By Douglas Smith
This is the third in a series of six updates to give you a look at the rest of the NHL this offseason. Each team in the Pacific Division had at least 88 points and some are looking to get further into the playoffs. At the end of each summary we will highlight just one blog for that respective team, but there are many quality sites out there if you care to search for them. Please share your comments on the rest of the teams across the NHL as we fill the void of the offseason.
Recap: For a lot of east coast hockey fans the Ducks may have been out of sight, out of mind. They have the names to keep you coming back for more and it was right-winger Corey Perry that led the Ducks in scoring. Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan were consistent while Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne sparked the team on many nights. It was a revolving door on the blue line with 8 guys playing at least 28 games. This was partially due to an eight-game suspension of defenseman James Wisniewski for hitting a former teammate. The Ducks won nine of their last 15 games, but the depth of the Western Conference proved too much to overcome.
Off-season Thus Far: The first action of the offseason was Scott Niedermayer who officially retired from the sport. This happened right before a great draft in which the Ducks got highly touted defensemen Cam Fowler with the 12th overall pick, followed by Long Beach-native and right-winger Emerson Etem at 29th. Knowing they needed more immediate help at the blue line the Ducks signed Toni Lydman to a three-year contract. Koivu would then sign a new two-year contract to stay with the team shortly after the free agency period began. Aaron Voros and Ryan Hillier were acquired from the Rangers for defenseman Steve Eminger. One of the biggest questions is what will Selanne do? The signing of Koivu may have helped the Ducks case for getting him back for another year.
Analysis: The biggest questions still lies in the defense. Goaltender Jonas Hiller showed that he could weather the storm in the Olympics last year, but it was hard for him to overcome the ever-changing defensive core. New additions to the Ducks’ squad such as Lydman and Brendan Mikkelson will be immediately inserted into the starting lineup. Wisniewski is a restricted free agent, but reading through the blog below may indicate that he isn’t that interested in a return to the Duck squadron, will he be missed? There are questions surrounding the Ducks, enough to think that their record will decline from this past year.
Blog: Ducks Daily
Recap: The Stars have Steve Ott. His game, in terms of production, seemed to be on a high note last year. Brad Richards led the team with 91 points while Loui Eriksson and James Neal emerged as top scoring threats. The loss to the Penguins in March was part of a stretch where the Stars went 2-7-1 following the Olympic break. The momentum was gone and the focus was on the fritz in what would be an issue for the team’s aging veterans. At least they have one of the best color analysts in the game that isn’t afraid to say whatever he pleases.
Off-season Thus Far: The Stars have decided to cut ties with a couple of franchise pillars and fan favorites, Mike Modano and Marty Turco, but no longer proved to be a fit for the organization. General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk decided it was time to move on and turn the ship in a different direction. The Stars drafted the American World Junior hero goaltender Jack Campbell in hopes that he will come synonymous with the team in the future. For now it will be Kari Lehtonen’s team with the addition of Andrew Raycroft as backup goaltender. Brent Krahn, 6’4’, 232 pounds, is also in the mix for goaltender with the Stars. Dallas also signed Adam Burish from Chicago and defenseman Brad Lukowich. The other piece to this puzzle is that the Stars are for sale, so if you have about $150 million lying around you may be able to get in on the bidding. Of course you may have some competition.
Analysis: It’s going to be a different team in Dallas with Richards growing into his status as the face that identifies the team. With a very strong top three in the division; it may be a struggle for the Stars all year long. It will not be long until trade rumors for Mike Ribeiro will be running amuck. Realistic expectations say the Stars will be on the outside looking in at the end of the season.
Blog: Defending Big D
Recap: The Kings got out to a very fast start and Anze Kopitar was leading the league in points for the first couple months. He would finish with 81 points, which were 22 more than any other Kings players. Do you think he had anything to do with Tim Thomas moving to more of a backup role? Despite discussion over who would get the most playing time at goalie, Jonathan Quick silenced his doubters by proving he was the number one starter. Given the start to the season, the first round exit from the playoffs was a disappointment. This was only the third time in franchise history the Kings accumulated more than 100 points.
Off-season Thus Far: The Kings have been working on one player and they didn’t land him. Dean Lombardi, the general manager of the Kings said they offered $80 million to Ilya Kovalchuck only to see him stay in New Jersey (we think). There has been plenty of reaction to the signing by King’s fans. At the time of writing this, the Kings Insider (linked below) blog post on details of the Kovalchuck contract had 666 comments. Sorry Ilya, it hasn’t made it up to 1717 yet. Some thought the Kings would try to trade for former Flyer Simon Gagne, but he landed in Tampa soon after Kovalchuck made up his mind. The good news is that the Kings secured all of their restricted free agents. The Kings have about $16 million dollars under the cap with Alexander Frolov and Jeff Halpern still unsigned. Neither seems to be headed back to Los Angeles.
Analysis: The Kings have a solid group of defensemen with Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi, and Jack Johnson leading the way. But now what? Is this plan C or D? Tomas Kaberle? Marc Savard? The Kings have the wiggle room and will want to stay flexible in the future to re-sign their young core. They have enough artillery right now to make it back to the playoffs; however, Lombardi is aware of his team’s promise and would like to make it further into May and June.
Blog: Kings Insider
Recap: The Coyotes were a team that a lot of hockey fans rooted for in general last year. The ownership issues and rumors of moving were well-covered and they are still not completely resolved. This was a complete team effort with Wojtek Wolski, Shane Doan, Matthew Lombardi, Lee Stempniak, Radim Vrbata, and Keith Yandle all playing the role of hero on different occasions throughout the season. Ilya Bryzgalov recorded eight shutouts in goal with a .920 save percentage. Unfortunately, the Coyotes would get the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the playoffs. Doan would get hurt when tumbling into the end boards and the Coyotes would lose game seven to force the team to exit the playoffs early. The good news is they have one of the most entertaining players on twitter.
Off-season Thus Far: The Coyotes have lost Lombardi, Joel Perrault, and Zbynek Michalek to other teams this offseason. They re-signed aging, but solid, defensemen Adrian Aucoin. Taylor Pyatt and Derek Morris, both re-signed with Phoenix, are two players that seemed to fit well with the team. The big addition in the offseason has been wily veteran Ray Whitney. The Coyotes haven’t added much but hopes the group that they have can help build on the success of last year. Young defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson recently impressed the staff at the team’s development camp.
Analysis: It is quite interesting to see that Lee Stempniak is still waiting for a call from the Coyotes, or any other team for that matter. Overall, the team has not really improved, although, it has not really taken any steps backward either. As a whole, the team’s mentality and the confidence in Bryzgalov will allow Phoenix to compete again. Some may expect this team to digress, but the success from last season should be motivation in this case, especially with Doan as the team leader.
Blog: Coyotes Hip Check
Recap: The Sharks were expected to be at or near the top of the Western Conference this past year and those expectations proved to be spot on. When the team got Dany Heatley after a messy ordeal in Ottawa, the expectations turned to getting over their slump of playoff failures to playing for the Stanley Cup. Heatley, Joe Thorton, and Patrick Marleau barely missed a beat all year. The addition of Manny Malhotra during the season added a little energy back into the lineup. Oft-criticized Evgeni Nabokov played well in goal recording 44 wins. Still the Sharks did not make it to compete for the Stanley Cup as they would lose to eventual champion Chicago. Joe Pavelski would come up big in key moments in the playoff run that lasted weeks longer than previous seasons. Should they have gone further in the playoffs?
Off-season Thus Far: In a debate between keeping Marleau or Nabokov, GM Doug Wilson picked Marleau early. Marleau’s contract meant the Sharks now have four players with a cap hit of around $7 million dollars. Niclas Wallin and Scott Nichol re-signed in San Jose, but Malhotra fled north to Vancouver. The goalie void was filled by veteran Antero Nittymaki. Nittymaki is a stop gap goalie until Thomas Greiss is ready to take over full time, but he should be able to carry the torch for a year or two. In other very significant news, team captain Rob Blake decided to retire after playing 20 years in the NHL.
Analysis: It is going to be a different team, but not a bad team. With all the money locked up in the big name players like Thorton and Heatley, they will be expected to produce and lead this team. With Nabokov playing in Russia, Nittymaki and Greiss will feel the pressure that comes with a goalie transition. Despite making it to the Western Conference finals this past season, the team may still have the stigma of being underachievers in the postseason. So we’ll see the Sharks in April and May and still have doubts.
Blog: Fear the Fin