(As part of our season preview here at Second City Hockey, we are going to briefly break down the 29 other NHL teams and the challenges they could pose to the Blackhawks in 2014-15. For more detailed previews on these franchises, check out their respective SBN team blogs and the big, fancy SB Nation NHL preview. Today, we continue with the Pacific Division.)
What changed over the summer?
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings remain the best team in the Pacific Division, and the rest of the division did not really take a step forward. Veteran goaltender Jonas Hiller, center men Saku Koivu, and legendary winger Teemu Selanne have all departed from Anaheim, but Ryan Kesler was acquired in a trade that sent Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and draft picks to Vancouver.
The Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of his captaincy and Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle, and Brad Stuart left, leaving much of the hockey world scratching their heads. The newly branded Arizona Coyotes added center men Sam Gagner and Joe Vitale for stronger two-way play up the middle. Vancouver has a new team president in Trevor Linden, general manger in Jim Benning, and coach in Willie Desjardins to rejuvenate a franchise that finished 12th in the West after reaching the Cup Finals in 2011.
Calgary and Edmonton could potentially improve and jump out of the cellar. The Oilers have a wealth of young talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but lack veteran leadership. The Flames are in a rebuilding year again, but have talent developing and Jonas Hiller in the net for more stability.
1. Can any team touch the Kings?
The Kings are the best team in the Pacific entering the season, but if the Ducks find their offense and Frederik Andersen and John Gibson overcome the NHL learning curve between the pipes they could pose a threat to the defending champions. The Kings did finish third last year, like the Blackhawks, behind Anaheim and San Jose. It appears Anaheim is the only threat.
2. Will Thornton and Marleau be dealt?
With a 3-0 lead in the Western quarterfinals, the Sharks looked poised to cruise to the next round, but the Kings had other plans. The Sharks dropped the next four and looked to have missed their window of opportunity to hoist the Cup in the Bay Area. Thoronton and Marleau are the best players in Sharks history, but with both at 35 years old, it looks like the hourglasses is fading on these two being the franchise centerpiece.
3. How will Vancouver respond to change?
The Canucks' brass is new and eager to change after last season's debacle. There are new leaders and faces to the organization with two options, re-tool or rebuild. Ryan Miller was brought in to man the net, but the Canucks still have Eddie Lack. The Sedin twins are in the spotlight, but there is not much after them to look at and Benning may stir some feathers with moves to either improve the team this year or for years down the road.