Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Predictions: Pacific Division

My pre-season NHL predictions continue. Yesterday, I posted my Northwest Division predictions. Today, I will continue into the Pacific Division.

1. San Jose Sharks This is a very good team led offensively by Joe Thornton (who is most likely to lead the NHL in scoring should Sidney Crosby fail), Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo. They have some other young players who make take a big step forward this year including Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier. They have some very good young defenders in Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to go with veterans Craig Rivet and Kyle McLaren. They have a very good goalie in Evgeni Nabokov. Some have even picked this team to win the Stanley Cup. I won't go that far, but I think they can win their division.

2. Anaheim Ducks The defending champions are probably the best team in the league if they have Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne on their roster playing as well as they did last year. Neither is at training camp and Selanne is not even signed. Niedermayer (and possibly Selanne too) will likely join the team in mid-season, but will they be in top form with their extra time off? This team still has lots of talent including Jean Sebastien Giguere, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf and the newly signed Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider. This team may also suffer a "Stanley Cup hangover" which is the effects of a shortened summer and a desire to save themselves for this year's playoffs. That would be enough to keep them from winning the division, despite their great group of players (if all of them get onto the ice).

3. Dallas Stars This team has a top goalie in Marty Turco and a very good (if aging) defence led by Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher and Mattias Norstom. Their offence is not nearly as strong. It still has Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow, Mike Ribiero and Jere Lehtonen, but should be relatively low scoring. This team has many aging components but should still be able to put in a solid performance.

4. Los Angeles Kings This team has several young talented forwards ready to emerge including Mike Cammaleri, Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown. Lubomir Visnovsky is a very good defender and Brad Stuart and Rob Blake make a very formidable group. Their weakness may be in goal. Jason LaBarbera has been a very good AHL goalie, but how will he do in the NHL? Dan Cloutier had an awful 2006/07 season. Can he bounce back? This team may rise in the next few years, but they are likely not yet ready for playoffs.

5. Phoenix Coyotes This team is a mess. Aside from Sane Doan, they have no proven forwards. They have some defencemen with talent in Ed Jovanovski, Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard. This is the closest they have to a strength. In goal they have several NHL backups in Alex Auld, David Aebischer, Mikael Tellqvist and David LeNeveu, but none that look capable of being starters. This team is unlikely to go anywhere unless they have clear management and coach/owner Wayne Gretzky has not provided that (and has likely prevented others from providing it).

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