Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Western Conference Predictions

15) Calgary Flames:

Probably a bit of a surprise to pick the Flames so low, but they finished the second half with a 16-20-5 record. They struggle mightily to score goals. They play a boring defensive system that does not work in the post-lockout NHL. They rely way too much on a 34-year old goalie, who has to be feeling the effects of playing over 70 games a season for the last few years. The focus this summer was to add offense and all they came up with was Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. Not stellar additions. If head coach Brent Sutter decides to open the offense up, and let Jay Bouwmeester play a more offensive game, perhaps that would help Jarome Iginla, who is the Flames only offensive threat.

14) Edmonton Oilers:

The rebuilding has begun for the leagues worst team last year and new coach Tom Renney takes over a young team with lot's of potential on offense. The Oilers will be fun to watch with last years first overall pick, Taylor Hall, playing with fellow youngsters, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Losing Ales Hemsky to injury last season was devastating to the Oilers. Hemsky and Dustin Penner(32 goals) are the only proven goal scorers on the roster. The defense is very suspect, and not really sure what to expect out of Nikolai Khabibulin who is coming off back surgery.

13) Columbus Blue Jackets:

Many what-if's surround the Jackets this season. Rick Nash is a wonderful player, and he proved during the Olympics what he is capable off when he has talent around him. Steve Mason had a wonderful rookie season in net for Columbus two years ago, but posted mediocre numbers last year. Derick Brassard has loads of potential on offense, but the 23-year old has yet to put it together consistently. Nikita Filatov is a dynamic scorer, but a project. They have a young coach in Scott Arniel, who is very energetic and is much more well-liked than former coach Ken Hitchcock. Still, there are too many variables with Columbus. The defense has nobody capable of providing offense and running the point on the power play. If they improve in that area, and the young players produce, Columbus could be a surprise team.

12) Dallas Stars:

It will be very different watching Dallas and not seeing Mike Modano in a Stars jersey. The Stars will also have a new goalie in Kari Lehtonen who replaces Marty Turco. Lehtonen, was once a top prospect in the league, but struggled with injury issues for years. Dallas has a decent group of forwards led by Brad Richards, who scored a very quiet 91 points last year. James Neal, Loui Errikson, and Jamie Benn all have potential to score 30 goals. The defense was a big problem last year, and remained the same this summer.

11) Phoenix Coyotes:

No team accomplished more and exceeded the low expectations league wide than the Phoenix Coyotes last season. Dave Tippet is a fantastic coach who realizes that Phoenix will not fly under the radar again this year. Phoenix will be in playoff contention most of the year, but will fall short. We just don't trust players such as Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and Adrian Aucoin to have the same impact on defense as they did last year. Losing premier shot-blocker, Zbynek Michalek this summer will hurt them. Ilya Bryzgalov is solid in goal but will have trouble duplicating last seasons unbelievable numbers.

10) Minnesota Wild:

Minesota started very slow last season and never seriously contended for a playoff spot. They now play a more up tempo game which is opposite of what they played under Jacques Lemaire for most of their existence. Losing Pierre-Marc Bouchard after one game and getting minimal production from Martin Havlat seriously hurt the teams offense. With Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Guillaume Latendresse, and newly acquired center, Matt Cullen the Wild could have a decent offense in addition to Bouchard and Havlat. Niklas Backstrom is a better goalie than his stats indicated last year as the defense will need to improve.

9) Anaheim Ducks:

Anaheim boosts on of the best lines in hockey with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan. The problem is their defense was horrible last season, and they're one of the most penalized teams in the league. The departure of Chris Pronger, and now the retirement of Scott Niedermayer has left the defense with gaping holes. This summer they added, Toni Lydman, Andy Sutton, Paul Mara, to compliment Lubomir Visnovsky and Luca Sbisa. Not good enough in our opinion to make the playoffs in the West, no matter how good Jonas Hiller is in goal.

8) St. Louis Blues:

Simply put, the problem with St.Louis is lack of goal scoring. The leading scorer for the Blues last season was Andy McDonald, with 57 points. David Backes and Brad Boyes did not produce like they expected and T.J Oshie, David Perron, and Alexander Steen have immense potential, but do not score consistently. Jaroslav Halak was a good pickup in goal, but the problem with the Blues is offense, and once again they are riding all their hopes on young players.

7) Colorado Avalanche:

Another team similar to the Blues in possessing loads of young talent. The difference is that Colorado has Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart who are dynamic scorers and only going to get better. Craig Anderson had a career year in goal, but he is capable of proving that it was not a fluke. The defense is not great, but should be good enough to make the playoffs for the second straight year.

6) Nashville Predators:

Nashville gave the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks all they could handle in round one last season only to fall for the fifth time in as many tries in first round play as a franchise. The goaltending and defense is as solid as any in the Western Conference. But as usual, the Predators struggle to find offense. Lot's of pressure with be on Martin Erat and David Legwand to rebound after poor years offensively. Matthew Lombardi was signed s a free agent to add speed to the offense, and they took a shot on Sergei Kostitsyn being able to rebound from a poor season in Montreal. Pekke Renne is on the cusp of stardom in goal.

5) Los Angeles Kings:

Last season the Kings were thrilled to finally qualify for the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but this season expectations are higher. The Kings will have basically the same offense, led by Anze Kopitar, who registered 81 points last season and may be capable of reaching 90-95. Once again he will be relied upon to provide goals along with Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown. Last season saw the emergence of Drew Doughty as one of the best defenseman in the league. He is joined by the improving Jack Johnson, Matt Greene, Rob Scuderi, and recently signed Willie Mitchell. For the first time in years, the Kings found a true No. 1 goalie in Jonathan Quick, and have highly touted prospect, Jonathan Bernier as a backup to take some of the workload off Quick. Sky is the limit for the Kings who could win the Pacific Division if the offense improves.

4) Detroit Red Wings:

The Red Wings were one of the better teams in the league near the end of the season and should be even more improved this year. Detroit has three star forwards in Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen. They have solid secondary scorers in Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, and Dan Cleary. Plus, they will have skilled LW Jiri Hudler, back from Russia to add more offense. The defense is getting older, but is still solid with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski leading the way. Jimmy Howard proved he will be the Wings goalie for awhile after being a runner-up for the Calder trophy. Keep in mind that the Red Wings have eclipsed 100 points for 10 consecutive seasons.

3) San Jose Sharks:

San Jose made strides last season by advancing to the Western Conference Finals, but still are awaiting that elusive Stanley Cup appearance. If they are to advance, they will have to do so without Evgeni Nabokov in goal. Yes they acquired cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi from Chicago, but he will still have to prove that last season was not a fluke. Perhaps the biggest concern with the Sharks is that beyond their top two lines there are serious issues. The Thornton-Marleau-Heatley line may be the best in the game. Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski are good players, but the drop off is huge on the third and fourth lines. San Jose is also a bit thin on the blueline after the top four led by Dan Boyle. They still play very well at home and in the regular season and should be good enough to squeak by the Kings, barely.

2) Vancouver Canucks:

Vancouver is certainly carrying the flag for Canada, as this may be the best hope for a Canadian team to win the cup since 1993. Vancouver is loaded upfront with the Sedin's leading the way. Alex Burrows and Ryan Kelser are very good players and Mason Raymond is poised to take the next step to being a top forward. Manny Malhotra was a good signing as he will strengthen the third line. On defense, the Canucks were exposed last postseason, but are hoping that Dan Hamhuis improves their defense. Roberto Luongo is a great regular season goalie who has had trouble putting it together in the playoffs. Many things to like about the Canucks this year as they have enormous pressure on them to advance deep into the playoffs.

1) Chicago Blackhawks:

It doesn't matter that they lost so many players due to salary cap reasons. They are still the champions, and we still feel that most of the core is still intact. Clearly, the Hawks biggest strength was their depth last season as opponents could not match them line for line. They won't have that advantage this year, but they still have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane who are still going to get better. Kane is only 22-years old and scored 88 points. He could reach 100-points this season. Marian Hossa missed 22 games last year, and when healthy can score 40 goals. Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer both scored over 20 goals last season. We're expecting young players such as Jack Skille and Viktor Stalberg to step up and fill the void for some of the veterans that left. Last I checked, they still have a Norris trophy winner on the blueline in Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook is as solid of a stay at home defensemen as anyone in the league. Niklas Hjalmarrson proved his value in the playoffs, and Brian Campbell is capable of having a better season than the 38 points he put up last year. After those four, it gets weaker on defense, which is the Hawks biggest concern. Marty Turco is the new goalie, and he will probably welcome a change of scenery from Dallas. We're banking on the Hawks getting production from the young players within the organization and defending their Western Conference crown.

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