NHL season preview: Pacific Division could be West's most competitive

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Three teams managed to earn a playoff berth last season from the Pacific Division. One of which was the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. Can the Kings defend their crown?

The Pacific Division sent three teams to the playoffs last season. Two of them ended up facing off for the conference championship. One of them ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

When looking back on last season, the Pacific Division, as a whole, remained competitive until the end of the year.

While the Phoenix Coyotes ultimately managed to win the group, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks remained close on their heels and the three teams were separated by one point at season's end. The Dallas Stars also challenged for a playoff spot, but were ultimately unable to compile enough points at the end of the year after dropping their final five games.

The Anaheim Ducks were the only team in the division who had no shot at the playoffs.

While the Central Division is often lauded as the most competitive grouping in the Western Conference, the Pacific managed to give them a run for their money. Will that be repeated in 2013?

Anaheim Ducks

2011-12: 34-36-12 (80 points, 5th place in Pacific)

2013 will mark the first (kind of) full season for head coach Bruce Boudreau. Despite some semblance of success with the new bench boss last season, the team was unable to dig themselves out of a deep early season hole. With questions already buzzing about the future of potential franchise cornerstones Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, a bounce back year is crucial for the Ducks in more ways than one.

Offseason changes: Despite a public mini-drama with Bobby Ryan where he insinuated that he wanted to be traded and then retracted, the Ducks did not make any major moves.

They did however make minor changes to the roster, which included allowing forward Niklas Hagman, forward George Parros and defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to sign elsewhere. The team also traded Lubomir Visnovsky to the New York Islanders.

The team added defense in signing Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen, as well as forward depth with Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz. Goaltender Viktor Fasth was brought in to back-up starter Jonas Hiller.

Strengths: As has been the case for some time, the team has a wealth of talent in the likes of Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan and Teemu Selanne. Hiller has also proven in the past that he is a capable starting goaltender.

Weaknesses: While the team has talent, they need to consistently produce. In addition, they need to find a way to generate secondary scoring.

Dallas Stars

2011-12: 42-35-5 (89 points, 4th place)

The Stars remained in the hunt for a playoff berth until the end of the season. However, those hopes were de-railed thanks, inpart, to a five game-losing streak to finish out the year. With forward Jamie Benn starting to gain league-wide notoriety, the team is hoping to end a four-year playoff drought.

Of course, the Stars will need to re-sign the restricted free agent if they have any chance of accomplishing such a feat.

Offseason changes: Dallas made several changes this offseason. Bringing in a pair of 40-year-olds in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, the team also acquired Derek Roy and Adam Rome. They also parted ways with Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Jake Dowell, Sheldon Souray and Adam Pardy, in addition to trading Mark Fistric to the Edmonton Oilers during training camp.

Strengths: The Stars should have an improved forward group, which could result in improved production in even strength and power play situations.

Weaknesses: While Jagr and Whitney will be able to provide experience, they also might be injury prone, especially in a condensed year where hamstring and groin injuries are expected to be at a premium. Roy is returning from offseason shoulder surgery and captain Brendan Morrow is coming off an injury riddled 2011-12.

Most importantly, they need to sign Benn.

Los Angeles Kings

2011-12: 40-27-15 (95 points, 3rd place)

Coming off their first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history, the Kings are returning virtually the same team from last season. With the rest of the league focusing in on the reigning champs, will the Kings be the first team since the Detroit Red Wings to protect their crown?

Offseason changes: Los Angeles re-signed Dustin Penner and Jarrett Stoll.

Strengths: The Kings strength is likely to come in their continuity. It has become uncommon for Stanley Cup teams to stay together. With every significant piece from last years puzzle still in place, roster turnover will not be a viable excuse if Los Angeles fails to repeat.

Weaknesses: The glaring spotlight of the rest of the league. With a bulls-eye on their backs from Day 1, teams will attempt to make a statement by defeating the reigning champs. Can the Kings demonstrate that they are capable of handling that kind of pressure?

Phoenix Coyotes

2011-12: 42-27-13 (97 point, 1st place)

Despite losing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov last offseason, the Coyotes managed to compile an impressive season, which resulted in their first division championship in franchise history. Falling short of a Stanley Cup berth last postseason, will the Coyotes be able to take the next step this season?

Offseason changes: Ray Whitney left via free agency to join the Stars. The Coyotes added Steve Sullivan, David Moss and Nick Johnson.

Strengths: The Coyotes are swimming in defensive depth. Not only does the team have a strong unit, but they also have pieces they could moved to make additions prior to the trade deadline. This is a concept general manager Don Maloney has publicly admitted interest in doing.

Weaknesses: Besides the ownership situation (which still remains unresolved), the forward group could use work. If the team decides to use their defensive depth in a trade, it will likely be for a forward. Lucky for the Coyotes, several teams have expressed a need to upgrade their defense.

San Jose Sharks

2011-12: 43-29-10 (96 points, 2nd place)

Prior to a first round exit last postseason, the Sharks had appeared in consecutive conference finals. With general manager Doug Wilson explaining that an extended break due to the lockout might help his team return to their cup contending ways, San Jose will look to re-gain their spot atop the Pacific.

Offseason changes: Larry Robinson was added as an associate coach, while Jim Johnson was retained as an assistant. The team also acquired Adam Burish and Brad Stuart.

Strengths: The team is hoping to establish a strong rotation of lines so that the entire bench can become involved in games. This will hopefully help players stay fresh throughout the condensed year.

Weaknesses: The team's penalty kill was ranked 29th last season. Robinson will be entrusted to help improve that component of the special teams.

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