With baseball wrapping up, no NBA season in sight, and the NFL only being on a couple times a week, looks like you’ll be turning to the ice for your sports fix.
I mean, you could just do something else, but you won’t. So kick back, relax and enjoy the conclusion of the MSF NHL Preview. (View Part 1 here: Eastern Conference Preview and Predictions.)
Now let’s make like Ice Cube and “Rep That West”
Western Conference Team-by-Team Analysis
1. Vancouver Canucks
2010-11: 54-19-9, 117 points, first in Northwest
The Vancouver Canucks were the best team in all of hockey last season. Yes, they came up short against the Boston Bruins and Tim Thomas, but make no mistake, Vancouver was the toast of the league last year. They also have the benefit of losing only one truly key player in Christian Ehrhoff (Buffalo). There is no reason to think they aren’t the favorite in the West and potentially the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.
I think 2012 will spell an end to the Sedin twin’s two-year reign as NHL scoring champions. But I’m sure they’d gladly make the exchange for the a couple of rings.
I don’t believe athlete’s as good as Roberto Luongo actually “choke”. Yes, same deal with Tony Romo. Sometimes circumstances unfold that are beyond control. Vancouver was simply beaten by Boston last year. It does not mean it will happen again
2. San Jose Sharks
2010-11: 48-25-9, 105 points, first in Pacific
If the Sharks don’t hurry up and win a Stanley Cup, they are going to go down as one of the great also-rans in sport. IT seems every year they are among the class of the NHL throughout the season before someone inevitably eliminates them from the postseason. I’m sure they’re thinking “this is their year” but they say that every year. And it never is.
The Sharks continue to tinker with an outstanding team. Gone is the newest Shark scapegoat, Dany Heatley (Minnesota), and joining the team are Brent Burns (Minnesota), Michal Handzus (Los Angeles) and Martin Havlat (Minnesota). All three of these players are potential game changers for the Sharks who will once again be a threat to win the President’s Trophy.
After saying all that, they still don’t feel like a threat to win the Stanley Cup. By all rights they should be, but they aren’t. The Sharks are remarkably consistent.
3. Detroit Red Wings
2010-11: 47-25-10, 104 points, first in Central
The best hockey franchise of my lifetime is finally slowing down. The whole team is a year older, they haven’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs for two straight seasons, and they lost four players to retirement (Modano, Rafalski, Osgood and Draper) and yet, they could still make a run at the Cup.
Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nick Lidstrom are all a little older yet I would never bet against any of them. Jimmy Howard proved last season that he’s got the chops to handle the net in Detroit. Daniel Cleary looks to step up and could well provide 70+ points.
This team only has a few more good years before it’ll be time to make some major moves, but just because there’s snow on the roof, doesn’t mean there’s not fire in the furnace.
4. LA Kings
2010-11: 46-30-6, 98 points, fourth in Pacific
Drew Doughty is back, Anzie Kopitar is back and Mike Richards (Philadelphia) is now in town to possibly push LA over the hump into the elite teams in the West.
The Kings remind me a lot of the Chicago Blackhawks a couple seasons ago. They have a great, young foundation and are rounding their roster out with top notch players like Richards. This is a team that I think will surprise many this season and they really have the potential to make a deep run in the postseason.
It bares mentioning that they have one of the strongest and most underrated goaltending tandems in the league in Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier.
5. Anaheim Ducks
2010-11: 47-30-5, 99 points, second in Pacific Division
The Ducks are one of those classic stories of a team that always faces adversity but somehow finds a way to succeed in the end. First it was their come from behind victory to defeat the Hawks in their innagural season under Coach Bombay, then they took to the international stage to upset Iceland (despite Gunner Staal claiming Coach Wolf Stansson “lost it for himself”)
Wait… I’m getting real-life and Emilio Estevez movies confused again.
Plus, you can’t deny the unstoppable power of the triple deke.
6. Nashville Predators
2010-11: 44-27-11, 99 points, second in Central
Mark my words here. If Ryan Ellis gets 70+ games this season, he will be the NHL rookie of the year. He is the scoring punch this team hasn’t had in recent years and will, one day, be the difference maker for them.
The Predators are on their way up in the West. Last year they won their first playoff series before falling to the Canucks. And it was no fluke. Pekka Rinne is the best goalie you’ve never heard of, and Shea Weber and Ryan Suter form one of the most formidable defensive tandems in all of hockey.
If the offense ever gets the jolt it needs, watch out.
7. St. Louis Blues
2010-11: 38-33-11, 87 points, fourth in Central
David Backes and Chris Stewart are two of hockey’s best kept secrets. Together they form the backbone of this team’s offense. Jason Arnott (Washington) and Jamie Langenbrunner (Dallas) are two additions that could very well usher this club from being “this close” to being eliminated in the first round.
It’s progress. Just not dramatic progress.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
2010-11: 34-35-13 81 points, fifth in Central
I actually feel eighth seed may be selling this team short. I LOVE the changes Columbus has made. They finally got Rick Nash a centreman in Jeff Carter (Philadelphia) and also added Vinny Prospal (NY Rangers) and James Wisniewski (Montreal). Both of whom are big upgrades to a team that was already looking much better towards the end of last year.
I believe Steve Mason will bounce back to his rookie season form and along with Blue Jacket talents like RJ Umberger, Grant Clitsome, Nash and Ryan Johansen I really see this team coming “out of nowhere” and surprising the Western Conference.
Anaheim proved last season that a team can make the playoffs with one major line, and a strong goalie. I could easily see the Jackets being Anaheim lite.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
2010-11: 44-29-9-94 points, second in Central
I think I’m the only person on earth that does not believe in the Chicago Blackhawks. Outside of the addition of Andrew Brunette (Minnesota), this team is no better (I would venture to say they are worse) than the team that backdoored its way into the postseason on an 82nd game loss by the Dallas Stars.
That’s right, Chicago didn’t even win to get in.
Yet, some people have picked them to not only make the playoffs, but to go far. I refuse to believe it until I’m proven wrong. Corey Crawford was good, but not great last year. The team is missing quite a few of the key players from two years ago, and while the core is still there, the core is not good enough, as we saw last year, to be better than very good.
I’m going to really go against the grain and say that the Blackhawks don’t even make the playoffs in 2012.
Vince Vaughn isn’t impressed with this preview. I wasn’t impressed with “Couple’s Retreat”. We’re even.
10. Phoenix Coyotes
2010-11: 43-26-13, 99 points, fourth in Pacific Division
Without Ilya Bryzgalov (Philadelphia), this team goes from possible playoff darkhorse to aggressively mediocre. The most interesting thing about this team is their captain, Shane Doan, was the last first round pick ever made by the Winnipeg Jets. He has played his entire career for the same organization and this year will play against the Winnipeg Jets.
Only in the NHL.
Wake me up when they finally sell this team and end the nightmare.
11. Edmonton Oilers
2010-11: 25-45-12, 62 points, fifth in Northwest
The team that owns the nicest jerseys in all of sports sure sport an ugly team. However, this is a team that I feel is on the upswing. Only the 1989-91 Quebec Nordiques have finished with the number 1 draft pick for three consecutive years. While Edmonton definitely has a chance to join that company, I think they’re just a little bit too good to do so. Besides, they may be bad, but they aren’t close to Colorado or Ottawa bad.
Edmonton gives it’s fans two very big reasons to be excited: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. These two should form a dynamite one-two punch and, along with Jordan Eberle, could potentially help the Oilers, once again, forge a dynasty
12. Dallas Stars
2010-11: 42-29-11, 95 points, fifth in Pacific Division
They came oh so close last season. Dallas just missed out on the playoffs on the final day of the season. It will be a few years until they get that close again. Gone is their franchise player, Brad Richards (NY Rangers), and their longest tenured forward, Jamie Langenbrunner (St. Louis), leaving Brenden Morrow (not the Jays pitcher), Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro to carry the load.
They cannot carry the load.
When your big replacement for the biggest free agent of the summer is Boston’s dead weight (Michael Ryder), you are in a heap of trouble.
At least GM Joe Nieuwendyk can tell his team what the playoffs are like.
13. Calgary Flames
2010-11: 41-29-12, 94 points, second in Northwest
This is a very difficult team to read. The Flames were absolutely awful for most of last season, then, not unlike the Leafs, turned things around in the second half going 27-11-9 and almost reaching the playoffs. Now, if you read my Eastern Conference preview, you know I picked the Leafs to finish eighth in the East on the heels of their big second half. The Flames however, fail to give me that same confidence.
This team will undoubtedly miss Daymond Langkow (Phoenix) and Robyn Regehr (Buffalo) and while they have some promising youth (TJ Brodie and Rene Bourque) to accompany Jarome Iginla, this is a team that’s very thin on talent, though the talent they do have is very good.
This team will revert back to their first half showing from 2010-11 but remain there for the duration of the season. It’s time to rebuild.
14. Minnesota Wild
2010-11: 39-35-8, 86 points, third in Northwest
The good people in Minnesota have had a rough year. The Twins came back to earth in dramatic fashion. The Vikings’ one bright hope is the fact they remain a frontrunner to procure Andrew Luck in next year’s NFL draft and the Wild? They sure aren’t as good as the North Stars were. Heck, they aren’t as good as older incarnations of the Wild were. Forget Marion Gaborik, this team longs for Richard Park and Cliff Ronning.
Actually, I bet if Cliff Ronning came back he’d be one of the best players on the Wild. Someone get his number.
Minnesota has now missed the playoffs three years running, and ranked 26th last season by scoring only 2.48 goals per-game. The solution for this is obviously the paragon of virtue that is Dany Heatley. I can not see Heatley adding anything to this team since he’s a player that requires a supporting cast to be anywhere close to competent on the ice. I would have no problem calling them the worst team in the West if it weren’t for…
15. Colorado Avalanche
2010-11: 30-44-8, 68 points, fourth in Northwest
The Avalanche just have not had things go their way since their dynasty came to a crashing halt. They are in the process of getting better, but there is really nowhere to go but up in this case. Semyon Varlamov (Washington) looks promising as the Avs goaltender of the future. But the future is a long way away.
On the bright side, if you cheer for a team in the West, I encourage you to see them play the Avs so you can walk away from the rink with a spring in your step and a song in your heart once your team thrashes them.
- Vancouver (1) def. Columbus (8)
- San Jose (2) def. St. Louis (7)
- Nashville (6) def. Detroit (3)
- LA (4) def. Anaheim (5)
- Vancouver (1) def. Nashville (6)
- LA (4) def. San Jose (2)
- Vancouver (1) def. LA (4)