The preseason is over, training camps are complete and 30 NHL rosters are set. This all points to one thing, the 2015-16 NHL season is close, very close.
Last season’s short comings are a thing of the past. At the same time, last season’s successes, even a Stanley Cup victory, are also in the past. The 2014-15 season is no longer the focus. It’s time to move on and create a new chapter in the NHL’s history.
Rosters and line combinations for next season have taken shape. But while those have been established, there are still questions looming over the entire league. These are big picture questions: Will this team or that team rebound, can this player over come last season’s struggles or will this rookie live up to the hype are types of questions floating around the NHL.
The Pacific Division is no different. We know who’s going to make the final roster and who’s going to be playing next to who. Now let’s look at the big picture and talk about what big picture questions are being asked about the Pacific Division.
Can The Ducks Get Over The Hump?
When it comes to the cream of the crop in the Pacific Division, and possibly the NHL, there is very little debate. Over the last few seasons, the Ducks have become a power house and a regular favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Anaheim has finished atop the Pacific Division the last three seasons and has done so in impressive fashion. Over that time, the Ducks have played in 212 games and grabbed a record of 135-56-21.
Since the end of last season, the Ducks made a tough task harder with the addition of players like Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart and Kevin Bieksa. Adding to a roster that included Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Cam Fowler made an already star-studded line up that much better.
Now the Ducks must look to translate that regular season success over to the post season. Although Anaheim posted a 109 point season last season, and a 116 point season two seasons ago, they were stopped in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup winner, the Kings two years ago and the Blackhawks just a few months ago.
It seems like it’s Stanley Cup or bust in Anaheim.
Can Edmonton Finally Turn Things Around?
Edmonton has been in this seat before. A first overall selection that was supposed to breathe life into a struggling organization. A young stud that was supposed to serve as a catalyst for a team that hasn’t had much to be proud of in recent history.
Since 2010, the Oilers have selected first overall in the Draft four times. In 2010, they selected Taylor Hall. The next season, Edmonton finished 25-45-12. In 2011, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was selected with the first overall pick, the Oilers put up a 32-40-10 record the next season. In 2012, Nail Yakupov was the first name announced. The following season, a lockout shortened one, Edmonton finished with a 19-22-7 record.
Things are different this time. Connor McDavid, hailed by many as a generational talent, was selected number one overall by Edmonton just a few months ago. Before McDavid has even seen the ice for a regular season game, he has been mentioned in talks about winning the Hart and Art Ross.
This time is also different because McDavid isn’t the only player coming to Edmonton’s rescue. During the offseason, the Oilers brought in Griffin Reinhart and Andrej Sekera on defense and Cam Talbot between the pipes.
The Oilers finished with just two teams beneath them in the standings last season. It’s safe to say most see them finishing higher this season. How much higher is the question.
Will A Long Summer Benefit The Kings?
The Kings became the first team to win the Stanley Cup and fail to qualify for the playoffs the following year since the Carolina Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006 and missed the playoffs in 2007.
While missing the playoffs and a chance to defend their crown was not ideal, the Kings could benefit from it in the long run. Runs to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 and a run to the Western Conference Final in 2013 had the Kings on the ice for an extensive amount of extra time, and at points of last season it appeared the Kings were running out of gas.
Next season, the Kings should be recharged with a full summer to recover and rest. In an interview with LA Kings Insider, Dustin Brown commented on the extra time off the ice.
“I think, first … a lot of players in here haven’t had an opportunity to really have an offseason, so there’s two ways to look at how last year ended,” Brown said. “The one side of it is that we don’t want to be in that situation again, and the other side is that it’s a huge opportunity for us to make gains off the ice.
That extra time off the ice is about to end, and if a recharged Kings’ team isn’t seen in Los Angeles some changes might be made.
What’s Next In San Jose?
Last season, the Sharks failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Things seemed off in San Jose
for the majority of last season. Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy going into the season, the team struggled on the ice and ultimately followed a 111 point season two seasons ago with a 89 point face plant last season.
Now with the page flipped on last season, the Sharks have given Joe Pavelski the ‘C’ with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture being designated alternative captains. The changes didn’t stop there. Last season’s head coach, Todd McLellan bolted to Edmonton and was replaced by Peter DeBoer. On top of the coaching change, influential players like Martin Jones, Paul Martin and Joel Ward found their way to San Jose.
Can the once always dominant Sharks right the ship in San Jose, or will the rebound be delayed?
Can The Pacific Come Keep Pace With The Central?
The Central Division might be the toughest division in the NHL. The Pacific Division has the pleasure of being paired up with the Central Division in the Western Conference. This pairing means the eight teams that don’t finish in first, second or third in both the Pacific and Central Division battle it out for the final two wild card spots in the Western Conference.
Last season, the Central Division swept the board and grabbed both wild card spots which resulted in five teams from their division making the playoffs. The Kings were the closest in the standings and missed out on the final wild card spot by four points.
Can the Pacific Division snag a wild card spot this season, or will the Central Division send five teams to the playoffs for a second straight year?
Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.