So how about that Pacific Division? Talk about coming down to the wire. Tomorrow the Kings will host the Ducks for the division. Both tied at 99 points, the NHL couldn’t have scripted it any better. Both teams are desperate to win the Pacific, because each would rather play Nashville over San Jose. Playing a divisional foe in the first round is always a challenge. Remember two years ago, the Kings on the brink of elimination, won four straight against the Sharks. Then beat the Ducks in seven on their way to their second Cup. It doesn’t matter what division, playing a rival isn’t ideal. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all capable of succeeding in the playoffs. All three organizations know that their first round matchup might be the toughest.
The three Pacific playoff teams will be tough to beat this season, and for seasons to come. The Kings are set for years with the anchor of Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick. Arguably the best players in their respective positions, and they’re all 30 years-old or younger. Not too mention, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Alec Martinez. The Sharks are loaded with talent. Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Brent Burns form a strong nucleus in NorCal. Add in future HOF’ers Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, and San Jose is annually strong. Possibly the best core of young players play in Anaheim, or in San Diego. The Ducks have a bevy of young defenseman some of whom can’t even find room in Orange County. Shea Theodore is a highly respected prospect that’s sent up, and down between the Gulls and Ducks. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, and Sami Vatanen create a logjam that’ll force Anaheim to make a move. Not the worst problem to have.
Obviously, we know how good the top Pacific teams are but what about the lower tier. How good can the Flames, Canucks, Oilers and Coyotes be? Sure we see young skilled talent in Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona but will they compete? That’s a question The Creator should ask as well. Can the bottom four rosters ever win in a top heavy division? I don’t think so. John Gaudreau is an amazing talent, but who protects him? And I’m not talking about Marty McSorley, goon protection crap. I’m talking about giving Johnny space on the ice to use his speed, and skill. There’s a rumor Milan Lucic may be interested in Calgary. He’d be the perfect line mate for Gaudreau. Lucic can score, and he scare the bleep out of opposing players. The power forward would automatically make Calgary more physical. Something they’re not known for. Same goes for Edmonton. Connor McDavid may take over the league, but he’s gonna need help. Issues The Creator might have when he drafts a top three pick. You need to protect your assets Bill.
When Las Vegas drops the puck in 2017 (assuming an announcement comes “some time in June”), the rest of the Pacific Division will be licking their chops. Established teams will be looking to pad points against the new team. That’s a normal process that any expansion team goes through. Call it growing pains. How can Creator and Co. prevent this? Well, let’s be honest it’s gonna be tough. Top NHL teams have a hard time figuring out Jonathan Quick, a roster of unprotected players probably won’t do any better. It’ll also be tough keeping Scorey Perry, and Jumbo Joe off the score board.
Maybe there is a way Las Vegas could be competitive. The Creator’s staff should design a roster strictly built for the Pacific Division. That means defense, size and physicality. Chances are the starting goaltender won’t be a top ten goaltender, so he’ll need help. Building a blue line with experience and size can help Las Vegas stay competitive. Top Centers Ryan Getzlaf, and Anze Kopitar take over games offensively, a strong backend can keep the score close. I know he’s not popular, but a guy like Dennis Wideman could be unprotected and fit well in Las Vegas. A Defenseman that could be unprotected and would be a dream come true for Las Vegas is the Duck’s Simon Despres. The 6’4, 24 year-old blueliner might be a victim of Anaheims crowded backend. The Ducks will be upset letting Despres go and could be part of the Las Vegas’ first pairing. Who knows maybe Shea Weber could be available. Size and defense.
I could do this all day, Dustin Brown, Jakob Silfverberg, maybe even Rick Nash could be left unprotected. All three forwards would fit perfectly. Silfverberg is part of the most effective checking line in hockey. Nash could provide offense, and size. Brown, well, you know how I feel about him. It’s not about the score sheet for Dusty. At average NHL size, the Kings Captain plays with more physicality than anyone in the league. He leads the box score in hits annually, and is a two-time Cup winning Captain. He’s a pretty good leader. The Creator, fans, and the league want Las Vegas to compete right away. Building around the division is one way to achieve that goal.