Something that I've realized during my time on FN is that there is virtually no focus on the NHL. As a Canadian, I've been born and raised an NHL fan, so I decided to provide insight on "The coolest game on earth".
This blog will be my Western Conference Standings predictions.
1. Detroit Red Wings. The Stanley Cup champions come back this season with an even better team and it looks like they will dominate the league. The addition of Marian Hossa for under market-value proves that players want to play in Detroit for a winning system. They have an incredibly balanced team and are willing to roll every line, every game. On offense, their best players are Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Hossa, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Valterri Filppula and Jiri Hudler. All of those players have first line offensive talent and with the exception of Hudler, are great defensively. On defense, their best players are Niklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall. They have the best corps of defensemen in the NHL and when you add a group of defensively responsible forwards, this team will frustrate you all game. In goal, you have Jennings Trophy winner Chris Osgood and new addition Ty Conklin. Osgood is a good goalie, but is aided tremendously by his supporting cast. Conklin was a saviour for Pittsburgh last season, without him they likely wouldn't have made the playoffs.
2. San José Sharks. The Sharks are one of the most talented teams in the NHL and return with most of the same team that gave them the NHL's second best record last season. The biggest change with this team is behind the bench, where coach Ron Wilson was fired and former Detroit Assistant Coach Todd MacLellan was named his replacement. The Sharks have had great regular seasons followed by dissapointing playoffs for a few seasons now, so management hopes MacLellan can get the most out of this group. On offense, the Sharks are a powerhouse with Joe Thornton as the catalyst, and Milan Michalek, Johnathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe provide most of the offense with Thornton. On defense this team is very good, with Dan Boyle and Rob Blake replacing the departed Bryan Campbell and Kyle McLaren and M-E Vlasic are the other stars. In goal, the Sharks have Vezina Trophy finalist Evgeni Nabokov, so they have nothing to worry about there.
3. Calgary Flames. The Flames are a very interesting team. They have great players, but seem to underachieve way too often. Hiring Mike Keenan as coach before last season was supposed to fix that problem, but it hasn't yet. On offense, the Flames have a superstar in Jarome Iginla and solid players in Daymond Langkow, Mike Cammalleri and project players in Rene Bourque, Matthew Lombardi and Todd Bertuzzi. The Flames didn't get enough secondary scoring last season and it looks like that could be the case again. On defense, the Flames have a great group. Superstar Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich and Adrian Aucoin make the top 4 and it is as physical a group of defensemen as any. In goal they have Miikka Kiprusoff, who had a bad year last season, but I expect him to bounce back to Vezina Trophy form this season. The Flames aren't perfect, but they're the best in their division.
4. Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are a young team loaded with talent. They didn't make it last season, but it's practically inevitable now. GM Dale Tallon has done a great job building this team, but he needs to find a trade partner for Nikolai Khabibulin. On offense, the Hawks are stacked. Patrick Kane, Johnathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Martin Havlat and Robert Lang are all great offensive players. Last season, bug defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was moved to the Wing and it looks like he will be the second-line LW. It will be interesting to see how well he does. On defense, The Hawks are young and fast, like the rest of their team. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are rock solid, Brent Sopel and James Wisniewski are decent contributors, Cam Barker appears primed for a breakout year and huge FA addition Brian Campbell looks to be a force on the PP and be the top offensive defenseman. In goal, they added Cristobal Huet who they say will compete with Khabibulin. This won't work, you can't have 2 goalies with monster contracts. Huet is a very solid goalie, but is inexperienced in the playoffs. Minor leaguer Corey Crawford needs to see NHL action this season, likely at the expense of Khabibulin.
5. Dallas Stars. The Stars surprised everyone in the playoffs last season, upsetting Anaheim and San Jose en route to their loss to Detroit. The Stars have a good group of key contributors and their role players are as hard-working and gritty as any in the NHL. The co-GM project worked pretty well last season, it will be interesting to see what happens when Brett Hull and Les Jackson have a dissagreement. On offense, the Stars have a nice group, but not awe-inspiring. Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen, Sean Avery, Fabian Brunnstrom and Loui Eriksson are expected to provide the majority of the scoring. Brunnstrom, a late-blooming undrafted rookie who was immensely hyped in the FA market, has a lot to prove, because many "Hockey Experts" are saying he's nothing special. On defense, the Stars have a good group, Sergei Zubov and Stephane Robidas are expected to be the leaders. Matt Niskanen, Niklas Grossman and Trevor Daley need to step up their performance to help replace the retired Matthias Norstrom. In goal, the Stars have one of the best in the league, Marty Turco, who steals games. The knock on Turco used to be that he was a lousy playoff goalie, but he's shed that label thanks to 2 consecutive strong postseasons. The Stars lost backup Mike Smith to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Tobias Stephan should replace him effectively.
6. Minnesota Wild. The Wild won their division last season, but bowed out to Colorado in the first round of the playoffs. The biggest offseason loss was underperforming Pavol Demitra,so the Wild should be in decent shape. On offense, the Wild continue to look like a one-line team. Marian Gaborik, new addition Andrew Brunette and Mikko Koivu look like they will provide most of the Wild's scoring. P-M Bouchard adds talent to the 2nd unit, but James Sheppard will need to have a breakout campaign for this team to be anywhere close to balanced. On defense, the Wild will be great. Why? They always are. The system employed is boring to watch, but effective. Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Kim Johnsson anchor the defense corps, while offensive defensemen Marek Zidlicky and M-A Bergeron will be forced to be more responsible in their own end. In goal, the Wild may have the most underrated goalie in the NHL in Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom was phenomenal last season and will be relied upon to play at least 60 games. The rest of the time in net will be taken by Josh Harding, an underachiever with immense potential.
7. Anaheim Ducks. This team is old. Plain and simple. This will likely be the last year they are competitive, then they will slip into the NHL's abyss for a while. Their key offensive players are young, but the rest of the team isn't. Brian Burke's mismanagement of the salary cap puts them in a sticky situation that will become even stickier if Teemu Selanne decides to come back. On offense, Ryan Getzlaf is the man. He is their franchise player and looks like he will be a great player for years to come. Corey Perry had a breakout year last season and expect his numbers to grow. Behind the dynamic duo, the Ducks' forward group is full of journeymen, veterans and a few young kids who need to break out. On defense, the Ducks are great, but ancient. Scott Niedermayer will retire soon, as will Mathieu Schneider and Sean O'Donnell. Chris Pronger is also on the downside of his career. In goal, the Ducks have one of the best and THE worst goalie to face in the playoffs, J.S Giguere. Giguere gives them an opportunity to win every night and did not allow a five-goal game last season, showing his consistency.
8. Edmonton Oilers. Some people won't like them so low in the standings, but I'm not completely sold on this team.They have a very young team that surprised last season, but they have some holes on defense and the goaltending situation is a question mark. On offense, the Oilers are very young and have two real first-line talents in Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. Erik Cole, Robert Nilsson, Dustin Penner and Fernando Pisani are decent offensive players, while Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner are clearly very special players. The most important thing for a team this young is that they stay on target and don't regress. If Cogliano, Gagner, Nilsson and Penner all have breakout seasons, then the sky is the limit. On defense, the Oilers made a move that baffled me. They traded for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky and didn't add another physical presence to complement Steve Staios. Sheldon Souray, Visnovsky and Tom Gilbert are all flashy offensive players who are irresponsible defensively. Having three of that type of defenseman on your team is dangerous, especially when those 3 have to be your best defenders. In goal, the Oilers have Mathieu Garon, who was superb for a half of the season last year. I need to be convinced that Garon can be consistently good for an entire year before I jump on the Oilers bandwagon.
Those will be the Western Conference's playoff teams.
To be continued, I've been busy the past couple of days.