In Part 5 of our 2014-15 Season Preview, we finish the Pacific Division and begin with a couple of teams from the Central Division.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2013-14 Finish: 46-28-8 record, won the Stanley Cup
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Marian Gaborik provided the Kings' offense with a much-needed spark, especially in the playoffs when he led all skaters with 14 goals and finished second with 78 shots in 26 games. Gaborik produced just 11 goals and he had 30 points in 41 appearances during the regular season. He was given a seven-year extension worth $34.125 million to remain in Los Angeles.
Can he do it again? If he stays healthy then Gaborik will be a productive member of the Kings in 2014-15, while skating alongside Anze Kopitar. He picked up five goals and 11 assists in 19 games with Los Angeles after he was acquired from Columbus. However, injuries have been an issue for Gaborik throughout his career, so exercise caution with his selection on draft day.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Mike Richards notched 11 goals and 41 points in 82 games last season. He carries the third-highest cap hit among the Kings' forwards ($5.75 million) and he was bumped down to the team's fourth line.
Will he bounce back? Probably not going to happen. If Richards continues to occupy a spot on the fourth line then his numbers, which have been disappointing for the past few years, won't get any better and could even get worse. The Kings chose not to buy him out during the off-season so he may get a chance to rebound, but his cloudy role and some emerging Kings may work against that occurring.
Notable Additions: Adam Cracknell
Notable Departures: Willie Mitchell
2014-15 Outlook: The Kings flip a switch when they get to the playoffs, but during the regular season they play a calculated, defensive style that doesn't exactly wow the fantasy crowd. Los Angeles averaged just 2.42 goals for per game in 2013-14, which ranked them 26th in the league, but they finished first by allowing a mere 2.05 goals against per contest. Their offense should get a boost by keeping Gaborik in the fold, while Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli could be poised for larger roles after playing well with Jeff Carter on the second line during the playoffs. Los Angeles will be a strong team in the regular season again and a scary opponent for anybody in the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Tyler Toffoli has a great shot and the kind of scoring ability that should make him a top-six forward on the Kings. He got his chance alongside Jeff Carter and Pearson in the playoffs and he responded with seven goals and 14 points in 26 games. He has plenty of upside, but expectations may have to be tempered because he isn't guaranteed to play with Carter when the 2014-15 campaign begins. Keep an eye on where he ends up at training camp and consider him for a late-round sleeper pick if he skates on the second line.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
2013-14 Finish: 51-22-9 record, lost in first round to Los Angeles (4-3)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Joe Pavelski exploded last season for 41 goals and 79 points in 82 games. He led the Sharks in scoring and finished second in the league with a 16 power-play goals.
Can he do it again? Pavelski will remain an offensive threat in 2014-15, but he's unlikely to repeat his career high statistics from last season. Playing alongside Joe Thornton could net him a 30-goal year, but a repeat of 41 goals on a personal best 18.2 shooting percentage is doubtful. It's probable that he peaked last campaign.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Tomas Hertl's injury. Hertl was electrifying when he played for the Sharks during his rookie season. He notched 15 goals and 25 points in 37 games and appeared to be a top contender for the Calder Trophy before an MCL injury sidelined him for 45 straight contests.
Will he bounce back? Hertl returned just before the end of the season and he recorded five points (two goals, three assists) in seven playoff matches versus Los Angeles. His performance showed just how much the Sharks missed him in the lineup even though he's just 20 years of age. He's likely to stick with Joe Thornton and a productive sophomore campaign should be in the cards for him.
Notable Additions: John Scott (?)
2014-15 Outlook: The Sharks openly talked about a "rebuild" after their first-round collapse against the Kings in the playoffs. San Jose blew a 3-0 lead in the series and it was thought that Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau would be on the move. Both players have no-movement clauses and they would prefer to stay. The Sharks later said that Thornton and Marleau were part of the solution for the team along with a young crop that includes Pavelski, Hertl, Logan Couture and Matthew Nieto. San Jose remains a top contender despite their playoff shortcomings and they'll be tough to defeat in the regular season, where they will challenge for a Pacific Division title.
Player to Watch: San Jose has some great young forwards who will have starring roles in 2014-15, but I'm interested to see how one on the back end will do when Mirco Mueller gets a chance to make the team out of training camp. Brent Burns will replace Dan Boyle on the blueline, which could be something to watch for as well after he spent the last couple of seasons as a forward. The Sharks have another opening on their blueline after trading Brad Stuart to Colorado. Mueller has strong two-way potential, but he may not have much fantasy value in 2014-15.
2013-14 Finish: 36-35-11 record, fifth in Pacific Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: There wasn't much in Vancouver for fans to cheer about or fantasy owners to appreciate last year as nobody on the team particularly stood out for good reasons. The Canucks did receive solid performances from their goaltenders despite their struggles. Roberto Luongo played well before he was traded to Florida and Eddie Lack enjoyed periods of success over the course of the year. Lack posted a .912 save percentage, a 2.41 goals-against average and four shutouts, which are respectable numbers when you consider he had a 16-17-5 record. He ended the season as the club's number one goalie.
Can he do it again? Lack will enter the 2014-15 campaign as Vancouver's backup netminder after the team signed Ryan Miller on the first day of free agency. The Canucks also have to decide what to do with Jacob Markstrom to clear up a crowded crease. Miller will be expected to take on the bulk of the action, which will limit Lack's minutes and hurt his chances of being a relevant fantasy target.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Vancouver had their share of disappointments last season, but the lackluster play of Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin hurt the team the most. The Sedin twins are relied on to supply the bulk of the Canucks' offense, but they couldn't get anything going in 2013-14. Henrik notched 11 goals and a team-leading 50 points in 70 games, while Daniel tallied 16 markers and 47 points in 73 outings.
Will they bounce back? The success and failure of the Canucks is linked to Sedin twins just like their fortunes are largely linked to each other. Henrik the playmaker and Daniel the goal scorer lost their way under former coach John Tortorella, but there's plenty of optimism that they'll rebound with Willie Desjardins behind the bench. His more offense-oriented approach will better suit there style and help get them back to producing just under the point-per-game mark.
2014-15 Outlook: Vancouver sent disgruntled forward Ryan Kesler to Anaheim just before the NHL Entry Draft. He led the team in goal scoring last season (25), but that offense could be replaced by Nick Bonino (22), who was acquired from the Ducks in the trade. The Canucks sought to bolster their offense further by signing Radim Vrbata, with the intent to play him with the Sedins. Still, it falls short of the depth that their divisional rivals possess, so Vancouver will have trouble getting into the playoffs.
Player to Watch: While I am curious to see how Nick Bonino works out in his first season with the Canucks, I'm more interested to see some development from Zack Kassian. Players who contribute points and penalty minutes tend to be valuable in most standard leagues and Kassian is that type of player. He produced 14 goals, 29 points and 124 penalty minutes in 73 games last season, while averaging just 12:55 of ice time. Kassian has the ability to make more significant contributions if he can land a spot on Vancouver's second line.
2013-14 Finish: 46-21-15 record, lost in Western Conference Final to Los Angeles (4-3)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Brandon Saad registered 19 goals and 47 points in 78 games last year, while seeing time with a variety linemates. Most of his time was spent with Andrew Shaw, who logged plenty of action on the second line. The two of them meshed with Patrick Kane during that time and in the playoffs when Saad collected six goals and 16 points in 19 contests.
Can he do it again? He'll be just 22 years of age on Oct. 27 and he already has tremendous two-way upside. Saad stands a very good chance to play regularly on the second unit this season with Kane and Brad Richards, which would go a long way to helping him improve on his 2013-14 numbers.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Bryan Bickell was rewarded handsomely, with a four-year, $16 million contract, after he excelled during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. His lack of regular season success led to plenty of disbelief that he could carry that momentum into the 2013-14 campaign and those people were right. Bickell generated just 11 goals and 15 points in 59 games.
Will he bounce back? Bickell was better in the postseason again when he scored seven goals and 10 points in 19 matches, but we've seen this before. Don't expect the projected third-liner to do much offensively for the Blackhawks during the regular season in 2014-15.
Notable Additions: Brad Richards
Notable Departures: Brandon Bollig
2014-15 Outlook: The Blackhawks have been searching for a second-line center for years and they found a good one in free agency when they agreed to terms with Brad Richards on a one-year, $2 million deal. He'll allow top prospect Teuvo Teravainen to get some grooming time in the minors, while bringing more depth and balance to Chicago's line combinations. The Hawks will bounce back after finishing third in their division last year and the Central crown could be theirs in 2014-15.
Player to Watch: Brad Richards signed a bargain deal with the Blackhawks after he was bought out by the Rangers in the off-season. He had a disappointing end to the lockout-shortened season, but bounced back in 2013-14 with 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games. Playing between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad could boost him to the 60-point mark.
2013-14 Finish: 52-22-8 record, lost in first round to Minnesota (4-3)
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Tyson Barrie's offensive upside finally broke through in 2013-14 and it surprisingly came after he got off to a terrible start and was demoted for a brief stint in the minors. When he returned, he looked far more comfortable and it led to strong finish. The 23-year-old blueliner recorded 13 goals and 38 points in 64 games, while supplying 10 points on the power play.
Can he do it again? Barrie earned the trust of coach Patrick Roy after a rocky start and he'll continue to trend upward in 2014-15, assuming he gets signed before training camp and he's fully recovered from the MCL injury he suffered in the playoffs. The ailment was projected to keep him out for four-to-six weeks, so he should be fine by now. Barrie has 40-point potential from the back end.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Alex Tanguay's Colorado homecoming didn't go as expected. He was limited to just 16 games because of a hip issue that contributed to a knee injury and some setbacks along the way. Tanguay had hip surgery in February to repair the damage.
Will he bounce back? Tanguay will turn 35 in late November so the risk of injury is there, but he'll skate as part of Colorado's top-six forward group in 2014-15 and his strong play last season is an encouraging sign. He had four goals and 11 points in the 16 games he played and he'll be an asset to the Avalanche power play as well.
2014-15 Outlook: Colorado jumped up the standings last season. They went from finishing 29th overall in the league in 2012-13 to winning the Central Division and placing third overall in the league's standings. The Avalanche were led by the offense of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and most importantly the goaltending of Semyon Varlamov. If he can avoid injury and remain close to the bar he set then Colorado will remain in the playoff picture, but winning another division title in a stacked Central Division will be a very difficult task and it isn't likely to happen.
Player to Watch: For the reasons explained above, Varlamov has my attention this season. He would've been my pick for the Vezina Trophy and a nominee for the Hart based on his level of work last year. He faced the most shots in the league (2,013), while posting a 2.41 goals-against average and .927 save percentage (third in the league). Varlamov also topped the NHL with 41 wins. He started a career high 60 games in 2013-14, which is incredible for a goaltender who has battled some injury issues in his past. He may have finally arrived as a top-tier goaltender, but I need to see him perform up to or near that level again before anointing him as the next big thing (in fantasy and real life) among NHL netminders.