With a decline in the teams at the bottom of the Pacific Division, and little change at the top, the Pacific Division finished last season as the weakest division in the NHL, with a winning percentage at a paltry .548. But with young teams like the L.A. Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes gaining a little more experience, the division should be in store for much improvement, and an overall greater level of competition. Sure, the Phoenix Coyotes have a lot more on their plates at the moment to deal with besides their roster, but the Pacific Division will no doubt sport a higher level of play overall than it had to offer a season ago. With the Presidents' Trophy winning San Jose Sharks proving that they have got the NHL's regular season down, there's no doubt that the Pacific Division is Sharks' Territory, but the grittiness of the Anaheim Ducks and veteran leadership of the Dallas Stars have proven that it's playoff hockey that counts, and as long as you are in the dance, you have as good a shot as any team.
(Teams listed in order of projected finish in the Pacific Division)
San Jose Sharks
Who’s In: Dany Heatley (Ottawa), Manny Malhotra (Columbus), Jed Ortmeyer (Nashville), Scott Nichol (Nashville), Benn Ferriero (Phoenix)
Who’s Out: Jonathan Cheechoo (Ottawa), Milan Michalek (Ottawa), Travis Moen (Montreal) Christian Ehrhoff (Vancouver), Brad Lukowich (Vancouver), Jeremy Roenick (retired), Mike Grier (Buffalo), Tomas Plihal (Finland), Marcel Goc (Nashville), Alexei Semenov (NY Rangers), Claude Lemieux (retired), Brian Boucher (Philadelphia)
With yet another early playoff exit after gliding through the regular season, the Sharks (and their management) are under more pressure than ever to win it all now. With a lack of heart & leadership being cited as the team's main weaknesses (again) the team made a publicity move in stripping the Captain's "C" from Patrick Marleau and handed it off to grizzled veteran Defenseman Rob Blake. While the decision means little to the rest of the league, it is a move that lets the Sharks' players know that they need to win NOW, and the reigns of leadership have been handed off to a player who has seen it all, and won it all.
The biggest move of the NHL's offseason was made by the Sharks, when they acquired top-flight scorer Dany Heatley from the Ottawa Senators. Scoring hasn't been a problem for this team, but when one of the premier scorers in the league becomes available, especially one that is only 28 years of age, it is wise to do whatever is possible to get them. The Sharks had to give up fan favorite Jonathan Cheechoo and great two-way Forward Milan Michalek, but a top line of Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley could potentially score 250 points or more. What matters is what is done in the postseason though. The Sharks have a lot of new faces on the bottom half of their roster, so it could take a while for this team to mesh and gain chemistry, but once they do, they will be cup favorites once again. But another early playoff exit, and this team could be blown up from top to bottom, so there is no doubt that this is a do or die year in San Jose.
Who’s In: Saku Koivu (Montreal), Joffrey Lupul (Philadelphia), Evgeny Artyukhin (Tampa Bay), Luca Sbisa (Philadelphia), Nick Boynton (Florida), Justin Pogge (Toronto)
Who’s Out: Chris Pronger (Philadelphia), Francois Beauchemin (Toronto), Steve McCarthy (Atlanta), Rob Niedermayer (Devils), Brett Hedican (free agent), Drew Miller (Tampa Bay)
They may no longer by "Mighty," but the Ducks are certainly one of the league's grittiest and most physical teams. Making an enormous splash from a team chemistry standpoint, the Ducks traded away veteran enforcer Chris Pronger to the Philadelphia Flyers for some solid young contributors in Luis Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul (who was involved in the trade that brought Pronger to Anaheim in 2006), and Ryan Dingle, all guys who are expected to contribute off of the bench immediately. Also leaving the Ducks is veteran leader & solid contributor Rob Niedermayer, who may be missed the most of all. The one vise in dealing Pronger away however, as the Oilers found out following their Stanley Cup run and subsequent failure to reach the postseason since, is that his physical presence not only helps get a team over the top and into the postseason, but he is also an enforcer who knows how to play playoff hockey.
There’s no doubt that the Ducks’ blue-line will miss Pronger’s presence, and the main question for the team this season is, can they score enough goals to make up for their much thinner defense? Luckily for the Ducks, the West, as well as the Pacific Division, are both pretty wide open. Now it will be up to their reconstructed blueline to prove their mettle, while their faster, deeper, and more talented group of Forwards try and push the pace for this team, in the pursuit of another deep playoff run.