In our second division preview we swing out west for the Pacific Division. Thanks to Phil Macioce for his write up!
The Pacific Division of SSG is now your home of the Stanley Cup. It currently resides at the headquarters of the San Jose Sharks as they will take on all comers this season in its defense.
The Sharks bounced from 2nd to 4th place in the Pacific for much of the campaign before making a late season surge into first and riding that momentum through the Western Conference playoffs, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks and then downing the Tampa Bay Lighting in seven games to win the title.
How does the Pacific shape up this year and who will challenge the Sharks? The following will give a brief preview and highlight the newcomers and key players of each Pacific Division team. In alphabetical order we start with…….
The Ducks finished just 3 points behind San Jose in the regular season and eventually lost to them in the playoffs so needless to say they will be gunning especially hard for the Sharks this year. The Ducks didn’t make a huge foray into free agency this year as far as veteran additions are concerned but some young guns will be up to help push them over the edge. Among the new faces are 19 yr old Alexander Nylander, 20 yr old Ryan Dugger and much anticipated 18 yr old phenom Kailer Yamamoto is slated to make the team. As always Anaheim will be anchored by goalie Frederick Andersen along with C Ryan Getzlaf and LW Carl Hagelin but if the young kids click this could be the Ducks year, and if not….well the future looks very bright in Anaheim.
The Yotes showed signs all year of being a playoff team but fell off in April and missed the post season by a handful of points. Their biggest off season move may have been KEEPING one of their own. Star Max Domi looked all summer like he might walk but in the end Arizona ponied up the cash and Domi, maybe the most coveted free agent, stayed in the desert. Joining Max will be free agent signings Alexander Steen from Toronto and German goaltending star Phllip Grubauer. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mike Stone, and Jay Bowmeester will once again anchor the back line, and Brad Marchand and Dylan Strome will complement Domi in the offensive zone as the Coyotes will try to push through to the post season once again after a year off.
A year ago the Flames made several moves to reshape the team and led the Western Conference and even at times the entire SSG for the first six months of the season to make the Calgary brass look like geniuses. Then the wheels came off and they faltered in the last two months to drop to 3rd and lose in the first round to the Ducks in 5 games. A great season after missing the playoffs the year before, right? Just some fine tuning needed…right? Wrong. There are nine new faces in the Flames predicted starting lineup. Through free agency and trades the Flames added the likes of Michael Del Zotto, Brian Dumoulin, Paul Statsny, Nick Bonino, Marko Dano, and Peter Zuzin, among others……I’d say the pressure is on in Calgary after back to back years of the roster merry go round. Get out the programs fans. There are once again many new faces in Red and Black.
And that will take us across Alberta to the Flames arch rivals the young, exciting, and talented Edmonton Oilers. Can it get any better than building around Connor McDavid and Taylor Hall? Adding 23 yr old winger Saku Maenelanen from Finland should spark even more offense and cause opponents fits in their zone. Anchoring the other end is perennial all stars goalie Jonathan Quick and defender Drew Doughty and they will welcome another excellent defensemen to the squad in free agent signing Karl Alzner from division rival the Kings. This combination of veterans on defense anchoring those young exciting forwards could finally be the recipe for playoff hockey in Edmonton and several Cup runs in years to come.
Los Angeles Kings
After many years of dominance and even a Stanley Cup title the Kings fell on hard times last year. It seems like they’ve struggled ever since trading fan favorites Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick to a division rival. After a long season they settled into last in the Pacific for the first time in decades. With this in mind the Kings are going to look to some youth at the start of the season. We should see the likes of young defensemen Max Gildon (18 yrs old) and Alex Lintuniemi (22 yrs.) to join Brooks Orpik and Tyler Myers to help sure up a suspect defense from last year. Free agent goalie Brian Elliot was also signed to challenge Steve Mason for the starting job. Another veteran signing that hopes to regain his scoring touch playing alongside Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic is Milan Michalek. Will this all be enough to restore the glory years? The odds are against it but Los Angeles is definitely heading in the right direction and should avoid the cellar and maybe even challenge for a playoff spot.
San Jose Sharks
We are the champions………After raising their first banner on opening night in a few weeks and reliving the excitement of last spring’s championship will the Sharks have enough to withstand the challenge of having the bullseye on their backs every night? Well it seems San Jose is going with the theory that if it ain’t broke….don’t fix it. They made next to no moves in the off season. The one big free agent signing, however, might make them even more difficult to score against. Goalie Cam Ward who led the Hurricanes to back to back incredible season’s on the East Coast will bring his act to the left coast to challenge Martin Jones for the top spot. That is quite a tandem to help defend the Sharks title. Adding some youth to the set veteran lineup that includes Logan Couture, Nick Foligno, Brent Burns, and Joe Thornton, will be 20 year old defensemen Jeremy Roy. Give it your best shot Pacific Division….the Sharks seem ready to defend the title.
Last but not least in the Pacific we have the Vancouver Canucks. There is definitely a great deal of transition up in British Columbia after finishing just ahead of the Kings, but you can count on this: If the Canucks don’t make noise this year it will definitely be soon because they have a serious youth movement brewing and it won’t be long before the kids are running the show and causing all kinds of problems in the West. Of course you’ll still have the Dynamic Duo of the Sedin twins and veterans Michael Grabner and goalie Roberto Luongo but after what seems like the same old-same old for a few years in Vancouver get ready for some new names in green and blue like Jake Virtanen, Mikko Rantanen, Joe Blandisi, Martin Frk, Brandon Montour, Guillame Brisbois, and Brock Boesser. Time will tell if they all come up at once but it surely won’t be long. To smooth the transition the Canucks did sign a few free agents like C Eric Gaunce, D Eric Dekeyser, and RW Tyler Pitlick, but make no mistake, the Vancouver Canucks are a team set for future success and it may be sooner than you think.
Well there is your Pacific Division preview. I’m not in the habit of making predictions, especially since I have a vested interest, but after reviewing the teams it really seems like this will be a strong division for years to come. It seemed like I came across great young 18-21 year old players on every team I previewed. I may be wrong but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more championship banners weren’t raised in the Pacific in the very near future…….just not San Jose!!! Please! C’mon SSG….rise to the challenge.