Western Conference Preview.
1. San Jose Sharks
With most of the core returning, last years President trophy winners are going to have another great season. They all ready have great regular season performers, Thornton, Marleau, Boyle and Nabokov, and to add to that they got elite sniper Danny Heatley. The Sharks have no real weakness and a whole lot of stregths. They had the number 3 powerplay which was QBed by top puck moving defenseman Dan Boyle, and this powerplay will only get better with Heatley added. San Jose is my pick to win another President trophy.
2. Detroit Red Wings
They have lost some key goal scoring with Hossa, Huddler and Samuelsson, but the Wings have a great system, bringing up their players from the AHL through the system and into the NHL. Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Ville Leino should step up and replace some of that scoring and be solid NHL players, and same with future All-Star defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The Wings are always a good team and are as close as you are going to get to seeing dynasty in the NHL with the Salary Cap.
3. Vancouver Canucks
They are the favourites to win the NorthWest division, and I think they will, putting them into 3rd place in the West. The biggest lost for the Canucks was Mattias Ohlund, but they managed to replace him with two puck moving defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Scneider, who had a great season with Montreal. The Canucks this off-seasons biggest moves were resigning the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo, and they no longer have the distraction of will Luongo leave or not. The Canucks won the NorthWest last season even though they missed Luongo for a long period of time, and they finished the season as one of the best teams and had the best second half of the season in the West. The Canucks biggest question is who will score? But they got Samuelsson who should provide some offense but they really need the Sedins, Burrows, and Kesler to improve off the career years they had last season. I also believe they need my rookie of the year favourite Cody Hodgsons to step up if they plan on winning anything in the postseason.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
I have them finishing in 4th place again, as I don't believe they are good enough to knock of the Wings from the Central division. Only big offseason moves were the loss of Havlat and gain of Hossa. This would be an upgrade, but Hossa is out for an extended period of time to start the season, so for the Hawks to start strong they will need other players to step up, like Dustin Byfuglien, who had a breakout performance in the playoffs but needs to show he can do it in the regular season. The Hawks biggest question mark is their goaltending. They have Cristobal Huet, who is entering the second year of his massive contract, but so far has been a bust. In his first season with the Hawks, he only played 41 games and posted a .909 SV% and lost the starting job to Nikolai Khabibulin, who is know with the Edmonton Oilers. The Hawks are still a very young team, with loads of talent and should dominate the West for years to come if they manage to resign everyone within the cap, and that test will come at the end of the season with many key players contracts up. But until then, Chicago will have another really good season.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Last year they finished 8th, but many thing they may be a weaker team with the loss of Pronger, but they have improved for sure. To go with the lost of Pronger, they also lost key defenseman Francois Beauchemin, but they do have James Wisniewski and Ryan Whitney to step up with Scott Niedermayer, and they should have a great defense again. They also have great goaltending with Jonas Hiller and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is hoping to have a big bounce back season. Up front the Ducks are solid with one of the best lines in hockey of Ryan - Getzlaf - Perry, and they improved their second line with 20 goal scorer Lupul, who has had the best years of his young career in Anaheim. Also on the second line they have Teemu Selanne, and one of his closest friends, Saku Koviu. Koviu is no longer living in a fish bowl in Montreal and playing with great linemates he should have a great season. I really like the moves the Ducks have done, and I predict a good season from them.
6. Calgary Flames
Everyone seems to be in love with the Flames this season, but I'm not. They have a good defense that is improved with Jay Bouwmeester but it is not as good as a defense as they make it out to be, with an overrated Dion Phaneuf who had a terrible season last year. Up front they have a terrible offense, they lost Bertuzzi and his 44 points in 60 games and the big player they lost was their leading goal scorer Mike Cammalleri and his 39 goals and 82 points. They did nothing to replace those guys up front, and they will have trouble scoring this season for sure. My biggest problem with the Flames is the overrated Mikka Kiprusoff. Mikka posted the 32nd SV%, at .903 and 32nd GAA at 2.84, Kipper needs to get rest and return to his old form, if the Flames want to have any success. The Flames have 2 big question marks, upfront and between the pipes, and due to that I don't see them living up to the hype.
7. St.Louis Blues
Finished as one of the hottest teams in hockey, playing unbelievable after the All-Star break, and going from last in the West to finishing 6th in the tough West. They are a very young team with players like Brad Boyes and David Backes, but they have been able to mix their young with veteran leadership, like Keith Tkachuk, and Paul Karyia who missed all but 11 games, but still had 15 points, having Paul Karyia for the full season should help out. They also missed their top two defenseman for the better part of the season, as Eric Brewer only played in 28 games and Erik Johnson who missed the entire season. They also have to go with those two, Colaiacovo, Jackman, and a very young, last years number 4 pick, Pietrangelo. They will have a solid defense infront of Chris Mason who played great down the stretch and had a .916 SV% in 57 games. That defense should go good with their explosive offence.
8. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers biggest move was the coaching change. The fired Craig McTavish, and brought in Pat Quinn as head coach, and X&O's guy Tom Renney as assistant. Craig McTavish wasn't getting the message across anymore and a change had to be made, and they brought in two really good coaches. Edmonton is a really young team, with loads of talent, on both the backend and up front. But they are a very small team, and tend to get pushed around. The big change was the switch of Dwayne Roloson for Nikolai Khabibulin. Many people think this is a great change, but I don't. Dwayne Roloson single handly stole games for Edmonton, he had games were he stopped 50 shots in a 2-1 win, Roloson was too good. Roloson was unbelievable, but he did only post a .915 SV%, but behind a weak defence in 63 games. Mean while Khabibulin posted a slight improvement at a .919 SV% in 42 games, behind a better defence. But I feel the change behind the bench, and the young talent on this team should be able to make the post-season.
9. Los Angeles Kings
This team is very young, and Dean Lombardi has done a great job rebuilding this team. They have great talent up front with Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Alexander Frolov. They also added veteran leadership and some talent and grit with Ryan Smyth. They also have a solid defence with rookie phenom Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, and Stanley Cup Champ, Rob Scuderi. They also got solid goaltending with Quick and rookie Jonathan Bernier. This team also has a lot of young player that are challenging for roster spots, like Thomas Hickey, and Jack Johnson who are most likely going to make the team, and dark horses like Brayden Schenn at making the team.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets did not do anything to improve, nor weaken, as they did absolutely nothing this offseason besides resign Rick Nash. This team was in the #7 last season, but every other team in the West improved, but the Jackets didn't. They will relay on rookie Nikita Filatov a lot for them to have success and they will give him big ice time. But I don't see Steve Mason having the year he had last, as it is tough to be that good. As a result, the Jackets wont see post-season action this year.
11. Dallas Stars
Dallas has a new coach and new GM, but the core remains the same. I predict a bounce back season, but the West is tough. No big off-season moves, but they do get a healthy #1 centre, as Brad Richards missed the better half of last season with various injuries. They also get their captain, Brenden Morrow back, who only played 18 games last season. This team does have loads of talent with players like Ribeiro, Neal, and Eriksson up front and on the backend Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas. But all of the Stars success relays on one player, Marty Turco, who struggled last year with a .898 SV%, but is hoping for a big bounce back season.
12. Minnesota Wild
No more Lemaire should make this team a bit more exciting to watch, but they don't have the offense. They added Havlat, but he can't score all by himself. They haven't added that much offense and it will be their problem all season long. They do have two really good goalies with Josh Harding and Nick Backstrom, and don't have a problem there. I can see Minnesota moving Josh Harding for some more offence, as he is young with a huge upside, but still not enough to get them into the playoffs.
13. Nashville Predators
Barry Trotz all ways seems to put a good team on the ice with limited talent. They have some offence up front with Jason Arnott, and Dumont but not nearly enough. They are good between the pipes with Rinne as starter and Ellis as backup. The bright side for Nashville is Shea Weber and their really good defense. I predict the playoffs in a few more season with Colin Wilson coming along, but give this team some time.
14. Colorado Avalanche
This team has some talent with Paul Statsny, but they are in a rebuild, and this team aint going any where fast. What more can I say, they are weak in net, on the backend, and up front. This team will be a fun team to watch though with Matt Duchene and other young exciting players like Statsny and Wojtek Wolski.
15. Phoenix Coyotes
They have had a lot of drama this off-season, and currently don't have a head coach, with Gretzky missing in action. This team does have some young talent, with Peter Mueller, and others. But their top young talent is looking like a bust with Kyle Turris. This team just doesn't have enough. I predict Taylor Hall in their future.