Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why These Seven Clubs Won't Make the Playoffs in the Western Conference

If last season taught us anything about the Western Conference it was that a particular team could jump from 12th to 5th almost nightly. This year expects to be no different, with non-playoff teams upgrading their rosters this summer, and parity at an all-time high. We take a look at the seven teams who will more than likely be on the outside looking in when the season ends April 7.

#15 Calgary Flames

Sooner or later GM Jay Feaster will need to get younger and rebuild in Calgary. The Flames are an aging team, that caught fire in mid-season after a horrendous start only to fall short of the playoffs by 3 points.

What to like: Jarome Iginla is an elite forward who heated up last season with Alex Tanguay on the first line. The offense was ranked 7th overall in the NHL which seems surprising. Lee Stempniak was a solid addition by Feaster this summer, which adds to the Flames speed upfront.

What Not to Like: The Defense is average at best. Jay Bouwmeester is paid like a number one defensemen, but his 24 points last year suggest he's not even close to that stature. Once again, Calgary will depend on the 35-year old Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes to carry the workload, but another 71 games played may be too much for him at this stage. The Flames struggled killing penalties last season and that doesn't expect to change.

#14 Dallas Stars

Last season they missed the postseason by 2 points, which ultimately cost Marc Crawford his job. Off the ice ownership issues could plaque the team and attendance dwindled last season. Brad Richards departure will obviously hurt not only from an offense standpoint, but leadership as well.

What to Like: Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski. These two players are on the cusp of stardom in our opinion. Benn netted 22 gaols as a 22-year old last season. Goligoski helped anchor the defense when acquired near the deadline and registered 15 points in 23 games. Glen Gulutzan was hired as head coach after having success in AHL. They added grit with Vernon Fiddler and Michael Ryder.

What Not to Like: Dallas plays in a very competitive Pacific Division and will play hard for their new coach, but lack overall talent, especially offensively. Kari Lehtonen did stay healthy last season, but can he do that for another season?

#13 Edmonton Oilers

The league's worst team last season is flushed with young talent, especially at the forward position. How much time does all this talent need to move up the standings is the question.

What to Like: They have tons of speed and youth at forward. Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi have the ability to make fans jump out of their seats. First round draft choice Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is expected to make the club, which even adds to their strength at forward.

What Not to Like: The Oilers may have the worst goaltending in the NHL with Khabibulin and Dubnyk. The defense really didn't improve that much this summer. Andy Sutton and Cam Barker are so-so defensemen. They don't posses a shutdown pair as well as anyone who can move the puck up the ice from the blueline.

#12 Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes may not have any household names on their roster, but they have managed to make the postseason for two straight seasons in the difficult Western Conference.

What to Like: Head coach Dave Tippet is one of the best in the league. Shane Doan may be one of the best captains in the league. His leadership can never be underestimated. They play a very strong team game and rarely beat themselves.

What Not to Like: Let's be honest, losing Ilya Bryzgalov and replacing him with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera will hurt. The Coyotes will not sneak up on their opponents this season either. At 39, how much does first line forward, Ray Whitney have left?
Phoenix did not have one player score over 60 points last season. We don't think they'll win as many low-scoring games without Bryzgalov.

#11 Colorado Avalanche

Colorado was battling for a postseason spot, but fell off a cliff in a horrendous mid-season slump. They made changes to improve the defense and goaltending which ranked 30th in the league last season.

What to Like: Colorado possesses a talented group of young forwards throughout the lineup. Matt Duchene should take the next step to elite level. Paul Stasny gives the Av's a terrific one-two punch down the middle with Duchene. Players like Jones, Galliardi, and Yip are very talented as well. Rookie, Gabriel Landeskog is projected by many to win the Calder trophy.

What Not to Like: The Avalanche are a smaller team, which presents trouble when they play the Canucks, Sharks, and Predators of the league. A full season of Erik Johnson should help the defense improve as it can't get any worse. Goaltending was a constant problem for Colorado last season and they better hope that Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere stay healthy, which they haven't the last couple of years.

#10 Minnesota Wild

There will be a complete makeover in Minnesota this season with the additions of Danny Heatley, and Devin Setoguchi at forward and the hiring of new coach, Mike Yeo. Minnesota has a great fan base, but after missing the playoffs for three straight seasons are becoming restless.

What to Like: The Wild finally have two legit lines with the additions that they made. Mikko Koivu is paid like an elite forwrd, and finally he will have a true sniper in Danny Heatley on his line. Goalie Niklas Backstrom is one of the leagues best when he's on his game. The Wild were 16-6-8 in 1-goal games, something that must continue if they are to qualify for playoffs.

What Not to Like: The defense is young after Zidlicky, Schultz, and Zanon. We don't see their blueline as a playoff type of defense. They will miss Brent Burns more than they realize. The Wild have ranked last in shot attempts per game for the third consecutive season. We wonder how much production the Wild can expect from Setoguchi now that he won't have Joe Thornton feeding him the puck.

#9 Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus had to do something to make a splash this summer with attendance dwindling last season. The Jeff Carter acquisition finally gives superstar Rick Nash a top center. GM Scott Howson may be under more pressure to make the playoffs than anyone this season.

What to Like: Rick Nash. In our opinion, he's a top five talent in the league. If he played in Canada or Detroit people would rave about him. Having linemates like Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger could mean a 50-goal season for Nash. The Jackets have suffered for so long by not having a Power Play point man. Now they do in James Wisniewski. He's a bit overrated, and way overpaid, but he'll help them score goals. We like some of their 2nd and 3rd line forwards. Derick Brassard, Antoine Vermette, Vinny Prospal, and Matt Calvert are all talented.

What Not to Like: Steve Mason is a big question mark between the pipes. He struggled last season and a 3.03 GAA and .901 save percentage is not good enough to make the playoffs. Columbus didn't sign a veteran backup which is surprising. The defense is still not great, especially the bottom four. Grant Clitsome played well as a rookie, but Kris Russell, Radek Martinek, and Marc Methot are mediocre.