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Veterans Jagr, Sullivan could change tide in Pacific

by Brian Compton

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Pacific Division squads:

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks -- It was an up-and-down season for the Swiss goaltender in 2011-12, but the biggest positive was that he was healthy. Hiller appeared in 73 games last season after a bout with vertigo limited him to 49 games in 2010-11.

Now that he knows those issues are behind him, it's up to Hiller to improve on the .909 save percentage he posted last season. If he does, Anaheim's chances of securing a playoff spot will greatly improve.

Jaromir Jagr, Dallas Stars -- Jagr's surprise return to North America last season was a successful one -- he had 19 goals and 35 assists in 73 games for the Philadelphia Flyers. Not ready to hang up the blades, Jagr headed south, and he performs could go a long way in determining whether the Stars return to the postseason.

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"I don't think there's any question he has gas in the tank. He had a terrific season with Philadelphia," Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said after signing Jagr to a one-year, $4.55 million contract in July. "He's still a world-class player. … Even at 40 (years old), he's still a difficult guy to contain. He's still as good as anyone in the League at using that big body down low. He keeps himself in tremendous shape.

"I think he's going to be a really good fit with our group."

Simon Gagne, Los Angeles Kings -- The 32-year-old forward was limited to 34 games in 2011-12 due to injury, but he returns with hopes of being a prominent player on a team that has a legitimate shot to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Gagne, who missed the final 47 games of the regular season and the first 16 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, averaged nearly 41 goals in the three seasons he was able to stay healthy from 2005-09.

Steve Sullivan, Phoenix Coyotes -- It won't be easy for the Coyotes to fill the void left by Ray Whitney's departure to Dallas, but they're banking on Sullivan to contribute. The 38-year-old forward had a solid season for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-12, with 17 goals and 31 assists in 79 games. Sullivan likely will see lots of time on the power play and could skate alongside Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata.

"He's a very similar player to Ray Whitney," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told the Arizona Republic this summer. "A little smaller player, but very good skill, good power-play skill. So when we lost Ray, there were only a couple names we really could fill a skill position [with], and he was one of them."

Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks had big plans for this gifted forward after acquiring him from the Minnesota Wild in the summer of 2011. But a torn hamstring limited Havlat to 39 games in 2011-12, and the Sharks struggled without him, going two games over .500 (17-15-7). Clearly, the Sharks will need the five-time 20-goal scorer to be healthy and perform if they plan on having legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.

"Marty is an important player for us," Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. "If you look at our record with him in the lineup, it was very good. We missed him."


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