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Pacific Division


San Jose Sharks

Last season: 44-27-8-3, lost to Colorado in conference semis.

Coach: Darryl Sutter, sixth season

Pluses: Offense, grit and goaltending equals Stanley Cup contender. Defense steadily has improved, and the team will now look to youngster Brad Stuart to step up after veteran Gary Suter retired. Deep at forward with a nasty checking line.

Minuses: Goalie Evgeni Nabokov, an unsigned restricted free agent, remains a holdout. Regular-season successes are meaningless until this team overcomes its playoff shortcomings.

Dallas Stars

Last season: 36-28-13-5

Coach: Dave Tippett, first season

Pluses: Landed all targets in free agency this summer when power forward Bill Guerin, wingers Scott Young and Ulf Dahlen and defenseman Philippe Boucher signed on. Tippett has many options for his highly regarded power-play system, with players such as Mike Modano, Guerin, Pierre Turgeon, Jason Arnott, Young and Dahlen.

Minuses: The Marty Turco era in goal will begin with no guarantees. Veteran Ron Tugnutt was brought in for insurance. Still haven't solved problem of having too many centers - Modano, Turgeon, Arnott - who can play on the top line.

Phoenix Coyotes

Last season: 40-27-9-6, lost to San Jose in first round.

Coach: Bobby Francis, fourth season

Pluses: Terrific coach in Francis. Mostly anonymous team last season added star quality in Tony Amonte, who joins a hard-working, overachieving group. Solid down the middle and gritty at wing. Strong and experienced defensively. Former Flyer Brian Boucher will get to caddie for veteran goalie Sean Burke while getting a fresh start.

Minuses: Amonte adds much-needed skill, but because his production has declined, he comes with no guarantees. Team will feel loss of two-way center Michal Handzus, who went to the Flyers in Boucher trade.

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 40-27-11-4, lost to Colorado in first round.

Coach: Andy Murray, fourth season

Pluses: Jason Allison is one of the game's premier playmaking power forwards and centers a dangerous line with banger Adam Deadmarsh and scorer Ziggy Palffy. Veterans Mattias Norstrom and Aaron Miller lead a talented and experienced defensive unit.

Minuses: After the top line, the Kings don't have much scoring depth other than Steve Heinze and Brian Smolinski. The team will feel the loss of defenseman Philippe Boucher (Dallas via free agency).

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Last season: 29-42-8-3

Coach: Mike Babcock, first season

Pluses: Finally got some skilled forwards for superstar Paul Kariya to play with, as playmaking wizard Adam Oates signed as a free agent and scorer Petr Sykora was acquired from the Devils. J.S. Giguere has emerged into a quality goaltender.

Minuses: Very little scoring depth after the top line, with former first-round picks Alexei Smirnov and Stanislav Chistov expected to join sophomore Andy McDonald among a young supporting cast. Playing five games per opponent in this division will be the downfall for the Ducks.

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