffs against the Red Wings, but it showed the people of the desert that this team has talent that is actually worth paying to see.  Best case scenario has Phoenix in the playoffs and continuing to improve their overall roster and hopefully find an owner, and some fans, and maybe one day actually make some money.  The worst case scenario has the team stumble out of the playoffs, in essence hurting their own chances to survive in Phoenix.  After all, as of January 1, they’re open to all bidders, even those who want to move the team.

4. Anaheim Ducks

2009-10 Record:  39-32-11     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Corey Perry, RW (27-49-76)

Offense

The Ducks will roll four lines deep, and should expect contribution from all of them.  The speed and youth is concentrated at the top of the roster, and slowly ages and disintegrates towards the back end.  If they can stay healthy, have their veterans show a scoring touch instead of their age, and help out on the back end, they have a shot at making another playoff run.

Defense

Chris Pronger was shipped out before last season, and the team never recovered.  Longtime rock Scott Niedermayer finally retired this offseason, leaving another hole on the blue line.  They will try a mish mash of veterans and prospects, and hope that they can hold up well enough to let their forwards attack at the other end.  The same defensive failures they have even strength tend to carry over to the penalty kill as well. A team that scores this much shouldn’t be giving up even more.

Goalies

Jonas Hiller came in and stole the job, and now he’s getting the money of a top flight goalie.  His numbers are stunning, and he has the raw ability to steal goals and games along the way.  A spotty back last year will be something to watch this season.  Curtis McElhinney is the back up, and also shows a flair for victory.

Top Player:  Ryan Getzlaf, C.  Getzlaf battled injuries throughout last season, and missed a good portion of the games, failing to lead the team in points for the first time in three years.  Now healthy, look for him and his linemates to be a threat every shift.

Breakout Star:  Luca Sbisa, D. The rookie has a good shot to play big minutes for a team searching for a new defensive stalwart.  He can defend and score, and will compliment nicely to the Ducks’ high flying ways.

Outlook

Anaheim has a solid nucleus of scorers who will keep them in games.  They also seem to continually churn out respectable goaltenders in their system.  The linchpin between the two is a flimsy defense that’s been gutted of its heart and soul.  If they can improve in their own end, they can get back to the postseason.  Best case has the Ducks pushing into a lower seed in the stacked West.  Worst case has them continually giving up too many goals and headed for a lottery pick again.

5. Dallas Stars

2009-10 Record:  37-31-14     2009-10 Leading Scorer:  Brad Richards, C (24-67-91)

Offense

For a team who wasn’t really competitive, they possess a few offensive weapons.  The problem is getting them to perform up to potential.  Brad Richards is a dominant force, but everyone behind him either has injury problems or a lack of finishing moves.  If everyone can produce, this team will instantly be better than advertised.

Defense

While the Stars lack a true shut down player or offensive weapon on the blue line, they all are solid and continue to get better with age.  Unfortunately, they will be aging on the fly and will definitely give up their fair share of goals this year.  While things may seem bleak at the moment, this could get better quickly if the kids grow properly.

Goalies

Long time starter Marty Turco wasn’t resigned because he was too expensive for the team’s budget.  While the job is Kari Lehtonen’s to lose, he is coming off back surgery and a shaky performance last year.  If he struggles, the team will turn to veterans Andrew Raycroft or Brent Krahn to stop the puck.

Top Player:  Brad Richards, C.  Overlooked throughout most of the league thanks to being exiled in Big D, Richards is a one man point machine.  He makes those around him better just by being on the ice.  Has the ability to turn on the jets and streak to the net, and he usually finishes.

Breakout Star:  Jamie Benn, LW.  The youngster put up 41 points while playing a full season last year.  That’s nothing compared to his nearly goal per game production in juniors.  Look for him to continue to snipe as he gets more ice time and scoring chances.

Outlook

The Stars are in the same financial predicament the Coyotes find themselves in, but with less blood letting, and a lot less publicity.  While it doesn’t seem to affect the product on the ice, it is definitely affecting the purse strings.  They will rely on their ability to work with youngsters and cheap talent.  Best case has them finding a way to the back end of the playoffs, while worst case has them struggling mightily and in a battle for the #1 pick.

vickroy_hockey

Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms.  He is skating extra shifts this season, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long.  Look for new articles throughout the week.  He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bryanvickroy/ .  If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at bryan.vickroy@gmail.com .

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