NHL Preview Capsules
The Associated Press
Oct. 03, 2014
LAST SEASON: 54-20-8, 116 points. Won Pacific Division. Lost to Los Angeles in second round of playoffs.
COACH: Bruce Boudreau, 4th season with Ducks, 111-55-22; 8th overall in NHL.
ADDED: C Ryan Kesler, C Nate Thompson, D Clayton Stoner, LW Dany Heatley.
LOST: G Jonas Hiller, RW Teemu Selanne, C Saku Koivu, C Nick Bonino, C Mathieu Perreault, C Daniel Winnik, D Luca Sbisa, D Stephane Robidas.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Devante Smith-Pelly. After bouncing between the NHL and the minors for three years, the speedy, tough-nosed right wing is poised to build on his breakthrough effort as Anaheim's top goal-scorer in the postseason. He's likely to get a chance to contribute on the deep Ducks' top three lines.
OUTLOOK: Kesler and Thompson make the Ducks tougher down the middle, and this deep, balanced club should be in position to contend for the Stanley Cup again. Anaheim is taking its biggest risk in net, hoping Frederik Andersen and prospect John Gibson are ready for full-time NHL duty.
LAST SEASON: 37-30-15, 89 points. Ninth overall in Western Conference.
COACH: Dave Tippett, fifth season with Arizona, 156-96-42; In 10th NHL season as coach, 427-252-107.
ADDED: C Sam Gagner, C Joe Vitale, RW B.J. Crombeen, G Devan Dubnyk.
LOST: RW Radim Vrbata, C Mike Ribeiro, D Derek Morris, LW Paul Bissonnette, G Thomas Greiss.
PLAYER TO WATCH: C Antoine Vermette. As Ribeiro struggled late last season, Vermette surged to the forefront as Arizona's top center. He led the Coyotes with 24 goals last season and is a superb two-way player — a perfect fit for Tippett's defense-first system. A bigger season could be on the horizon as the Coyotes lean on him more.
OUTLOOK: The Coyotes should contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Arizona lost captain Shane Doan for 12 games due to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and goalie Mike Smith was out the final 10 games with a knee injury. Even with the injuries, the Coyotes finished two points out of the West's final playoff spot. Stay relatively healthy and get back to their defensive ways, they might be in the mix again this season.
LAST SEASON: 35-40-7, 77 points, finished 13th in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs.
COACH: Bob Hartley, fourth season with Calgary, 383-291-61-45 overall.
ADDED: LW Brandon Bollig, D Deryk Engelland, G Jonas Hiller, LW Mason Raymond.
LOST: D Chris Butler, LW Mike Cammalleri.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Johnny Gaudreau. Offense was a major issue for the Flames, who finished 23rd and 24th, respectively, in goals per game (2.46) and power play percentage (15.7). Gaudreau, the reigning Hobey Baker winner, recorded 80 points (36 goals and 44 assists) in 40 games with Boston College.
OUTLOOK: With the possible exception of John Tortorella, who attempted to fight his way into the Calgary dressing room during the first intermission of a Jan. 18 game in Vancouver to ostensibly express his displeasure about a line brawl following the opening faceoff, Hartley and the Flames earned praise around the NHL for their hardworking style of play. Even with the addition of Gaudreau and friends to the lineup, don't expect the Flames to change their modus operandi. But it's too much to ask the Flames to compete for a playoff berth.
LAST SEASON: 29-44-7, 67 points, finished 14th in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs.
COACH: Dallas Eakins, second season with the Oilers, 29-44-7.
ADDED: D Mark Fayne, D Nikita Nikitin, F Benoit Pouliot, F Teddy Purcell.
LOST: D Anton Belov, C Sam Gagner, LW Ryan Smyth.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Justin Schultz: The Oilers signed the defenseman to a one-year, $3,675,000 deal on Aug. 29. Why one year? "Justin is going to be a great player and a great Oiler. What we wanted to do as an organization is buy ourselves a little bit of time to negotiate a long-term deal," general manager Craig MacTavish said. "We as an organization wanted a little more information, fully aware information can be expensive."
OUTLOOK: Six straight years of drafting in the top 10 and stockpiling high-end young talent without showing tangible on-ice improvement tends to create skepticism.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
LAST SEASON: 46-28-8, 100 points. Finished third in Pacific Division. Won the Stanley Cup.
COACH: Darryl Sutter, 4th season with Kings, 98-57-24; 15th overall in NHL.
ADDED: RW Adam Cracknell.
LOST: D Willie Mitchell, C Colin Fraser.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Brayden McNabb. Mitchell's departure was the only significant change to the Kings' championship roster, and they hope the bruising McNabb can make the full-time NHL leap into his spot.
OUTLOOK: This tenacious, balanced team has won two of the last three Stanley Cup titles, playing a record 64 postseason games in that stretch. There's no reason to think the Kings can't contend for three crowns in four years, an NHL feat that hasn't been accomplished since Edmonton did it in 1990.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
LAST SEASON: 51-22-9, 111 points. Lost to Los Angeles in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Todd McLellan, 7th season with Sharks, 271-130-57; seventh overall in NHL.
ADDED: F John Scott, F Tye McGinn, D Taylor Fedun.
LOST: D Dan Boyle, D Brad Stuart, F Marty Havlat.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Joe Thornton. Despite finishing second in the league in assists last season, Thornton was stripped of his captaincy this summer in response to the Sharks' playoff collapse against Los Angeles. San Jose became the fourth NHL team to lose a best-of-seven series after winning the first three games. That prompted a search for new leaders. Thornton expressed no desire to leave San Jose but how he reacts to the new role and how he plays this season will be key questions going forward.
OUTLOOK: The Sharks began the offseason with general manager Doug Wilson talking of rebuilding and becoming a "tomorrow" team after being a Stanley Cup contender for most of the past decade. Wilson has altered his stance a bit and the players still believe this team can compete with the other powers out West. Much of the success will hinge on continued improvement from younger core players like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl; Brent Burns' move back to defense from forward; and more depth on the bottom two lines to take pressure off Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
LAST SEASON: 36-35-11, finished 12th in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs.
COACH: Willie Desjardins, first season with the Canucks.
ADDED: C Nick Bonino, LW Derek Dorsett, G Ryan Miller, D Luca Sbisa, RW Radim Vrbata.
LOST: RW Zac Dalpe, D Jason Garrison, C Ryan Kesler, C Mike Santorelli, C Jordan Schroeder.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ryan Miller. On June 29, 2013, the Canucks had a goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. When Vancouver's season ended 288 days later, the duo in net was Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom after Schneider and Luongo were traded. In a combined 45 games with Vancouver, Lack and Markstrom were 17-19-5 with a 2.39 goals against average and .908 save percentage. Miller, who was signed to a three-year, $18 million free agent deal, has a 2.55 GAA and .916 save percentage the last four seasons.
OUTLOOK: The dismissals of coach John Tortorella and Kesler, traded to Anaheim, can be seen as addition by subtraction. Kesler's in-season trade request became a distraction for a team whose 2013-14 campaign was an unmitigated failure. So the Canucks can do nothing but improve in 2014-15. Will there be enough improvement to qualify for a playoff berth? That may be too much to ask for a team in the tough Western Conference.