After making trades to acquire Brent Burns and Martin Havlat, the San Jose Sharks once again look poised to make a run for the Stanley Cup. Here are the top five Western Conference teams that stand in their way:
5) Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild failed to make the playoffs last year. In fact, they haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season, when they lost in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche in six games.
The Wild make this list not because they are positioned to win the Cup, but because recent trades will turn San Jose – Minnesota games into something of a real rivalry. The Wild have two of the Sharks’ top scorers in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks have Minnesota’s strong defenseman Brent Burns and speedy forward Martin Havlat. Both teams benefited from these trades, and it will be interesting to see how these matches play out.
The hatred between these two California teams is natural considering they are geographically near and the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks knocked the top seeded Sharks out of the playoffs in 2009.
The rivalry is alive and well with both teams looking to be tough competitors next year. The Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry line is one of the top scoring lines in the league. If the ageless Teemu Selanne stays with the Ducks and produces numbers even close to his numbers from last season, Anaheim will be a strong force.
That is, assuming Jonas Hiller can recover from his bout with vertigo.
3) Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have a rivalry with every team they play. Mainly because Detroit has the ability to be continuously be an excellent and formidable hockey club. They are a measuring stick. If a team can beat the Red Wings, then they are in good position.
After having knocked the Red Wings out of playoff contention two years in a row, the Detroit hatred for San Jose might be higher than San Jose’s hatred for Detroit. It’s a close call. Ever since the Sharks nabbed coach Todd McLellan from the Red Wings, there has been more fuel in the rivalry. The Red Wings will contend next year, and the Sharks will too. Battles between these two teams will be spirited, to say the least.
2) Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Sharks to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Although there would be more San Jose hatred had the Canucks won the Cup, the Sharks will still remember the stinging defeat at the hands of Vancouver.
The Canucks will continue to be an excellent hockey club in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. They will be a roadblock to the Sharks and the games between the two teams should be filled with plenty of goals, fights, and chirps.
1) Los Angeles Kings
Last year, the Canucks played at what was seemingly their peak level of performance. The Los Angeles Kings are a young team and seem to moving upwards. The Kings are improving and have not yet reached their peak.
After a first round exit due to the Sharks, there will be blood between these two California teams. The Kings will remember their gritty loss. The Sharks will find the Kings are a much improved hockey club with a healthy Anze Kopitar and a newly acquired Mike Richards.
These teams, and others, will stand in the way of the Sharks. Still, the Sharks have a stacked roster of their own.
The 2011-2012 Sharks are a contender and a force to be reckoned with. Games between these teams and the Sharks will no doubt be thrilling.
The offseason can’t end soon enough.