San Jose Sharks– The Sharks played great in the regular season last year, but then struggled when it mattered in the playoffs. The Sharks made it deeper last season than they did in the past by getting to the Western Conference Finals. In the Conference Finals they got embarrassed and swept by the Blackhawks who eventually won the Stanley Cup.
The question remains if the big three of Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley can get it done together in San Jose. The Sharks didn’t do much in the offseason but they retained many of their group by resigning guys like Marleau, and Joe Pavelski. The Sharks added Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi to replace Evgeni Nabakov who was the Sharks all time winning goaltender.
Nabakov signed with the KHL after minimal interest in the NHL for his asking price. The Sharks also lost some veteran experience on the point with Rob Blake retiring. San Jose added some grit with forward Jamal Mayers who spent last season with the Flames.
Last year might have given the Sharks enough taste of the playoffs to go deeper but expect them to remain dominant in the regular season as always this year. The player to watch for on the Sharks this season is Joe Pavelski after he became noticed during the Olympics on team USA.
Los Angeles Kings– The young lineup of the Kings last year showed great development as they made it into the playoffs. Unfortunately they lost to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round in a tight six game series. This year don’t let the age of the young Kings fool you as they are one of the most talented teams in the league.
The Kings this offseason missed out on the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes but they did not miss out on making a splash with two very sound players. The Kings added Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovski who will help the young team attempt to go deeper into the playoffs. Mitchell is very sound defensively but has been stricken with injuries lately.
Ponikarovski never seemed to reach his full potential in Toronto and failed to help the Penguins get back to the Finals for a 3rd straight season when he was traded to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last year. Look for the Kings to be a much more potent team and for them to not sneak up on anyone as they are full of talent.
The player to watch on the Kings this season is Anze Kopitar who is emerging as one of the best players in the league, but not many people hear about him because he is playing in Los Angeles. Look for the Kings to give the Sharks a run for their money at the Pacific Division title.
Phoenix Coyotes- The Coyotes, much like the Kings, are very young and talented and also made the playoffs last season. Phoenix lost in the first round of the playoffs in a tough fought seven game series to the heavily favored Red Wings. Phoenix made great strides last year and did it all through the tough debate about the ownership of the team and if they would be moved.
Phoenix hosted their first ever home playoff game last year and they had a very impressive season by totaling 107 points in the regular season. Shane Doan is undoubtedly the leader of the team but Ilya Bryzgalov was the reason the Yotes did so well last year. Bryzgalov was one of the three candidates for the Vezina, which clearly states he’s on top of his game and can play with the best goalies in the league like Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur.
Look for the Yotes to make another playoff run this year and look for them to finish in the middle of the pack in a tough Pacific division. The Coyotes didn’t make much of a splash in the offseason, but they added veteran forwards Eric Belanger, Kyle Wellwood, and Ray Whitney to help with experience come playoff time. The player to watch for this season on the Coyotes is Wojtek Wolski who was acquired at the trade deadline but should have a better season this year with a full year under his belt with his new team.
Anaheim Ducks– The Ducks finished fourth in the division last year and missed the playoffs and I would look for much of the same this year. The Ducks lost one of the best defenseman of all time in Scott Niedermayer in the offseason as he retired. Niedermayer will be greatly missed, but the Ducks did add Toni Lydman and Andy Sutton on defense.
Lydman and Sutton don’t compare at all with Niedermayer, but they should help out stellar young goaltender Jonas Hiller a little bit. Hiller emerged as a good young goaltender last year and really showed off his talents playing for team Switzerland in the Olympics. The weakness of the Ducks clearly is their defense with Hiller backing them between the pipes and their dangerous offense with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. The player to watch out for this season on the Ducks is Jonas Hiller.
Dallas Stars– The Stars finished in last in the division last year and look for it to happen to them again this year. The Stars are clearly in a rebuilding phase as they lost their goalie Mary Turco and their leader Mike Modano to free agency this summer. The Stars age caught up to them as they Pacific division’s young talent emerged with the Kings and the Coyotes.
The Stars must face a question whether to move forward and build around Brad Richards or try to move him to gain prospects. The Stars this offseason didn’t make a splash in adding anyone big they just filled in their hole between the pipes with unproven Kari Lehtonen who was the former Atlanta Thrashers goaltender.
The player to watch for this season is Brad Richards as he might be searching for a new team soon or might get his contract renewed by the Stars. Look for Richards to be one of the big fish at the deadline and see him moved out East at the deadline.