Thursday, February 26, 2009

Your 2009 Mid-Season Hockey Report: Western Conference, Pacific Division

I'm sure that most of our readers had no idea that February 2009 has been "Hockey is for Everyone" month here in these great United States. I mean, I didn't promote it. But at least there's a bit on it on, which I'm sure just gets flooded with House of Georges readers every day of the year. Oh, well. This little series has been my part, and today we'll wrap it up with a look at the Pacific Division. If you're into it, the Northwest is here, and the Central is here. If you're an east-conference gay guy, you can peruse the Atlantic here, the Southeast here, and the Northeast here.

If you're neither, well I'm sure you're stoked this feature's coming to a close.

Even though the Red Wings are the defending Cup champs, and they took it to the Sharks 4-1 last night, San Jose is still a rough customer in the west. Even with last night's loss, they're still the one seed in the west. For now. Their league-leading 91 points has come largely from eight skaters who have 35+ points. Of those eight, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are in the 60s. San Jose has gotten strong and consistent performance from its defense all year, and the play of the goalies has been sick: Backup Brian Boucher is 9-1 with a .932 save percentage, while main man Evgeni Nabokov has posted a stunning 32-8 record, five of which have been shutouts. My money's still on a Sharks-Bruins showdown late in the post-season.

In second are the Dallas Stars, who, at 65 points, are actually tied with the Anaheim Ducks for second, but whatever. Dallas, who showed much poise down the stretch last year, finds themselves in a multi-way tie for the eighth seed, and must find a way to get more production from their lines if they aim to squeak in. They've gotten some from three of their four centers, and left-winger Loui Eriksson leads the club with 27 goals, but the pickins are slim for the Stars beyond that. Despite the lack of depth on their roster, their defense has managed to play decent hockey, but not well enough to make Marty Turco better than 28-21. Turco has faced over 1500 shots already, and you know a hefty portion of those'll get by if your D's only playing decent.

The Ducks, on the other end of that tie, have gotten a more spread-out production from their lines than the Stars have, an element that contributed largely to their championship season two years ago. With 20 goals and 49 assists, Ryan Getzlaf leads a decent pack of point producers, but the overall defense being played by this club isn't strong enough to bring the necessary balanace to a team that is perhaps under-developed at this stage. The reload they put together after winning involved a decent crop of youth, but it'll take some time for them to blossom, especially when Jean-Sebastien Giguere is only getting enough protection in the crease to post a 16-15 record, with a 3.09 goals-against average.

Next notch down are the Kings of Los Angeles, who, frankly, have just been borderline awful since Andy Murray left town. Like most clubs, they've got a couple of forwards that do most of their scoring, and a crew of defensive pairings that hand out assists and spend time in the penalty box, but this club is far from complete. I look at this club, and I just think porous. Perhaps they can pull some trade-deadline shenanigans and get one more veteran in here to work with this seeemingly inexperienced club. Jonathan Quick has gotten most of the nods in net this season, but like his King counterparts, he's really just been average.

Average, however, doesn't look so bad, if you're a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. No, you're not quite as bad as the Colorado Avalanche, but that could change any given evening. This situation is nothing shy of a giant embarrassment. In all reality, the Avs won't take that long to retool; they'll get strong again, and be a contender in the west. Phoenix, however, looks to be awful forever. Truthfully, I've wondered about the Wayne Gretzky hire since day one. I mean, I think it's great that he's involved in the league, and taken a young, small-market franchise under his wing, but the bottom line is that no one ever said the Great One could coach. And it looks more every year like he can't.

You know, I heard something about coaches the other day. Coaches that had been players. And the thing said, even if it was splattered with cliches like "he's a grinder," etc., made a ton of sense. The most talented guy in a game is probably going to make for a lousy coach. Why? Because he had more talent for his game in his pinky fingernail than a trailer full of good people ever will. The average athlete perhaps brings a work ethic similar to the greats, but they've gotta have an edge to make the competition fair, right? Grit. Determination. Bowls of rusty nails for breakfast. All that crap. That's probably why the Phoenix Coyotes are always going to be lousy with Gretzky as their bench boss. These seasons keep passing, and he keeps staying in there, while, in other towns, dudes are getting fired after four games.

I don't get it. Shane Doan and Olli Jokinen are leading this team in points. Shane Doan and Olli Jokinen. The defense is rotten. The goaltending's on par with everything else. I just don't see how it pans out. The right thing to do would be for Wayne to step down this spring. Nobody wants to fire the greatest hockey player in history. He should recognize that and make way.

There you go, hockey fan. Glad you could be with us, and we'll see you in the post-season.