The Pacific was ruled by the Sharks for four years in a row until the Coyotes ended their streak last season with a 97-point campaign (the lowest point total for the division champion since San Jose's 99 in 2001-02). But it was the Kings who, thanks to a strong second half, grabbed the eighth spot and ran with it to their first title.
Dallas added some veterans. Anaheim has to decide what to do with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Los Angeles returns virtually the same. Is the window still open for San Jose? Can Phoenix once again stay under the radar and "surprise" everyone again?
Los Angeles Kings
Last Year’s Record: 40-27-15 (95 points)
Coach: Darryl Sutter
Pre-Lockout Preview: “The lockout isn't helping many NHL teams, but it should help the Los Angeles Kings become fully rested and ready after their extended season. With nearly the entire team back, it's not difficult to imagine the Kings contending for the Cup again — and, potentially, playing for another one at the end of the season."
What’s Changed: Kevin Westgarth was dealt to Carolina for Anthony Stewart. Jarret Stoll's impressive list of catches added Erin Andrews. Anze Kopitar hurt his knee playing in Europe, but he'll OK. Willie Mitchell had surgery to remove cartilage in his knee and he'll miss some time.
Pivotal Player: Jon Quick. The Kings weren't the highest of scoring teams and were helped by Quick's career year to win games down the stretch. If they shoot blanks at any time, they know Quick's able to steal them some games.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Jeff Carter found his groove once his smile was recovered after being dealt to LA. He finished with 6 goals in 16 games after coming over from Columbus and 13 points during the playoffs. He'll excel in a full* season with the Kings.
Prediction: First. They won't have to worry about a short off-season causing a Cup hangover now. Coming back relatively unchanged from the team that was on the ice on June 11, they're in good shape to make a run at a repeat.
San Jose Sharks
Last Year’s Record: 43-29-10 (96 points)
Coach: Todd McLellan
Pre-Lockout Preview: “The Sharks haven't done enough to return to the upper echelon of the Western Conference. There isn't enough speed in their forward corps and teams have begun to figure out how to keep them out of the middle of the ice. But they're going to be better defensively and they're still a very talented team, and they're not mediocre enough to be playing for the final playoff spot on the season's final day again. A fourth to sixth-place finish awaits them.”
What’s Changed: Brent Burns lost a razor during the lockout. Jeremy Roenick's still not a fan of Patrick Marleau. Doug Murray is gettin' it done.
Pivotal Player: Antti Niemi has streaks of good and bad last season. He's had a heavy workload of 68 and 60 games the past two seasons. If McLellan lets Thomas Greiss see some ice time, the added rest could be a benefit for Niemi once the playoffs arrive.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Niemi, if McLellan doesn't strap him to the crease.
Prediction: Second. They still have the parts to be a dangerous team in the West. Can they keep the gas in the tank for a run?
Last Year’s Record: 42-27-13 (97 points)
Coach: Dave Tippett
Pre-Lockout Preview: “The Coyotes will be the same team they were last season, more or less. Offensively non-threatening, defensive-minded as all Hell, heavily reliant on Mike Smith. It's a system with little margin for error, and last season they got some serious breaks. I just don't see them getting as many this year. They're still a playoff team, but another division title seems like a long shot. A seventh or eighth finish is far more likely.”
What’s Changed: Greg Jamison is a little closer to finalizing his purchase of the team. Matthew Lombardi was re-acquired. Raffi Torres did not get his suspension reduced, so he'll sit for the first 8 games.
Pivotal Player: In a word, Mike Smith was awesome last season. A worthy Vezina Trophy finalist working under the tutelage of Sean Burke, Smith dominated the second half of last season, including an undefeated February where he went 11-0.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Mikkel Boedker had a solid postseason and enters a contract year with much to prove. He tied a career high in goals with 11 last season, and with an incentive for a payday in the summer, can really build off last season.
Prediction: Third. Just when you want to doubt the Coyotes, they find a way to succeed. This season will be no exception.
Last Year’s Record: 42-35-5 (89 points)
Coach: Glen Gulutzan
Pre-Lockout Preview: "There's some optimism and skepticism heading into the 2012-13* campaign for the Stars. Eriksson and Benn will only get better. Lehtonen has proved doubters wrong since coming to Dallas. But what of those 40-year old dinosaurs in Jagr and Whitney? Can they both provide adequate production -- something they've been able to do in their previous NHL stops -- while meshing with new linemates? Is the blueline strong enough defensively to keep them in playoff contention in always tough Western Conference?"
What’s Changed: Jamie Benn is still unsigned, but very close to a new deal. Stars legends Mike Modano and Marty Turco joined the organization, along with Mark Recchi.
Pivotal Player: Benn is the crown jewel of the organization and if he signs and joins the team ASAP, he'll benefit if paired with Jagr, just as Claude Giroux did a year ago.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: After focusing on conditioning since being traded to Dallas, Kari Lehtonen has turned his career around. The Stars have a rookie, Cristopher Nihlstorp, behind him who will get plenty of looks to keep Lehtonen fresh.
Prediction: Fourth. They can push for a playoff spot if they remain relatively healthy and get Benn signed and have him star jelling with Jagr.
Last Year’s Record: 34-36-12 (80 points)
Coach: Bruce Boudreau
Pre-Lockout Preview: “The fact is that the nucleus of this team should be its most stable commodity, but last year's swoon and some uncertain future of Ryan, Perry and Getzlaf makes the core more of a question mark than it's ever been. There's a lot to like about this team, from the coach to the goaltending to the Teemu lovefest that will continue for another year. But they only go as far as their big three take them — and will all three still be Ducks at the end of the campaign?”
What’s Changed: Bobby Ryan seems to have backed away from his previous trade demands. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf's futures are still up in the air. Teemu is still awesome.
Pivotal Player: Getzlaf posted his worst statistical season since his rookie year with a measly 11 goals. The Ducks have a knack for making runs during the second half, so with a compressed schedule, they'll need to start right off the hop and get a bounce back year from their captain.
Player That Benefits Most From 48-Game Season: Selanne has once again committed to only this season, but with such a shortened schedule, and the fact that he's still producing at a high level for a 42-year old, he'll be fired up to play past this year, right?
Prediction: Fifth. If Perry and Getzlaf go unsigned, this could be a very long year.
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