Pacific Division Preview

Pacific Division Preview

Pacific Division Preview
By Judd Hall

Last year the Pacific Division saw the defending Stanley Cup Champions lose their edge, while a dormant power came back to life. This season looks like we’re going to have another dogfight amongst some of the league’s elite franchises.

Dallas Stars

The Stars shed their underachiever image last year as they took Detroit to six games in the Western Conference Final. Dallas got back to that level thanks to goaltender Marty Turco got over his issues in the postseason by going 10-8 with a 2.08 GAA.

Dallas added some grit to its lineup by signing part time Vogue intern Sean Avery to a four-year deal during the summer. His ability to get under the opposition’s skin is well known (just ask Martin Brodeur), but he also irks his teammates on occasion. That is where veteran players like Brad Richards and Mike Modano will be sure to keep him in check.

Speaking of Modano, it will be interesting to see how he handles not being the main cog this season as the youth movement continues for the Stars. Winger Jere Lehtinen is in the same boat and actually could be dealt as the season goes on for some quality prospects.

Anaheim Ducks

It didn’t take a genius to see that something was off about the Ducks in 2007. The chip on their shoulder was gone well before Teemu Selanne returned mid-season. And it became painfully apparent when the Stars owned them to the point that they could have started calling them “Toby.”

Anaheim should be back to its hard nosed ways this season as Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger make one of the best pairs of defensemen in the NHL. Meanwhile, Ryan Getzlaf will be looked upon to be a leader on offense. The front office feels he is ready for that role, but picked up Brendan Morrison from Vancouver to help out on the second line.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks opted to replace their coaching personnel, instead of breaking up the core of the team to shake things up. Todd McLellan comes over from Detroit, hoping his championship experience rubs off on the club.

San Jose also rebuilt its blue line by welcoming Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. Sure, they’re a little old, but so is Jeremy Roenick and he did okay. All eyes will be on Jonathan Cheechoo to return to the 56 goal level he was in 2005. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few looks on the trade market if the Sharks feel he won’t put up the numbers they want.

Another addition this season that should help out is Brian Boucher. He’s a veteran netminder that knows how to win…more importantly, he’ll take some of the workload that killed Evgeni Nabokov after starting 77 games.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes have decided to make their name by going younger on the ice. Wayne Gretzky’s club did bring in someone that was used to rebuilding by trading for center Olli Jokinen from the Panthers. He’ll be on the top line for Phoenix with No. 1 scorer Shane Doan and forward Peter Mueller.

Phoenix went about shoring up its blue line by bringing in David Hale and Kurt Sauer. That duo will be expected to make up for the loss of Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard, which went to Florida to complete the Jokinen deal. They’ll also be in charge of taking some heat off of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who should make a name for himself this year.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are following Phoenix’s suit in going the youth route, stockpiling promising talent. Los Angeles trimmed the fat by getting rid of veterans like Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky. They brought in attacker Jarret Stoll from Edmonton and signed him to a four-year deal. He should do well under new coach Terry Murray and his offensive gameplan.

LA has great defensive prospects in Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty must mature quickly this season to keep the team in games. Still a year or two off before really contending for a playoff spot at least.

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