Adam Pyde

NHL 2014 Preview: Pacific Division

NHL 2014 Preview: Pacific Division

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to part four of the flawless 2014 NHL preview. We end our divisional looks with the Pacific Division. Who’s new to the West? What playoff hopes are there? Well, it is a surprisingly strange place. Some teams have a lot of turnover, others are bad, some stayed exactly the same.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

How will things shake out in the Canafornian division? Lets start at the bottom last year…

Edmonton Oilers
Needs: Second and third line centers, actual depth players, actual defenceman, suitable team system
In: Benoit Pouliot, Nikita Nikitin, Teddy Purcell, Mark Fayne, Leon Draisaitl
Out: Sam Gagner

The team: is the best the Oiler’s have had in a while. Except at center where they employ two NHLers, a rookie and an AHL stud.

Pouliot and Purcell provide two good new wings. Pouliot is one of the best possession wingers in the NHL and Purcell has been a good second line and power play producer for most of his NHL career. The first line will be good considering Taylor Hall is the best left winger in the NHL.

Out are the buckets of #8 and #9 defenceman expected to masquerade as competent NHL players. In are Fayne and Nikitin who should be able to competently fill out the defence to at least have 6 NHL players on it. Fayne could be a steal or another Andrew Ference.

The goaltending should at least be league average this season and could provide the team with the best goaltending they’ve had since the days of Dwayne Roloson. That in itself will bring a few extra wins.

The biggest question mark is probably behind the bench with coach Dallas Eakins. He needs to find the right situations to get the most out of his players. Something he hasn’t nailed across the roster yet.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
Getting better but that center ice is paper-thin now, let alone once Draisaitl or Mark Arcobello blow out a shoulder to become a true Oiler.

Calgary Flames
Needs: Not laughably terrible depth wingers and defenceman, Starting goaltender
In: Mason Raymond, Brandon Bollig, Devin Setoguchi, Deryk Engelland, Jonas Hiller
Out: Michael Cammalleri, Shane O’Brien

The team: They Flames boast a handful of really good players, some regular good players and a bunch of terrible players.

The good players like Michael Backlund, Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are excellent. Players like Hiller, Raymond, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell, Lance Bouma, Dennis Wideman and Matt Stajan are perfectly fine NHLers.

But the rest of the roster boasts a whole lot of not good. Setoguchi might be able to reclaim some form, but players like Bollig, Engelland, David Jones, Brian McGrattan and Ladislav Smid are straight garbage. You can’t win in the NHL without actual depth, and bad players aren’t depth.

Jonas Hiller is a pretty good goaltender and is certainly providing an upgrade to last season.

On the bright side, Backlund, Brodie and Giordano are truly excellent players and will be able to push wins out almost by themselves. The team will probably win a few games just on sheer effort alone.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
You can’t punch pucks into the net no matter how well Bob Hartley coaches and deploys this group of players.

Vancouver Canucks

Needs: 1B goaltender, two top-six forwards, top players to regain form
In: Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa, Linden Vey, Willie Desjardins (coach)
Out: Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison, David Booth, Mike Santorelli, John Tortorella (coach)

The team: The Canucks still aren’t a bad team, but they aren’t a great team anymore. They just about had everything go wrong that was possible last year.

You have to wonder if Vancouver ownership believes that the best way to sell tickets is to always have goaltending drama. First, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Second, Luongo and Eddie Lack. Now, Lack and Miller. A lot of people are skeptical of Miller’s abilities and Lack showed a lot of promise last season. Recipe for drama.

The defence still looks to have a real solid top-four, assuming Alex Edler doesn’t spontaneously combust or pretty well does anything but what he did last year. Chris Tanev is emerging as one of the better unknown defenceman in the NHL.

The first line looks fine with the Sedins flanked by Vrbata. The third and fourth lines look to be in good shape as well. But the second line is a mess. It appears to be Alex Burrows, Bonino and Zack Kassian. It is mainly that middle position occupied by Bonino that is cause for concern. The wingers are okay, but Bonino was a bottom sixer until a season of powerplay time with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Colour me unconvinced he’s got what it takes.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They might be able to do it, and there is some uncertainty in Anaheim as well as some of the teams that may compete for a wild card. They may have a young kid or two surprise. Ultimately, the offence isn’t enough.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes
Needs: Second line
In: Sam Gagner, Devan Dubnyk, Arizona
Out: Mike Ribiero, Radim Vrbata, Phoenix

The team: Same old Coyotes. They’re unspectacular, but they’re not terrible.

Gagner in for Ribiero should be about an equal trade. Ribiero has the potential to be a very good player, but he wasn’t last year. Sam Gagner is still only 25 years old and while he hasn’t proven to be a star, he might improve to a solid top-six center under coach Dave Tippett and his system.

Losing Vrbata will hurt, but hopefully Martin Erat, acquired at the trade deadline last year, can replicate the lost production over a full season.

The defence is the strength for this team and will be leaned on to provide plenty of offence for the team. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle will start the year as a pairing, and will probably end up scoring more than any forward on the team. The rest of the D should be able to hold the fort and Brandon Gormley looks ready to make the jump.

Mike Smith should be able to hold the fort in net. He’s not a star, but he’s a good enough when he isn’t doing this or auditioning for the Glendale diving team.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They weren’t good enough last year, and they aren’t really any better this year. They really need everything to go right to have a shot.

Los Angeles Kings
Needs: Hope Mike Richards can regain form
In: No one of note.
Out: Willie Mitchell, Linden Vey

The team: is awesome.

The goaltending is really good. Martin Jones is a terrific backup and Jonathon Quick is a perfectly fine starting goaltender. They won’t have any issues in net and Quick has shown the ability to play much better than previous years and he still won another 16 playoff games.

The defence is anchored by quite possibly the best defenceman in the NHL. Drew Doughty is an unbelievable player and its a crying shame he doesn’t have a Norris trophy yet. It is disgusting how ignored he has been by the voting committee.

I don’t know where to begin with the forwards. Anze Kopitar is one of the best players in the entire NHL. Him and Marion Gaborik proved to be deadly together last year and will likely terrorize teams again.

Jeff Carter and Justin Williams are great players. Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown are very good players, although Brown may appear to have hit the decline already. Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are some embarrassingly good young depth players.

The only real issue is Mike Richards needing to regain form after regressing every season since being traded to Los Angeles.

Darryl Sutter is hilarious.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
Collection of players all in their prime. Easily could repeat. This team is pretty awesome.

San Jose Sharks
Needs: Top four defenceman, Shaking off last season like Taylor Swift
In: John Scott, Brent Burns (defenceman)
Out: Dan Boyle, Brent Burns (forward), Brad Stuart, Martin Havlat

The team: is still really good. Why are they freaking out? Don’t freak out. I get it, but don’t freak out. Did you know that if you were good enough to have a 60% chane of winning every playoff series you were in, you would only win the Cup on average once every 6 years?

The goaltending could be better, but you aren’t going to easily find an upgrade on Anti Niemi. He can be a little inconsistent but he’s still one of the better in the league.

The defence is going to need work and is the only real problem area. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is very good. Justin Braun, Jason Demers and Matt Irwin are also pretty good players. But they don’t have a standout player in the same class as players like Doughty and Duncan Keith. It’s TBA if Brent Burns, power-forward extraordinaire convert, can be that player.

The Sharks boast the best group of centers in the NHL. Joe Thornton is, and always has been, terrific. Slap anyone who has a “third liner” notion about him. Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl can all play center, but instead they just obscenely load up their top-six.

John Scott is useless but hopefully they don’t bother playing him.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’d have to implode worse than any team in recent memory to miss. I can’t even think of a team as good to implode so bad they missed. They’ll make the playoffs just by showing up at the arena. Seriously, shake it off.

Anaheim Ducks
NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Los Angeles Kings at Anaheim Ducks
Needs: Second line, top four defenceman, depth centers
In: Ryan Kesler, Nate Thompson, Dany Heatley, Clayton Stoner, Louis Leblanc
Out: Jonas Hiller, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perrault, Luca Sbisa, Daniel Winnik

The team: There is a whole whack of turnover in Anaheim. Green is new, red is out, blue shows last seasons “part timers” to show just how different this roster really is.

Silvferberg Getzlaf Perry Fowler Lindholm Hiller
Perrault Bonino Cogliano Beauchemin Vatanen Andersen
Palmeri Koivu Selanne Allen Lovejoy Fasth
Beleskey Winnik Etem Fistric Sbisa Gibson
Smith-Pelly Rackell Maroon Robidas
Silvferberg Getzlaf Perry Fowler Lindholm Gibson
Etem Kesler Cogliano Beauchemin Vatanen Andersen
Smith-Pelly Rackell Palmeri Allen Stoner Bobkov
Maroon Thompson Belesky Fistric Lovejoy
Leblanc Heatley

So the forwards are still in good shape. You can easily make the argument they’ve improved with Kesler taking over Bonino’s role and extra playing time for younger players should help, at least over the long run.

The defence could use some work but Beauchemin and Fowler are good players and Vatanen and Lindholm are only going to improve. Stoner is about as competent as a pile of rocks.

The big question is in goal. Between their two returnees there is only 27 starts. Twenty. Seven. Gibson looks like he could be the real deal, and Andersen looks like he’s perfectly fine at the NHL level. Still, 27 starts.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
Considering all the changes, I wouldn’t be shocked if they struggled out of the gate and fail to bank up points to lead the division again. I can’t count them out though.

Final standings prediction:
1. Los Angeles Kings
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Vancouver Canucks (no wildcard)
5. Arizona Coyotes
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames

Stick tap to all my Edmonton buddies, Calgary bros and Graham for some help on this one.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @adam_pyde.

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