NHL Free Agency: What Drew Doughty's Signing Means for San Jose Sharks
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With Jack Johnson already in camp, L.A. now possesses a blue line that has one of the top four one-two punches at the top of the unit (along with Chicago, Nashville and San Jose). They have great support with Rob Scuderi, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene and Alec Martinez.
With a top-three goalie rotation (behind Boston and Vancouver) already in the fold and an upgrade at the forward position placing them easily in the top 10, the Kings now have more balance than at any point in their franchise history.
That certainly will make things difficult for their in-state division rival, the San Jose Sharks. But just how difficult?
The two teams are neck-and-neck at forward now that the Sharks lost a little in the offseason, but the edge still has to go to San Jose.
Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar are both underrated defensively (Thornton was the team's top defender during the playoffs, put out in the toughest situations) and incredible play-makers centering the top line. Mike Richards gives the Kings a top-tier two-way second-line (three hyphenated words in a row!) centre, but the Sharks also have that with Logan Couture.
Which team in the Pacific Division has the best blue line?
The edge up the middle would go to Los Angeles after the top two, with Jarret Stoll, Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth over Michal Handzus and the host of potential Sharks fourth-line centres.
However, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell are good centres in their own right on the wing, and that gives them a bit of an edge when you include the depth even beyond the fourth line.
The Kings have incredible wingers for their top two lines: Dustin Brown, Simon Gagne, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. But the Sharks counter with Marleau, Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat. On the third and fourth lines, neither team has any wingers who can step up onto a second line in the event of injury, but again the Sharks have a little better depth because they are 15 or more deep at forward.
Similarly, San Jose is still a little better on the blue line.
Doughty and Johnson are similar to Brent Burns and Dan Boyle in talent level, with perhaps a slight edge on defence to the Kings and on offence to the Sharks. Mitchell and Douglas Murray are similar physical stay-at-home defencemen, and Scuderi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are good skaters who are rarely out of position.
Martinez and Jason Demers are both young, promising players who are developing the other end of their game nicely. Matt Greene and Colin White are both physical leaders who are strong in their own end, but again the Sharks have more depth with Jim Vandermeer and Justin Braun over Davis Drewiske.
Which team is the one to beat in the Pacific Division
But are those advantages bigger than L.A.'s advantage in net?
While Thomas Greiss has looked good in the preseason, whether he holds up against four good lines running in the regular season remains to be seen. While the team expects Antero Niittymaki back by mid-season, there is no guarantee of how quickly he can be back to form if Greiss cannot handle the role.
That puts the Kings' backup situation, with young potential star Jonathan Bernier, ahead of the Sharks. And while Antti Niemi has won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks and Jonathan Quick has never won a playoff series, Quick outplayed Niemi head-to-head last season by a great margin and has been leaned on more heavily by the Kings than either of Nemo's teams.
In other words, the edge the Sharks have at forward and defence is more tenuous than the edge the Kings have in net, but all are debatable.
What is not debatable is the Sharks' edge in experience, particularly within the division, which they have controlled for four years running. San Jose remains the team to beat, but it will likely come down to the Sharks hosting the Kings in the season finale April 7.
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