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Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

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Wave of change hits NHL's Pacific Division

July 6, 2011

SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO
NHL 2010-11 STANDINGS

Kevin Kurz
CSNBayArea.com

It's been an explosive summer for the National Hockey League -- and it appears no one is safe.

Star players? Shipped away.

Huge, untradeable contracts? Guess again.

No-movement clauses? Please. Nothing a simple phone call can't clear up.

Just about every team in the NHL has witnessed at least one significant move to its roster, for better or for worse, and that includes the teams in the Pacific Division. The Sharks have been one of the major players, and it's not too early to start predicting just what the landscape will look like when the puck drops again in October.

There are still several notable free agents out there, of course, and plenty of time for more moves to be made. Still, it looks like most of the headlines have been written, so let's review just what went down for the NHL's West Coast clubs.
SHARKS (48-25-9, 1st)Key additions: Martin Havlat, Brent Burns, Michal Handzus, Jim Vandermeer
Key subtractions: Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ian White, Scott Nichol, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers

Analysis: Credit Doug Wilson for recognizing that the Sharks, as they were, didn't have enough to get over the hump and make it to the Big Show. The Sharks needed a big, well-rounded, right-handed defenseman and they got one of the best in the NHL in Brent Burns. San Jose can split Burns and Dan Boyle and form two very good defense pairs.

The bigger and riskier move for Wilson was trading Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. You could say that both didn't perform quite up to standards in relation to their respective salaries, and sending Heatley to the Wild and bringing in Havlat gives both players a chance for a fresh start. Havlat does offer a little more speed than Heatley, which could create problems for opposing defenses should he be lined up with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

While the Heatley-Havlat swap is likely a wash in terms of putting the puck in the net, the team did lose some other scorers and grit up front. Look for the Sharks to add another role player or two in the coming weeks, specifically a winger to play alongside steady third-line center Michal Handzus.

Better or worse: Better. It was clear last season that the Sharks never found a replacement for Rob Blake, and now they have it in Burns. Heatley and Setoguchi's combined scoring may be tough to replace, but keep in mind that Burns scored 17 goals last year, third in the league among defensemen.

LOS ANGELES KINGS (46-30-6, 4th)
Key additions: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne
Key subtractions: Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ryan Smyth

Analysis: The Kings were one of the main beneficiaries of the Philadelphia Flyers' questionable off-season moves, grabbing the spunky and talented Mike Richards in exchange for Wayne Simmonds and prospect Brayden Schenn. Richards, who was often labeled by the Philly media as not being able to handle the responsibilities of an NHL captain in a big market, will now assume his role as just one of the guys. It will suit him well. He'll be out to prove that he's worth his expensive, long-term contract and that the Flyers made a huge error in judgment when they shipped him cross-country.

Simon Gagne was a shrewd pickup by GM Dean Lombardi after the Kings lost out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes, and even though he s been hampered by injuries in recent years, is still just 31 years old and has the potential to break the 30-goal plateau.
Better or worse: Better, and maybe much better. The Kings and Sharks are easily the class of the Pacific, and it s likely that the gap between them and the rest of the division won t be nearly as close as last season. The Kings young defense corps and goalie Jonathan Quick have another year of experience under their belts, and Los Angeles appears primed to make a run for the Stanley Cup.
ANAHEIM DUCKS (47-30-5, T-2nd)
Key additions: Kurtis Foster
Key subtractions: Andreas Lilja, Ray Emery

Analysis: The Ducks have been one of the few quiet teams in the NHL, and will probably return with a similar lineup as last year. Corey Perry, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, will take his place up front with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan on a team that has some of the league s best offensive talents.

The biggest question facing the Ducks is, will Teemu Selanne return? The ageless Selanne (well, not really he s 41) scored 31 goals and added 49 assists last season, and has said that if he returns it will only be with Anaheim. You can bet that Ducks GM Bob Murray is pleading on his hands and knees for another season from the Finland native.

Better or worse: TBD. If Selanne retires, it will leave a big void in the Ducks offense. They will also need Jonas Hiller to return to form, after the goaltender was able to start just three times after the All-Star break due to vertigo. He hasn't even started skating yet.

PHOENIX COYOTES (43-26-13, T-2nd)Key additions: Raffi Torres, Mike Smith, Boyd Gordon
Key subtractions: Eric Belanger, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ed Jovanovski

Analysis: Obviously, the big change here is that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has gone to greener pastures in Philadelphia (51 million greener over nine years, to be exact). The loss won't be easy for the Coyotes to overcome, as Bryzgalov's play in net was the biggest reason the team made it to the postseason the last two years. Also gone is veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who decided to return to Florida where he made a name for himself at the start of his career.

Still, the Coyotes seem to be a team that thrives on its doubters. Inking defenseman Keith Yandle for five years and forward Radim Vrbata were necessary moves if the team wanted to remain competitive, and Raffi Torres is a player they picked up in free agency to add some sandpaper to their forward group.
Better or worse: Worse. It's going to be hard for the Coyotes to replace Bryzgalov, and the combination of Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera isn't going to get it done. While Phoenix does have a solid blue line corps, the loss of Bryzgalov and an inability to score could make for a long season in the desert.

DALLAS STARS (42-29-11, 5th)
Key additions: Michael Ryder, Radek Dvorak
Key subtractions: Brad Richards, Jamie Langenbrunner

Analysis: Like the Coyotes, the Stars lost their best player this offseason when Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers. Furthermore, Jamie Langenbrunner signed with the St. Louis Blues, although the veteran forward is coming off of a disappointing season.

The Stars did manage to ink Michael Ryder and Radek Dvorak to help minimize the blow offensively, but it's hard to believe that will make up losing for one of the best assist men in the game in Richards. Dallas still has some other offensive talents in Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro, but it will be tough for the Stars to keep pace with the Sharks, Kings and even the Ducks.

Better or worse: Worse. Add in the ownership uncertainty in Dallas to go along with Richards' departure, and the playoffs look like a real long shot in the Lone Star State.

Kevin Kurz covered the Philadelphia Flyers for seven seasons for the official team website as the managing editor for philadelphiaflyers.com. He is currently a digital content producer for Comcast SportsNet.

Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent

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AP

Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent

If there is such a thing as being “due” in sports (and there actually isn’t, so you can probably stop reading now), the San Francisco 49ers had Sunday coming to them.
 
After all, the anomaly of being the “best winless team in football” based on margin of defeat lasts only so long until the “winless” part trumps the “best” part, because even the Los Angeles Chargers – the previous “best bad team in football” – aren’t the Chargers all the time.
 
So it was that the Dallas Cowboys exposed every weakness the 49ers have with the simplest thing there is.
 
Talent.
 
The Cowboys did everything they wanted, but only whenever they wanted it, in a 40-10 dope-slapping that could actually have been worse than it was. The 49er offense was properly stymied (again), gaining only 290 yards (4.5 yards per play) and the defense was thoroughly Elliotted (as in Ezekiel-ed, who averaged 8.1 yards in his 27 touches). San Francisco’s warts were rubbed until they glowed, and if not for the fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan already knew where they were, he’d have been shocked to see how visible they were.
 
And therein lies the takeaway from another day at Not-So-Great-America. It turns out that the 49ers weren’t very good at much of anything before Sunday except just how far away they are from what Shanahan and general manager John Lynch believe is their destiny. C.J.  Beathard remained the rookie quarterback he is, and Carlos Hyde's hard-won 68 rushing yards led to no scores. Indeed, San Francisco's only touchdown came on a four-yard improv sprint from Beathard, who is by no means a running quarterback except in abject flight.

Next week in Philadelphia figures to be no less grisly, if you’re waiting for that magic moment when “0” becomes “1.” That is, of course, unless Washington exposes the Eagles as less than what they seem, which is very often the case in the new parity-gripped NFL.

But there are subsequent get-well games at home against Arizona and then at New York against the Giants the week after, so whatever dreams you might have about them running the table backwards and getting the first overall pick in the draft are still light years from realization.
 
This is, however, another healthy reminder that the job to be done is at least two more years in the undoing before the doing can actually begin. Not that the players or coaches needed another lesson, mind you – they know.
 
But maybe you needed it, just to keep your delusions in check. Maybe the people who were “due” were all of you.
 
But that’s unfair, too. You didn’t undo this franchise. All you did was believe, and there’s nothing wrong with that – as long you know there will be more days like this before your team starts handing out the 40-10’s.
 
In the meantime, there is beer.

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

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AP

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 on Sunday:

1. A major step backward
So much for the 49ers’ somewhat-impressive streak of close losses.

There was nothing encouraging about what transpired in the 49ers' worst loss at Levi’s Stadium. It was also the franchise's worst home loss since Mike Singletary's team absorbed a 45-10 thumping against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, 2009.

Was there anything positive to take from this game?

“No, not right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing. I think all three phases, players and coaches, we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The competitive nature of the 49ers’ past five games was one thing. But with a big home loss on such an emotional day, it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The 49ers looked like a team devoid of any leadership, and brings more scrutiny onto the organization’s decision last week to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

Now, the 49ers face a crossroads. With another cross-country trip ahead, the 49ers have to regroup in a hurry in order to avoid another embarrassing blowout against the Philadelphia Eagles.

2. Beathard’s first start
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard certainly was not the reason the 49ers got blown out. In his first NFL start, he showed a lot of toughness, which was to be expected. He was sacked five times. But most of those sacks could have been avoided. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, especially on three-step drops.

Beathard also showed some promise, too. He let the ball fly deep for Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for 80 yards. Beathard completed 22 of 38 passes for 235 yards.

Beathard accounted for the 49ers’ only touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There seems to be little doubt it was in the best interest of the organization to begin evaluating what it has for the future with the permanent switch from Brian Hoyer to Beathard.

3. Dwight Clark’s Day
The 49ers, of course, did nothing to evoke any memories of the great teams on which Dwight Clark played. Well, they did look a lot like Clark’s first team with the 49ers.

The 49ers of 1979 lost their first seven games of the season. This year’s team matched that start for the worst beginning to a season in franchise history.

More than 35 of Clark’s teammates off the 1981 Super Bowl team were in attendance to honor a pay tribute to Clark, who is battling ALS. Now in a wheelchair and considerably lighter, Clark delivered some poignant remarks at halftime.

Clark, 60, told his old teammate, Keena Turner, who works as vice president of football affairs, that all he wanted was to see some of his old teammates.

“And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time,” Clark said.