Western Conference Preview

Western Conference hockey.  I love it!  For some reason I find it much more appealing to watch since to me it seems more aggressive and physical.  Some teams in the East play that style, however for the most part, the East seems to have less pugnacity and testosterone.  You’re welcome Brian Burke.

Here’s my look at the Western Conference and how I think the 15 spots will end up.  Remember, don’t take these picks to Vegas, or Atlantic City for that matter.

1) Chicago Blackhawks.  This was probably the toughest choice for me.  Honestly it has nothing to do with my feelings for them as a former Chicagoan.  Toews, Kane, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook and a full season of Marian Hossa.  C’mon, they are the defending Champs.

2) San Jose Sharks.  The major change here is in goal with Evgeny Nabokov gone and Antti Niemi in.  While last season wasn’t really all Nabokov’s fault, guys like Thornton and Heatley must produce when it counts.  Not just in the regular season.

3) Vancouver Canucks.  Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis in, Willie Mitchell out, and Sami Salo out for awhile.  Still with Roberto Luongo in goal, winning the conference and anything beyond that is just not realistic.  And lets not forget the sisters twins Sedins.  Like Thornton and Heatley, great during the season, but not enough gas in the playoffs.

4) Los Angeles Kings.  This team is on the right track.  Drew Doughty on defence,  and a host of young and exciting players.  This team is moving up. While they aren’t quite there yet, they certainly are well on their way of being true contenders.  Ex-Panther coach Terry Murray actually has players who seem to like playing for him.  Hmmmm.

5) Phoenix Coyotes.  They certainly have a tough act to follow but with Dave Tippett behind the bench, he seems as though he’s the right guy to push the buttons.  It will be extremely difficult to match last year’s performance, but adding veteran Ray Whitney and maintaining Lee Stempniak who seems to thrive in the West, will help them from falling too much.

6) Nashville Predators.  This team scared the hell outta me against the Hawks in last season’s first round.  They have lost Jason Arnott and Dan Hamhuis which will hurt and will replace them with Matt Lombardi, Sergei Kostitsyn and Ryan Parent.  There will be some slippage, but Barry Trotz will get these guys to play his system anyway.  Don’t take this team lightly.

7) Detroit Red Wings.  Seeing Mike Modano in a Wings sweater will be as weird as seeing Chris Chelios in one, but we’ll get used to it guess.  This team is getting older, and can still can keep up as long as the injuries are at a minimum.  There could be about nine players at 35 years old, and that will catch up to them.  No matter how much they think they are still the best in the west.  Just remember greybeards, it’s the memory that goes first.

8) Colorado Avalanche. Youth.  Speed.  Maturity.  These three ingredients along with the solid performance stuck in their heads from last season should be enough to get them into the playoffs again.  Colorado’s roster is virtually the same and that’s ok.  The big question mark is Craig Anderson.  He played outstanding at the beginning of last year and that performance will be tough to beat.

9) Calgary Flames.  Tough for me not to see this team in the postseason, but Darryl Sutter is proving to be a disaster as GM.  His brother Brent could be a casualty as well if this team doesn’t make the postseason.  Jarome Iginla deserves better, but resigning both Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay could prove to be the two biggest mistakes of Sutter’s tenure.

10) Anaheim Ducks. A last run for Teemu Selanne.  With Saku Koivu coming back and Bobby Ryan in the fold, this team will be better, but not too much.  They still are a year away from the postseason.  However, it will be interesting to see if Cam Fowler is ready for the big time.

11) Dallas Stars.  Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft in goal.  Yikes!  Need I say more?  This team has had a bit of a facelift and is going to struggle most nights.  James Neal is a player that’s only going to get better, but rumors are that coach Marc Crawford is on a short leash.  It’s going to be a tough year if the Stars miss the playoffs again.

12) St. Louis Blues.  This pick hinges on Jaroslav Halak.  If he plays anywhere close to his playoff performance then this finish is likely.  Maybe even a bit higher.  Still, St. Louis needs their youth to deliver to make any headway.  It’s possible, but a lot of things have to go right.

13) Minnesota Wild.  They are going in reverse, and it’s too bad.  While the general public was calling for the head of defensive specialist Jacques Lemaire a couple years ago, Todd Richards doesn’t really have much to work with.  It’s too bad as this franchise should be in a better position.  Miko Koivu, Martin Havlat and Matt Cullen aren’t really scaring anyone.

14) Columbus Blue Jackets.  Rick Nash.  After that, too many questions.  A new coaching staff, Steve Mason, and Nikita Filatov will provide the most curiosity.  Ken Hitchcock has been brought back as a consultant, but he’s seen this record play before.  Not sure what he could do or suggest that will vault this team back to the postseason with the current roster.

15)  Edmonton Oilers. Taylor Hall.  He’s the real deal, but not enough to provide a playoff spot for the Oil.  Goaltending will be a problem again thanks to Nikolai Khabibulin.  Their youngsters are talented and exciting, but there’s not enough for this team to make an advance out of this final spot.

That wraps up the West.  My favourite conference of the two.  It’s a very tough conference and there are at least two teams that won’t make the postseason that will deserve to.  Let’s see how this all shapes up.  No way do I predict a Stanley Cup winner.  Not about to jinx anybody.

Thanks for reading.

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Tags: Chicago Blackhawks Stanely Cup Western Conference

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