2013-14 NHL Predictions: Preview and Picks for Pacific Division

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

2013-14 NHL Predictions: Preview and Picks for Pacific Division

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    The Pacific Division is a much more appropriately named division this year since it no longer features the Dallas Stars, who have moved to the Central Division.

    The only non-West Coast team are the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. This division features the Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup two years ago, and the Anaheim Ducks, who won the division last year and were the second-seeded team in the Western Conference playoffs.

    The Vancouver Canucks, one of the league's strongest teams in the last five years, are going through a transition as they fired head coach Alain Vigneault and hired authoritarian John Tortorella to give the team more discipline.

    Here's our look at how the Pacific Division will play out in 2013-14.

The Favorite: Los Angeles Kings

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    It's hard not to like the Kings in this division, and they seem likely to make a run at a second Stanley Cup in three years.

    The Kings are a complete team. Head coach Darryl Sutter knows how to get the most out of his players, and that should allow this team to play consistently throughout the season.

    The greatest strength is goalie Jonathan Quick, who wants to have a strong year so he can earn the No. 1 position on the U.S. Olympic team. Quick has magnificent reactions and had a 1.86 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in last season's playoffs. 

    The Kings have a strong and versatile defense, as Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov are capable of contributing on both ends and Jake Muzzin may be an emerging star.

    The Kings have surprising strength and balance on offense. Jeff Carter (26 goals in 2013) and Anze Kopitar (team-high 42 points) are probably the most gifted offensive players, but Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jarrett Stoll are difference-makers who sell out every night to make big plays.

    Additionally, newcomer Matt Frattin and talented youngster Tyler Toffoli could make a big difference this year.

    The Kings are a solid team that can win games with their goaltending, defense, toughness, timely scoring and ability to make clutch plays.

The Challenger: San Jose Sharks

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    A case can be made for the Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes or Vancouver Canucks as the Kings' primary challenger in the division, but the Sharks appear to be their strongest opponent.

    Last year, the Sharks extended the Kings to the seventh game of the conference semifinal playoff series. If Jonathan Quick had not made a superb save on Joe Pavelski in the closing minutes of the third period, the tight series would have been extended to overtime.

    While a loss like that could sink some teams, it will inspire the Sharks. They have become Logan Couture's team. He is a fiery player who will never quit, and he leads by example. 

    He's also a talented scorer who has netted 63 goals in his last two full regular seasons. Defenseman Dan Boyle (seven goals, plus-three last year) knows how to come through in the clutch with his vicious shot from the point. 

    Joe Thornton (33 assists, 40 points) is still one of the best passers in the league, while Patrick Marleau (17 goals) is a streaky scorer who can carry the team when he gets on a hot streak.

    Finally, goalie Antti Niemi (2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage) is one of the most underrated goalies in the league. He has a Stanley Cup on his resume, and consistency is his hallmark.

The Bottom-Dweller: Calgary Flames

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    The Flames are almost certainly going to pay dearly this season for years of trying to get by with a mediocre team.

    In convincing themselves they were playoff contenders, the Flames put themselves behind the eight-ball as they went with aging veterans and regularly came up short. 

    General manager Jay Feaster decided to trade his assets late last season—most notably Jarome Iginla—and the rebuilding process has started. It will likely take years. 

    The Flames will likely have Dennis Wideman (22 points, minus-nine rating) in their top defensive pairing. While he is a talented offensive player who has a good shot and can carry the puck, he is a liability on the defensive end. 

    The first line of Mike Cammalleri (13 goals, 32 points), Curtis Glencross (15 goals, minus-nine rating) and Lee Stempniak (32 points, plus-two rating) is not about to scare any of their Pacific Division opponents.

    Goaltenders Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald, along with third-stringer Reto Berra, will be under the gun most nights and don't appear to have the talent to stand up to top shooters.

Best Old Rivalry: Anaheim Ducks-Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings and the Ducks have a strong regional rivalry and are two of the best teams in the Western Conference. They have been battling each other with legitimate dislike since the Ducks entered the NHL in 1993-94.

    Even though both teams have won Stanley Cups and the Ducks won theirs before the Kings did, the Ducks are the "other" team in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and there is a legitimate chip on the Ducks' collective shoulders.

    If Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau can help his team get an edge on the Kings, it could go a long way toward the Ducks having another superb season. However, if the Kings get the edge, it could spin the Ducks into a depression and keep them from playing as well as they did last year.

Best New Rivalry: San Jose Sharks-Vancouver Canucks

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    This rivalry has a chance to start off with a boom.

    These two teams definitely dislike each other, and the Canucks (former Northwest Division) come into the season carrying a huge grudge since the Sharks swept them out of the playoffs in the first round last year.

    Humiliated by the defeat, the Canucks said goodbye to their former coach Alain Vigneault and brought in hard-nosed John Tortorella. His players may end up resenting him, but they will play hard, or Tortorella will make life miserable for them.

    It won't be hard for him to motivate his players when they meet the Sharks. 

    San Jose has no love for the Canucks, and the Sharks won't feel sorry for them. The Sharks have been labeled as a disappointment for many years because they have never gotten out of the Western Conference playoffs to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They have their own edge and are not likely to tone it down at the sight of the feisty Tortorella and his desperate team.

Best Line: Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings

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    We are not talking about the highest scoring line. We are simply talking about the best line.

    If we wanted the highest scoring line, we might look to the Vancouver Canucks and Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows. Perhaps Edmonton's young stars Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will emerge as an overpowering line.

    But the Kings' top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter will get it done.

    Kopitar (10 goals, 32 assists last year) is a splendid playmaker who can also light the lamp when he takes the puck to the net.

    Brown (18 goals, 29 points) is a tough competitor who will go into the corners and win the battles. He also has a nasty shot. Carter (26 goals, 33 points) is simply a sniper who is often listed as a center, but he is a goal scorer who can take advantage of any opportunity because he's got quick hands and he can pick any corner.

Best Defense Pairing: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have to feel as if a great weight has been lifted from the franchise. By the end of last season, the players and the coaching staff had no idea if they would be playing in Phoenix, Seattle, Quebec City or some other location in 2013-14.

    Ownership solidified and the Coyotes remain in Phoenix. A look at the roster reveals some very talented players, and head coach Dave Tippett's defense crew may be the best part of his roster.

    His top defensive pairing of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle could turn out to be the best in the division. Ekman-Larsson is an emerging star with excellent skating ability who scored three goals and 21 assists last year and finished plus-five. Yandle led the Coyotes in scoring with 10 goals and 20 assists last year. While they play most often together on the power play, head coach Dave Tippett has great faith in both of them.

    This formidable duo should only get better this season.

Best Goalie: Jonathan Quick

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    Jonathan Quick is the best goalie in the Pacific Division. He may be the best goalie in the NHL, and his top competition is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.

    Quick served notice that he was one of the elite goalies in the NHL during the 2011-12 regular season when he had a 1.95 GAA, a .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He was even better in the playoffs, as he led the Kings to their first Stanley Cup championship. Quick held opponents to a 1.41 GAA, had a .946 save percentage and three more shutouts.

    The Kings weren't quite as good last year, but Quick had another brilliant playoff run. It ended when Patrick Kane fired an overtime slap shot by him in the fifth game of the Western Conference Final.

    You won't find a better goalie in the Western Conference, and you just might not find a better goalie in the NHL.

Projected 2013-14 Standings

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    1. Los Angeles Kings—With superb balance, defense and confidence, the Kings have the kind of proven chemistry that should make them a formidable team once again this season.

    2. San Jose Sharks—This team appeared to be running on fumes at the end of the 2011-12 season, but Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have taken the baton from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and this team is rejuvenated.

    3. Phoenix Coyotes—Reborn in the desert with new ownership, look for Mike Ribeiro to pick up the offense while the emerging defense gets even better.

    4. Edmonton Oilers—Combination of hard-edged Dallas Eakins and brilliant young talent will come together this year as Oilers return to the playoffs.

    5. Anaheim Ducks—Do they have enough offense to come close to matching last year's success? It does not seem likely as Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are too old. Bruce Boudreau will struggle behind the bench this year.

    6. Vancouver Canucks—Just a hot mess in British Columbia this year. The Canucks could get off to decent start, but players will quickly grow sick of John Tortorella. He'll last one season and that's it.

    7. Calgary Flames—No pressure in Calgary this year as the team is rebuilding and everyone knows it. Say goodbye to Jay Feaster as Brian Burke seizes control.