NHL preview, pick: Pacific Division

NHL 2013 Preview: Pacific Division

Teams listed in predicted order of finish.

Los Angeles Kings (2011-12: 40-27-15; Stanley Cup champions)

For the first time in NHL history, a team opened camp with every single player from its Stanley Cup champion roster (depth winger Kevin Westgarth was, however, promptly traded to the Carolina Hurricanes). Given how well they played last spring and that a “Cup hangover” is less likely with the delayed start, having the whole team back should give the Kings a leg up. Anze Kopitar’s knee injury, which will keep him out for two to three weeks, will hurt. However, they’ll have Jeff Carter from the onset and possess as much depth as anyone in the NHL. The scariest part of this well-built Kings club? They have more than $7 million in cap space, meaning they can acquire anyone they so choose before the trade deadline.

Key acquisition: None

Key departure: Kevin Westgarth

Phoenix Coyotes (2011-12: 42-27-13; eliminated in third round of playoffs)

Every preseason the Coyotes are overlooked by pundits, and every spring those pundits are forced to eat crow. This is a sound team that doesn’t make mistakes. The on-ice simplicity with Dave Tippett behind the bench should greatly benefit the Desert Dogs. Coming off a division title and trip to the Western Conference final, the Coyotes return much of the same team. Ray Whitney and Adrian Aucoin left, but Steve Sullivan and Zbynek Michalek should fill in admirably. If goaltender Mike Smith repeats what he did last season, there’s no reason why the Coyotes can’t win the division again.

Key acquisitions: Nick Johnson, Zbynek Michalek, David Moss, Steve Sullivan

Key departures: Adrian Aucoin, Gilbert Brule, Daymond Langkow, Taylor Pyatt, Michal Rozsival, Ray Whitney

San Jose Sharks (2011-12: 43-29-10; eliminated in first round of playoffs)

San Jose’s days of being an elite NHL team are by the wayside – at least for the foreseen future. Even though Logan Couture has a bright future, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are on the downside of their careers. GM Doug Wilson didn’t do enough in the off-season to build this team back up to what it once was. Depth could be an issue if injuries come into play. Simply put: there just isn’t anything special about this Sharks team anymore. They’ll be competitive; they’ll be in the playoff race. That said, adding Brad Stuart and Adam Burish doesn’t move the needle toward the top of the West.

Key acquisitions: Adam Burish, Brad Stuart

Key departures: Benn Ferriero, Dominic Moore, Andrew Murray, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White, Daniel Winnik

Anaheim Ducks (2011-12: 34-36-12; did not make playoffs)

It’s hard to know what to expect from the Ducks. They’ll either be really good or really bad. They could be really good because the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan is electric. One line doesn’t make a team, but it can carry a team, and that line can do just that. The Ducks could be really bad because the lineup is top-heavy and the back end is fragile. Bruce Boudreau had this team playing good hockey late last year. Their ceiling is higher than most, but the possibility is there for them to be the worst in the conference.

Key acquisitions: Bryan Allen, Sheldon Souray, Brad Staubitz, Daniel Winnik

Key departures: Jason Blake, Sheldon Brookbank, Dan Ellis, Niklas Hagman, George Parros, Rod Pelley, Lubomir Visnovsky

Dallas Stars (2011-12: 42-35-5; did not make playoffs)

Even though it says here Dallas will finish last in the division, that doesn’t mean they will be a bad team or are incapable of making the playoffs. GM Joe Nieuwendyk has this thing pointed in the right direction. Here’s where the Stars are at a disadvantage in 2013: Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Whitney will just be joining the fray and looking to build chemistry with new teammates over the course of zero exhibition games. The quicker they gain that chemistry, the better off the Stars will be. Still, this is a fringe playoff team at best. The defence is subpar by league standards, which means the Jamie Benn-led offence will be under even more pressure to put up big numbers. (And RFA Benn is still unsigned.)

Key acquisitions: Cody Eakin, Jaromir Jagr, Aaron Rome, Derek Roy, Ray Whitney

Key departures: Adam Burish, Jake Dowell, Radek Dvorak, Steve Ott, Adam Pardy, Mike Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray

Hottest rivalry: Kings vs. Sharks – These in-state rivals battled tooth and nail down the stretch last spring and faced off in the playoffs two years ago. There is legitimate hate on both sides, especially now that the Kings have something the Sharks don’t: a Cup banner.

Big question mark: Can Dallas’s new faces adapt quick enough to get the Stars back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008?

And the divisional champ will be… Los Angeles Kings

Who will win the Pacific Division?

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