SAN JOSE SHARKS
THN Prediction: First in Western Conference
Key additions: Dany Heatley, RW; Manny Malhotra, C; Scott Nichol, C; Jed Ortmeyer, RW
Key departures: Milan Michalek, RW; Jonathan Cheechoo, LW; Mike Grier, RW; Travis Moen, LW; Marcel Goc, C; Jeremy Roenick, C; Christian Ehrhoff, D; Brad Lukowich, D; Tomas Plihal, LW; Brian Boucher, G
For several years now, the Sharks have been great in the regular season only to fall flat on their collective teal face in the playoffs. It has happened so consistently, in fact, that it’s become a bit of a joke. (That is, as long as you don’t have a stake in the team; if you do, it’s not such a funny situation.)
So, the challenge for the Sharks this season is the same as it’s been in recent campaigns: to achieve some tangible playoff success after they do their usual running-roughshod act in the regular season. And, call us gluttons for punishment, but this could be the year. No, really. Really, really. Because – and I know you’ve heard this before, but this time it’s true – if the Sharks don’t do it this year, GM Doug Wilson will dismantle the roster faster than a Devin Setoguchi wrist shot.
The Sharks landed go-to goal-scorer Dany Heatley to skate with sublime playmaker Joe Thornton (who, by the way, is reportedly hungry to make a Stanley Cup charge). Goalie Evgeni Nabokov will be 35 years old and an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Defensemen Dan Boyle (33) and Rob Blake (39) have a lot of miles on them; if they’re going to win, it’s got to be sooner than later.
With some luck, Patrick Marleau and the rest of San Jose’s forwards who were injured during the 2009 playoffs will be healthy next spring. There’s plenty of motivation on this team that has been knocking on Stanley’s door for nearly a decade. It’s time to add some perspiration and end up an inspiration.
THN Prediction: Sixth
Key additions: Saku Koivu, C; Joffrey Lupul, LW; Nick Boynton, D; Luca Sbisa, D; Steve Eminger, D
Key departures: Chris Pronger, D; Francois Beauchemin, D; Rob Niedermayer, C; Bret Hedican, D
The decision to trade Chris Pronger – and allow Francois Beauchemin to walk away as a free agent – was a big blow to the Ducks’ blueline. But they’ve still got Scott Niedermayer back there, while Ryan Whitney, James Wisniewski and Luca Sbisa (obtained in the Pronger trade) represent a trio of skilled young D-men who will guide the Ducks into the next decade. Jonas Hiller pushed aside perpetual starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere in last year’s playoffs, but it was a bumpy season for Giguere and the Ducks should still have a stingy 1-2 combination in goal in 2009-10.
Up front, the Ducks feature a tough top line that’s the envy of the league, with Ryan Getzlaf between power-forward types Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. The oldest player on this unit is 24. If Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne can recapture their Finnish magic and supply some goals from the second line, Anaheim’s offense will be just fine, thank you.
The Ducks eliminated San Jose last year – in convincing fashion – and pushed Detroit to the edge before bowing out. And Anaheim won the Cup in 2007 with many of the same players; this is a battle-tested team that can’t be overlooked.
THN Prediction: Seventh
Key additions: Karlis Skrastins, D; Alex Auld, G; Jeff Woywitka, D
Key departures: Sergei Zubov, D; Darryl Sydor, D; Brendan Morrison, C; Chris Conner, RW; Steve Begin, C; Mark Parrish, RW
Forget all about last season; at least, the first half of it. And the last month of it, too. A slow start followed by key injuries combined to decimate the Stars in 2008-09; unless they’re incredibly unlucky and unforgivably under-prepared, it won’t happen again this season.
For starters, it’s surely Mike Modano’s final NHL campaign and the franchise will want to give its long-time face a stylish exit. Marty Turco will be better than he was last year. Captain Brenden Morrow and agitator Steve Ott, who set the tone for the team, aren’t likely to miss large chunks of the season due to injuries. Loui Eriksson, a rare shining Star last season with 36 goals, is joined by other talented youngsters such as James Neal and Fabian Brunnstrom. Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards and Jere Lehtinen provide offense, veteran leadership and two-way play.
The sub-story in Dallas is the new management team of GM Joe Nieuwendyk and coach Marc Crawford.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
THN Prediction: 12th
Key additions: Ryan Smyth, LW; Rob Scuderi, D
Key departures: Kyle Calder, LW; Kyle Quincey, D; Derek Armstrong, C; Tom Preissing, D
It wouldn’t be a shock if the Kings come together and make the playoffs in 2009-10. Nor would it be particularly surprising if Los Angeles finishes near the bottom of the Western Conference. Such is life as a young team on the cusp of breaking out. If all goes well, the Kings have the skill to skate with anyone. But it’s a tall order to ask a young club to leapfrog from seven non-playoff seasons and back into the post-season fray. Everything has to go just right.
In Los Angeles, the biggest question is in goal. Jonathan Quick emerged as a viable option last season; now he has to take the next step and show he can backstop a contender. The blueline has budding stars in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, with Sean O’Donnell and ex-Penguin Rob Scuderi providing leadership.
Up front, Anze Kopitar leads a young crop of forwards that also includes Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, Jarret Stoll and Wayne Simmonds, as well as incoming veterans Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams.
The pieces are all here, but it might be another season or two before the Kings put everything together.
THN Prediction: 15th
Key additions: Adrian Aucoin, D; Taylor Pyatt, LW; Jim Vandermeer, D; Jason LaBarbera, G; Radim Vrbata, RW; Lauri Korpikoski, LW; Vernon Fiddler, C
Key departures: Steve Reinprecht, C; Joakim Lindstrom, LW; Ken Klee, D; Brandon Prust, RW; Dmitri Kalinin, D; Enver Lisin, RW; Nigel Dawes, LW; Todd Fedoruk, LW; David Hale, D; Brian McGrattan, RW
The good news is…well, the good news is the Coyotes actually have some good young players who might turn into something one day. But they’re going to need better working conditions, because the whole franchise is upside-down and turned around thanks to the never-ending bankruptcy battle/court battle/ownership battle/Jim Balsillie vs. NHL battle. Basically, there are too many battles going on off the ice, and not enough battle on the ice.
Shane Doan, as he has for many seasons, is the main man for the Coyotes. A power forward who leads by example, Doan is dying for some help. And who knows, perhaps some of Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, Kyle Turris and Kevin Porter are ready to step into more pivotal roles. Let’s hope so, for hockey’s sake.
Ed Jovanovski is the lone “name” player on the blueline, although Zbynek Michalek gets a lot of love from some corners. Kurt Sauer, like newcomers Adrian Aucoin and Jim Vandermeer, plays an honest, no-frills game. The Coyotes have big hopes for Keith Yandle.
Right now, it feels like all the life has been sucked out of Phoenix and if the Coyotes start slowly, it could be an awfully long season. But they’re not without skilled players and Ilya Bryzgalov has shown the ability to win games on his own. If new coach Dave Tippett comes in and gets everyone pulling the same way, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Phoenix in the playoffs. But it is out of the realm of common sense.
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News’ senior copy editor and a contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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