The perception of the NHL Pacific Division is one of team who perform very well in the regular season over the past decade, but do almost nothing in the playoffs. Not once has the division failed to supply a top-two seed in the West, twice earning a top seed and once a President's Trophy.
In that time, the division has claimed just one Stanley Cup championship, however, and the division winner has been knocked out by a lower seed in every other season, including twice in the first round. That being said, the division is not without its playoff success, having represented the Western Conference twice in the Stanley Cup Finals and made the conference finals four times in the past nine seasons.
Perhaps no team exemplifies this somewhat misguided perception more than the San Jose Sharks. The franchise has won the division five times but made the conference finals just twice in that span. They upset three higher seeds to get there, but in the two against the Nashville Predators, the Sharks were favored.
At the same time, while the Sharks were eliminated by a lower seed five times, three of those five teams went on to win at least three games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Last season's Chicago Blackhawks were a lower seed only by a tiebreaker and won the Stanley Cup. In 2004 and 2006, Calgary and Edmonton were better teams than their records indicated, and better than the Sharks, because they upgraded their goaltending late in the season.
Unfortunately, the perception of the best regular season team being only about .500 in the playoffs has tainted the entire division. Anaheim has been the division's best playoff team, beating the Sharks in 2009, making the Stanley Cup Finals twice, and winning once. But Dallas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have only sporadically seen the playoffs first-hand and have won just three series between them in the decade.
This year could be different. Here are the teams and their predicted finishes:
- San Jose Sharks: This team has dominated its division and retained enough talent to do it again. The losses of Manny Malhotra and an aging Rob Blake are mitigated by young talent plus the acquisition of Jamal Mayers, and the departure of Evgeni Nabokov is mitigated by the addition of Annti Niemi. Click here to read more on the Sharks.
- Los Angeles Kings: The Kings will be a top-five seed because of a deep blue line and enough talent in net to assume someone will be at least above average. They are well-coached and have enough scoring to succeed. Click here to read more on the Kings.
- Phoenix Coyotes: The surprise team of 2009-10 will be less of a mystery to the league this season, but they kept almost the entire team together and have enough developing young talent to still reach the playoffs.
- Anaheim Ducks: Losing your captain and best defenceman hurts. The Ducks' forwards are aging, and there are not enough of them to offset the lack of scoring punch they possess. Jonas Hiller will keep them in enough games to make them dangerous to play and in contention for a playoff spot, but in what promises to be a tough conference, they will fall short.
- Dallas Stars: Marty Turco is no longer an elite goaltender, and it was time to make a change, but Kari Lehtonen is not the answer. Dallas is deep among both forwards and defence, but lacks star power in either unit; they will be lucky to finish with more than 75 points.