Western Conference Predictions

This will probably be a lot quicker than the East predictions because there is a lot to get to before the season kicks off Thursday at noon. Still don’t know why there needs to be three full days without hockey before things get underway, but oh well:

15. Minnesota Wild

Although they’re in what I think is the weakest division in the League, they did nothing to improve last season and will be hard pressed to find scoring if Martin Havlat doesn’t put up more than the 54 points he had in 2009-10.

14. Anaheim Ducks

How the mighty have fallen. Will have one of the best powerplays in the game but their two top defensemen are Visnovsky and Toni Lydman. Their secondary scoring is fronted by injury prone Selanne and Koivu.

13. Edmonton Oilers

Could be a nice story if all things click right away from the revamped Oilers, but too many questions and ifs for my liking. When a team’s success is placed on the back’s of rookies, it often leads to failure; at least initially.

12. Dallas Stars

If they can get full seasons out of Brendan Morrow and Mike Ribeiro then I don’t see them finishing as low as a lot of other people do. A top six with those two, Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and Jamie Benn is pretty scary. Kari Lehtonen will be better than expected in his first full season in Dallas.

11. Columbus Blue Jackets

A new coach in town will mean a much more exciting style of play than what was iced when Ken Hitchock was around. They main reason they don’t get back in the Playoffs is because they’re in the tough Central Division. But they will be close until the end.

10. Calgary Flames

If Tanguay and Jokinen didn’t work the first time around, I don’t see how they will be much better in their second trip to Calgary on a line with Iginla. Although the Flames would have been in the Playoffs last year if it weren’t for a post-Olympic collapse, there is still not enough help for the captain and I can really see this being the year they decide to clean house.

9. Colorado Avalanche

Will be in it until the end, much like last season, but will fall short in 2010-11. They were saved by a very hot start and the play of Craig Anderson last year, I have to think that one of those two won’t be as good this year.

8. Nashville Predators

I always pick Nashville to be out of the Playoffs, and they always make it in; so this year I’m going against what I think will happen and saying they make it in on the last day of the season. They play a system that shuts teams down and have a goalie that could be nominated for the Vezina now that he is a full time starter. Remember, they were seconds away from going up 3-2 against the Hawks in round 1 last year.

7. Phoenix Coyotes

They play a system much like the Predators, but should be able to improve on their offense in 2010-11 with the additions of Ray Whitney and Kyle Turris. Probably peaked a little too high last year with 13 shootout wins, so I doubt they’ll be back up at 100 points. But 95 is a good bet; it’s going to take that to get in the West anyway.

6. St. Louis Blues

Just about everyone on the Blues regressed in 2009-10; McDonald, Boyes, Backes, Perron, Berglund. Expect all of them to take big jumps this year as the Blues are about to make a move similar to what Chicago and Pittsburgh have done in recent years. They have organization depth at every position, and now have a legitimate starting goalie in Jaroslav Halak. Imagine what he is going to do without all of the pressure he faced in Montreal?

5. Chicago Blackhawks

People expecting Chicago to drop off the face of the Earth are insane, but I can’t see them winning their second straight Central Division title or getting home ice in the very difficult West. Repeat as champions though? That is a definite possibility.

4. San Jose Sharks

There will also be another new division winner in the Pacific this year and I think it will all come down to goaltending. Niemi and Niitymaki will battle back and forth all season, but the lack of consistency in a starter will be the reason for their fall. Not that fourth in the West is a bad place to fall to…

3. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit’s regulars missed a ton of games last season. A ton. That won’t happen again. What also won’t happen is their lack of secondary scoring from a season ago. A third line of Cleary-Modano-Hudler is going to win them a lot of games because teams just don’t have the defense to match up against nine solid scoring forwards. If Filppula can finally put together a full season, Pavel and Hank will be able to stick together for an entire year. Howard’s sophomore slump will be shielded by the very strong team in front of him.

2. LA Kings

May be a bit premature to assume that they will knock of San Jose just one year after their resurgence, but I think Anze Kopitar takes another step forward this season and the Kings will be heavy players at the deadline (for real this time). Jonathan Quick is a fantastic goaltender, so it’s scary to consider that many people think he could be overtaken by Jonathan Bernier before the year is over. I keep mentioning Vokoun to Philly, but what if Bernier proves to be the guy in LA; Quick’s contract is very attractive.

1. Vancouver Canucks

I think the Canucks are the best team in the NHL; on paper and on the ice. Now combine that with the fact that I didn’t pick anyone in their division to make the Playoffs. The have depth up front and on the blueline, and one of the League’s best goalies in Roberto Luongo, who won’t have to worry about the “C” any longer.

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