Sizing Up the Competition: Here Come the Kings

With training camp inching closer, the competition in the Pacific Division looks to be fierce next year. No, all five teams will not be over .500, and there is little chance that four of them will make the playoffs. But the fight at the top between the Sharks, Ducks and Kings has the potential to be the story of the season. The revamped Kings may even help the Pacific steal some of the Atlantic's thunder--the Atlantic is often considered the most competitive division in hockey.

The Kings, Sharks, Coyotes and Stars all shook up (or were shaken up by) their rosters over the offseason. Unfortunately, it wasn't for the better in th

e case of the 'Yotes and Stars. While the Stars still have amazing young talent (Benn, Eriksson), losing Richards will be a huge blow to a team that finished just shy of the playoffs. Morrow is a great captain and center, but he is not a star like Richards (he's a solid 60 point player, but not an 80 point one). And in goal Kari Lehtonen has proven he can start in this league, but he won't be able to carry the team (the way Bryz did in Phoenix).

Which brings me to the Coyotes. It really doesn't seem like there is any chance the Coyotes will be around after this season (in Phoenix, at least), so I feel bad putting down the team even more. But let's be honest, they have no chance this year. Bryz was their backbone and only true star. Yandle is set to be one of the league's best blueliners, but who knows what having to rely on Mike Smith in net will do to his stats (specifically his +/-). I love Shane Doan, but he is pretty much in the same boat as Morrow--solid player and great captain, but not a star scorer (another 60 point, but not 80 point first-liner).

But now comes the fun part. The Ducks didn't change much, which is good for them. They still have one of the best 1st lines in the NHL and if Teemu comes back they have the best 2nd line clutch threat in the league by FAR. Selanne has averaged 1.02 PPG since returning to Anaheim in '05 and racked up 80 points in 73 games at the age of FORTY last season. Jonas Hiller is set to return and will cause major problems for opposing forwards (career .921 save percentage). And let's not forget about two amazing point threats in Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky.

Of course I saved the most exciting (and threatening) for last. The LA Kings, yes the LA Kings, may be the most exciting team to watch this season. Gagne, Penner, Brown, Williams, Richards, and Kopitar. That is a top six poised to tear up the scoring charts. Provided Doughty re-ups, the Kings are pretty set on D. And then they have Quick and Bernier. Quick is just 25--Bernier 21. And they are both star-caliber netminders--last year they combined for 9 shutouts and had 2.24 and 2.48 GAAs, respectively, forming hands down the best young duo in the NHL. Get ready. It is set to be an awesome battle for the number one spot in California and the Pacific this season.

This never gets old:

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