Ringo Starr once penned an song called "It Don't Come Easy."
I'm wondering if Ringo was a hockey fan.
You see, in the NHL's Pacific Division, a playoff spot won't come easy this year. Out of the seven teams in the division, five have a shot at making the playoffs. Most of them have great offensive firepower, decent defense, and solid goaltending.
One of these teams could easily come out of the Western Conference this year. It's just a matter of staying healthy, and avoiding the Masters of the Gate (a.k.a the Chicago Blackhawks).
Here, I will preview each team in the Pacific Division, and rank them on where I think they will finish this year.
1. Anaheim Ducks
Last Year's Finish: 51-24-7 (1st place-Pacific)
Key Additions: Kevin Bieksa, Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, Shane O'Brien, Mike Santorelli, Carl Hagelin, Anton Khudobin.
Key Losses: Francois Beauchemin, Matt Beleskey, Jason LaBarbera.
What I Like: The fact they were able to add some character on this franchise. This team has lost two Game 7's in a row (in 2014 to Los Angeles and in 2015 to Chicago), so they definitely need some grit on this team. They added Kevin Bieksa, who helped the Vancouver Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. If he's healthy, Bieksa can be a good two-way player, netting you 30-40 points a season. Is he the player he was in 2011? Absolutely not, but he can definitely contribute to a Ducks team who had trouble shutting down the Blackhawks last year in the conference championship.
Of course, you know Corey Perry will bring his game. He has a burning desire to win another Cup, and will do all he can to deliver on that desire. This a former 50 goal scorer who missed 15 games last year. If he can play at least 75 games this year, he can bring some real offensive punch to this team. And you still got the always dangerous Ryan Getzlaf, who got 70 points this year. If Getzlaf and Perry are firing on all cylinders, Ryan Kesler can return to his 2009-11 form, and Frederik Andersen can have the kind of year he had in 2014-15, when he went 35-12-5 with a .913 saves percentage, I truly think this team can win the West.
I also like the additions of coaches Paul MacLean and Dallas Eakins as assistants. MacLean was a invaluable member of Mike Babcock's staff in Detroit, and he won the Jack Adams Award with Ottawa in 2013. Eakins was a tremendous AHL coach with the Toronto Marlies, yet struggled with a defenseless Edmonton Oilers squad. I think Eakins will redeem himself in Anaheim, and eventually get another head coaching job down the road.
What I Don't Like: There's not much I don't like about this team. I don't like that they had to part ways with Francois Beauchemin, but they really didn't have a choice. There was no way they were going to pay him the $13.5 million Colorado gave him. But oh well. They have a more complete team now, and it could pay dividends come playoff time.
Final Result: I see this team finishing first again in the Pacific, and going to the Cup Finals against Pittsburgh, where they will win the 2016 Stanley Cup.
2. San Jose Sharks
Last Year's Finish: 40-33-9 (5th in Pacific)
Key Additions: Peter DeBoer (new coach), Joel Ward, Paul Martin, Martin Jones.
Key Losses: John Scott, Tyler Fedun, Matt Irwin.
What I Like: Despite having many of the same pieces, this Sharks team feels new for some reason. After years of making the playoffs and getting bounced year after year, they finally missed the postseason for the first time since the George W. Bush administration. Many insiders blamed Joe Thornton for the team's troubles. Unfortunately, usually the coach gets the hike, and it was Todd McLellan's turn to lose his job. But in reality, it wasn't all his fault.
Fact of the matter is, they needed to shake up this team. They were getting stale. How many times can you turn to Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski before it gets old? They needed some more help, and help they got in the veteran Paul Martin, who came over from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He provides help on the blue line, which includes Brent Burns, Marc Edouard-Vlasic and Justin Braun.
The Sharks also got an extra 15-25 goals this season by picking up Joel Ward, who had 49 points in 82 games last year for Washington. Not only will he be expected to provide offensive help on the third line, but at 6'1 and 220 pounds, he can also be a defensive force as well.
What I Don't Like: The goaltending. Martin Jones, who was Jonathan Quick's backup last year with the Los Angeles Kings, saw limited action, going 4-5 with a 2.25 goals against average with a .906 saves percentage. Now you might be thinking, "That's not too bad!" It's not, but he's seen very limited action in the last two seasons, as has his backup Alex Stalock. If Jones can repeat some of the success he had in the backup role he had in San Jose, the Sharks will be pretty darn good this year.
Final Result: I see this team returning to the postseason this year, finishing 2nd in the Pacific, battling Calgary and LA neck and neck for the 2nd spot in the division.
3. Calgary Flames
Last Year's Finish: 45-30-7 (3rd in Pacific)
Key Additions: Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik.
Key Losses: Raphael Diaz, Max Reinhart, Mark Cundari.
What I Like: This team in general. The Calgary Flames are going to be a team to be reckoned with for the next couple of years. They boast some of the best young talent in the NHL in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton, and pretty darn good goaltending in both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. You can't go wrong with either of those guys. Both of them had save percentages over .900 last season, and helped the baby Flames eliminate Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs.
What I Don't Like: They need 1-2 veterans with some playoff experience on this team, to show them how to go deep in the playoffs. This franchise is going to built for a playoff run in the next year or two, but I don't see them getting past the second round this year without some seasoned guys who can tell them how to take that next step.
Final Result: I see them finishing 3rd, but challenging San Jose and Los Angeles for 2nd all year long. This team will be much better in 2016-17.
4. Los Angeles Kings
Last Year's Finish: 40-27-15 (4th in Pacific)
Key Additions: Milan Lucic, Christian Ehrhoff, Jhonas Enroth.
Key Losses: Justin Williams, Andrej Sekera, Jarret Stoll, Martin Jones.
What I Like: That the Kings will do whatever it takes to right the wrongs of 2014-15. Last year wasn't so bad, in terms of hockey quality. The Western Conference is just that stacked with good teams, but this team did have a lot of distractions, off the ice. Mike Richards was arrested in June when he was caught with unprescribed oxycodone at the Canadian border crossing. Then came the Slava Voynov domestic abuse drama, which seems to never go away. He may never play in the NHL ever again, if U.S. Immigration officials have their way. He recently signed with the KHL, which makes me think he's not planning on coming back to the NHL soon.
The Kings have washed their hands of both situations, and are looking forward to getting back to the playoffs in 2015-16. They definitely made an impact in the Free Agent market, picking up Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins for Martin Jones (who ended up getting traded to San Jose), Colin Miller and a 1st round draft pick. When he is on his game, Lucic can get you 25-30 goals and 45-50 points. Last year, he had a dip in production with 44 points, but considering he's going to a Kings team that has Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, I expect Lucic to have a bounce back season, with over 50 points and also provide some physicality to this Kings squad.
Christian Ehrhoff was marvelous in his years with the Vancouver Canucks, but can he have a resurgence with the Kings? I truly think so. He'll be joining a blue line consisting of Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Brayden McNabb. Not too shabby if you ask me.
Also, the Kings have Jonathan Quick. Need I say more?
What I Don't Like: There's not much on this team I don't like. I didn't like how they kind of shut out coach Darryl Sutter at the end of the season, but they have to realize this guy is one of the most successful coaches in the National Hockey League. He gets the absolute most out of is players, and if they listen to him, they could win another Stanley Cup.
Final Result: I see the Kings getting back to the playoffs with over 90 points. They'll finish fourth in the division, but considering how stiff the competition is in the West, that's not necessarily a bad thing. This team is really really good.
5. Edmonton Oilers
Last Year's Finish: 24-44-14 (6th in Pacific)
Key Additions: Connor McDavid (taken 1st overall in the 2015 NHL Draft), Peter Chiarelli (new GM), Todd McLellan (new coach), Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart.
Key Losses: Viktor Fasth, Matt Fraser, Richard Bachman.
What I Like: That the Oilers have totally changed the attitude of their team, This team hasn't made the playoffs since their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, and that seems like ages ago. They've picked first overall in the NHL Draft four times in the last decade, and have played some of the most uninspired hockey in the modern era.
But that's about to change.
The team drafted Connor McDavid first overall in this year's draft. He is one of the most exciting players to come along in quite some time. He joins a offensive corps that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisatl, and Jordan Eberle (who is out until November with a separated shoulder). The team also picked up goalie Cam Talbot for the New York Rangers, who many believe will break out as the Oilers #1 goalie.
Edmonton also changed up their front office, by hiring Bob Nicholson as the team's President of Hockey Operations. They also made Peter Chiarelli their new GM, which can only be looked at as a positive. He helped Boston win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and was responsible for bringing some of their top players to the franchise. Chiarelli looks to restore the Oilers franchise back to respectability.
Also joining the Oilers is former San Jose coach Todd McLellan. People can say what they want about his inability to get the Sharks to the Cup Finals, but the fact of the matter is this: McLellan was very very successful during his tenure in San Jose. There's no question he brings a winning pedigree to an Oilers franchise that is in need of that. With these changes, the Oilers will be a much better team in the years to come.
What I Don't Like: The fact that they keep Nail Yakupov on the third line. They should trade him to a team where the pressure is off him. Maybe send him to say, Dallas? Or Carolina? Trade him for some defense, and all is good in Oil Country. The team did pick up some blue line help with Andrej Sekera and Griffin Reinhart, but they are still one or two defenseman away from being a true power in this division.
Final Result: I think the Oilers will finish 5th in this division, but it's not a bad 5th place. They will have a dramatic turnaround, and be in the playoff picture if their key players stay healthy. There's no reason why the Edmonton Oilers can't compete for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
6. Vancouver Canucks
Last Year's Finish: 48-29-5 (2nd in Pacific)
Key Additions: Brandon Prust, Brandon Sutter, Richard Bachman, Taylor Fedun.
Key Losses: Kevin Bieksa, Eddie Lack, Zack Kassian, Nick Bonino.
What I Like: Well, this is a tough one. I like Vancouver's offense. As long as the Sedins are there, this team will be an offensive threat. The brothers combined for a total of 149 points last year. That's pretty good. That, mixed in with the talents of Radim Vrbata (31 G, 32 A for 63 points last year) and young Bo Horvat, the Canucks will have no problem getting into the net.
What I Don't Like: Defense and goaltending are major question marks. First off, I like Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis, but this blue line needs more if they are going to get back to the playoffs. They lost Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim. Granted, he got injured last year, but when he's healthy, he is a very effective two-way player. Losing heart and soul players like Bieksa hurts this team immensely. Also, on the goaltending side, will Ryan Miller stay healthy? When he did play last year, Miller was very effective. But he had a major knee injury that sidelined him for a huge chunk of games last year. Thank goodness Eddie Lack stepped in. Unfortunately, Lack was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, so now the pressure is on Miller to stay healthy and provide quality goaltending for this Canucks squad. Young Jacob Markstrom had a stellar year for Utica in the AHL, but will he be ready if Miller goes down again with injury?
Final Result: I don't see this team making the playoffs this year, based on all the key losses they experienced in the offseason. If Miller stays healthy, they got a shot, but a knee injury is not to be taken lightly. If Miller gets hurt or doesn't play well, I see Canucks GM Jim Benning trading him after the season.
7. Arizona Coyotes
Last Year's Finish: 24-50-8 (7th in Pacific).
Key Additions: Dylan Strome (third pick in the 2015 NHL Draft), Antoine Vermette, Brad Richardson, Zbynek Michalek, Boyd Gordon, Steve Downie.
Key Losses: Sam Gagner, John Moore, Lauri Korpikosi, Mike McKenna, Mark Arcobello.
What I Like: That this franchise realizes that it needs to go into full rebuilding mode. It's sad, especially for 20 year veteran Shane Doan, who might never win the Stanley Cup (unless he demands a trade), but it's absolutely necessary. This team cannot fill its roster with veterans; it needs to restock with fresh blood, and that's what they are doing. They have some nice pieces too. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is one of the finest young defenseman in the NHL, had a nice 2014-15 campaign with 23 goals and 43 points. When Doan retires, he might just be the next captain of the Coyotes.
Young Max Domi will also make his rookie debut for Arizona. He had a great season with the London Knights, with 32 goals and 102 points. I can see him being one of the top rookies in the NHL this year. This kid could easily get 45 points.
The Coyotes also made some noise in the NHL Draft by selecting Dylan Strome with the third overall pick. Some say he might not be ready for the NHL yet, but considering how the Coyotes played last year, they might need him sooner rather than later. He provides some much needed offensive punch for Arizona, who are in definite need of goals scored.
What I Don't Like: The goaltending. And it's not exactly Mike Smith's fault. It's just that this team is so young, and the defense might not be able to protect him much from some of the league's best scorers. Smith posted a 14-42-5 record last year. His save percentage wasn't bad, but his goals against average was 3.16, which is. GM Don Maloney needs to do his best to pick up some more blue line help and protect Smith from the barrage of shots he's about to face this year.
Final Result: This team is rebuiding, so they won't make the playoffs this year. They will be competing for the #1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, which could net them Arizona native Auston Matthews. Give this team some time, and they should be back in the chase in 3 years or so.
This should be the most competitive division in the NHL this year. I see Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles making the playoffs this year, with Edmonton as a possibility. Vancouver took too many steps back, and Arizona is rebuilding their franchise, so those teams will be on the outside looking in this upcoming season.