The Western Conference has quite a few storylines to keep the NHL’s scribes busy this year, most on the ice, some off. Ownership issues reign supreme in Coyote territory, the Blues and Stars are likely to change hands soon, and several major players are entering their walk year.
The northwest is pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots, of all the western divisions I expect my predictions here to hold up best.
Calgary Flames. As long as Iginla is healthy this team always has a shot. If they somehow managed to get some scoring depth the sky is the limit. They’ll likely finish second in the division.
Edmonton Oilers, still a so young the squeak. They will win about any game that their opponent allows to become a track meet and shootout, and lose any time they have their perilously thin backend exposed.
Vancouver Canucks. While not as talented as last season, two of the additions bring a higher level of mental toughness than was seen on the ice from this team last year. Marco Sturm and Byron Bitz probably don’t have a shot at the Conn-Smythe next June, but they can sure as hell support whoever of their teams leading lights gets closest to it. They should win the division again, for what it means.
Minnesota Wild. Unless one or more of their prospects turns out to be a stud this season they appear to have shuffled the deck chairs and done little else this off seasons. The trades weren’t bad but did they address the problems and not create other problems just as pressing? A bubble team that could as it stands finish anywhere between 7 and 11.
Colorado Avalanche. Fans in Denver and surrounding area should take advantage of the opportunity to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play without the pressure of making the playoffs. This team drafted well, but the current defense and likely penalty kill will drag this team into the lottery abyss.
This is honestly the most interesting division in the west to forecast. You can make a reasonable argument for any of the five teams to win the division. Unfortunately for the teams in the division this isn’t because any has an overwhelming strength at all positions.
Chicago BlackHawks, like the Wild, they did a great deal of deckchair shuffling to questionable effect. Having had the opportunity to watch Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, not to mention Jamal Mayers live and over the course of several season I’m not sure how they push this team over the top or even nearer it. On the other hand the cup hangover should be long over for the talented young core who are still hungry. Probably in the playoffs.
St Louis Blues What has been a combination frat party and hospital ward for the past two or three years could turn into an uptempo hard checking playoff team if it can tone down either of those aspects. Talented yes, focused, sometimes, healthy, in spurts. If you really want to know where the team will finish, pull out your d30 and roll it a few times that should be just as accurate as anything anyone else can tell you.
Nashville Predators. Same Preds different year. Great defense, top notch goaltending and a giant question mark about where the goals will come from. This year there is the added question of which if any of Suter, Weber and Rinne will return next season. Fun times in Music City. Almost certainly a playoff team, and possibly the division winner.
Columbus Blue Jackets. What an interesting off season. They imported a sniper. They imported a powerplay quarterback, and they (in theory) lowered their overhead. If things gel, and certain new defensemen can avoid multiple suspensions they too have the weapons to make the post season.
Detroit Red Wings, will this be the victory lap for Lidstrom? Who knows. The odds of this team making the playoffs come down to a flip of the coin. They have some huge talents, huge liabilities and huge unknowns.
Far and away the strongest division in the conference it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see the conference finals come down to two teams in the division.
Phoenix Coyotes. With the departure of Bryzgalov in the off season they are the weakest link. Not a playoff team, and possibly a lottery team.
Dallas Stars. With last seasons renaissance in goal, a mostly stable roster, a team that learned to play without a superstar forward, and the infusion of a seemingly rejuvenated 30+ goal scorer they might be the sleeper in the conference to make it to the post season. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flip positions with the Coyotes and make it in to the playoffs over them.
Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had their most important player move happen when Jonas Hiller came off the injured reserve. With a full season under his belt and having managed to be a plus player in the post season after 75 games in the red Cam Fowler should be an even more important piece of the roster. Devante Smith-Pelly may end up in the Calder conversation. Oh yeah, they’ve got these guys named Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up front who are supposed to be pretty good too (if anyone can confirm this leave a comment) to play with Vishnovsky. All this will likely lead them to third in the division.
LA Kings. If this team can gel as a unit and put up more goals they are likely to be finish around the 110 point mark.
San Jose Sharks. This is one of those teams that seams to own the regular season without even a signed offer sheet on the playoffs. They have a very good chance of winning the division if they can keep their goaltenders from having to be any better than average.