Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division
July 6, 2011, 8:43 pm
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July 6, 2011

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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.