Los Angeles Kings: 5 Biggest Threats in the West

Evan BudrovichCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2012

Los Angeles Kings: 5 Biggest Threats in the West

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    The Los Angeles Kings have much to celebrate this offseason, but nothing will come easy next season in the loaded Western Conference. The 2012 Stanley Cup Champions will be favorites to repeat but will have competition to not only win the Pacific Division but from the rest of the West.  

    Let's remember the Kings finished the regular season in eighth place in the West, and the conference will have some great teams next season. The Kings did help their cause, however, by re-signing Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner and Dwight King, solidifying their unit from last season.

    Next season, nothing will come easy for the defending champions. With that being said, here are the five biggest threats to the Los Angeles Kings next season in the Western Conference.  

San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have been the big brother to the Los Angeles Kings for years in the Pacific Division, and this rivalry will continue at full force next season. 

    It all starts in San Jose with the big centerman: Joe Thornton. The 6'4", 230-pound forward is one of the most physical scorers in the league who sets the tempo for this Sharks team.

    San Jose lost in the first round of the playoffs last season but has shown year in and year out it will be in the playoff hunt competing for Pacific Division titles.

    The Sharks also have very serviceable pieces in Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe. Couture and Pavelski both scored over 30 goals and 60 points last season and will continue to dominate the offensive zone next season.

    The Sharks are not only a deep team, but have excellent goaltending in Antti Niemi who can be a top-10 goaltender in this league when given full playing time. Add to the fact that this Sharks team is experienced with veteran savvy, they will not be disappearing from the Kings' radar any time soon.  

St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues posted a league-best 1.9 goals-against average, allowing the dual-goaltender system to work perfectly last season. 

    The Blues were swept by the Kings in the second round of the playoffs, but played above expectations last season, finishing as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

    It all begins for the Blues with Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. Elliot posted a 1.56 GAA last season, while Halak was not too shabby either posting a 1.97 GAA. The Blues are built defensively with these goaltenders and with superstar Alex Pietrangelo anchoring the defense.

    Not only are the Blues immensely talented, but they have a young nucleus with a great leader in head coach Ken Hitchcock.

    Not enough can be said about the importance of great coaching, and having a leader like Hitchcock will allow the young Blues to build upon their success from last season and continue their playoff aspirations for next season.  

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks won the Presidents' Trophy last season and will once again be title contenders in the Western Conference due to the play of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. 

    Daniel scored 30 goals while Henrik supplied 67 assists, powering the highest-scoring offense in the Western Conference. Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler will also be key to the Canucks' success next season.

    Vancouver built its success last year on its road record, which was 24-12-5 as part of a league-best overall record and Western Conference-best plus-51 goal differential. Leading in these categories will be huge once again for the Canucks as they look to upend one of the league's most dangerous road teams, in Los Angeles. 

    Add in the fact that Cory Schneider should play more games next season, this team could be even better next season. Schneider played extremely well in the regular season and shut down the Kings for two solid games in the playoffs.   

    During the regular season, the Canucks were deadly, and with most of the same unit returning for next season, they should be a daunting opponent for the Kings.  

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks may be the most talented team in the Western Conference and have the pieces to overtake the Kings next season.

    The Blackhawks have an explosive offense that features Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. This team is stacked on offense and posted the second-most goals in the Western Conference last season.

    The biggest weakness for this team is its goaltending with Corey Crawford, who was very inconsistent during the regular season. Luckily, the defensive tandem of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should play at an elite level to lighten the load on Crawford next season. 

    If the Blackhawks, the team that allowed the third-most goals in the West last season, can play more fundamentally sound defense, they will have the balanced attack to overtake the Kings next season. 

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Anaheim Ducks have used this offseason to put themselves into the Western Conference playoff picture for next season. Not only do they have playoff aspirations, but the cross-town rival Kings need to keep an eye out for this surprise team.

    The Ducks made good additions on the defensive side, bringing in defensemen Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. Plus re-signing their leading point-scorer from last season, Teemu Selanne, will certainly help this offense.

    If Corey Perry can return anywhere close to his 98-point performance from 2011, the Ducks will be a dangerous team next season.

    Not only is the offense special but, when healthy, Jonas Hiller could be a top-10 goaltender completing the Ducks' defense.

    This Ducks team is a real wild card, but watch out for them next season. With the subtraction of Ryan Suter from Nashville, expect Anaheim to be the surprise team in the Western Conference.