2011-12 NHL Preview: Pacific Division

LISTEN: Toronto Observer’s Jonathan Brazeau discusses why the Pacific Division lead could come down to the wire

Only 10 points separated the San Jose Sharks at the top of the division from the last-place Dallas Stars, who were also the only non-playoff team in the division. With San Jose and the Los Angeles Kings making significant trades, it should be another close finish for the division title in 2011-12.


SAN JOSE SHARKS

2010-11 Record: 48-25-9, 105 points; 1st in Pacific, 2nd in Western Conference; Lost in Conference Finals to Vancouver Canucks in five games

Who’s in: RW Martin Havlat, D Brent Burns, C Michal Handzus, D Jim Vandermeer, LW Brad Winchester

Who’s out: RW Dany Heatley, RW Devin Setoguchi, LW Ben Eager, RW Jamal Mayers, C Scott Nichol, D Niclas Wallin

Big question: Can the Sharks finally make it to the Stanley Cup final?

Outlook: Another year, another disappointing playoff run for the Sharks. General manager Doug Wilson shook up the team and made a pair of trades with the Minnesota Wild over the summer to land Havlat and Burns.

The emergence of Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture gave the Sharks more depth up front and allowed them to part with Setoguchi and beef up their defence. A stronger supporting cast surrounding stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could be the answer for the Sharks to finally go all the way.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

2010-11 Result: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific; Lost in Conference Quarter-finals to San Jose Sharks in six games

Who’s in: C Mike Richards, LW Simon Gagne, C Trent Hunter, C Colin Fraser

Who’s out: LW Ryan Smyth, RW Wayne Simmonds, C Brayden Schenn, LW Alexei Ponikarovsky, C Michal Handzus

Big question: Will “King Richards” lead L.A. deep into the playoffs?

Outlook: The Kings haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 and following another first-round exit, GM Dean Lombardi made a blockbuster trade over the summer, acquiring Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers for top prospect Schenn and winger Simmonds. Lombardi also signed Gagne, Richards’ old Flyers linemate, hoping the duo will gel on the West Coast.

Drew Doughty was a restricted free agent and contract negotiations dragged over the summer, but the star defenceman eventually signed for eight years and $56 million US. Leading scorer Anze Kopitar is also around for the long haul, and with the solid goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, the Kings could be Stanley Cup contenders in no time.

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS

2010-11 Record: 47-30-5, 99 points; 2nd in Pacific, 4th in Western Conference; Lost in Conference Quarter-finals to Nashville Predators in six games

Who’s in: C Andrew Cogliano, C Mark Bell, D Mathieu Carle

Who’s out: C Kyle Chipchura, C Todd Marchant, D Andy Sutton

Big question: Can Corey Perry repeat his Hart Trophy season?

Outlook: Goaltender Jonas Hiller and sniper Ryan Getzlaf were injured down the stretch, but Perry vaulted the team into the fourth seed and earned the Hart Trophy for his effort. The Ducks drew a difficult matchup against the Nashville Predators and their season ended earlier than they had hoped. With both Hiller and Getzlaf healthy, in addition to the ageless Teemu Selanne, the Ducks could challenge for the division.


DALLAS STARS

2010-11 Record: 42-29-11, 95 points; 5th in Pacific, 9th in Western Conference; Missed playoffs

Who’s in: RW Michael Ryder, RW Radek Dvorak, D Sheldon Souray, C Vernon Fiddler

Who’s out: C Brad Richards, RW Jamie Langenbrunner

Big question: Can the Stars compete without Richards?

Outlook: The Stars missed the playoffs by only two points but have a giant hole to fill down the middle. Dallas tried to keep leading scorer Richards but ended up with nothing and now Mike Ribeiro will have to pick up the slack. The team is hoping his chemistry with Ryder from their Montreal Canadiens’ days will carry the offence.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen played a career-high 69 games last season and showed why he was a former second-overall pick, but has had injury problems in the past. The team will sink or swim based on Lehtonen’s performance.


PHOENIX COYOTES

2010-11 Record: 43-26-13, 99 points; 3rd in Pacific, 6th in Western Conference; Lost in Conference Quarter-finals to Detroit Red Wings in four games

Who’s in: G Mike Smith, C Daymond Langkow, RW Raffi Torres, C Kyle Chipchura, C Patrick O’Sullivan

Who’s out: G Ilya Bryzgalov, D Ed Jovanovski, C Vernon Fiddler

Big question: Can the ‘Yotes make the playoffs without Bryzgalov?

Outlook: Bryzgalov was the main reason the Coyotes clinched a playoff spot the previous two seasons, but when contract talks stalled Phoenix shipped his rights to Philadelphia. The Coyotes have now turned to Smith, who isn’t a Vezina candidate like Bryzgalov but still gives Phoenix a chance to compete. The franchise’s future in Phoenix is still uncertain and another big question could be where they’ll be playing next year.