There is no question that any the top three teams in the Pacific Division could win this or any other division in hockey. Anaheim, Dallas and San Jose are certainly capable but it probably will come down to which team has the best record versus the conference (rather than the division) that will probably make the difference in which team gets a top-3 seed in the Western Conference.
Last season, San Jose went 44-18-10 vs. the West (compared to Dallas’ 39-26-7 and Anaheim’s 39-25-8), which separated the Sharks from the Stars and Ducks. The teams basically beat each other up and take a relatively equal amount of points from one another in the regular season. Going down from eight match-ups to six, you can expect that weight of non-division games to be more of a factor.
One thing I expect to see again: the three big boys in the Pacific will occupy three of the top five seeds in the playoffs, with the division runner-ups battling as the 4-5 match-up in the first round.
A look at the Pacific Division teams as Training Camp approaches in about four weeks: Anaheim Ducks
Additions: F Brendan Morrison, D Steve Montador
Subtractions: F Todd Bertuzzi, F Teemu Selanne (?), F Doug Weight
Restricted Free Agents: Joakim Lindstrom, Drew Miller, Marc-Andre Bergeron
Bottom Line: The Ducks will be good again. Will they be great? A lot of that will come down to Teemu Selanne and his decision to come back again and play. He was arguably the team’s best player in the series vs. the Stars and it comes down to how hungry he is. Scott Niedermayer is back for a full season and that is big. But the move to get Morrison is huge because it gives Anaheim what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs –a true second-line center. I think they missed Andy McDonald a lot, personally. But until I see Selanne back on their roster, I give San Jose and Dallas an edge, but not by much. Dallas Stars
Additions: F Sean Avery, F Fabian Brunnstrom
Subtractions: F Antti Miettinen, F Niklas Hagman, F Stu Barnes, D Mattias Norstrom, G Johan Holmqvist
Restricted Free Agents: Chris Conner
Bottom Line: The Stars have a lot of confidence and want another deep run in the playoffs. A lot of that might come down to winning the division, giving them a top-three seed. Having to play the likes of Anaheim and San Jose before facing a Detroit would be a tough road (again). And that’s what you face when you are a 4 or 5 seed, rather than a 2 seed. Having Brad Richards in for a full season will be big, and Sean Avery will be a major factor on the ice. There was a reason that the Rangers were 50-20-16 with Avery in the lineup and sub-.500 when he was not. But the Stars’ young D has to step up with Norstrom retiring. If they do, I expect the Stars to be right there for a chance to win the Pacific. Los Angeles Kings
Additions: F Bradley Richardson (trade w COL), F Jarret Stoll & D Matt Greene (trade w EDM), D Denis Gauthier (trade w PHI)
Subtractions: G Dan Cloutier, F Ladislav Nagy, F Scott Thornton, D Lubomir Visnovsky, F Mike Cammalleri
Restricted Free Agents: Patrick O’Sullivan, Richardson, Stoll
Bottom Line: I expect the Kings to be bad again this season. This team is very young but the biggest problem I see is in goal. Who is the prospect they are counting on to be “the guy” for the future? I don’t see him in their system or on their roster, so before they find him, I have a hard time picking the Kings to win much. There is talent but it is very green and it will take some time. These Kings will be good one day but not this season. Unfortunately I can’t see a scenario that has them finishing higher than the basement of the Pacific. Phoenix Coyotes
Additions: F Olli Jokinen (trade w FLA), F Alex Bourret (trade w NYR), D Kurt Sauer, F Todd Fedoruk
Subtractions: D Keith Ballard, D Nick Boynton
Restricted Free Agents: F Joel Perrault
Bottom Line: I think the Coyotes will be much improved (especially on offense). Jokinen gives the team a top center who is sure to score his share of points. The biggest question mark is the defense. Losing Ballard and Boynton in acquiring Jokinen will be big losses. Ilya Bryzgalov better be good, cause I have a feeling he’s going to see a lot of rubber. I see Phoenix finishing fourth in the division but they’ll play an important role in deciding the division. This is a decent team and one that will improve as the season rolls along. They’re a year away from crashing the playoff picture. San Jose Sharks
Additions: D Rob Blake, D Dan Boyle & D Brad Lukowich (trade w TB).
Subtractions: Matt Carle, Craig Rivet. Brian Campbell
Restricted Free Agents: Lukas Kaspar
Bottom Line: I had a feeling that San Jose was going to make a mistake and trade away a core member of their forwards in an attempt to improve but I think instead they made some great moves in getting Blake and Boyle to add to their blue line. This team could be very dangerous (especially on the power play) and have balanced their team out well. Want to watch some good hockey games? Tune in for the first two match-ups between the Sharks and Dallas in November. I fully expect to see some inspired play by both sides, especially when you add Sean Avery into the mix. I hear Joe Thornton missed him while he was in NY. The Sharks are a favorite to repeat as champs in the Pacific, but they’ll have stiff competition from Dallas and Anaheim.