Welcome everyone to the kickoff the Blackhawk Down Low's Western Conference preview for the 2010-2011 season. I'm honored to start us off with a look at the Pacific division. On Wednesday, Andrew will preview the Northwest, and finally on Friday, ChiBlackhawks will preview the all-important Central. Then next week, we'll have posts previewing each positional group for our beloved Blackhawks.
Onto the preview!
Last Season: 39-32-11, 89 points, 4th place, missed playoffs
Offseason Defining Moment: Resigning Bobby Ryan for 5 years
Key Additions/Extensions: Saku Koivu (resigned, 2 years), Andy "The Expert" Sutton (2 years), Teemu Selanne (1 year), Bobby Ryan (resigned, 5 years), Paul Mara (1 year)
Key Departures: Scott Niedermayer (retired), James Wisniewski (traded), Aaron Ward (retired)
With the exception of their top four forwards, the Ducks stink. In addition to that, in the last two years, the Ducks have lost Chris Pronger & Scott Niedermayer, both Hall of Fame defenders in my opinion. Certainly not an easy thing to recover from. The good news is they got rid of J.S. "I'm a Brick and I'm Drowning Slowly" Giguere. Jonas Hiller will own the net this year and will be shelled. Hiller will hold the Ducks up in close games, and the first line of Perry/Ryan/Getzlaf will continue to tear shit up.
Prediction: Ducks finish in 4th place again, miss the playoffs and finish around the 10th spot in the conference.
Bold Prediction: The Ducks bring their goals against and goals for totals for the year closer to equal, not because their defense is better, but because Bobby Ryan has a breakout year. He'll be around an 80-point player this season.
Last Season: 37-31-14, 88 points, 5th place, missed playoffs
Offseason Defining Moment: Letting Mike Modano become a free agent
Key Additions/Extensions: Andrew Raycroft (2 years), Adam Burish (2 years), Brad Lukowich (1 year), James Neal (2 years), Matt Niskanen (2 years)
Key Departures: Mike Modano (unsigned), Marty Turco (unsigned)
When Dallas allowed both Modano & Turco to flee for greener pastures, it became perfectly clear that the Stars would be entering an honest-to-goodness rebuilding period. Fans in Dallas should be happy that the team is doing this the right way instead of the half-assed rebuilding some other teams *COUGH*MAPLELEAFS*COUGH* try to do. The Stars are putting their faith in Keri Lehtonen for their goaltending after letting Turco walk and if by some miracle Lehtonen stays healthy, that won't be a bad decision, but if he pulls a DiPietro, then good luck Dallas.
Prediction: Dallas chills in the Pacific cellar all season.
Bold Prediction: Andrew Raycroft plays 35 or more games due to Lehtonen injuries.
Los Angeles Kings
Last Season: 46-27-9, 101 points, 3rd place, 6th seed in playoffs, lost in 1st round to Vancouver
Offseason Defining Moment: Losing the Kovalchuk sweepstakes
Key Additions/Extensions: Alexei "LOOK, I'M A BRONZE MEDAL!" Ponikarovsky (1 year), Willie Mitchell (2 years)
Key Departures: Sean O'Donnell (unsigned), Fredrik Modin (unsigned), Randy Jones (unsigned), Jeff Halpern (unsigned), Alexander Frolov (unsigned)
Last year, the Kings brought up comparisons to the recent young and inexperienced Blackhawks clubs and surprised a lot of people by finishing with the sixth seed in the playoffs. The Kings decided to let Alex Frolov walk this summer and go all-in with the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. The Kings were intelligent with their offers to Kovy, realizing that they'll need some cap room free to sign their young stars in the next few years. Obviously the contracts being offered from the Kings weren't sufficient for Kovalchuk as we all know all too well. Unfortunately, since they spent nearly all summer foo-fighting for Kovalchuk, and let Frolov walk, the best the Kings could do was Ponikarovsky. The signing of Willie Mitchell could be a significant addition if he is/stays healthy. Back in net, the Kings boast two of the best young goaltenders around. Jonathan Quick burned out in the playoffs, but was solid all season and should be again, especially considering that Jonathan Bernier is going to be pushing him hard.
Prediction: The Kings will leapfrog a coming-back-to-Earth Coyotes club and finish 2nd in the division and 5th in the conference.
Bold Prediction: Bernier emerges as THE goaltender for the Kings and steals the starting job by the end of the calendar year.
Last Season: 50-25-7, 107 points, 2nd place, 4th seed in playoffs, lost in 1st round to Scum
Offseason Defining Moment: Not getting a new owner
Key Additions/Extensions: Adrian "Captain Blackhawk" Aucoin (resigned, 2 years), Taylor Pyatt (resigned, 2 years), Wojtek Wolski (resigned, 2 years), Ray Whitney (2 years), Derek Morris (4 years), Lee Stempniak (2 years), Martin Hanzal (2 years), Eric Belanger (1 year)
Key Departures: Zbynek Michalek (unsigned), Matthew Lombardi (unsigned), Robert Lang (unsigned)
The Coyotes were the surprise of the NHL last season and gave Scum a hell of a run in the playoffs. Plus, we got the Doanface out of it. Ilya Bryzgalov had an incredible season and there's no reason to think he won't this year. The losses of Michalek & Lombardi will be felt, but the addition of Eric Belanger from Washington was a steal - almost literally - and will help Phoenix's depth at the pivot. Look for Belanger to have a statement year. As much as we all want to believe in Phoenix this year, I don't see how they can have another magical run like they did last season.
Prediction: The Yotes take a step backwards this year, finishing in 3rd behind the Kings, and squeaking into the playoffs in either the 7th or 8th seed.
Bold Prediction: Paul Bissonnette scores 30 goals and allows a homeless person to dress as him for a game.
San Jose Sharks
Last Season: 51-20-11, 113 points, 1st place, 1st seed in playoffs, lost in conference finals to Chicago
Offseason Defining Moment: Letting Evgeni Nabokov walk.
Key Additions/Extensions: Joe Pavelski (resigned, 4 years), Patrick Marleau (resigned, 4 years), Niclas Wallin (resigned, 1 year), Antero Niittymaki (2 years), Devin Setoguchi (resigned, 1 year), Antti Niemi (1 year)
Key Departures: Rob Blake (retired), Evgeni Nabokov (unsigned), Manny Malhotra (unsigned)
The San Jose Sharks have had quite the interesting offseason: Letting Evgeni Nabokov walk and replacing him - at first - with Antero Niittymaki, the extenstions to Pavelski & Marleau, the offer sheet to the Blackhawk's Niklas Hjalmarsson, and finally, the signing of Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antti Niemi. The decision to let the franchise's leader in games played, wins, saves, and shutouts walk will define their season. With the exception of Rob Blake's retirement, all the pieces are still the same. Meaning, the Sharks are still missing the shutdown defense and scoring depth that they've needed in the second season. The Sharks are still head-and-shoulders above the rest of their division, but I still think they needed to shore up their blue line in order to put them into Stanley Cup contention.
Prediction: The Sharks continue their consistency and regular season dominance, finishing 1st in the division and 2nd in the conference. The Sharks will still fall short of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Bold Prediction: Niemi & Niittymaki evenly split starts, with Niemi taking over late in the season due to his playoff run with the Blackhawks.So, have at it in the comments gang. Tell me I'm wrong, stupid and any other adjectives you can think of. Or you could agree with me too.