Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

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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.

A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

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A's spring training update Day 6: Davis savors winter in Oakland

MESA, Ariz. — Khris Davis enjoyed quite an offseason travel itinerary, checking out Toronto, taking in the beaches of Hawaii and dining on lobster in Belize.

However, it was the time spent in his adopted hometown of Oakland that most struck a chord with the A’s left fielder. After finishing his first season with the A’s, Davis followed through on his plan to make his offseason home in Oakland, and he was glad he did.

“I got to just feel the heart of the city,” he said upon arriving at camp Sunday. “That was basically the purpose of why I was there. … I wanted to feel Oakland. I love it, honestly. I love the city.”

He trained at Dogtown Athletic, a gym in West Oakland. He took part in the A’s holiday party for kids at the Oakland Zoo, joined by A’s Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who grew up in the city.

“Just to feel these kids’ happiness,” Davis said. “They didn’t look at me as a baseball player. They just looked at me as a role model kind of.”

It should be music to the ears of A’s fans that the team’s most dangerous hitter has a love affair with the city he plays in. If the A’s ever entertained the idea of trying to sign Davis to a multi-year extension, and that’s purely hypothetical here, it would help that Davis feels comfortable in his surroundings.

Even when he described Oakland in edgy terms, such as when he said it “has its dark side,” he seemed to find it endearing.

In return, Davis felt the love from the fan base in 2016, hitting a career-high 42 homers with a team-best 102 RBI. That was despite the awful start he got off to, hitting .143 and mustering just one RBI over his first 12 games.

Obviously, any chances the A’s have of improving last year’s American League-worst offense rely on the 29-year-old Davis having another big year. But over-analysis is one thing he tries to avoid.

“I don’t want to get caught up in last year — the slow start and the strong finish, whatever,” he said. “However it was, I’m just ready to do this year.”

Davis decided to back out of his plan to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, saying his main priority was preparing for his A’s season.

“My main focus is to perform for the organization,” he said. “I feel like I want to get off on the right foot this year.”

NOTEWORTHY: Heavy showers continued to pelt Mesa on Sunday, spoiling the A’s first full-squad workout. The hitters were relegated to swinging in the cages and playing catch, while pitchers were scheduled for a day off from throwing on the mound anyway.

“If ever there was a day, at least for the pitchers, that you don’t need to (work out), it’s today,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But when you have everybody there on the first day, you wanna get out on the field and do everything. Hopefully we can incorporate everything tomorrow.”

The A’s have a whopping 70 players in camp, more than in any other spring Melvin can remember as a big league manager. He addressed the full team in a meeting Sunday morning.

His message?

“We’re gonna have to outwork, out-hustle everybody like we have in the past,” he said, “and get back to playing the game with the same tenacity that we did a couple years ago.”

FAMILIAR FACE: Longtime A’s second baseman Mark Ellis is back for the second year in a row as a spring infield instructor. The plan is for Ellis to spend a week with the team now, then another week later in camp.

“I’ll take Mark Ellis as many days as I can have him,” Melvin said.

LIGHTER SIDE: Nursing his broken right foot, starting pitcher Daniel Mengden has been making his way through the clubhouse on a knee scooter in order to keep pressure off his foot.

Apparently, it looks more fun than it really is.

“I contribute to society Friday, when I can start walking again,” Mengden quipped.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days.