Tag:Phoenix Coyotes
Posted on: October 18, 2011 4:01 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:38 pm
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Nashville's power outage on offense

BT1

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: a look at how the Nashville Predators are being dominated on the shot charts.

By: Adam Gretz

The Nashville Predators lost to the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Monday night. It was a game that saw them generate just 12 shots on goal, with only eight of them coming in even strength situations. Against any team that would be a shockingly low series of numbers.

Against a young, inexperienced team like the Oilers, a team with serious question marks on its defense (and without its best defenseman, Ryan Whitney) and with a second-year goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, occupying the crease, it's downright stunning.

And it's been a problem all season for the Predators.

A few things to consider:

1) The Predators have been out-shot in every single game they've played this season, and in five games have managed just 115 shots on goal, an average of just 23 per-game, the second worst mark in the league. Calgary is the only team averaging fewer.

2) Only 84 of those shots have come in even strength situations, while Nashville has scored just six of its 14 goals during 5-on-5 play. The Predators have been out-shot 139-84 in even strength situations so far, and been out-scored 9-6.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown that illustrates just how much the ice has been tilted against the Predators so far.

(Shots Att = Shots on goal+missed shots+shots blocked; SOG = Shots on goal; ES SOG = Even strength Shots on goal)

Nashville's Negative Shot Differential
Opponent NSH Shots Att. NSH SOG NSH ES SOG OPP Shots Att. OPP SOG OPP ES SOG
Columbus Blue Jackets 45 31 27 70 34 31
St. Louis Blues 35 16 9 68 33 27
Phoenix Coyotes 36 25 16 57 31 30
New Jersey Devils 48 31 24 67 41 32
Edmonton Oilers 27 12 8 57 25 19
Totals 191 115 84 319 164 139

Yes, in two games this season the Predators failed to record at least 10 shots on goal at even strength.

Basically, the Predators are being dominated when it comes to offensive zone time, as their opponents are keeping them bottled up in their own end of the ice, as shown by the fact their opponents have managed to attempt 319 shots to Nashville's 191.  And that's not exactly a who's who list of the NHL's power house offenses. If you're a Predators fan, thank goodness for Pekka Rinne, because he's facing a shooting gallery every time he steps on the ice, and according to some of the post-game comments on Monday, he's the only player that's getting any praise in the music city.

He's also probably the only reason they've managed to win the two games they did win.

Here's what Predators forward Jerred Smithson said following Monday's loss, via Joshua Cooper of the Tennesseean:
“Just embarrassing. We just got out-worked. It was right from the drop of the puck. If it wasn’t for Peks it could have been 5-1. It seems like I’ve been saying that every time now, but it’s the honest truth, we rely on this guy way too much. We don’t work, we don’t skate, we don’t forecheck, we have a hardworking team that doesn’t work hard and I don’t know, it’s beyond frustrating right now. I’ve never been a part of something like this. It’s gotta change right now, or we’re going to be on the outside looking in – December we’ll be out of this, we have to change it right now.”
He also went on to add "It’s not one guy, it’s not two guys, it’s the whole group. Pekka is the exception. He’s the only guy playing his balls off right now and if it wasn’t for him, we don’t have any points. I don’t know what to say about tonight, it was terrible.”

It doesn't get any more brutally honest than that.

Whatever optimism there was coming into this season after the first playoff series win in franchise history a year ago has seemingly been rocked with this start. This group has been built around its two All-Star defensemen (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter) and Rinne, while managing to grind out just enough goals to win games 3-2 or 2-1 with a collection of forwards that are castoffs from other teams or young, homegrown players (of which the Predators have a ton) that are still relatively cheap (by NHL standards).

It's a strategy that has led them to the postseason in six of the past seven seasons, and earned general manager David Poile and his staff plenty of worthy praise for putting together a playoff team on one of the NHL's smallest budgets. But there's also been some concern, as Dirk Hoag of On The Forecheck address before the season, as to whether or not the current makeup of the roster will ever score enough to allow the team to become a true Stanley Cup contender.

Right now they're not only not scoring, they can't even get into the offensive zone.

Following Monday's game coach Barry Trotz said the Predators were going to "start from scratch." As it stands right now, the Predators don't have the personnel to play a vastly different brand of hockey. Their strengths are still on the blue line and in net and offense will continue to be a struggle, but if they don't reverse this trend of being manhandled when it comes to puck possession they're going to need Rinne to go from a Vezina finalist to an MVP.

And perhaps a miracle worker.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 16, 2011 2:24 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2011 11:30 am
 

Saturday Story: Tavares, the Nuge are pretty good

By Brian Stubits

I wonder how Taylor Hall feels this morning? Saturday was a banner night for two of the past three No. 1 overall draft picks. But at least Hall had a good view for half of it.

First, it was John Tavares. the No. 1 selection in the 2009 draft is scorching hot at the moment for the Islanders. Tavares had a hat trick as the Isles took down the Rangers in a New York showdown. For J.T., it marked his second consecutive four-point game that included five goals.

At this rate, maybe Tavares should do the negotiating for a new arena on Long Island. Right now, he can't miss.

Now step over here for the latest showing in Premature Theater: are the Islanders the best of the New York-area teams? Since losing on opening night to the Florida Panthers 2-0 with some boo birds in attendance, it's been mostly smooth sailing for the young bunch.

They have won three in a row, beating the Wild, Lightning and Rangers. They're goaltending has been surprisingly solid with Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. We saw surprising simply because this team was carrying three goalies on the active roster as of a few days ago and not many foresaw Montoya being the No. 1. The offense is showing the promise many people see; largely Tavares can be a superstar and he has some good players around him.

This is the point where we remind ourselves it's only the second weekend of the year. Of course Tavares won't score four points every night. But the Islanders have been taking steps the last two seasons and the signs were there for a breakout, just nobody could see how it happened in a division with the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers and Devils. So far so good.

Not to be outdone

On to the other star of the night. That would be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers. I'm starting to think maybe the scouting reports had him all wrong. I'm not talking about the knocks on his size, either, but the fact that he is a play-maker. I'd say he's making plays right now, goal-scoring plays.

The Nuge as some have already come to call him, netted his first hat trick of his career in the Oilers' 4-3 loss to the Canucks. So yea, in only his third career game, Nugent-Hopkins wrangled up a hat trick against Roberto Luongo and the defending Western Conference champions. This comes after his game-tying goal in the final minutes against the Penguins in his NHL debut helped Edmonton to a season-opening two points.

But Hall isn't feeling too bad. After all, he had a solid rookie campaign himself last season and he's enjoying the spoils of Nugent-Hopkins' great start by playing on the same line. He has assisted on three of Nugent-Hopkins' four goals this season.

That giddy giggling you hear is coming out of Edmonton, where visions of sugarplums dance in their heads at the idea of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins playing on the same line for years to come. Throw in a healthy Ales Hemsky and you have as exciting and talented a young line as you'll find in hockey.

It's still going to take some time, but this might be the season where the Oilers begin to show that improvement. Of course if they don't, I can't imagine Edmonton would feel too bad with a shot at top draft prospect Nail Yakupov.

Phillin' it

Oh, and this Phil Kessel fella is pretty good too. The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NHL with a 3-0-0 record (the Capitals and Red Wings the others) and Phil Kessel has been a monster in that start.

Kessel is tied with Tavares and Pittsburgh's James Neal for the league lead in goals (five) and tied with Tavares and David Legwand in points (eight) despite playing in only three games.

Maybe that trade isn't looking that awful anymore.

What's that feeling in Toronto? Optimism? Nice to meet you again.

If a tree falls in the woods ...

The Dallas Stars are 4-1, but not many people in the Metroplex have been around to see it. In their home win on Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the announced attendance was 8,305. That followed up attendance numbers of 6,306 vs. the Coyotes and 7,949 against the Blues.

Now I understand full well that there is a certain other team that is stealing the spotlight in Dallas right now in the Texas Rangers. A World Series run is not easy to compete against. But those numbers are still awfully low, especially this early in the season with a team playing so well.

I'll give Dallas a pass for another week or so until the Rangers' run is done, but with young stars like Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, I have no doubt the Stars can surprise a lot of people this year and keep that up.

Jetting back

It was like an awkward family reunion when the Coyotes hosted the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night. And it was only fitting that Shane Doan did damage against his "old team" with two assists on the night.

But the intriguing part was the dynamic in the stands. Among the crowd were plenty of Jets fans to see the long-lost brothers battle on the ice. However, Phoenix did a pretty darn good job of keeping them quiet.

"Everybody always talks about we have games when there's a lot of visiting fans in there," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "But what it does is really feed on the emotion of the building because you get some visiting fans in there cheering that really puts a burr in your fans' butt. I thought our fans did a great job tonight. Believe me, I had visions of hearing 'Let's go Jets' a lot more than we heard tonight."

As for Winnipeg, you start to wonder what it will take to win a game. Maybe it's adjusting to life in Winnipeg now, a sense of entitlement as coach Claude Noel hinted at ("It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail."), or none of the above. Either way, there is lots of work to be done.

Hangover Part II

The last two Stanley Cup champions danced in Chicago on Saturday night, and it was the defending champs getting the best of the battle.

The Bruins needed a shootout to get by the Blackhawks in the the preseason Finals pick of your's truly. It was a goal from Nathan Horton that got them there.

Maybe this can be the smelling salts that wakes Horton and the Bruins from their slow start to the season.

Dirty or not?

We could make this a daily feature with the microscope that is being put on his in the NHL these days.

Here's a clip of a hit from the Capitals' Matt Hendricks on the Senators' Colin Greening. This one drew a good amount of attention on Saturday as people were wondering if this would lead to Brendan Shanahan's first in-season suspesion for a hit to the heads that didn't include a stick.

To me it seems Hendricks comes at the hit high, but doesn't specifically target the head. However the high follow through with the elbow going sky high doesn't help make the hit look good. In the end, I would think this doesn't get any more attention and is instead categorized a good hit.

Have a look for yourself (from Washington Times, Japer's Rink)

Photos: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 14, 2011 1:40 pm
Edited on: October 15, 2011 10:58 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Mike Richards returns to Philly

By Brian Stubits

Mike Richards the hockey player basically grew up in Philadelphia. He was the centerpiece around which the Flyers were built, their captain by the time he was 23 years old. The next Bobby Clarke, they dubbed him.

Then came last summer, when he was unceremoniously shipped out of town like a package at FedEx. The Flyers had seen the light, and that was the importance of goaltending and defense.

As a result, Richards and his $69 million contract that took effect in 2008-09 were sent to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and cap flexibility. On Saturday night, he'll return to Philly a King. Funny enough, he's back in Philadelphia for a game before even playing in his new home in L.A.

Inquiring minds want to know; what will it be like returning to an arena he once called home, just now as a visitor?

"I try not to think about it as much as possible," Richards said after Thursday's morning skate before the Kings' 2-1 shootout loss to the Devils. "It will be an exciting night once I get there.

"I expect to be nervous. I think that being on the opposite side playing against a lot of great friends ... I spent a lot of time there, a lot of great friends. It was an organization that game me an opportunity to come in the league. I think it's going to be nice to get it over with and turn the page."

Not to mention it's a pretty darn good game, too. Richards just adds some extra theater to it. But when we are looking at the matchup at hand, we have two genuine Stanley Cup contenders here. Los Angeles received one vote to represent the West from the CBSSports.com preseason picks. With Richards' addition, they have two All-Star worthy centers to go with a good young defense.

Philadelphia didn't have as many believers beore the season began, but that was just because nobody truly knew what to expect. If early returns are any indication, however, shipping Richards and fellow young star Jeff Carter (to Columbus) seems to have put in motion a great base behind goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers are 3-0-0 and have only surrendered five goals.

So yes, from a hockey standpoint, it's a marquee matchup. There's plenty of intrigue from that standpoint alone. But the homecoming King who scored 133 goals and 350 points in a Flyers sweater is the focal point.

"When you think of Mike Richards you think of Philadelphia, so this is certainly a big event for him and for the fans," Kings assistant coach John Stevens said.

You never can be sure with the notorious Philadelphia fans, but I'd expect to see a king's welcome (seriously, that pun wasn't intended) for Richards, at least at first. Once he scores or assists on any L.A. goal, they will treat him the same as any other opponent.

"I enjoyed playing in front of them every night and was excited to play in front of them," he said. "And I will be excited to play in front of them on Saturday."

Homeward bound

There are still seven teams that have yet to play their home-openers, but a few will finally take to the home ice this weekend. The Sabres will return to Buffalo to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night after a very successful trip to Europe. The city is so jacked up for Sabres hockey right now, that place (who knows what name the arena is going by now?) will be rocking.

Anaheim is also back Stateside after exploring Europe. The Ducks host the Sharks, who have somehow only played one game up to this point.

The Florida Panthers will debut their new all-red arena (and their red jerseys) against the instrastate rival Lightning on Saturday night. The two will play a home-and-home that concludes on Monday with the Bolts showing off their revamped arena for the first time.

The New York Rangers and Kings will remain as road warriors for a bit longer. L.A. doesn't return home until the 18th while New York is traveling all the way until October. 27 when it hosts Toronto at a slightly renovated Madison Square Garden.

Jets past and present

The one other team that has yet to play a game in front of the home crowd, Phoenix, will do so on Saturday. It should be interesting, too.

The Coyotes will host the Jets in what is instantly an awkward rivalry. It sort of feels like domestic abuse. The former Jets who are now the Coyotes meet the current Jets who were once the Thrashers. There is no real animosity to speak of between the two teams, but a lot of folks in the 'Peg still hold a grudge against the Coyotes, even if they have a team back to help close that wound.

Here's the oddity of the weekend: Shane Doan will play against his former team even though he has never left the organization that drafted him. Huh? Of course we're taking some liberties with relocation here, but Doan is originally a Jet, playing 74 games in Winnipeg before moving to Phoenix and becoming a career Coyote.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

You just have to love Saturday's in the NHL. You are almost always guaranteed your favorite team will be playing, but if not, you will have plenty of other games to choose from. This Saturday, 28 of the league's 30 teams will be in action.

Only the Hurricanes and the Ducks have the night off.

Still standing

There are still are still six teams in the NHL that have yet to lose (yes, I'm counting OT losses as losses, imagine that). The Flyers, Sabres, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Red Wings and Sharks all remain unblemished. In the case of the Sharks and Sabres, they'll have to do double duty to remain perfect come Monday.

Best chance for a loss? Have to think it's Buffalo in Pittsburgh with Detroit visiting the Wild next on the list.

On the flip side

Of course, there are still some teams looking for a win, too. The Rangers, Jets and Blue Jackets are yet to experience the thrill of victory. In the case of the Jets, they remain pointless going into the weekend.

Fun with numbers

Small sample sizes create fun little stats such as James Neal of the Penguins leading the NHL in goals (with four in five games), the Senators' Erik Karlsson ahead in assists with six and the Predators' David Legwand in front for points at seven. Even with the small sample size distorting things, did anybody foresee a Predator near the top of an offensive category?

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.


Posted on: October 6, 2011 5:12 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 5:23 pm
 

Coyotes lock up Martin Hanzal for 5 years

MH1By: Adam Gretz

In his four seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes Martin Hanzal has been remarkably consistent with his offensive production, averaging around 11 goals and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points every season. Not exactly superstar level production, but don't let that hide his overall value -- and importance -- to the team.

He spends most of his team in a defensive role, usually going against the other teams top lines, and doing everything he can to keep points off the board. It's a role that he's been very successful at, and on Thursday it was announced by the team that he signed a new five-year contract extension that will keep him in Phoenix through the 2016-17 season. The team did not release the terms of the deal, but according to John Shannon of Sportsnet the deal will pay him a total of $15.5 million, which is a cap hit of $3.1 million.

Said general manager Don Maloney in a statement released by the team, “We are very pleased to sign Martin to a five-year contract extension. Martin is a big, strong, skilled center and a core member of our team. He contributes at both ends of the ice and we are confident he will continue to improve to become one of the NHL’s best two-way centers.”

Critics of the deal will likely point to his point totals and question how 30 points gets you over $3 million a year, but again, that completely misses the point of what Hanzal brings to the Coyotes. Phoenix plays a defensive-style of hockey and Hanzal is one of the most important players on the roster when it comes to establishing that style of play.

And it's not all that out of line with what similar players are making around the NHL, while Hanzal is still only 23 years old and can still improve.

Just as a point of reference, the $3.1 million cap hit is nearly $1 million less per year than the deal Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, a similar defensive-minded center with great size, signed a couple of years ago. It's also less than the $3.375 million per year contract Dave Bolland signed with Chicago prior to the 2009-10 season.

Earlier this summer the Coyotes locked up another key part of their future by signing defenseman Keith Yandle to a five-year deal worth over $25 million. On Wednesday they signed Paul Bissonette, master of Twitter, to a two-year deal.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 6, 2011 11:28 am
 

Price to support breast cancer research with mask

By Brian Stubits

The thing I love most about goalie masks is that they allow the players to express themselves in so many ways thanks to the help of talented designers like Dave Arrigo.

Earlier this week we showed you one of Arrigo's designs for Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera. His mask will feature a year-long tribute to armed forces, in particular former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. Now here's another worthwhile creation by Arrigo, this time for the Canadiens' Carey Price.

The mask features an homage to Price's Native ancestry background growing up in British Columbia. On either side of the mask is a the face of an elder tribe member. In the center of the mask is the Canadiens' classic logo laid over a dream catcher.

Most notably, though, is the base color of pink. That will match Price's equipment for the month of October, which is breast cancer awareness month. Starting on Oct. 6 the mask will go up for auction and bidding will be closed at the end of the month. The proceeds will go to cancer research.

It's a terrific gesture by Price and considering how crazy (we mean that in a completely positive way) the Habs fan base is, I'm sure it will fetch a good amount of dough for a good cause. I'm just hoping the mask gets a serious cleaning before being sold. As somebody who plays in net, I can attest to the foul smell that inhabits a used goalie mask. It's rather nauseating.

But it's a lot easier to stomach knowing the helmet was put to good use (stopping pucks) and a good cause.

Photo: davearrigo.com

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 4, 2011 10:58 am
Edited on: October 4, 2011 11:11 am
 

Coyotes' LaBarbera honors Pat Tillman on mask

By Brian Stubits

We've seen this summer how goalie masks run the gammut from scary (Steve Mason's horror look), creative (Semyon Varlamov's snow battle) and appropriately fun (Mike Smith's Wile E. Coyote theme).

But in a way, they all pale in comparison to the design Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera will wear this season.

His mask will serve as a tribute to both the American and Canadian militaries through a memorial to former Arizona Cardinals star safety Pat Tillman. Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire after leaving the NFL to join the army, is seen on one side of the mask both in his army uniform and football uniform, with his brother posing right beside him. The opposite side features a faceless soldier with helicopters flying above.

All through out there is a camoflauge design that uses the Coyotes colors of red and white. Interspersed among the camo are Stars to represent the United States armed forces and some Maple Leafs to represent the Canadian military.

At the bottom of the mask is a yellow ribbon, symbolizing support for the men and women fighting overseas surrounded by two Phoenix Coyotes logos.

The design was done by sports designer Dave Arrigo, who is a regular goalie mask maker. He posted LaBarbera's new cage on his website and had this to say: "Pat Tillman will live in on in our memories, I hope that this helmet assists with that in whatever facet possible."

This mask is sure to be a hit in the desert, paying homage to not only one of Phoenix's great heroes, but the USA's as well.

Photo: Dave Arrigo

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:20 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 9:26 pm
 

Looking at Nugent-Hopkins preseason performance



By: Adam Gretz

It remains to be seen whether or not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, will spend the entire season with the Edmonton Oilers or eventually be sent back to the Western Hockey League to play with the Red Deer Rebels.

Based on his preseason performance to this point it's going to be awfully difficult for Edmonton to not give him an opportunity to prove he belongs at the NHL level on a full-time basis.

During Edmonton's 3-2 win over Phoenix on Tuesday night he had a hand in every Oilers goal, scoring his first of the preseason and adding an assist on a pair of Taylor Hall goals, pushing his team-leading (preseason) point total to six in four games.

A few thoughts and observations on his performance to date:

1) In the four games that Nugent-Hopkins has appeared in the Oilers have scored 10 goals as a team -- and he has had a hand in six of them, scoring one and assisting on five. He has also developed what appears to be nice chemistry with Hall, the Oilers' No. 1 overall pick from a season ago, recording an assist on every goal that Hall has scored in the preseason.

No other player on the team has more than three assists, while some of the ones Nugent-Hopkins has been credited with have been rather impressive, including this helper on a goal scored by Jordan Eberle last week against the Vancouver Canucks.

2) You're probably saying those numbers are nice, but it's still just the preseason and preseason numbers can be pretty worthless. And you wouldn't be entirely wrong. After all, a lot of these games feature rosters that are loaded with minor leaguers and pluggers that will be riding the bus in the AHL and ECHL in a couple of weeks. That highlight reel assist to Eberle against the Canucks that is mentioned above, for example, came on a power play with players like Aaron Volpatti and Nolan Baumgartner on the ice against him, with Manny Legace -- since released by the Canucks -- in the crease. Who you play against matters, and he's probably going to be facing a much higher level of competition during the regular season when the games actually mean something in the standings.

That said, his best game of the preseason came on Tuesday night against Phoenix, against a lineup that was pretty close to what the Coyotes will be running out there on a nightly basis. Mike Smith played the entire game in goal, while his points came with players like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Daymond Langkow on the ice against him, so he's just not padding his preseason numbers against guys that won't be in the NHL this season. His best game, offensively, came on the night where he played against what was probably the toughest competition he's seen yet. And that's impressive.  

3) There are still some legitimate questions that need to be asked about whether or not he's ready for a full season of NHL action. His size will be talked about quite a bit (and while he would be one of the smallest players in the NHL, he wouldn't be the smallest), as well as the added responsibilities that come with being a top center in the NHL, including defensive play and having to win faceoffs, which will include some growing pains, but the potential offensive upside might be too much for an Edmonton team that finished 27th in scoring last season to pass up.

As I pointed out last month it would seem be a mild upset if he's not on the Oilers roster this season, at least based on recent forwards that have been taken No. 1 overall. Going back to 1997 the only forward taken in the top spot to not appear in the NHL in his draft year was Alex Ovechkin, and that was because his draft year happened to be the lost season that was the NHL lockout.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 26, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:54 am
 

Pacific Division Preview: San Jose still on top

Sharks1

By: Adam Gretz

The San Jose Sharks have comfortably controlled the Pacific Division the past four seasons, winning it each year by an average margin of about 11 points.

Regular season success hasn't been much of an issue for the Sharks, reaching the 100-point mark six of the past seven seasons. The issue has always been whether or not they can avoid what seemed to be an annual early exit from the playoffs. They've done some work to help break their negative postseason reputation the past two years, reaching the conference finals each year before ultimately losing to Chicago and Vancouver respectively.

Will this be the year they finally break through and win the Conference? Will they be able to continue their dominance within the division, or did their four divisional rivals do enough to catch up this summer?

The Pacific was the only division in the NHL last season to produce four playoff teams, as Anaheim, Phoenix and Los Angeles joined the Sharks in the postseason. The Ducks boast the NHL's reigning MVP in Corey Perry, while the Los Angeles Kings made what was perhaps the biggest addition in the Western Conference by acquiring Mike Richards in an offseason blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pacific Division (In order of predicted finish)

SharksSan Jose Sharks: The Sharks avoided disaster in the second round of the playoffs last season by escaping with a Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings after watching a 3-0 series lead slip away, advancing to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row where they lost to the Canucks in five games. General manager Doug Wilson made a few significant changes to his roster this summer by sacrificing a bit of offense (Devin Setoguchi) to get a defensive upgrade in Brent Burns, while also sending Dany Heatley, a player that is coming his worst goal-scoring season since his rookie year, to Minnesota for Martin Havlat.

Strengths: Even after trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi the Sharks still have two outstanding lines with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Boyle, Burns, Marc Eduard Vlasic and Douglas Murray is a strong top-four on the blue line that combines offensive ability (Boyle and Burns) and strong defensive play (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray, who also happens to be one of the biggest hitters in the league). They have an outstanding power play that should still be a force even with the loss of Heatley and his 11 power play goals from a year ago. Burns (eight power play goals a year ago) gives them another weapon on the point to go along with Boyle.

Weaknesses: The third and fourth lines aren't great, and the injury questions surrounding goaltenders Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should be a concern early in the season, but should go away once Niemi returns to the lineup, and may be as early as the season opener. Penalty kill was a major problem last season -- can the addition of Michal Handzus make a difference?

KingsLos Angeles Kings: The Kings haven't advanced beyond the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in over a decade, and have only won one playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals all the way back in 1993. This roster, on paper, looks to be their best chance for postseason success -- assuming they finally work out something with unsigned defenseman Drew Doughty. For years we've been waiting for the Kings to make a big move given their tradable assets and cap space, and they finally pulled off the blockbuster trade this summer by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Strengths: If you believe championship teams are built down the middle, then the Los Angeles Kings should have a great foundation. Already having Anze Kopitar on the roster, the Kings added Richards, one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, back in June in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick. Combine those two with Jarret Stoll, and the Kings top-three centers should be able to match up with just about any team in the Western Conference. Thanks to steady stay-at-home defensemen like Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell the Kings had one of the top penalty killing units in the league last season.

On the wings Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Simon Gagne help create what should be an improved offense over the one that finished 25th in goals scored last season.

Weaknesses: As of this moment the biggest weakness for the Kings might be the fact that their best defenseman, Drew Doughty, remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, and with each passing day we're one day closer to him missing games that actually count in the standings. The power play needs to improve, finishing just 21st in the NHL last season.

DucksAnaheim Ducks: Without looking it up, do you know which player led all NHL defensemen in scoring last season? Nicklas Lidstrom? Shea Weber? Maybe Dan Boyle? Try again. It was Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky, giving the Ducks the NHL's top-scoring defenseman as well as the leading goal-scorer (Corey Perry, the only player to hit the 50-goal mark).

Strengths:  Corey Perry. Ryan Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne. Those four players combined for nearly 60 percent of Anaheim's goals in 2010-11, and that was with one of them, Getzlaf, missing 15 games. Perry, who finished as the NHL's leading goal-scorer and won his first MVP award, probably isn't going to score 50 goals again, and Selanne is a year older (but still productive) but this is still an excellent quartet of forwards.

Weaknesses: Which forwards after the four mentioned above can provide offense?

Jonas Hiller is an excellent goaltender when he's in the lineup, but how much will his battle with vertigo impact him this season? If he has to miss any extended time the options behind him (Dan Ellis is currently the backup) aren't really all that promising.

The defense can certainly provide some offense with Lubomir Visnovsky, who is coming off a career year with 68 points, and Cam Fowler having a very promising rookie season -- from an offensive perspective -- with 10 goals and 30 assists, but questions remain as to how good they can be in their own zone.

StarsDallas Stars: There are disappointing ways to finish a season, and then there's what the Dallas Stars did to close out the 2010-11 season, losing nine of their final 14 games to miss the playoffs -- the only team in the division to do so -- by just one point. All they had to do on the final day of the regular season was beat the Minnesota Wild, a team that had completely gone in the tank and won just seven of its final 22 games. The Stars lost, 5-3, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to clinch the No. 8 spot.

Strengths: Some very good forwards with players like Louii Eriksson and Jamie Benn leading the way, and Mike Ribiero still gives them a No. 1 center in the absence of Brad Richards who signed a huge deal with the New York Rangers in free agency. Based on his play after coming over in a mid-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Goligoski looks like he could be on the verge of a breakout season.

Weaknesses: Losing Brad Richards to free agency is a big blow, even with Mike Ribiero -- who trailed Richards by just six points last season -- still on the roster. No disrespect to Steve Ott, who is a fine all-around player, but a 1-2 punch of Richards and Ribiero down the middle is more dangerous than Ribiero-Ott from an offensive perspective.

Mediocre special teams a year ago with the Power Play finishing middle of the pack and the penalty kill in the bottom seven.

CoyotesPhoenix Coyotes: Yes, the Coyotes are still here, and yes, they're looking to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season after having been eliminated by Detroit in each of the past two seasons. They locked up one of their most important players to a long-term contract extension by signing Keith Yandle to a five-year deal this summer, but also said goodbye to another key player in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

Strengths: Dave Tippett has done a masterful job the past two seasons with the Coyotes taking a team in a financial mess with little star power to speak of and helping to get them to the playoffs each year with a disciplined, defensive style that the players have bought in to. Keith Yandle is one of the best up-and-coming defenseman in the NHL,

Weaknesses:Replacing Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera seems like a significant drop in talent. The one thing Phoenix does have going for it here is that it has a tight defensive system and some excellent two-way players, while Smith has past experience playing in Tippett's system. Still, will that be enough to overcome the loss of Bryzgalov? The Coyotes don't have a true big-time goal-scorer on the roster, but did manage to have 11 different players score at least 10 goals last season. Three of those players (Lee Stempniak, Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall) are gone, and another, Kyle Turris, is holding out with some absurd contract demands.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com