Expect a drastically different Pacific division next season

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nabbyandmarleau.jpgIt’s safe to say that just about every NHL team will see at least moderate changes this summer. Yet, when I was putting together some free agent articles (not to mention thumbing through posts about ownership changes around the league), it dawned on me that the Pacific division – in particular – will look very, very different next season.

In fact, let’s take a look at the division team-by-team to see just how drastic the changes might be.

Phoenix Coyotes

Let’s start with the most obvious situation. Naturally, there’s the team’s tumultuous ownership situation. But even beyond that, there are some big decisions they need to make regarding their on-ice product, with free agents including Lee Stempniak, Zbynek Michalek, Matthew Lombardi (unrestricted) and Wojtek Wolski (restricted). Even if the Coyotes stay in the desert, things will be very different.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks will have to let someone go, it’s just a matter of which players they choose to retain. They have key young players (Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski) and veterans (Patrick Marleau, Evgeni Nabokov) who could depart due to free agency. I’m not sure that the Sharks reign as the dominant Pacific division team is over, but it may be threatened.

Dallas Stars

Considering the fact that the Tom Hicks ownership era is nearing an end, it’s difficult to imagine the Stars committing much payroll to getting better. The roster could look very different in 10-11, anyway, though. Marty Turco is likely on the way out, Mike Modano might retire and Jere Lehtinen is also long in the tooth. Don’t forget that James Neal is a restricted free agent. It looks like it will be an end of an era (perhaps it should be called the “Remember what happened 10 years ago?” age) for the Dallas Stars.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings finally made the playoffs for the first time in ages and now the question is whether or not they can take “the next step” to become contenders. They seem to be the odds-on favorite to land Ilya Kovalchuk, which would certainly put them on the map. Whether he’s worth the salary cap gamble is another discussion entirely (although I think the Kings are one of the most logical destinations, beyond the big-money offer[s] from the KHL).

Anaheim Ducks

It could also be the end of an era for the Ducks. Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu might retire. Bobby Ryan is a restricted free agent (but I’d guess he’ll be back).

Every division will see some change this summer, but the Pacific is practically in an uproar. It should be a very interesting off-season for all five teams.

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    The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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    Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

    The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

    Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

    Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

    Highlight of the night:

    Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

    MISC:

    Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

    Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

    Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

    -The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

    Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

    -Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

    Factoid of the night:

    Scores:

    Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

    Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

    Kings 5, Canadiens 1

    Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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    Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

    After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

    Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

    Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

    LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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    Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

    Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

    After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

    As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

    St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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    The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

    It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

    You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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