Pacific Division Storylines
Storylines from the Pacific Division
This is part 3 of 4 in TrueHockey.com’s NHL season preview highlighting the biggest storylines from each division heading into the season.
Can the Ducks take one more run at the Cup with an aging core?
The Ducks surprised many last season finishing first in the Pacific Division and claiming the #2 seed in the Western Conference before a disappointing finish falling to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in seven games. The Ducks locked up their scoring duo of Corry Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to long-term deals, and then traded the talented Bobby Ryan to Ottawa in exchange for a package including promising young forward Jakob Silfverberg.
Returning for the Ducks up front are Saku Koivu and the seemingly ageless Teemu Selanne who are both looking for one more chance at the Stanley Cup in what could be their final season. On defense, Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler will lead the Anaheim blueline to begin the season with veteran Sheldon Souray out for at least 2-3 months following wrist surgery. The Ducks also have a solid duo in the nets with Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth in between the pipes.
Will the Flames rebuild show signs of progress this season in the expanded Pacific Division?
The Calgary Flames are in full rebuilding mode after trading their captain Jerome Iginla and veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester towards last season’s trade deadline, and having franchise goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff retire following the end of the regular season. The Flames have some talented scorers up front with Mike Cammalleri, Jiri Hudler, Lee Stempniak, and Mikael Backlund, but lack the depth to be contenders for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
On defense, the Flames have one of the most underrated defenseman in the NHL with Mark Giordano, and adequate NHL defenseman in Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, and T.J. Brodie. Goaltending for the first time in many seasons in Calgary is a major question mark as Karri Ramo will look to establish himself as the number one goaltender. The Flames will have the chance to develop their young talent throughout the season with a playoff spot in the Western Conference being an absolute long shot this season.
Is this the year the Oilers finally break through and reach the playoffs with pressure mounting?
The biggest storyline for the Oilers remains the same as it has been the previous couple of seasons: can the Oilers take the next step? With a stacked group of talent up front including Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and newcomer David Perron, there is little doubt the Oilers have the talent to compete. The question remains can they put it all together for a full season and finally live up to their potential. The signing of veteran defenseman Andrew Ference should help to solidify their defense as he joins veteran Nick Schultz in leading a young group including Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk will look to improve off of a strong 2013 season and help lead the Oilers to a much needed playoff appearance for Edmonton. If Edmonton fails to make the playoffs this season, a major move involving Edmonton’s young core could follow.
Los Angeles Kings
Will the Kings regain the top record in the Pacific Division?
The Los Angeles Kings enter the regular season as the favorite to win the Pacific Division. With much of their 2012 Stanley Cup Champion core roster intact, the Kings are eying another season in which they represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final after falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final last season. Up front, the Kings return their rugged and talented group of forwards and one of the deepest defensive units in the entire NHL.
Jonathan Quick will look to have a Vezina Trophy winning season for the Kings, and return them to Stanley Cup Champions. Los Angeles’ roster features very few if any question marks with their biggest challenge being health during the season.
Can the Coyotes find success on and off the ice in the desert?
With the ownership situation in Glendale resolved, the biggest challenge facing the Coyotes is now producing a solid on-ice product in hopes that it spurs growth in the Phoenix fan base. In free agency, the Coyotes signed center Mike Ribeiro for their top line in hopes that he will spark their offense. The Coyotes are also hoping for a strong season from goaltender Mike Smith who struggled with a groin injury in the abbreviated 2013 season but received a long-term extension with Phoenix this past offseason.
If the Coyotes can improve offensively, they have a talented group at defense led by veterans Keith Yandle and Derek Morris. The Coyotes progression to an elite defensive group resides in further growth from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad. The Coyotes seem to fly under the radar each season, but head coach Dave Tippett has a proven pedigree of getting the most out of the roster he is given every year.
San Jose Sharks
Is this season the final swim for the Sharks current core?
The San Jose Sharks enter the 2013-14 season knowing this is likely their final shot at the Stanley Cup with the current nucleus in place. For years, San Jose has been led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau up front with Dan Boyle on defense. With all three veterans set to become unrestricted free agents after the season, the Sharks locker room knows this is their final shot with the current mix of elite veterans and emerging stars in Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The Sharks have one of the most balanced rosters in the Pacific Division, and Antti Niemi has proven that his great run helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010 was no fluke with an outstanding performance last season. If the Sharks are going “all in” this season, they may look to acquire another defenseman at the trade deadline to bolster their Stanley Cup chances in the postseason.
How will the first season of John Tortorella play out in the hockey crazy Vancouver market?
New Canucks head coach John Tortorella has always been a solid sound bite during his coaching career, and expect that to continue in Vancouver with all eyes on Tortorella to get more out of a talented Canucks roster that is expected to produce in the postseason. How will the Canucks locker room respond to Tortorella’s coaching style is an intriguing storyline that will be answered throughout the season.
Up front, the Canucks are led by the Sedin twins of Henrik and Daniel who are also set to become unrestricted free agents after the season. The 2013-14 season for the Canucks also marks the first in a few seasons without a goaltending controversy following the trade of Cory Schneider at the NHL Draft leaving Roberto Luongo as the clear number one with Eddie Lack as the backup. Questions remain about the Canucks forward depth and Vancouver’s lack of a true number one defenseman although they feature a solid top four on the blueline. Can Tortorella lead the Canucks past these question marks and to the promise land of the Stanley Cup like he did in Tampa Bay? One thing is for sure, the attempt is going to be highly entertaining to follow.
Up Next: The NHL’s Central Division
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