Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2011-2012 Season Predictions- West

1) Like the East. As we mentioned last time we understand its no more than a blind folded dart throw, but its the preseason and almost everyone else does it, so why not? As has been in evidence the last few seasons, regardless of whom won the Cup the West is the stronger of the two conferences. It has traditionally been the easier conference for us to predict in past years. However we see this season as being much tougher with a changing of the guard taking place. Previous bottom feeders are now contending, and some traditional powers are falling back. Here is the list in the order of playoff seeding (divisional winners in the top 3) With our Difference maker, or Wild card listed for each team.

  1. San Jose: (110)- Folks have to remember that even with an awful start last year San Jose still won the Pacific and finished second overall in the West. After back-to-back Western final appearances, the Sharks are still short of their goal to win their first Cup prompting Wilson to make significant changes. Traded were Heatley and Setoguchi for Martin Havlat and Brent Burns. Michal Handzus will also bring a sizable defensive presence and depth to the lines. We feel the Sharks are as dangerous as ever but, it’s just a matter of how well and quickly the new players gel. If they do winning the conference and a President's Trophy can't be ruled out. Difference Maker:Brent Burns

  2. Chicago:(105)- The Hawks come into 11-12 without having had the huge roster turnover they were forced to endure the year before. Instead Stan Bowman simply tweaked and improved his already solid roster. Offensively they should score they share of goals with Kane, Towes, Hossa and Sharp. On defense they still have one of the best pairings in Keith and Seabrook. Crawford is being looked upon to carry the big load in goal after supplanting an aging Turco as a rookie last season. Will he be up to the task? We see them winning the division and returning to Cup contention. Difference Maker: Bryan Bickell

  3. Vancouver: (103) Just too much talent not to expect the Canucks to win the relatively weak NW division. However, we don't see them being quite as dominating as last season when they won the President's Trophy and were Cup runner-ups. The lineup remains solid from top to bottom, and despite losing Christian Ehroff the defense remains one of the best in the West and despite his Finals' suck job, Luongo remains a perennial Vezina candidate. The Twins and Kesler provide a solid 1-2 offensive punch. Difference Maker: Marco Sturm

  4. LA: (100)- With the combination of Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar it gives the Kings one of the most lethal center combinations in the league. On defense, with Drew Doughty contract settled he will continue to play a vital role from the blueline. Fellow youngster, Jack Johnson complements him nicely, but adding on Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi to the backline give the Kings a very solid defense corps. Jonathan Quick was one of the top netminders last year. The Kings long re-build is finally paying off? If so its time they make a run for the division and show it where it counts most, in spring. Difference Maker: Dustin Penner

  5. Detroit: (99)- No denying that the long dynastic run may soon be coming to an end, but not quite yet. They lost Rafalski, but added Ian White and Mike Commodore. Perhaps they won't be as dynamic but they should help bolster the defense. They are still led by the veterans who brought their last Cup four seasons ago: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom, etc. We have never been big Jimmy Howard fans, but he had a solid season. With Mike Babcock at the helm we have no doubt the Wings will continue to be at or near the top 4 in the conference. Difference Maker: Justin Abdelkater

  6. Anaheim: (97)- The Ducks boast one of the best forward lines in the game with Getzlaf, Ryan, and reigning HART and Richard winner Perry. However after that its not quite as impressive. Can aging stars Sellane, Koivu and Blake add enough? The defense is still mediocre at best. The biggest question will be Hiller. Are his vertigo issues resolved? With a healthy Hiller they are easily a playoff team. If he misses significant time, it'll be a crap shoot. Difference Maker: Jonas Hiller

  7. Nashville: (95)- Year in and year out Barry Trotz is able to squeeze just enough offense out of his team's defense- first approach to get to the playoffs. It doesn't hurt that they have a formidable top pairing in Weber-Suter along with monster Finn, Pekka Rinne between the pipes to keep opponents scoring limited for a chance to win each night. If their young promising forwards from the post season last year (Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk) continue to emerge along with their continued excellent defense they should be able to get back to the post season. Difference Maker: Niclas Bergfors

  8. Calgary: (94)- While some are anticipating Calgary to replace Edmonton as the West's door matts we say, not so fast. Yes, they no longer are an elite team, knocking on the proverbial Cup door, but they still posses enough talent up and down the lineup to attain the 8th seed. Providing their aging lineup stays away from the injury bug. This is Brent Sutter's 'water shed' season. If he fails to get this team into the post season he may have to go back north and concentrate on his junior squad once again. Difference Maker: Daymond Langkow

  9. St. Louis: (92)- It seems that the Blues are a popular choice to propel themselves up the standing this season. We are not among them. Yes they brought in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott in for their veteran experience along with Alexander Steen to augment a decent young forward unit led by Pietrangelo and Backes. Halak was good at times and ordinary at times as well last season. Overall the Blues should be better, but not quite ready to make the post season unless a team above crumbles or if everthing falls their way. Difference Maker: Chris Stewart

  10. Colorado: (90)- We see a big leap for the Denver denizens. They totally revamped their goaltending, their biggest weakness last season. Adding future super star Semyon Varlamov and past super star J.S. Giguere as their tandem. A significant improvement. That along with the maturation especially of Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly up front and Jack Johnson anchoring the blueline we can see things looking up for the Av's. Not quite into the post season, but definitely no longer a bottom feeder. Difference Maker: Peter Mueller

  11. Columbus: (87)- With the pressure on GM Scott Howson made some bold moves this off season. Acquiring center Jeff Carter and signing UFA defender James Wisniewki were certainly headliners. Are they enough to get the Jackets back into the playoffs? We think not. 'Wiz' for all the flash and $$ spent on him isn't exactly Ray Bourque. The rest of the defense is suspect and Steve Mason has looked anything but Vezina-like the past 2 years. Since they have no on else to play goal he best regain that form else it'll be another long season with more empty seats in nationwide Arena. Difference Maker: Steve Mason

  12. Phoenix: (85)- This is almost surely the last season in Phoenix, and from the looks of things it won't be a memorable one. From up and coming team back to 'pretender' status is likely. With the departure of Bryzgalov and to a lesser extent Scottie Upshall (no, the loss of Jovanovski isn't a negative) the Yotes are a significantly weaker team. Mike Smith is NOT a top flight starting goalie and with a less than stellar team in front of him it will become apparent quickly how inportant Bryzgalov was. That said they are well coached and have enough talent that we don't foresee a bottom finish. Difference Maker: Martin Hanzal

  13. Minnisota: (81)- Like in Philly, we have to give credit to management for making changes to a team that was boring to watch and stagnating. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together. Brent Burns and Martin Havlat were the two best players moved, replaced by Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, to upgrade their anemic offense. With new coach Mike Yeo in charge, perhaps the Wild really will shift from a defense-first mindset to an all-in offense for the first time? They still have one of the better goalies in the league in Niklas Backstrom, but their defense isn't impressive, so while it may be more exciting for their fans, the results will be the same as last season. Difference Maker: Devin Setoguchi

  14. Edmonton:(76) the Oilers still have a couple years of bumps and bruises ahead of them. Their off-season additions were mostly muscle (Andy Sutton, Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk) and that doesn’t bode well for the possibility of getting anywhere close to a playoff spot this year. However with multiple lottery selections in recent years they do possess quite a few of possible young future (super) stars in the making, but the roster will need significant time to mature before a leap up the standing should be expected. Difference Maker: Ryan Nungent-Hopkins

  15. Dallas: (71)- To put it simply,This isn't going to be a fun season for the Dallas Stars. Even before the loss of Richards the signs weren't good. Now that he's gone the offense will be tough to find and even worse their defense is going to be worse. So desperate are they, Sheldon Souray who hasn't played an NHL game in2 years was signed. We like Goligoski, but he can't do it alone. Lehtonen stayed healthy(finally) last season, but his stats were mediocre at best. He'll have to stand on his head to get this bunch to .500 let alone the post season. Difference Maker: Sheldon Souray

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