Gazette sports 1997-98 NHL forecast: Pacific
Some of the biggest off-season hockey news came from the Pacific Division when Colorado matched the New York Rangers' offer sheet for Joe Sakic showing they were serious about success. Add that to the best fans and deepest roster in the NHL and you have the best organization in hockey. Only Philly will keep them from getting the President's Trophy (most points in regular season) but they should get their revenge in the finals.
The Vancouver Canucks made an orca-sized splash with the expensive acquisition of Mark Messier in hopes of finding leadership and plug holes in a team that likes to lose. The combo of Mess, Bure and Mogilny on paper is the best in hockey but Mogilny is unsigned and unhappy. Unless Linden and others step up, the Canucks will impress but not conquer. They did nothing during the season to help a weak defence and showed no class in leaving Hirsch unprotected after he outplayed newcomer Arturs Irbe for the role of backup.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks did little during the off-season, but with Karyia and Selanne on the ice and Disney corp. as owner, they are a team on the rise. Pierre Page and Scott Young should solidify a team that has a strong defence and a great goalie in Guy Hebert. A major weakness is their lack of depth at forward, but this will only be an issue in the playoffs. With Mickey Mouse money, watch for some moves maybe even Vancouver's Mogilny to migrate here.
The Edmonton Oilers season is already a success as the only significant loss was the anticipated defection of Luke Richardson to Philadelphia. Apart from that, the nucleus of developing players is still there and Curtis Joseph is a real gamer in net. Watch for them to ride their improving offence of Doug Weight, Jason Arnott and Greg Smyth into fourth place and a first-round playoff win.
The San Jose Sharks have stabilized their team by adding Darryl Sutter behind the bench, Mike Vernon in net and a bunch of young defencemen. The team will climb out of the basement but go no higher than fifth. Vernon will likely have a bad year, retire and wind up as a minor league goaltending coach.
The Los Angeles Kings added Luc Robitaille and Garry Galley to their bucket of pucks team and will finish last in the NHL, along with Calgary who is still rebuilding..