Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

496142.jpg

Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

July 6, 2011

SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO
NHL 2010-11 STANDINGS

Kevin Kurz
CSNBayArea.com

It's been an explosive summer for the National Hockey League -- and it appears no one is safe.

Star players? Shipped away.

Huge, untradeable contracts? Guess again.

No-movement clauses? Please. Nothing a simple phone call can't clear up.

Just about every team in the NHL has witnessed at least one significant move to its roster, for better or for worse, and that includes the teams in the Pacific Division. The Sharks have been one of the major players, and it's not too early to start predicting just what the landscape will look like when the puck drops again in October.

There are still several notable free agents out there, of course, and plenty of time for more moves to be made. Still, it looks like most of the headlines have been written, so let's review just what went down for the NHL's West Coast clubs.
SHARKS (48-25-9, 1st)Key additions: Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Michal Handzus, Jim Vandermeer
Key subtractions: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, Scott Nichol, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers

Analysis: Credit Doug Wilson for recognizing that the Sharks, as they were, didn't have enough to get over the hump and make it to the Big Show. The Sharks needed a big, well-rounded, right-handed defenseman and they got one of the best in the NHL in Brent Burns. San Jose can split Burns and Dan Boyle and form two very good defense pairs.

The bigger and riskier move for Wilson was trading Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. You could say that both didn't perform quite up to standards in relation to their respective salaries, and sending Heatley to the Wild and bringing in Havlat gives both players a chance for a fresh start. Havlat does offer a little more speed than Heatley, which could create problems for opposing defenses should he be lined up with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

While the Heatley-Havlat swap is likely a wash in terms of putting the puck in the net, the team did lose some other scorers and grit up front. Look for the Sharks to add another role player or two in the coming weeks, specifically a winger to play alongside steady third-line center Michal Handzus.

Better or worse: Better. It was clear last season that the Sharks never found a replacement for Rob Blake, and now they have it in Burns. Heatley and Setoguchi's combined scoring may be tough to replace, but keep in mind that Burns scored 17 goals last year, third in the league among defensemen.

LOS ANGELES KINGS (46-30-6, 4th)
Key additions: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne
Key subtractions: Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ryan Smyth

Analysis: The Kings were one of the main beneficiaries of the Philadelphia Flyers' questionable off-season moves, grabbing the spunky and talented Mike Richards in exchange for Wayne Simmonds and prospect Brayden Schenn. Richards, who was often labeled by the Philly media as not being able to handle the responsibilities of an NHL captain in a big market, will now assume his role as just one of the guys. It will suit him well. He'll be out to prove that he's worth his expensive, long-term contract and that the Flyers made a huge error in judgment when they shipped him cross-country.

Simon Gagne was a shrewd pickup by GM Dean Lombardi after the Kings lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes, and even though he s been hampered by injuries in recent years, is still just 31 years old and has the potential to break the 30-goal plateau.
Better or worse: Better, and maybe much better. The Kings and Sharks are easily the class of the Pacific, and it s likely that the gap between them and the rest of the division won t be nearly as close as last season. The Kings young defense corps and goalie Jonathan Quick have another year of experience under their belts, and Los Angeles appears primed to make a run for the Stanley Cup.
ANAHEIM DUCKS (47-30-5, T-2nd)
Key additions: Kurtis Foster
Key subtractions: Andreas Lilja, Ray Emery

Analysis: The Ducks have been one of the few quiet teams in the NHL, and will probably return with a similar lineup as last year. Corey Perry, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, will take his place up front with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan on a team that has some of the league s best offensive talents.

The biggest question facing the Ducks is, will Teemu Selanne return? The ageless Selanne (well, not really he s 41) scored 31 goals and added 49 assists last season, and has said that if he returns it will only be with Anaheim. You can bet that Ducks GM Bob Murray is pleading on his hands and knees for another season from the Finland native.

Better or worse: TBD. If Selanne retires, it will leave a big void in the Ducks offense. They will also need Jonas Hiller to return to form, after the goaltender was able to start just three times after the All-Star break due to vertigo. He hasn't even started skating yet.

PHOENIX COYOTES (43-26-13, T-2nd)Key additions: Raffi Torres, Mike Smith, Boyd Gordon
Key subtractions: Eric Belanger, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ed Jovanovski

Analysis: Obviously, the big change here is that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has gone to greener pastures in Philadelphia (51 million greener over nine years, to be exact). The loss won't be easy for the Coyotes to overcome, as Bryzgalov's play in net was the biggest reason the team made it to the postseason the last two years. Also gone is veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who decided to return to Florida where he made a name for himself at the start of his career.

Still, the Coyotes seem to be a team that thrives on its doubters. Inking defenseman Keith Yandle for five years and forward Radim Vrbata were necessary moves if the team wanted to remain competitive, and Raffi Torres is a player they picked up in free agency to add some sandpaper to their forward group.
Better or worse: Worse. It's going to be hard for the Coyotes to replace Bryzgalov, and the combination of Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera isn't going to get it done. While Phoenix does have a solid blue line corps, the loss of Bryzgalov and an inability to score could make for a long season in the desert.

DALLAS STARS (42-29-11, 5th)
Key additions: Michael Ryder, Radek Dvorak
Key subtractions: Brad Richards, Jamie Langenbrunner

Analysis: Like the Coyotes, the Stars lost their best player this offseason when Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers. Furthermore, Jamie Langenbrunner signed with the St. Louis Blues, although the veteran forward is coming off of a disappointing season.

The Stars did manage to ink Michael Ryder and Radek Dvorak to help minimize the blow offensively, but it's hard to believe that will make up losing for one of the best assist men in the game in Richards. Dallas still has some other offensive talents in Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro, but it will be tough for the Stars to keep pace with the Sharks, Kings and even the Ducks.

Better or worse: Worse. Add in the ownership uncertainty in Dallas to go along with Richards' departure, and the playoffs look like a real long shot in the Lone Star State.

Kevin Kurz covered the Philadelphia Flyers for seven seasons for the official team website as the managing editor for philadelphiaflyers.com. He is currently a digital content producer for Comcast SportsNet.

Three takeaways: Sharks' Couture 'felt fine' after minor surgery

hockey-generic.jpg

Three takeaways: Sharks' Couture 'felt fine' after minor surgery

SAN JOSE – Despite controlling most of their game with the Senators, the Sharks dropped a 4-2 decision on a late goal in regulation Wednesday night at home. The three takeaways from the defeat…

1 – Couture looks good despite minor surgery

Logan Couture scored his seventh goal in 10 games, a power play marker in the second period, and didn’t show any ill effects despite having a screw removed from his right ankle on Saturday. He finished with one shot on goal, five attempts and was 4-for-10 in the faceoff circle in a little more than 19 minutes of ice time.

“I felt fine,” he said after the game. “Took me a little while. Just [at the] start of periods it was a little sore, but once the game got going, I felt fine.”

2 – Sharks had their legs despite layoff

The coaching staff’s decision to give the Sharks a full weekend off from practice over the weekend looked like the right move in that the players had their legs for the duration of the game. Ottawa was rarely in its offensive end, and its 17 shots on goal was a season-low in shots allowed for San Jose.

“We never really felt like we were out of it,” Joe Pavelski said. “They get a couple early and [we] never felt overwhelmed. It was just about staying with it, finding that first one, and going. It was important that we got that next one when it was 2-0. We got moving. Felt in control the whole way.”

Justin Braun said: "It takes a second to get back into it, but I thought we did a pretty good job as a team to come out and get on the forecheck right away. First shift we were in there. I thought we had some good chances early.  To hold them to [17 shots] the whole night after a break like that is pretty good."

3 – Stagnating offense

Despite all the time they spent in the Senators’ end, including six power plays, the Sharks only managed to beat goalie Mike Condon twice. The Sharks’ offense still seems like it’s missing something, sitting in 23rd in the league with 2.38 per game.

At some point, some of the Sharks’ depth guys are going to have to start putting the puck in the net. Nearly one-third of the schedule over with, it’s getting to be the time of year where only the results matter.

"I think we did everything but find a way to win,” Pete DeBoer said. “But at the end of the day, moral victories don't count in the standings. I thought we did some good stuff, but didn't find a way to win."

Doc Rivers: Warriors' win over Clippers 'wasn't much of a game'

Doc Rivers: Warriors' win over Clippers 'wasn't much of a game'

About midway through the first quarter on Wednesday night, the Clippers led the Warriors 10-9.

At the end of the first frame, Golden State led 37-19.

"We set the tone early, just turning the ball over," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they took us out of our stuff. We stopped trusting, and I really never thought we got our spirit back after the beginning."

In the first 12 minutes, the Clippers turned the ball over nine times and the Warriors turned the giveaways into eight points.

[RELATED: Mo Speights calls Clippers out for complaining to refs too much]

Blake Griffin alone coughed it up five times.

Despite the rough start, Los Angeles pulled to within seven points with a little over two minutes remaining in the second quarter.

"I mean Thank God for that second group that a couple times they kind of you know, kept us in the game I guess you would call it," Rivers said. "But other than that, it wasn't much of a game."

With the Warriors entering at 18-3 and the Clippers at 16-6, there was a lot of hype for the first of four matchups between the division rivals.

But Golden State knocked off Los Angeles for the seventh straight time.

"It happens," Rivers said. "You go into a game where you really want to do well, things don't go well for you and you lose it sometimes ... we just didn't play well."