Western Pacific Division: Another powerhouse that with certainty will rival their Eastern Atlantic foes in terms of overall calibre of play. The Ducks, Stars, Kings, Coyotes and Sharks will have some epic battles which won't stop in the regular season. Read on below to find out who is best positioned to stand atop the rest.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
-- Oh, how the Mighty are fallin'... OK, not the most original way to kick off the 5th installment of this series, but when the cliche fits use it. Age and experience are normally an asset in professional sports and few teams have rode this to success like the Ducks in the past few seasons. We have now reached, in my humble, er... usually correct opinion, the point of diminishing returns for these Ducks. The cap is Brian Burkes' enemy (presently a few million over) which has left some vets on the outside looking in (Selanne and Schneider). Mediocre UFA signing Brendan Morrison will join returning forwards (Perry, Getzlaf, Kunitz) and disappointing '05 2nd overall Bobby Ryan with the hopes of this years squad resting on their shoulders. Looking at their last 3 seasons (lost Western Final, Won Stanley Cup, lost Western QF's) leads me to believe they are trending downward. Pronger and company on the back end will ensure strong numbers for Giguère and the squad on the whole, but I don't expect them to factor into the Western Final as many odds makers insist.
2008 Record: 47-27-8, 2nd Pacific
'09 Prediction: 44-30-8, 3rd Pacific
-- three words describe the teams who I think will win their respective conferences: depth at center. The Flyers, found here, are second up the middle to only the Stars who will ice Ribeiro, Richards, Modano and Lunqvist/Ott. Accompanying them upfront are three reliable plus-performers (Morrow, Avery, Lehtinen) creating an offensive cast considered the cats ass by most. Defensively, health is paramount with Zubov's ability to play in 70+ games and a full post-season likely determining how far they can make it. Oh, that dude between the pipes (Marty Turco) will continue to do his thing: stop 92% of the pucks thrown at him, dominate in the clutch and lead them to the Western Conference title.
2008 Record: 45-30-7, 3rd Pacific
'09 Prediction: 48-26-8, 1st Pacific
-- Got better, but the magnitude of their improvements is the problem. Adding Olli Jokinen came at a cost to their defense (as Phoenix fans will happily tell you), but they finally have a center to play big time minutes against the pseudo-human, nuclear-powered refrigerators (Thornton, Morrow, Kopitar, Getzlaf) opposing them in their division. Their storyline will be dominated by contrast: will the performance of their young stars (Turris, Mueller, Carcillo, 1st rounder Mikkal Boedker) match that of their vets (Doan and Jovanovski). If they can align themselves and play at a high level, Ilya Bryzgalov will ensure they improve on their showing last season. Playoffs are doubtful, but they will be under-estimated around every turn and eager to prove people wrong.
2008 Record: 38-37-7, 4th Pacific
'09 Prediction: 39-33-10, 4th Pacific
Los Angeles Kings
-- I don't care enough to crunch the numbers, but they are probably the youngest team in the league. Notwithstanding the fact that half of the team won't be able to drink in the States with the rest of the US Americans
, they have some serious fire-power in their returning forwards (Kopitar, O'Sullivan, Brown and Frolov) who were responsible for 119 goals last season. Defensively they anticipate more growth from Jack Johnson, Tom Hickey and 1st rounder Drew Doughty. The crease will be occupied by whomever emerges from the revolving door of prospects (Jon Bernier, Ersberg, and LaBarbara). They miss the playoffs but add some well-needed seasoning to their young core.
2008 Record: 32-43-7, 5th Pacific
'09 Prediction: 33-40-9, 5th Pacific
San Jose Sharks
-- leave it to the Eastern media to ignore a team from Southern California that almost won 50 games last year and amassed 43 or more wins in the last 4 seasons. Surprised they've been that good for so long? (Ask Ron Wilson how he feels about getting canned after winning 177 contests in 4 years). Will the coaching change bring some more post-season success? Probably not, so what is holding them back? Their blue line shouldn't be an issue after adding Dan Boyle to replace the departed UFA Brian Campbell, and Rob Blake who will ease the pain of losing Rivet to Buffalo. It's not the goaltending, as Nabokov is one of the best and has been since the turn of the century. It shouldn't be the offense as they have 5 returning forwards with 19+ goals last season (plus the 10GWG-scoring Jeremy Roenick). The source of their troubles is allusive, clearly. Its as mysterious as a ghost shit, so don't ask me to find it. They can win it all, but I can't possibly pick them to do it after burning me time and again.
2008 Record: 49-23-10, 1st Pacific
'09 Prediction: 46-27-9, 2nd Pacific