It's the best time of year!
The Los Angeles Kings have steadily put together a Stanley Cup contender. With an array of offensive weapons, the Anaheim Ducks are always dangerous. However, the San Jose Sharks rule the Pacific Division until they are knocked off their perch.
A trendy pick to win the Pacific, understandably, is Los Angeles. But how many times do the Sharks need to win the division to make believers out of those pundits? For the last four seasons, Team Teal has been crowned division champions. Going into the 2011-12 season, they are in solid position to make it five straight.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson looks to be moving all of his chips to the center of the table. Almost Philadelphia-esque, he has dealt first-round picks and top prospects over the years. Now with this summer’s trade of 2010 first-rounder Charlie Coyle, the farm system is dry of talent. If the Sharks don’t win a Stanley Cup with their current core, I don’t know when they will.
Wilson was able to fill a need on defense with the acquisition of Brent Burns. The GM further bulked up the blue-line with the signings of Colin White and Jim Vandermeer. It’s a strong defense corps, anchored by Dan Boyle, in front of Antti Niemi, who was clutch after the midway point last season.
Martin Havlat is a lateral transition from Dany Heatley, who underachieved in his time with the Sharks. Havlat, who may benefit from the change of scenery, adds a two-way ability that Heatley doesn’t possess. Overall, San Jose’s top-six group of forwards, led by captain Joe Thornton, is one of the five or ten best in the league.
The Sharks are coming off back-to-back conference final appearances and no longer carry that label of being postseason choke artists. Under Todd McLellan, this team is really close to getting to that elusive Cup final.
With that being said, their divisional counterparts have made it tough in the last few years. The Kings’ and Coyotes’ revival, along with Anaheim’s annual contention, have given San Jose a run for its money. And things aren’t going to change this year.
Phoenix may drop-off and Dallas didn’t exactly improve over the summer, but the Kings and Ducks will surely be breathing down San Jose’s neck all season long.
As we’ve alluded to this summer, Mike Richards’ addition makes the Kings bonafide contenders in the Western Conference and, possibly, the NHL. From top to bottom, they look great on paper. Meanwhile, Anaheim has the best line in hockey; and on top of the potential return of Teemu Selanne, they’ll be in the playoff mix come April.
But for the Kings or Ducks to win the Pacific, they must go through their in-state rival.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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