Sami Vatanen

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Don’t be surprised if Kings, Ducks, Sharks finish with similar records

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Heading into the 2017-18 season, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Anaheim Ducks, a solid amount still going to the San Jose Sharks, and a pile of doom and gloom for the Los Angeles Kings.

Some of this comes down to crummy luck, but here’s an observation: it’s highly likely that the three California teams will finish very close in the standings.

Let’s consider the state of each team.

To go even deeper, check out PHT’s detailed preview for the Pacific Division.

Waddling through injuries

My goodness are the Anaheim Ducks banged up right now.

The OC Register’s Eric Stephens reports that Ryan Getzlaf won’t play in the Ducks’ season-opening game against the Arizona Coyotes. With John Gibson doubtful, it all adds to a troubling situation. Resounding workhorse Ryan Kesler could be gone for quite some time. Kesler is on IR with wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Patrick Eaves, and Ryan Miller. Woof.

It’s a testament to what GM Bob Murray’s built that the Ducks still have a fighting chance, as young players like Rickard Rakell bring something to the table.

Still, even well-stocked teams can only withstand so many injuries. Anaheim might just pay the price for its deep playoff run in 2016-17, not to mention the emphasis on aging, physical forwards in the well-compensated duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

In an NHL with injuries turned off like a video game, the Ducks would be one of the NHL’s deepest teams.

Sharks getting sleepy?

Even in losing 5-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, the Sharks put on a pretty good show. When those top-end players are clicking, they’re still pretty special.

That said, consider how old those guys are. Joe Thornton might be the next Jaromir Jagr in aging like hockey-themed wine, but he could also slip at 38. Joe Pavelski, somehow, is 33 already. With a shaky year or two in Minnesota in mind, many might be surprised that Brent Burns is 32. Paul Martin is 36 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a high-mileage 30. Even younger cornerstones Logan Couture (28) and Martin Jones (27) aren’t necessarily spring chickens. Joel Ward is 36 and even a supporting guy like Jannik Hansen is 31. This is an old group despite allowing Patrick Marleau to leave for a three-year term.

(Yes, Marleau was great last night, but the Sharks still made the difficult-but-necessary choice there.)

Although there’s skill in players such as Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, being a regular contender has generally limited the Sharks’ ability to surround those aging veterans with a ton of talent.

A slip is coming, and the drop could be sharp. The Sharks just have to hope that it doesn’t come now.

Reports of Kings’ demise exaggerated?

Look, there’s no doubt that the Kings’ salary cap situation is … appalling.

In the long-term, GM Rob Blake has a mess on his hands that Ron Hextall might have winced at early in the Flyers rebuild. Even in 2017-18, there are some problems.

Still, it’s easy to get swept into excessive pessimism and forget that it wasn’t all bad for the Kings; it’s also possible that their luck might go up a tick.

Don’t forget that the Kings still dominated puck possession in 2016-17. Also don’t forget that, even at their best, the Kings tended to struggle during the regular season. Los Angeles ranked third in the Pacific during its two championship seasons; the Darryl Sutter Kings won two Stanley Cups and zero division titles.

Anze Kopitar‘s contract looks scary, yet a 2017-18 rebound is far from unreasonable. They can still revv up “That ’70s Line” with Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli (or at least elements of that). Perhaps system tweaks will allow Drew Doughty to be the fantasy-friendly scorer many dreamed of?

Now, again, there’s some negative stuff. Even beyond predictably depressing updates about Marian Gaborik, the Kings’ defense looks to be without Alec Martinez for some time.

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With the Central Division looming as a threat to take as many as five of the West’s eight playoff spots (for all we know), the Pacific Division could come down to the Edmonton Oilers and two other teams.

Don’t be surprised if one or more of those positions become, well, a battle of California. And don’t count the Kings out altogether in that joust, either.

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

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Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

It’s Anaheim Ducks day at PHT

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When Randy Carlyle began his second stint as Anaheim Ducks head coach, many wondered if there would be a big drop-off from Bruce Boudreau.

One season doesn’t make a coach’s run – unless you’re an unfortunate soul like Dallas Eakins – but so far, Carlyle’s been a solid success. The Ducks won the Pacific Division for the fifth season in a row and fell to the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Western Conference Final.

Granted, that’s not to say that it was all good, as the Ducks will surely pour over the way their playoff run ended. There’s also concern that the Ducks’ core could be aging out, at least in all of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler being 32.

The summer ended up being interesting.

GM Bob Murray let backup Jonathan Bernier walk in favor of Ryan Miller, while Reto Berra provides additional depth behind Miller and John Gibson. They didn’t lose Sami Vatanen or Josh Manson to the expansion draft, but Shea Theodore‘s absence is likely to sting. Simon Despres’ days with the Ducks are now over, too. Murray also brought in veteran and familiar face Francois Beauchemin.

The biggest move on defense likely ends the seemingly endless Cam Fowler trade rumors, instead signing Fowler to an eight-year, $52 million extension that kicks in starting in 2018-19.

They also kept Patrick Eaves around after a successful would-be “rental” at the trade deadline, handing the hugely bearded forward a three-year deal carrying a $3.15M cap hit.

So, the Ducks endured some changes, yet they also haven’t endured the sort of seismic alterations Anaheim experienced last summer. They now stand in an interesting spot, especially when it comes to the Pacific: will they hold off the Edmonton Oilers and other opponents once again? Will they remain legitimate Stanley Cup contenders or slip closer to the wild card?

PHT will break down the Ducks from several angles on Wednesday.

Beauchemin signs on for third stint with Ducks (Updated)

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Francois Beauchemin will once again be playing for the Anaheim Ducks, according to TVA Sports and Renaud Lavoie.

Updated: The Ducks have since confirmed a one-year deal for Beauchemin.

The contract reportedly comes with a base salary of $1 million and the potential to earn roughly $500,000 more in performance bonuses.

This would be Beauchemin’s third stint with the team. He played with Anaheim for parts of four campaigns from 2005-06 through 2008-09. Along the way he averaged a staggering 30:33 minutes per game in the playoffs during the Ducks’ 2007 championship run. His second stint with the club spanned parts of five seasons from 2010-11 through 2014-15. As was the case during his previous run, Beauchemin was a workhorse and in the 2013 lockout shortened season he also finished fourth in the Norris Trophy vote.

Beauchemin spent the last two seasons with Colorado. Although he’s 37-years-old now, Beauchemin has only missed one game over the last two seasons and still averaged 21:31 minutes in 2016-17.

Despite that, Colorado decided to buy him out this summer, which freed up a protected list spot for the expansion draft and created an opening for the club’s younger defensemen as the Avalanche focus on rebuilding.

Given that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen might start the season on the sidelines, adding another blueliner capable of serving in a top-four role like Beauchemin has the potential to be a big boost for the Ducks.

Fowler signs eight-year extension with Ducks

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Last summer, it looked like Cam Fowler was on his way out of Anaheim.

Today, in rather stark contrast, the 25-year-old defenseman signed an eight-year contract extension with the Ducks, worth a reported $6.5 million per season.

Fowler was already signed through 2017-18, so he becomes Anaheim property through 2025-26. The puck-moving d-man is coming off the best season of his career. He had 11 goals and 28 assists in 80 games, while averaging a team-high 24:51 of ice time.

“Cam Fowler is the type of player we want here long term,” said Ducks GM Bob Murray. “He has the obvious skill set, but also tremendous character and a drive to succeed. As good as he is, he’s not yet in his prime years, so we know the best is yet to come.”

The Ducks now have Fowler and Hampus Lindholm locked up long-term on the blue line. They’ve also got Sami Vatanen under contract for three more years.

The Ducks did surrender Shea Theodore to Vegas in the expansion draft, so keeping Fowler was important for both the present and the future.