Let’s take a quick look at the Realigned Divisions, starting with the Westernmost, the excitingly-named “Pacific” (or “Pacific + Bits of the old NW”)

This looks like being a very hard-fought (if not especially exciting) Division: Four of the Seven teams made last year’s Post-Season, Anaheim finished Second in the Western Conference for the Regular Season and LA went to the Conference Final. Phoenix were on the Playoff Bubble and hope to be back there again. The less said about the Albertans the better.. and then there’s the Curious Case of the Canucks, of which more in a moment.

Battle Of California

The three Californian teams will all be spoken about as contenders this year. Anaheim, whose remarkable run last year was ended by a fairly heavy regression to the mean, traded away the permanently disgruntled Bobby Ryan, picking up a decent return from Ottawa in highly-rated young winger Jacob Silfverberg, 1st round pick Stefan Noesen & a 1st rounder next year. Teemu is, of course,back and Dustin Penner has crawled wheezing from LA to Orange County. Their Blue Line looks like a problem area, with Beauchemin dinged up, Sheldon Souray out for at least a couple of months and after that.. Mark Fistric? Luca Sbisa? Yuck. Luckily their cup runneth over in goal with Hiller in a contract year, Fasth building on his breakout season and that John Gibson hovering in the wings.

San Jose.. It’s hard to know what to make of the Sha-Arks, as ever. Thornton & Marleau are in the last years of their deals and not getting any younger. However, if Pavelski & Couture can repeat their form of last season that’s still a potent line up. Hell, maybe even Marty Havlat will stay healthy for longer than ten minutes? Sadly, they haven’t bothered with any defense again this year which means Antti Niemi will need to be on top form, again.

Meanwhile, in a certain smog-choked hellhole, the Kings are already being picked by many as this year’s Champions. They have changed little on their roster, save shipping off Dustin Penner to Anaheim and taking Gorilla Salad off the Hawks’ hands in return for some magic beans. There’s little doubt that, if they play to their strengths, they are one of the best teams in the League. Their big weakness is their Ent-Like defense with Willie Mitchell & Robin Regehr lumbering around behind Drew Doughty.  They continue to praise Slaya Voynov to the heavens, but from what I’ve seen the kid still has a great deal to learn about play in his own end. (Hell of a shot, though). And Jon Quick is Jon Quick.

Dead Men Walking

Phoenix finally resolved their ownership issue and future location for once and all five years. They will be hoping for a return to the post season after missing out last year. They can keep on hoping. Their only “major” addition has been Mike Ribeiro, for four years at $22.5 M which, were it not for Toronto & Philly, would likely be the laughing-stock deal of the summer. Ribeiro was at a Point-Per-Game last year, for the first time since 2007-08. He was also on the Caps PP with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Good luck with Radim Vrbata, Mike. Shane Doan is another year older and slower and more elbow-y. The rest of the Yotes are made up of the usual collection of pluggers and plodders. One feels that, unless Mike Smith has one of his “Outlier” years, this will be a tough season for the Desert Dogs.

Edmonton re-upped Jordan Eberle (for way too much money) and RNH (see above, though more justifiable in the Nuge’s case). These sort of shenanigans now mean that the Oilers have less Cap Room than the reigning Champions. Sam Gagner’s fresh new broken jaw will sideline him indefinitely so they had better be praying that Hall, RNH, Yakupov et al can stay healthier than they have been in recent seasons. Not that it will do Edmonton any good: they have no defense or Goaltending and will be aiming at the Draft Lottery again. As for Calgary… Just close the door and walk away, sadly shaking your head. Full-on Tank Mode for the Flames with Jay Feaster likely to be out of a job by Christmas and Brian Burke embarking on a long-overdue rebuild.

Diving For Dear Life

That leaves us with the ever-beloved Canucks and, for me, the most interesting storyline in this Division: namely, is this the year the Nucks miss the Playoffs? I would hazard a guess that it could be: we all know about the Presidents’ Trophies and exaggerated seedings won by beating up on a piss-weak NW Division. Last year we saw the Wild make a much better fight of it and the Nucks swept out of the 1st Round. This year they are going to be fighting hard with the formidable trio of Californians for the three automatic spots and they may well find themselves lacking.

What they’ve mostly got this summer is older. The Sedins are starting to show their age (although still a force to be reckoned with) Ryan Kesler and David Booth can’t stay healthy, they still think Kevin Bieksa is a top-pairing D-man, Luongo’s mind may well have been snapped by the goings on and they’ve got noted Locker-Room-Unifier John Tortorella behind the bench. There’s still plenty of threat there if it all comes together. If not, I believe the Canucks may well find themselves on the outside looking in when the Post-season starts, which will cost Mike Gillis his job and instigate a crisis in Vancouver where they have no Cap-Space or Prospects.

While we all stand back and chuckle, of course