Over the past two months many of the NHL clubs have gone through different changes, via trade or free agency, all in efforts to improve their respective teams.
Perhaps the division that underwent the most change was the Pacific Division. Whether it be the Phoenix Coyotes losing star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, the LA Kings acquiring Mike Richards, the Dallas Stars losing Brad Richards or the San Jose Sharks trading away star forward Dany Heatley, nobody can deny that the shape of teams in the Pacific has drastically changed.
But the real question here is whether the changes made have done anything to affect the placement of the teams compared to last year. You can most likely expect that the Phoenix Coyotes wont be making the playoffs after losing Bryzgalov, but will they really sink below Dallas in the standings?
The more important question is not who gets worse, but who gets better? Is this the year that the LA Kings surpass the Sharks? Could Anaheim shock everybody and surpass both?
Less than a month ago I wrote a controversial article predicting that the Kings would not only pass the Sharks for the division title, but that they would also win the President's trophy and see the Western Conference Finals.
Some agreed, most didn't, but the article served its purpose well by sparking a debate that led to the most commented article on Bleacher Report in July. That leads us here, to the continuation of the debate on the Sharks vs. Kings, and who will come out on top this season.
We'll start with the changes to the Kings' lineup. First and foremost has to be acquiring Mike Richards. This is a huge deal for the Kings, and Mike Richards probably wont mind the Los Angeles area too much either—especially at night. You Philadelphia fans know what I'm talking about.
But Richards' off-ice behavior aside, he really is an impact player and a great pickup to improve the Kings' offense. Richards posted 66 points last year, and while that's not stellar, it does imply that he can be an huge impact in the game.
What Richards brings to the Kings that they needed even more is playoff experience. Most of you will remember Richards captaining the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, before losing Game Six in overtime to Chicago.
Loss or not, Richards' Stanley Cup Finals appearance is something most players on the Kings don't have to their advantage, and that's great experience to have. Provided Richards can separate his off-ice behavior from his on ice-behavior, he should be a good acquisition for the Kings.
Another big pickup by the Kings was grabbing Simon Gagne from the Bolts via free agency. Gagne is a former teammate of Mike Richards, which could certainly work out to the Kings' advantage this season.
40 points in 63 games is production that Gagne can be proud of, but one should take a close look at the games played. Gagne's biggest flaw is his health. Over the last four seasons he's only averaged 56 games per season, so while he is a good offensive pickup, his proneness to injury could end up hurting the Kings (and himself, of course).
But with every pickup is a loss, and the Kings had their share of those. They traded Ryan Smyth to the Oilers. Smyth's production nearly cancels out the Gagne pickup, except for the fact that Gagne is coming with a much cheaper price tag. The main point of this trade was simply to clear cap space to sign Drew Doughty, a topic that I'll revisit later.
The Kings also lost Wayne Simmonds to the Flyers in the middle of the trade for Mike Richards. While losing a 30 point role player isn't exactly something to celebrate, it's not that big of a deal when you're acquiring a player like Richards. And while Simmonds would be a great tool for the Kings, I'm not sure they'll miss him that much.
But the biggest name moved in this whole ordeal wasn't Wayne Simmonds. It wasn't even Mike Richards. The biggest name moved is one that a lot of people don't even know, because he hasn't even played 10 games in the NHL. That name is Brayden Schenn.
Schenn is regarded by www.hockeysfuture.com as the top prospect in the NHL. That's a huge deal if you ask me. Schenn is destined to be an impact player in the NHL, and while this move will certainly hurt Los Angeles in years down the road, this article is about next season, so we wont make too big of a deal out of Schenn's loss.
The biggest deal for the Kings now is Drew Doughty. As I pointed out, Ryan Smyth was traded to clear cap room for Doughty. While that trade was made nearly a month ago, Doughty still hasn't been signed. On the outside chance that Los Angeles loses Doughty, that could make a huge impact on where they land in the Pacific Division.
And now we move to the San Jose Sharks. The team that for the last couple years, much like the Washington Capitals, has had the brass ring dangled in front of their face and always seems to stumble when they come close to it.
At this point, it's hard to tell who came out with the better end of the deal on this trade. Sure, there was only a two point difference between the two last year, but last season was Heatley's worst—excluding one where he missed 50 games—and Heatley will most likely see better years again. He's had two 100 point seasons in his career, whereas Martin Havlat's highest production has been 77 points in a season.
With that said, it's fairly easy to conclude that Heatley is the better player, but there are other factors to include. San Jose came away with $2.5 million in cap room, which is always a good thing, and they might have acquired a star player that will actually show up in the post season.
Much like Gagne with the Kings, though, the biggest concern here is Havlat's health. His last few seasons have restored his reputation, but the three before that earned Havlat nicknames such as "Glass man," mainly because he only played 109 games over a three year span. Probably nothing to worry about, but those injuries could come back to haunt him as he continues to age.
Before the Heatley trade was yet another deal with the Wild. San Jose dealt Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota in return for defensemen Brent Burns. My take? Great deal for the Sharks. They've needed a good defenseman for a long time. Burns will certainly help out their blue line, but the issue here is that he's only one of six defensemen.
And giving up Setoguchi did certainly give away some offensive production and power plays, as Devin fully earned his nickname of "Divin' Setoguchi." The bigger loss here though is defenseman Ian White. Many people were quick to overlook this loss because White has never made much of an impact, but I think White is better than most people realize.
Now take a look at the stats he put up once he was traded to San Jose. 10 points in 23 regular season games, matching his production in 39 games with Carolina. Furthermore, White posted nine points in 17 playoff games with the Sharks.
So while the Sharks will undoubtedly benefit from the acquisition of Brent Burns, its interesting to question what they could've done if they hadn't lost White in free agency.
So that brings us full circle. Which team made the better changes and which team will come out on top? Los Angeles added Mike Richards and Simon Gagne while they lost Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds. San Jose added Martin Havlat and Brent Burns at the cost of Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Ian White.
Who's going to win the Pacific division? You decide! Vote in the poll and leave a comment below!
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