NHL Preview – Pacific Division
I was thinking about this division in the summer, and the conclusion I came to is that there is only 2 safe bets. The Kings will make the playoffs and the Flames won’t. The Sharks and Canucks are going to drop off one of these years, although I don’t know if it happens this season. Anaheim from year to year is a total wildcard. Last year they got the goaltending to be one of the top teams in the league, but neither Hiller or Fasth are established number 1 guys. The Oilers are expected to take off sometime soon but who knows when things will pop for them. And the Coyotes finally played to their ability last season, although it is tough to believe that a Dave Tippett coached team would do that 2 years in a row.
They could just as easily miss the playoffs entirely. I don’t know what the heck to think about this club at this point. But when you look at the positives there is a lot for their straight up mentally unstable fan base to be burning cars about. Short term, Torts should spark this team. I THINK guys like Kesler, Bieksa and Burrows will be forced to clean up their act. Either actually play tough, or be told to shutup. They’ll block shots, we know that is a staple of Torts hockey. No longer is it about “safe is death” and all that BS the media hyped in 2004. The x factor for this team is without a doubt Roberto Luongo and how he will respond to being back with this team. He doesn’t want to be there and while he doesn’t come out and say so, it seems pretty obvious. You can make a strong argument for this team to go either way. I’m saying for the regular season that Torts gets there best and they win the division. But this team still doesn’t have what it takes come April and May.
It took a while last season for this team to regain their form of 2012, but once they did they played great. Only last year’s Kings and the 09 Red Wings have made it to the conference final following a Cup winning season in the last 10 years. Jonathan Quick should have a great season. He’s healthy coming into this season, he’s playing to be the starter on the US Olympic team, and he’s already established himself as one of the games elite between the pipes. Some of that is the system, but Quick is legit. This is pretty much the perfect team for the playoffs. Big, physical, great down the middle, great on defense, the aformentioned Quick in net, it is just perfect. They ran out of gas last spring but they are primed for another run if they are healthy. Not much to say about their offseason. The Bernier deal was really the only thing they did, and in my opinion the only thing that they had to do. I like Matt Frattin better for them then Penner too. Frattin has good wheels and a lot more drive in his game. The Kings might be boring both on and off the ice, but they’re among the elite in the league.
On one hand, they looked to be a bit rejuvenated last season. Starting with what was at the time a HUGE 3rd period comeback win on the road in Edmonton, they rolled until the 2nd round of the playoffs. On the other hand, they were only 6th in the conference and sure they swept the Canucks but they were a mess. If you read my stuff, then you know I don’t waste my drool on Logan Couture like the rest of the media does…ESPN in particular who had him ranked as the 11th best player in the league. Mind you, if you read Scott Burnside or listen to what Barry Melrose has to say then you probably aren’t intelligent anyway. He’s a good 2nd line center. He doesn’t see the toughest assignments on a nightly bases, that is saved for the Thornton line. He’s good, he’s not the hall of famer some will have you believe. The reason I’m rolling about him right now is because he is going to have to become that guy soon. Thornton is 34 and while he is still playing at a high level, he and Couture will be switching roles soon. I don’t know if that happens this season, but it will happen soon. Meanwhile they have probably the most underrated goaltender in the league in Antti Niemi. This guy isn’t very flashy, but he is extremely consistent. I think they remain a playoff team for one more season, but this team still lacks the depth both up front and on the back end to go deep in the playoffs.
I actually had trouble spotting the Ducks because as I said off the top, you just don’t know what you will get from this team year to year anymore. And they’ll be hurt on their PP with Sheldon Souray out. But I just have to think they’ll be in the hunt with Bruce Boudreau behind the f***in bench. Getzlaf, Perry and whoever they put with them will still be one of the best first lines in hockey. As I said, they don’t have an established number 1 guy but Hiller and Fasth were both great last season so you would think that at least one of the two of them can keep up that great play. Much like the Sharks…or perhaps even more so than the Sharks, this team has little depth. They are building some up front, but I don’t like their 2nd line. Selanne is now 43 and Koivu is 38. Experience is nice, but these two guys are back this season to play for their country in Sochi, not because they love being Ducks so much. Emerson Etem could use Selanne’s ice time. So the bottom line with this team is they could either miss the playoffs, or compete for a division title. You just don’t know year to year.
I have them 5th but I trust Phoenix more than I trust them. It will pop for them one of these years, there is simply just too much talent not to. And now, they’ll be a very well coached team as well. I needed about 8 games last season to see that Ralph Krueger was far from the answer behind the bench. I don’t recall ever seeing a head coach get so badly exposed the way Krueger was. Seems like one of the best guys in hockey, but shouldn’t have been the head coach of an NHL team. Meanwhile Dallas Eakins is supposedly a nightmare to coach against according to AHL coaches. He is terrific at making in game adjustments and that is where coaching can make all the difference in the world weather its hockey, football, or basketball. He won’t lack talent to work with. Craig MacTavish made a lot of changes this offseason, but he really didn’t change the look of the team. They’re still small, still lack grit, and still have big question marks down the middle, on the blueline and in net. Devan Dubnyk HAS to stop letting in the disgusting, back breaking goals that sunk this club in so many game last season. Shutup about his .920 Sv% and watch the games, this kid hasn’t played like a number 1 goaltender…but he can be. This is the most talented team in this division, even more so than the Canucks in my opinon. But they need to play a structured game, and they need to play with more grit. If they do that, then they’ll be a playoff team. If they don’t, then it could be more of the same.
I had them to win the division and get to the conference final last season. Oops!!! They finally played to their talent level. But for that to happen 2 years in a row is unlikely I believe….and I know I said this at the top but down here it still holds true. The problem for them, and really everyone with the exception of Calgary in this division, is that the teams are pretty evenly matched. I have them 6th, but it is just as likely that they win the division. Dave Tippett coaches his teams to play dreadfully boring hockey, but it works. The contract they gave Mike Smith was ridiculous. Not because Smith can’t perform to that level in this system, but because they could have let him walk and plugged someone else in and got at least as good of goaltending. This system makes average goaltenders look good, and good goaltenders look amazing. The Mike Riberio signing was a good one for them though. Riberio has put up good numbers playing for the Tipp in the past, which isn’t easy to do. They’re now looking great down the middle with him, Hanzal and Vermette. Ekman-Larsson is emerging as one of the best d-men in hockey, and he will lead a very good blueline 1-6. I don’t feel comfortable predicting this team finishes 6th in the division, but even if they do they’ll be in the playoff race until the end. Its funny, I’ve heard people say they’ll be better now that the ownership situation is solved. Well they made the playoffs in 3 of 4 seasons with that “distraction” and a similar talent level, and went to the conference final in 2012. So I don’t think it was THAT big of a factor.
Well this team is disgusting and I’m not saying that because I never hide that I’m an Oiler fan. Nothing that I ever say about the Flames is because I’m an Oiler fan, it just simply has been a horribly run franchise for the last 4 or 5 seasons and now they’re paying for it. I don’t doubt that this will be the worst team in the league this season, but that’s what they need to be. It isn’t a great draft, but you still need those top picks and if they are the worst team then they’ll have the best odds to get the top pick, and if they get the top pick then perhaps they can take Sam Reinhart. Reinhart and Monhan down the middle for 15 years wouldn’t suck at all. I know some Flames fans are excited about kids like Baertschi, Gaudreau, and Wotherspoon but the truth is that these kids are just B level prospects. You can’t expect them all to exceed expectations. If one of them reaches expectations, and one is a regular in the leauge then that is good. It is the kids like Monahan who you build around, and he will be a good one to build around. As for the current roster, why even talk about them? The roster is embarrasingly bad. It isn’t as bad as the Oilers roster was at the end of the 2010 season, but its not far off.
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