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NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

Mike Richards had 66 points in 81 games with Philadelphia last season and was traded to the Kings in the summer. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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Mike Richards had 66 points in 81 games with Philadelphia last season and was traded to the Kings in the summer. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The NHL season gets underway Oct. 6 with three games scheduled. But before the puck drops on another exciting season, we'll take one last look ahead at each of the divisions. Monday will be the Atlantic and Pacific and be sure to check back Tuesday and Wednesday for the remaining four divisions.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Top three fantasy options: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat.

Key additions: Brent Burns, Jim Vandermeer, Colin White, Michal Handzus, James Sheppard, Martin Havlat.

Key departures: Dany Heatley, Scott Nichol, Devin Setoguchi, Niclas Wallin, Ian White, Kyle Wellwood, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers.

Something to prove: The pain of being bought out by the only NHL team he ever knew – New Jersey – will have to wear off quickly for Colin White. Brought in to provide toughness and character to the Sharks, White must show he can still contribute after a subpar season with a disappointing Devils squad.

The big question: Is this the deepest the Sharks have ever been down the middle? The talents of Joe Thornton are well established in the Bay Area, but Logan Couture gave the team a critical 1-2 punch last year. The addition of veteran Michal Handzus gives the Sharks a lot of different looks.

Outlook: Once again the Sharks come to the table as a favorite to rack up the points during the regular season. But in another attempt to solve the Stanley Cup Rubik’s Cube, a couple big moves were made in the off-season to shake things up. Brent Burns joins the defense from Minnesota while another former Wild star, right winger Martin Havlat, replaces Dany Heatley. San Jose now has different looks on offense (speed joins the ability to cycle) and a deeper defense. THN PREDICTION: Second in West.

POLL: Where will the Sharks finish?

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Top three fantasy options: Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty.

Key additions: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Ethan Moreau, Colin Fraser.

Key departures: Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth, Brayden Schenn, Michal Handzus, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Peter Harrold.

Something to prove: The spotlight will shine intensely on Dustin Penner this season. A disappointment since coming over from Edmonton at the 2011 trade deadline, the big winger has been widely criticized for his drive and fitness level. With Ryan Smyth gone, Penner will get his chance alongside top center Anze Kopitar.

The big question: OK, so is this the year the Kings finally break through? A media darling since the lockout, L.A. has yet to win a playoff round under GM Dean Lombardi, but is loaded at all positions. Jonathan Quick is the real deal in net, but must prove he can be primed for the post-season.

Outlook: The blockbuster trade that brought Mike Richards over from Philadelphia gives the Kings an excellent 1-2 punch at center with leading scorer Kopitar the other half of the equation. Simon Gagne is an old running mate of Richards and was brought in for instant chemistry. The defense and goaltending are both solid, but it remains to be seen how Drew Doughty’s now-resolved contract dispute will affect his conditioning and team chemistry. THN PREDICTION: Fourth in West.

POLL: Where will the Kings finish?

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Top three fantasy options: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan.

Key additions: Kurtis Foster, Bryan Rodney, Andrew Cogliano, Matt Smaby, Andrew Gordon.

Key departures: Jarkko Ruutu, Andy Sutton, Andreas Lilja, Todd Marchant.

Something to prove: In a rather inauspicious start, new Duck Kurtis Foster will begin the season on the shelf with knee surgery, but once he’s back, he’ll have a lot to show. After a 42-point effort with the Lightning two seasons ago, Foster saw his production nearly halved with the Oilers last year. The blueliner will try to reverse course in Anaheim.

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The big question: How fast can young blueliners Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa mature? The Ducks defense was below average last season and no amount of points from Lubomir Visnovsky could gloss over that fact. Fowler was great as a teen stepping right in from the draft, but his minus-25 was rough.

Outlook: The Ducks boast the best line in hockey with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, plus Teemu Selanne is back to bolster the second-wave attack. Netminder Jonas Hiller appears to have shaken the vertigo that killed Anaheim last season, but a relapse would be devastating. The ‘D’ corps is dynamic, but must tighten up in its own end for the team to thrive. THN PREDICTION: Sixth in West.

POLL: Where will the Ducks finish?

DALLAS STARS

Top three fantasy options: Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Alex Goligoski.

Key additions: Sheldon Souray, Adam Pardy, Michael Ryder, Vernon Fiddler, Jake Dowell, Eric Godard, Radek Dvorak.

Key departures: Jamie Langenbrunner, Brad Richards, Jason Williams.

Something to prove: Dallas’ power play was OK last year (18 percent, 14th in NHL), but that was in part due to having Brad Richards on the point. With him gone, Stephane Robidas will need to plunk in more than one PP goal this time around. He has a good running mate in Alex Goligoski, but Robidas must increase his totals (or Sheldon Souray must step up).

The big question: Just what sort of contribution can Souray make to his new squad? Hampered by both injuries and his contract, Souray’s bomb shot from the point didn’t help the Oilers, but it’s a new day. Of course, even a permanent roster spot is no guarantee on a deep Dallas ‘D’ corps.

Outlook: The loss of Richards hurts and though Dallas still has Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow, the player who needs to hit a new level is Jamie Benn (and he is capable). Will the Stars get enough offense from those names to compete? They’ll be in tough, particularly if goaltender Kari Lehtonen falters. THN PREDICTION: 13th in West.

POLL: Where will the Stars finish?

PHOENIX COYOTES

Top three fantasy options: Ray Whitney, Keith Yandle, Shane Doan.

Key additions: Mike Smith, Daymond Langkow, Raffi Torres, Patrick O'Sullivan, Marc Pouliot.

Key departures: Ilya Bryzgalov, Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger, Ed Jovanovski, Lee Stempniak, Petr Prucha.

Something to prove: The Yotes severely needed a top-line center and though Daymond Langkow is coming off a serious neck injury, he does have the pedigree. But in his past three full seasons with Calgary, the pivot’s points have declined, so an about-face is needed, even if the price for Phoenix was only the streaky Lee Stempniak.

The big question: What will become of Gretzky’s Orphans? Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker and Viktor Tikhonov were rushed into full-time duty before The Great One’s exit from Phoenix and the trio is still trying to find their feet three seasons later. This will be a crucial campaign for all three to make an NHL impact.

Outlook: The Yotes best players are largely nearing the tail-end of their careers, star blueliner Keith Yandle being the exception. With goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov fleeing the desert for Philly, the Dogs lose their most important player from the past few years. Can Phoenix’s score-by-committee approach work again? The defense will have to be stellar, because goals will not be a strength. Youngsters such as Boedker, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Turris (unsigned) must make tremendous impacts, but the outlook is cloudy. THN PREDICTION: 14th in West.

POLL: Where will the Coyotes finish?

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