With the 2013-14 NHL season underway Tuesday, October 1, there are more predictions going around than there are fans paying full price at a typical Phoenix Coyotes home game during the regular season. If the league's own staff is any indication, the San Jose Sharks will have a hard time playing the "nobody respects us" card.
Of the seven writers on NHL.com, three are are picking them to win the Pacific Division title—as many as the Los Angeles Kings, with the Anaheim Ducks getting the only other vote. Three also pick them to win the Campbell Trophy as the Western Conference champion—more than any other team, though only Adam Kimelman saw them winning both division and conference titles. Dan Rosen joined him in picking them to win the Stanley Cup, making San Jose the only team to get more than one vote.
NHL Network analysts also were partial to teal, with fully half of the dozen analysts picking the Sharks as Pacific Division champs; the Kings got five votes and the Ducks one. Half of analysts picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Western Conference, but San Jose got three of the other six votes; L.A. had two and the St. Louis Blues the other one. Jamal Mayers even sees the Stanley Cup coming to the Bay Area, with only the Boston Bruins (five), Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins (two each) getting more votes.
Tallying the 19 predictions represented on NHL.com, San Jose was the top choice to win the Pacific Division (nine of 19), the second choice to win the Campbell Trophy (six to Chicago's seven) and tied for the second-most votes for the Stanley Cup (L.A. and Pittsburgh also had three, while Boston had six).
The Sharks are among the top choices because they finished 2013 strong and had the best showing they could have without reaching their fourth Western Conference finals in nine seasons under general manager Doug Wilson. Furthering their cache, they have reached the playoffs in every one of those seasons and faced only two first-round eliminations. In over half (five) of those seasons, they won the Pacific Division.
Then again, the past did not help the Sharks in either of the last two seasons. Every season is different, and there are more changes for 2013-14 than there have been before any season since the 2005 return from the lockout.
The players have agreed to hybrid icing that was not always clear in the preseason. Removing one's helmet before a fight is now a minor penalty. But the biggest change by far is the NHL realignment that is really more of a restructuring.
Now teams will by-and-large play their way out of their own division in the playoffs before being pitted against the other postseason winner in the Western Conference for the Campbell Trophy. Every team will have both home and away games against every other team.
For most teams, those changes are not as much the story as the actual realignment, but the Pacific Division has probably changed the least. The rising Dallas Stars are out, while the consistently competitive Vancouver Canucks, rising Edmonton Oilers and rebuilding Calgary Flames are in. Added to the four surviving division rivals, the complete list is one of the deepest and moist competitive in the NHL.