With the re-alignment of the National Hockey League, the Pacific Division is much more appropriately named now that the Dallas Stars, who were the division’s sole member in the Central Time Zone have been sent to the Central Division. Sure, we know that still leaves three teams in the Mountain Time Zone, but since both Calgary and Edmonton don’t really look like they will contend and Phoenix may not be much better, the teams from this division likely still to be strapping on the skates come spring may very well be from the cities on the Pacific.
1) Los Angeles Kings
- Key Additions – RW Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens, LW Daniel Carcillo
- Key Departures – G Jonathan Bernier, LW Dustin Penner, D Rob Scuderi, C Brad Richardson
The Kings are a physical team that wears opponents down. If there were allowed to carry nightsticks and tasers, they might just be the hockey version of the L.A.P.D. They aren’t interested in getting along, they are dedicated to letting you know there is a price to pay for hanging around in front of their net. Despite the loss of Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles still boasts a talented core of defensemen, led by Drew Doughty and bolstered by stalwarts in Slava Voynov, Matt Greene, and Jake Muzzin.
Between the pipes, the Kings have one of the best goalies in the league in Jonathan Quick. Yeah, I know he was inconsistent last year, but with the absence of the “Stanley Cup Hangover” and the fact the Quick is in the competition to be the netminder for the U.S. team in the Olympics should be enough to return Quick to the form he showed in the Kings’ championship season.
If inconsistency is going to be a problem for the Kings, it will be on offense. The offensive game for the Kings is dodgier than Matt Kemp’s ankles, but unless they become as impotent as Joe Theismann staring at a nude photo of Chris Berman, the defense and the goaltending should make the Kings the choice to reign over this division.
2) Anaheim Ducks
- Key Arrivals – LW Dustin Penner, RW Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, D Marc Fistric, D Nolan Yonkman
- Key Departures – RW Bobby Ryan
There’s going to be two themes to this season for the Ducks. First of all, you know this team is about as sad to see the Detroit Red Wings leave the Western Conference as all the folks in Knoxville were to watch Lane Kiffin flame-out at USC. After last season’s first round loss to the Detroit Red Wings in which they gagged away a Game 7, the Ducks have something to prove.
That loss leads to the second theme…this season is all about winning the Stanley Cup before senior citizen Teemu Selanne will need to soak his dentures in it. Together, those themes mean the Ducks loaded up more than Aldon Smith at a wedding open bar. but did they change anything.
Last season, they Ducks cruised out to 22-3-4 despite the fact at the beginning of the campaign, head coach Bruce Boudreau had about as much confidence in his team’s scoring ability behind the first line as you would have in a brain surgeon who falls down a lot. Again the first line should be fine; in addition to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Anaheim brought in Jakob Silfverberg, who might be the slickest right-winger since Heinrich Himmler.
Again, the problem is behind that line. We already know about “Gramps” Selanne, but he’s on a retirement home line with 39-year old Saku Koivu. The “Denny’s Early Bird” combo did rack up 20 goals in 2013, but they ran out of gas at the end of the season. The Ducks relied on these guys down the stretch, and the fact they had emptier tanks than Danica Patrick when she forgets to put the gas cap back on is a major reason why Anaheim went 8-9-2 in the last part of the season and laid down in their own piss against the #7 seeded Red Wings in the play-offs.
It comes down to the fact that yet again, the Ducks will depend on its goaltending. Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth are arguably the best goalie tandem in the conference, but if Ducklings like Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri, and Andrew Winnik don’t start producing as scorers, Hiller and Fasth may have to pitch shut-outs every night. That is about as likely to happen as Disney opening a hard-core porn division.
3) San Jose Sharks
- Key Arrivals – C Tomas Hertl, RW Tyler Kennedy, LW Matt Nieto, C Freddie Hamilton, G Alex Stalock
- Key Departures – LW T.J. Galiardi, LW Tim Kennedy, G Thomas Greiss
Let’s talk about a team that likely is shedding a tear over the departure of the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. Of all the times the Sharks have been essentially awarded the Stanley Cup in January, they’ve only gagged it away once at the hands of the Red Wings.
Remember about ten years ago when it seemed like Phil Mickelson had officially had his name changed to “the best golfer to never win a major.” The Sharks could easily be the best team of the last decade to never hoist the Stanley Cup; in that time they’ve finished either 1st or 2nd in the Pacific Division eight times, and one of the seasons they didn’t was the one lost to the strike in 2004-05. The other was last year’s lockout shortened season; one in which the Sharks came within a game last season of knocking off the defending champion Los Angeles Kings during the playoffs.
This season sees the Sharks with the same prospects for success with an improved line-up. Midway through last season, the Sharks moved 6′ 5″, 230-pound defenseman Brent Burns to right wing, and he had 20 points in 23 games. Realizing the are onto something, San Jose will make the switch permanent this year, putting the towering Burns alongside veteran center Joe Thornton and newly-acquired winger Tyler Kennedy.
When you combine that seeming stroke of genius with an already established roster, toss in a top-flight goalie in Antti Niemi, and there’s no reason why the Sharks can’t lose in the play-offs again.
4) Vancouver Canucks
- Key Arrivals – RW Zac Dalpe, C Benn Ferriero, G Eddie Läck, C Brad Richardson, C Mike Santorelli , D Ryan Stanton, D Yannick Weber
- Key Departures – D Keith Ballard, RW Guillaume Desbiens, C Andrew Ebbett, RW Andrew Gordon, C Maxim Lapierre, C Derek Roy, G Cory Schneider
Over the last two seasons, since losing to Boston in the Cup final in 2011, Vancouver has won just one playoff game. You can smell the desperation on the Canucks like cheap supermarket cologne; they obviously realize that their days as a power in the Western Conference are numbered. All the signs of a train wreck are present; its just a question of what finally causes the cars to jump the tracks.
The Canucks used to be able to count on solid goaltending, then Roberto Luongo became spongier than a microwaved Twinkie, and now Vancouver has parted ways with Cory Schneider. This means despite what they may want to do, the Canucks are pretty much stuck with Luongo and the $40 million left on his contract.
But the move that promises to be the alkali-metal-tossed-in-the-fish-tank moment is the hiring of head coach John Tortorella. I don’t understand this move at all; it’s got every chance to be a Tortorel-Disaster. When you have a team that is under-performing, why would you bring in a guy who not only specializes in minimizing talent, but is a complete ass-pipe on top of it? The Tort-ster is already making himself out to be a buttmunch of the first order by having tirades about cellphones, which if you think about it really the problem with the Canucks. Never mind they have a $40 million dollar goalie who may wet his pants at any given moment. Don’t mind the fact this team has more trouble staying healthy than a Sudanese village whose well is next to a sulfur mine. Don’t’ worry about the fact that with every season, the window for this team closes faster than one of Louie Anderson’s coronary arteries. John Tottorella makes for fun press conferences, and that’s all Canuck fans really care about. Besides, it’s not like Canuck fans have a rich tradition and a building full of Stanley Cups to fall back on.
Tortorella wore out his welcome with his bullshit in New York; it’s only a matter of time before the same happens in Vancouver.
5) Phoenix Coyotes
- Key Arrivals – C Mike Ribeiro, RW Brandon Yip, G Thomas Greiss
- Key Departures – C Boyd Gordon, G Chad Johnson, RW Nick Johnson, G Jason LaBarbera
Now that there is ownership stability, it seems the Coyotes will no longer be looking to wander the desert; they look to remain in Phoenix for the foreseeable future. That just begs the question…how long will it take Phoenix to rise from it’s own ashes?
Don’t let the 2012 play-off run this team made fool you; the Coyotes are in more need of rebuilding than trailer park after a tornado. Phoenix is thinner than ball-park beer in nearly every facet of the game, and while they’ve made some right steps in this past off-season, they are still baby steps. They are going in the right direction with free-agent signings like Mike Riberio, even if he has a tendency to be flakier than a box of Wheaties. But they just don’t have the scoring prowess, the defense, and the goal-tending to mount a serious campaign to the make the play-offs.
6) Edmonton Oilers
- Key Arrivals – D Andrew Ference, D Anton Belov, LW Steve MacIntyre, LW David Perron, G Jason LaBarbera
- Key Depatures – C Shawn Horcoff, LW Magnus Paajarvi, G Nikolai Khabibulin
Other than their appearance in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, it seems like the Oilers have been “rebuilding” ever since Peter Pocklington put Wayne Gretzky in a crate with airholes and some straw and shipped him to the Kings 25 years ago. Since 2006, they’ve had high draft picks more often than not, and they little to show for it. Edmonton has had 6 top 10 draft picks, including three #1’s in seven years, and they have seen exactly zero play-off games in that time. The main reason is that defensively, the Oilers are softer than 1000-ply Charmin.
It has been a fashionable pick to say this is the year Edmonton’s youth movement finally takes a step forward, and a big reason for that is the presence of first-year head coach Dallas Eakins. Under Eakins, the Oilers are certainly going to be interesting, and they may very well begin the march to contention this year, but they have such a long journey that expecting them to make the play-offs this season is more of a stretch than Rex Ryan’s lap-band after a trip to the Asian buffet.
In other words, the very same young talent which will not allow Edmonton a trip to the play-offs today may very well guarantee it in a few years.
7) Calgary Flames
- Key Arrivals – LW T.J. Galiardi, D Kris Russell
- Key Departures – RW Jarome Iginla, G Miikka Kiprusoff
In every league, somebody has to finish last. In the NHL Pacific Division, it isn’t “somebody; it’s Calgary. Until further notice, it might save a lot of time if we all just refer to them as the Flame-outs. Nobody should think this team has any realistic hope of making the post-season, and nobody should think any different from that for quite some time. Kim Karadashian may win a Mother of the Year award before the Flame-outs are a Cup contender again.
The days of Joe Mullen, Hakan Loob, Doug Gilmour, Joe Niuewendyk, and Mike Vernon are long gone, and they may be as long in returning. The Flame-outs pounded a stake in the ground signifying the dawn of what may be a rebuilding era nearly as long as the Reconstruction of the Confederacy when they traded Jarome Iginla, and the reconstruction foundation was poured in concrete with the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff. That foundation hardened with the fact that the best players the Flame-outs add were role players like T.J. Galliardi and Kris Russell. Don’t me wrong, they aren’t bad players, but they are as capable of being cornerstones of a rebuilding effort as the Styx monument to the sappy 70’s ballad Cornerstone could be such to building your classic rock album collection. It isn’t the worst album out there, but is sure as shit isn’t Machine Head by Deep Purple either.
On the ice, the problem that will give Calgary fans flaming bouts of heartburn is the defense. You saw this in last night’s opener against the Capitals. When you watch a team score four goals and lose, especially when that team blew a three-goal lead, it becomes obvious that team’s defense is softer than a a Sealy Posturepedic mattress made of clouds and kitten fur.
It is going to be a while before the Flame-outs will contend for the playoffs; last night only proved that Calgary’s defense is going to feature plenty of wide open spaces and their opponents should have no problems taking advantage; Flame-out goaltenders may start feeling like that little tin duck at a carnival shooting gallery.
The real question will involve the patience of the fans. I don’t think the Calgary fans will tolerate bad hockey for as long as the rebuilding effort will take, but I’m not sure what choice they will have.