San Jose has ruled this division in recent years, but the gap was closed significantly last year. Phoenix and Los Angeles both gave the Sharks a run for their money, and will likely be right there again. The Ducks and Stars have fallen off a bit, and it could be more of the same this season. Nonetheless, this is a pretty strong division, especially if Phoenix can at least resemble the team they were in 2009/10.
Without further ado, here’s a quick glance at the Pacific Division for 2010/11…
Los Angeles Kings Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Kings are bound to make some serious noise throughout the league. The great young core including Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar is only going to get better. One storyline surrounding this team is the goaltending. Will Jonathan Quick rebound from his late-season swoon? Can Jonathan Bernier steal the number one job? For a team this good to have two backstops with the potential that they have, it speaks to what kind of future is in store for the Kings. Final prediction: 103 points; 1st Pacific, 3rd West
San Jose Sharks The proverbial hump has been difficult for San Jose to get over. Every year seems to be a different way they exit from the postseason. Last year was a sweep at the hands of the Blackhawks, but GM Doug Wilson hopes some new blood in net makes a difference this time around. Finns Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi are the new one-two punch, replacing Evgeni Nabokov. If the defense can hold up, and Wilson makes a couple shrewd moves at the deadline, Team Teal will be right there in the playoff mix come April. Final prediction: 102 points; 2nd Pacific, 5th West
Phoenix Coyotes Was 2009/10 a mirage in Phoenix? 107 points almost seemed too good to be true for a franchise going through front office turmoil and hadn’t made the playoffs in eight years. Led by Vezina runner-up Ilya Bryzgalov, the Coyotes’ back end was the anchor of the team. They manufactured enough offense and caught enough breaks to get to the ‘second season’. However, Dave Tippett’s bunch won’t surprise anyone like they did a year ago. I see them making the playoffs again, but it won’t be as easy this season. Final prediction: 97 points; 3rd Pacific, 7th West
Anaheim Ducks How will the Ducks deal with losing two future Hall of Famer defensemen in successive seasons? Without Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer, the blueline is struggling. Coming off a disappointing campaign where they couldn’t find enough consistency to punch a ticket to the postseason, it will be tough to get back without much depth on defense. Up front, the Ducks can strike at any time; also, Jonas Hiller is a capable starting goaltender. But the weak point is defense, which could ultimately cost Anaheim a trip to the playoffs. Final prediction: 90 points; 4th Pacific, 9th West
Dallas Stars Having question marks in goal has usually been allergic to the Stars ever since moving to Dallas. They’ve been fortunate enough to have Ed Belfour and Marty Turco man the crease in past seasons, but a new era starts this year – with a lot of uncertainties. Kari Lehtonen has a lot of talent, but has yet to display it regularly at the NHL level; and if he falters, Andrew Raycroft is his backup… yeah. Couple that with a below average defense corps, and it could be a recipe for disaster in Big D. Final prediction: 73 points; 5th Pacific, 15th West
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