The Pacific Division has become the home to a group of teams that perennially challenge the teams above them, and is a big part of the reason that only 8 points separated 7th place and 11th place in the West last season. The Stanley Cup champion Kings seemingly snuck into the playoffs and dominated everyone in their path. The Coyotes are an amazing story, overcoming bankruptcy and ownership battles to make it to the conference finals on a payroll that looks more like Columbus than the Rangers. They’re a mostly amazing group of teams, and this is how the Pacific will play out.
5. Dallas Stars (89 points, 19th Overall, 10th in Conference, 4th in Division): There’s a lot of IF in Dallas right now. IF greybeard Jaromir Jagr can still perform at a high level, and stay healthy, the Stars could do well. The same IF applies to veteran leader Brendan Morrow and Ray Whitney. The Stars chances improve IF Derek Roy can get his mojo back. And if the Stars can get Jamie Benn under contract, they might be able to get passed the loss of Steve Ott and James Neal over the past couple of seasons. The main issue becomes whether all that IF becomes wish it could’ve worked out. Maybe Kari Lehtonen steals a few games, but, as a whole, the Stars won’t be shining much this season. (Prediction: 14th in the Conference)
4. Anaheim Ducks (80 points, 25th Overall, 13th in Conference, 5th in Division): Here’s the upside. Jonas Hiller seems to be completely recovered from the effects of vertigo, and towards the final part of the 2011-2012 campaign, he regained some of his dominant form. The ageless wonder Teemu Selanne is back for another kick at the can, and even at the spry young age of 42, he still can be a game changer. The down-side is that there is constant drama and trade rumors surrounding two of Anaheim’s biggest stars, namely Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. With a good chunk of their defensive depth aging at a faster rate than Selanne ever could, the Ducks have a lot of that aforementioned dirty word IF. Look for the Ducks to get close to the Spring Fling, but just fall a hair short. (Predicition: 11th in the Conference)
3. San Jose Sharks (96 Points, 12th Overall, 7th in Conference, 3rd in Division, Lost to the Blues in the Western Conference Quarterfinals): The window for the Sharks to be champions is starting to close fast. They added Brad Stuart to their blue line. The problem is that’s the only change that they made. They have kept the lineup intact, the same lineup that has performed exceptionally well in the regular season, but becomes a group of inept players when the playoffs start. That’s not to say that Joe Thortnon hasn’t ceased to be a dominant player, and that Logan Couture won’t continue to grow. But, it just won’t be enough to push them passed the playoff failures that have plagued this team. This Sharks team will make the playoffs and slip out in the first round, as usual. Keeping the status quo in San Jose can not continue. (Prediction: 8th in the Conference)
2. Phoenix Coyotes (97 Points, 11th Overall, 3rd in Conference, 1st in Division, lost to the Kings in the Western Conference Finals): Dave Tippet is a brilliant coach. Despite all the turmoil that surrounds the Phoenix ownership situation, Coach Tippet kept the desert dogs’ focus on getting a far as they could into the post-season. They almost made it all the way to the finals, and if the LA Kings weren’t steamrolling everyone in their path on the way to their Stanley Cup parade, they would have. The loss to the Kings was a heartbreaker, and fans everywhere wished they were better at lip reading wondering what Shane Doan said to Dustin Brown in the handshake line after an apparent knee on knee collision was missed by officials and directly led to the goal that eliminated the ‘Yotes. They have huge depth on defense, with a corps featuring wunderkind Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle, and high quality goaltending from Mike Smith. Look for the Coyotes to pull another deep playoff run. (Prediction: 6th in the Conference)
1. Los Angeles Kings (95 Points, 13th Overall, 8th in Conference, 3rd in Division, Lost to… well, nobody, actually, they won the Stanley Cup): There is such a thing as Cup hangover. It is a direct result of a short off-season. Less time for bodies to repair, whether those injuries are minor or severe. These newly crowned Kings will not have that problem, however, courtesy of a work stoppage that should not have gone on as long as it did. All the pieces are under contract, and now they can get a full season out of ex-Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The single big question that this Kings team has is the health of their star center Anze Kopitar, who is struggling with a knee injury. In this sprint of a season, team health will be such a huge factor. The Kings will be healthy, and whole, once Kopitar recovers. Look for them to make another meaningful run. (Prediction: 3rd in the Conference)
To Read my other previews:
Click here for the the Atlantic Division or
Here for the Northeast Division. or
Here for the Southeast Division, or
Here for the Central Division or
Here for the Pacific Division or
Here for the Northwest Division
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