1) Part two of our preseason predictions. This time focusing on the Western Conference. To review We will project each team's order of finish. Number of points, biggest off season Additions/Subtractions and name one player we believe might be the 'difference maker'. A player we believe might be the team's wild card. The top 3 are the Division Winners.
- St. Louis (70) Little roster change. Can Cpt. Kangaroo (Ken Hitchcock) repeat what he did last year? He inherited a team that was near/below .500 but got them to listen to his defense-first brand of two-way hockey. Will his presence continue to motivate the team for a full season, or was it simply the change that motivated the Blues. There are significant Expectations in Gateway city. Anything less than a trip to the Conference Finals would be a step back Biggest Addition: Andrew Murray Biggest Subtraction. BJ Crombeem Difference Maker: Patrik Berglund
- Los Angeles (55) Few would be shocked to see the Kings repeat. Essentially the entire Cup winning team is returning. The lockout will probably prevent the usual Cup hangover. Having a 'full season' with Sutter at the helm should also help. There are no weakness here. Good stable of forwards. A Vezina calibre goalie, and Norris candidate back on D. They have it all. Their only enemy will be complacency and/or injuries. Biggest Addition: None Biggest Subtraction: Ethan Moreau Difference Maker: Simone Gagne
- Edmonton (53) Yes, the kids are going to be all right. Maybe even a wee bit better than that if they come together. An already young stud forward corps added Russian, top overall pick Nail Yakupov If that weren't enough, added college offensive standout defender Justin Schultz who had no problems scoring in the AHL. If they can get decent goaltending, they could be the surprise team in the NHL this season. Certainly a divisional win is wouldn't shock us. The sky's the limit! Biggest Addition: Justin Schultz Biggest Subtraction:None Difference Maker: Devan Dubnyk
- Chicago (63) Joel Quenville will essentially have the same line up that was one of the best last season. No reason to believe the Hawks won't again be a top tier Western team. The only question that continues to dog the team is goaltending. Crawford will have to up his play to get the Black Hawks back to the Cup Finals. Biggest Addition: Sheldon Brookbank Biggest Subtraction: Sami Lepisto Difference Maker: Cory Crawford
- San Jose (47) Note we feel the Sharks are still a playoff team, but no longer can be considered to be among the elite. They have a solid top 6 forward group, but some are aging a bit and maybe prone to injury. Thornton and Marleau aren't gray beards but still are now 33. Additionally, top defensemen Boyle, Stuart and Murray are all 32 or older. Biggest Addition: Brad Stuart Biggest Subtraction: Colin White Difference Maker: Martin Havlat
- Nashville (45) One can't simply replace a Suter. He will be missed, but they still have Shea Weber, and prospect Ryan Ellis is the real deal we're told! At forward their best players are all back. Thankfully without jerks/distractions, Alex Radulov/Andrei Kostitsyn. With Vezina candidate Rinne in goal and the ever overachieving coach Barry Trotz back as the only coach the franchise has ever had, the Preds should get back to the post season. Biggest Addition: Scott Hannan Biggest Subtraction: Ryan Suter Difference Maker: Sergei Kostitsyn
- Detroit (43) No longer can be penciled in as a top 3/elite NHL team. That said, the team still posses a solid group of players at both forward and defense despite the loss of all-world Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement. The team drafts incredibly well, and of course is coached by one of the best in the business in Mike Babcock. So while the Cup Finals is not likely, the playoffs would seem to be Biggest Addition: Jordan Tootoo Biggest Subtraction.Nicklas Lidstrom Difference maker: Niclas Kronwell
- Colorado (42) Despite the team has missing the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, good drafting and smart trading has left the team with a great core of talent and all of it under 30.
Can the team continue to grow over the next few years? Certainly outside of Edmonton, this is the best young group in the NHL. If the goaltending duo of Varmalov/Giguere can put up good numbers the Av's could surprise and be even stronger than we have predicted here Biggest Addition: P.A. Parenteau Biggest Subtraction: Peter Mueller Difference Maker: Paul Stastny
- Vancouver (41) We are probably alone in thinking the Canucks could miss the playoffs. Despite having a decent team on paper, we foresee a year of upheaval/controversy. The Luongo on again, off again trade will be a season long distraction if not consummated soon. Forward Ryan Kesler is injured and might miss a month or more. They could still sneak in, but they won't be a shoe-in like in years past. Biggest Addition: Jason Garrison Biggest Subtraction:Sami Salo Difference Maker: David Booth
- Dallas (39) A PP that was last in the NHL lost Sheldon Souray, so despite the addition of Jagr that will be a tough chore to improve, but with a solid core of forwards someone is bound to step up. That said, a lot of those forwards are on the other side of 30. Can coach Glen Gulutzan
coax enough wins out of Kari Lehtonen to make the playoffs for the first time in 5 years? Probably not. Biggest Addition:Jaromir Jagr Biggest Subtraction: Mike Ribeiro Difference Maker; Jamie Benn.
- Minnesota (38) After a fast start the Wild fell off the map. However they didn't stand pat and added the 2 best UFA's available this past off season in Zac Parise and Ryan Suter. On paper would seem to have a very good top 6 forward combo. On defense after Suter not quite as impressive. The 'other Niclas Backstrom will have to play at his best for the team to make the post season in the very tough West. Biggest Addition(s): Parise/Suter Biggest Subtraction: Erik Christensen Difference Maker: Pierre-Marc Bouchard
- Calgary (37) Management has done a poor job in recent years. Attempting to fill a perceived hole with a patch, when a complete overhaul is warranted. When late March rolls around, don't be shocked to hear quite a number of Flames on the trading block including captain Jarome Iginla. The balance of power in Alberta has shifted north for sure! Biggest Addition: Dennis Wideman Biggest Subtraction: Ollie Jokinen Difference Maker: Juri Hudler
- Anaheim (35) Can Coach F-bomb (Boudreau) get off to a better start than the Ducks last season? Have one of the best top lines in the game and a top young defender in Fowler. Hiller can be dominating at times. However, we don't think there is enough depth ant any of the positions to propel them above the contending clubs in the West. Biggest Addition: Sheldon Souray Biggest Subtraction: Lubomir Visnovsky Difference Maker: Cam Fowler
- Phoenix (34) While it appears they have finally solved ownership issues (for now) we don't think the team that over achieved last season and won their division can reproduce that feat again. We can't see Mike Smith putting back to back Vezina calibre seasons. If he does then all bets are off and our prediction of a basement finish will be way off. Biggest Addition: Steve Sullivan Biggest Subtraction: Michal Rozsival Difference Maker: Mike Smith
- Columbus (30) Likely their last season in the Western Conference, but not their first to finish at the bottom of that conference. Can John Davidson finally break the cycle of bad GM's with Maclean and now Howson? Every year we are told they are better yet they seldom prove it on the ice. They are without a top flight scorer and their goaltending on paper doesn't appear to be capable of playing at the required level to win most nights. Another down year in store in Ohio's capital. Biggest Addition: Brandon Dubinsky Biggest Subtraction: Rick Nash Difference Maker: Artem Anisimov