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THN Free Agency Preview: Pacific Division

Scott Neidermayer decision to return to the NHL forced the Ducks to deal Chris Pronger to the East. (Getty Images)

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Scott Neidermayer decision to return to the NHL forced the Ducks to deal Chris Pronger to the East. (Getty Images)

ANAHEIM DUCKS
Cap space - $18 million

UFAs – Francois Beauchemin, D; Bret Hedican, D; Todd Marchant, C; Rob Niedermayer, C; Scott Niedermayer, D.

RFAs – Brett Festerling, D; Brian Salcido, D; James Wisniewski, D.

Needs – At this time last year, the Ducks were looking at serious salary cap issues and fork-in-the-road decisions on key veterans. But after a season in which Brian Burke left the team in December (to join Toronto) and his replacement, former assistant GM Bob Murray, made some masterful deals at the trade deadline and draft, Anaheim is in a more comfortable position this off-season.

Yes, Chris Pronger, Chris Kunitz, Travis Moen and Sami Pahlsson are gone from the squad that began the ’08-09 campaign and helped the franchise win its first Stanley Cup, but in their place are Ryan Whitney, the returning Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa – and most importantly, enough cap space to bring back Scott Niedermayer for one more season and perhaps Beauchemin.

If Murray can unload the hefty salary of goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, he’ll find it far easier to fill out (a) the Ducks’ defense corps and (b) a forward unit that needs some depth at the center and left wing positions. A player such as Stephane Yelle or Eric Perrin likely would suit their needs, both on the ice and in the balancing books.

Ready for the big time – With so many highly paid players, the Ducks will need some of their prospects to step in and eat up some minutes on the ice. Some, like defensemen Brendan Mikkelson and Festerling, got an extended stay in the NHL last year and each will be aiming to play a full season. Others, such as Matt Beleskey, may be thrust into the big-time due to depth issues.

DALLAS STARS
Cap space - $17.3 million

UFAs – Steve Begin, LW; Brent Krahn G; Jere Lehtinen, RW; Joel Lundqvist, C; Brendan Morrison, C; Mark Parrish, RW; Darryl Sydor, D; Landon Wilson, RW; Sergei Zubov; D.

RFAs – Chris Conner, RW; Mark Fistric, D; Tobias Stephan, G.

Needs – Given the amount of experience and talent on the roster, new Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk isn’t exactly starting from scratch. Injuries, and one key personnel decision, was what sunk Dallas in ’08-09 – and the expectations of at least a playoff spot, if not a deep post-season run, will be just as prevalent among ownership and fans this coming year.

The Stars’ needs will hinge on a couple of rapidly approaching decisions: first, the decision of lynchpin D-man Zubov, an unrestricted free agent who will turn 39 at the end of July and who missed 72 games due to injury last year; and also, the decision of UFA goalie Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, who would become the heir apparent to Marty Turco if he chose the Stars over the Avalanche, Maple Leafs and Sharks.

If both those players end up playing in Dallas, Nieuwendyk’s main goals will be to deepen his defense corps and bulk up on the wings. If neither player is in the Lone Star State, Nieuwendyk’s to-do list increases in an attempt to supplant both.

Ready for the big time – Youngsters Mark Fistric, Ivan Vishnevskiy, Raymond Sawada and Tom Wandell could receive extended opportunities with the Stars this season, depending on injuries or trades. Dallas management is encouraged with the progress of forward prospects Jamie Benn, Ondrej Roman and Matt Tassone, but their games may require more honing in the minors for another year.

LOS ANGELES KINGS
Cap space - $16.9 million

UFAs – Derek Armstrong, C; Kyle Calder, LW; Denis Gauthier, D.

RFAs – Jack Johnson, D; Matt Moulson, LW; Teddy Purcell, RW, Kevin Westgarth, RW.

Needs – In the competitive Pacific Division, the Kings face an uphill battle for a playoff spot every year – and every year, the team has found a way to be less than the sum of its individually skilled parts.

Despite worries over the future of talented RFA defenseman Jack Johnson, the Kings still can boast of having a formidable defense corps led by Drew Doughty, Kyle Quincey and Matt Greene. The focus of GM Dean Lombardi, then, is on shoring up a collection of forwards who underachieved at both ends of the ice.

The Kings also may be in the market for a veteran goalie to push Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg, but, either via free agency or trade (hello, Dany Heatley!), it is likely Lombardi parlays some of his organizational assets into a veteran forward or two to push both Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown to new heights and the Kings into the post-season.

Ready for the big time –
Prospective defensemen Thomas Hickey and Colten Teubert could be called to take over for Johnson if he departs, but they could be on the Kings roster regardless of Johnson’s status. Forwards Trevor Lewis and Matt Moulson also may get to play a full NHL season after getting a small taste of the big show last year.

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PHOENIX COYOTES
Cap space - $23 million

UFAs – Dmitri Kalinin, D; Ken Klee, D; Brian McGrattan, RW.

RFAs – Nigel Dawes, LW; Steve Goertzen, RW; Joakim Lindstrom, C; Enver Lisin, RW; Garth Murray, C; Josh Tordjman, G; Scottie Upshall, RW; Daniel Winnik, C; Keith Yandle, D.

Needs – The Coyotes’ well-publicized ownership woes will hamper them not only in any potential pursuit of another team’s unrestricted free agent, but also in retaining their own players – and preventing an opponent from swooping in with an offer sheet for, say, Upshall.

That’s why you shouldn’t be fooled by the $23 million Coyotes GM Don Maloney theoretically has to play with. In practice, this will be a team far closer to the salary cap minimum, a reality that will make Maloney’s task of bringing in veteran NHLers to aid poor Shane Doan and his cast of young teammates extremely difficult.

What does Phoenix need specifically? Only a couple rugged defensemen and a full complement of productive wingers who also don’t mind getting physical during the types of pressure-filled matchups that the Coyotes lost all kinds of down the stretch last season. Again, good luck to Mr. Maloney.

Ready for the big time –
If there’s one thing the Coyotes do possess a great amount of, it’s up-and-coming prospects, many of whom will get every chance to show what they’re capable of at training camp this fall. Forwards Kevin Porter and Brett MacLean, as well as blueliners Jonas Ahnelov and Nick Ross, will be chief among that group.

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Cap space - $10.1 million

UFAs –
Brian Boucher, G; Marcel Goc, C; Mike Grier, RW; Claude Lemieux, RW; Travis Moen, LW; Tomas Plihal, LW; Jeremy Roenick, C; Kent Huskins, D; Rob Blake, D.

RFAs – Ryane Clowe, LW; Thomas Greiss, G; Torrey Mitchell, C; Brad Staubitz, RW.

Needs – The Sharks might want to paint the old saying “those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat that history again” all around their dressing room – or type it up over and over, Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining-style and force all roster members to read every page – because clearly they have failed to learn and repeated their awful post-season results before a rabid fan base that deserves better.

Many expect GM Doug Wilson to trade Patrick Marleau in one of a few significant moves intended to shake up a non-productive culture. He’s looking for character players who’ll willingly demonstrate the physicality San Jose has been seeking in vain for some time. Flyers center Mike Knuble fits that bill.

The Sharks only have a few unrestricted free agents – veteran role players, really – to decide on, Blake being the most important for the defense corps, though he will turn 40 midway through next season. Clowe is their most prominent restricted free agent, but his name was linked in trade rumors to Toronto, meaning he could still be on the block.

That means trades may wind up being Wilson’s best bet to effect significant change. Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi and Dan Boyle are as close to untouchable as it can get in this turbulent era of the team’s history. Everybody else will have a very nervous summer.

Ready for the big time –
If the Sharks choose to trade Evgeni Nabokov, goalie Thomas Greiss will get a shot to stick after three seasons in the American League. American college star Steven Zalewski also could get a long look – and 2007 first-round draft pick Logan Couture might surprise everyone at camp and earn a spot despite only four previous games of pro experience (with Worcester of the AHL) to his credit.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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