NHL 2012-13: Who Will Win the NHL's Pacific Division and Why?
The Pacific Division.
Home of the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings
Home of the Western Conference Finals participant Phoenix Coyotes
The Pacific Division had three teams make the 2012 NHL Playoffs.
Many look at the division as we approach the 2012-13 season and see a stronger division than ever before. While the Kings stayed calm during the offseason, every other team made additions that they hope will bring them closer to toppling their division rival and current Stanley Cup Champions based in the City of Angels.
If you add the summer drama surrounding free agent Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes to the mix, this division could see a change in the balance of power before the season even begins. When Doan finally pens his name to a new contract, will it be with the only team he has ever known, the Phoenix Coyotes? Will he sign a rumored deal in Silicon Valley with the Sharks? Will he join the defending champions in Southern California even though they say they are now not all that interested? Or, will he leave the division and head back east?
This article will explore each team in the division, the additions they made, the losses they suffered and who will eventually prevail when the puck is dropped come September.
Do you agree with the analysis? Don't be afraid to let me know in the comments section below.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Key Losses: None
The Anaheim Ducks come into the 2012-13 season hoping to jump-start their franchise and return to previous form. From 2005-2011, the Ducks made the playoffs five times and would like nothing more than to return to that type of consistent success.
The Ducks have been looking to trade one of their major offensive producers all offseason—Bobby Ryan. Trading Ryan would decimate a team that had trouble scoring. The Ducks have been looking for a large return on any trade involving Ryan and have yet to find it so far.
If Anaheim keeps Ryan, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Ducks. He is a player who has scored 30 goals in four straight seasons—goals they sorely need in their lineup to have any chance of advancing to the 2013 NHL Playoffs.
Anaheim needs to have the threat of two scoring lines (four true scoring forwards) and they currently have that with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Ryan. Of those four, Getzlaf needs to have a big comeback season if the Ducks want to improve as a squad.
The Ducks defense became substantially better with the addition of Allen and Souray. Allen is a tough stay-at-home defenseman and Souray will really help on the power play with his cannon of a shot from the point. If you add the two new additions to Toni Lydman and Francois Beauchemin, you have an experienced set of blue-line pairs.
It could all come down to goaltending for the Ducks. Jonas Hiller was under .500 last season for Anaheim and needs a huge bounce-back season. His save percentage was .910 and his goals against average was 2.57. Both of those ranked him in the bottom half of the league.
The Ducks need their big players to come through in a big way for them to have any chance of making the playoffs this season.
4. Phoenix Coyotes
Key Losses: Ray Whitney (Dallas Stars); Adrian Aucoin (Columbus Blue Jackets); Taylor Pyatt (New York Rangers)
Two words, one name. All that Coyotes fans want to hear is that Doan will resign with the Desert Dogs. All Doan wants to hear is that the team has the funding to remain in Phoenix. Neither of the two have come to fruition as of yet. While Doan is not a superstar, he is the glue that holds the team in Phoenix together and will be impossible to replace in the short term. Not only on the ice, but in the community.
The Coyotes' offense could not really afford to lose any of their production, which made it such a crushing blow to lose leading scorer Ray Whitney to Dallas. If they lose Doan to free agency, they will have lost their top two scorers from last season.
Others will need to pick up the slack on offense. The Coyotes will need more offense from wingers Mikkel Boedker and Lauri Korpikoski and centers Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal to make up for the loss of Whitney. All of the new additions need to come in ready to produce from the beginning of the year if the Coyotes are to improve on their one glaring deficiency, which is offensive production.
The Coyotes have a great foundation on the back end. They have a great mix of veterans and youngsters on defense led by Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Derek Morris. Rusty Klesla and Michalek make up a group of five solid blue-liners. A talented corps of up-and-coming young defensemen will battle for that sixth and final defensive spot. David Schlemko, Michael Stone, Chris Summers and Brandon Gormley are all names to watch for to fill that final spot.
The Coyotes got a fantastic year out of goaltender Mike Smith last season. The question is, can he duplicate his stellar efforts? Smith dug deep throughout the season and produced a magical display of goaltending throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
I picked the Coyotes above the Ducks for two reasons.
I think Doan will resign with the Coyotes and bring a sense of normalcy back to the team that is coming off its best season in franchise history.
I think the Coyotes have the best coach in the division in Dave Tippett. To see first-hand what he has done without a ton of top notch talent is mind-blowing. Without a doubt, it's the most impressive three-year run I have ever seen.
But, I expect Mike Smith to come back to reality this season from his unreal form at the end of last season and with the lack of scoring, it will be tough for the Coyotes to duplicate last season's success
3. Dallas Stars
Key Losses: Sheldon Souray (Anaheim Ducks); Mike Riberio (Washington Capitals); Steve Ott (Buffalo Sabres); Adam Pardy (Buffalo Sabres)
Dallas will make the biggest jump of any team in the division.
The additions of Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy add serious point production to an already-potent offensive lineup.
While many of their additions are older, they are still very productive. Whitney had 70-plus points last season in Phoenix, Jagr had 50-plus points in Philadelphia and Roy had 40-plus points in Buffalo. You add that to 70-plus point scorer Loui Erikkson and 60-plus point scorers Michael Ryder and Jaime Benn and all of a sudden you have a very difficult team to match up with.
Defensively, Dallas is decent. Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas form a solid group of experienced and talented defenseman. Young Phillip Larsen is going to be counted on to step up his game while stay-at-home defensemen Aaron Rome and Mark Fistric will have to provide cover to the attacking, offensive-minded Goligoski and Daley.
I like Kari Lehtonen between the pipes. I think last season established him as a top-10 goalie in the league. I think he is the third-best netminder in the division, but that is not a slight when you look at the two guys ahead of him: Mike Smith and Jonathan Quick. His agility is underrated and he pulled off some amazing feats last season in Big D. If he has as big of season as I think he will have, the Stars could make serious waves come playoff time.
If their defense holds up, I predict a return to the playoffs for Dallas this season.
2. San Jose Sharks
Key Additions: Adam Burish (Dallas Stars)
Key Losses: None
The San Jose Sharks are still in the chase to sign Shane Doan and if they are able to acquire him, it will add another weapon to an already potent offense.
Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski give San Jose the ability to score with anyone in the league. When you add a full season of Martin Havlat into the mix, it makes them extremely dangerous to deal with. Ryane Clowe had a breakout season last year. He was able to be a physical force as well as produce points on one of the Sharks top two lines.
Defensively, the Sharks are solid. Brent Burns and Dan Boyle lead the blue line with recently resigned Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brad Stuart rounding out what should be a steady top-four defensmen. The last two spots will be up for grabs as Justin Braun, Jason Demers and Douglas Murray compete for playing time. Murray has proven to be a solid NHL defenseman when healthy and should have the inside track over the other two involved.
In net, Antti Niemi will have to play better than he did last season for the Sharks to win the division. His record was stellar, but his goals-against average and save percentage ranked him in the bottom half of goaltenders in the league.
I expect the Sharks to come out blazing to begin the season as they look to reestablish dominance over a division that they expect to rule. They will jump to an early lead in the division only to be caught at the end by a streaking Los Angeles side who will be drunk with success early in the year only to turn it on late.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None
How can you pick against the reigning Stanley Cup champions when they did not lose a single vital person to a trade or free agency?
The Kings took the hockey world by storm during the playoffs last season under head coach Darryl Sutter by playing a dominant, in-your-face, physical brand of hockey. Their best players showed up when they needed to, they received one of the all-time great goaltending performances in the NHL Playoffs by Jonathan Quick and they out-grinded teams with their tenacity and determination.
Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams make up an elite group of forwards. With Simon Gagne coming back from injury, L.A. will be just fine offensively. Resigning Dustin Penner will prove critical if he can maintain his productivity that he displayed during the playoffs.
Defensively, they may have the best all-around defenseman in the NHL in Drew Doughty. Add in a solid corp of veterans including Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene and you can see why the Kings were so steady in front of Quick last season.
In net, Jonathan Quick established himself last season as one of the best goalies in the league. His playoff form was epic. He will be counted on to repeat his heroics of last season and that could prove to be difficult for him to maintain over a full season—especially with everyone gunning for the Kings next season.
Winning the division won't be enough for Kings fans as they have had a taste of what true success is last season. But, for the Kings a ton of things went right last season. Can they better last season's regular season results? Maybe. But, I think they will find success tough to deal with at first and will come out of the gates slow. By mid-season, the will pick it up and overtake the Sharks at the end of the year to win the division title.