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Western Conference Mini-Preview

With Ryan Getzlaf healthy and Corey Perry's emergence as the West's best power forward, the Ducks boast one of the league's best duos. What should be concerning is their defense. The Ducks are expecting Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson, Stu Bickell, Luca Sbisa, and perhaps Cam Fowler, if he makes the team, to log consistent NHL-calibre minutes, but if they can't then the Ducks' atrocious 251 GA (fourth-worst in West) could look even uglier. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B-

Other than Jarome Iginla, the Flames are chock-full of underachievers (Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester) and good depth players (Rene Bourque, Nik Hagman, Ian White). Given the strength of the Western Conference and the lack of consistent weapons the Flames boast making the playoffs will be a challenge. Miikka Kiprusoff is once again expected to play at least 75 games given the relative inexperience of his potential backups (Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving). Offense: B-, Defense: B, Goaltending: B

Oh, how the mighty have shot themselves in the foot. Dale Tallon's mismanagement of the cap has given Stan Bowman headaches with no outs. It's a good thing Tallon has a good eye for talent with a whole new slew of youngsters ready to make their mark for the defending champs having lost a bunch of good depth. The Hawks are finally under the cap but have a questionable duo of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford manning the pipes. If the goaltending can't hold then forget about a second consecutive Cup title. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: C+

<img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/craig-anderson-2009-10-15-23-10-58.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Like Phoenix and Buffalo, a big reason for the Avs' success was the play of Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't come with either Ryan Miller or Ilya Bryzgalov's pedigree. The Avs won't catch anyone off-guard this year because there most likely won't be any breakout performances (Chris Stewart) or surprising rookies (Ryan O'Reilly). Kyle Quincey has become the Avs' best blueliner but he's going to have a big workload in front of him and Anderson needs bailing out. Offense: B, Defense: B, Goaltending: B-

Columbus was just on the cusp of breaking out before Steve Mason hit the sophomore wall and the whole team imploded. The team has the pieces in place, although they may be one top pair defenseman away, to be a playoff team. All that has to happen is for everybody, especially Derick Brassard, to perform. Rick Nash is slowly growing into his leadership role and Antoine Vermette still has untapped potential. The Jackets are a young team led by rookie coach in Scott Arniel but GM Scott Howson's acquisition of seasoned veteran Chris Clark will help smooth the bumpy ride. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B-

One thing about Marc Crawford's squads is that they can really score. That's all great but it's worth nothing if you can't defend and win some games. The six highest paid players on the Stars' payroll have no-trade clauses and none of them, save Loui Eriksson, are entering their prime. With the uncertainty behind the ownership of the Stars, the club has been forced to cut costs. The team has a good group of talented individuals but it's a club that's in limbo. They're not exactly contending for the playoffs and not exactly re-building (which they should) either. Joe Nieuwendyk has provided more stability than the failed Les Jackson-Brett Hull experiment but it hasn't gotten off to a good start. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: C+

<img src="http://nbcsportsmedia.msnbc.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photo_StoryLevel/080515/080515-Nicklas%20Lidstrom-vmed-234p.widec.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Never count out the Red Wings, especially when Nicklas Lidstrom is back to give one last kick at the can. Given the cap troubles of the Hawks and their cost-cutting measures, the Red Wings are in a position to re-take the Central Division crown. It's a golden opportunity for the Wings this season with Jiri Hudler back and GM Ken Holland added some great depth in Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei. Johan Franzen is healthy. If Valtteri Filppula can play like we all know he can, watch out. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A-

It's hard to get excited about the Oilers' upcoming season but they will feature a bevy of potential superstars: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark. If you're going to watch the Oilers don't expect a win but do expect some razzle-dazzle from its youngsters. The franchise is clearly in re-building mode but I'm not sure if they've found the right coach in Tom Renney. With Sheldon Souray most likely gone 27-year old Ales Hemsky is considered a veteran and will have to help these players grow.. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C

The Kings have been inching towards the top ever so slightly since drafting Anze Kopitar. There's a good collection of young talent, veterans (Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Rob Scuderi), and prospects (Brayden Schenn, Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Jonathan Bernier) for the Kings to forge ahead. They will be big players at the deadline, looking for that extra piece. While they have no game-breaking winger yet, which was why GM Dean Lombardi went after Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings still have a very solid group that can compete. Willie Mitchell stabilizes the blueline and Drew Doughty has become of the true elite blueliners in this league. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A-

After committing some big dollars to Martin Havlat (with a few parting shots at Chicago) and a promise from rookie coach Todd Richards to implement a more attacking system, the Wild responded by finishing 13th in the conference. The Wild were relatively quiet this summer save for Mikko Koivu's overpriced extension and the signing of Matt Cullen, but the general belief in Minnesota is that this team can play much better. There's toughness up front with this group but a little short on skill. Brent Burns is still the major X factor and if he plays well he's a great spark for the Wild attack. Offense: B-, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+

Anyone who appreciates hockey has to appreciate the Predators. Led by GM David Poile and Barry Trotz, one of the league's best coaches, the Preds play a blue-collar game and win on a consistent basis. Never mind that they've never won a single playoff series – that they've managed to even make the playoffs consistently with such a strict payroll budget is astounding. Expect more of the same this year. Some things just don't change. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+

If the Phoenix Coyotes can win 50 games again this year Dave Tippett may be the best coach in the league. The roster isn't anything to smirk at but it's not exactly intimidating either. The Desert Dogs' fate will be solely based on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. Picking up Ray Whitney was a shrewd move for a young team and if they can get Kyle Turris and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to make significant contributions they are a dangerous team. But count me in as one of those doubters, especially after losing shot-blocking machine Zbynek Michalek. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: A-

Some people don't think the Sharks can win without Evgeni Nabokov, but with an offense that features at least two 40-goal scorers (Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau) and one of the league's best playmakers in Joe Thornton, there's no shortage of weapons up front for Todd McLellan although the bottom six isn't great. Dan Boyle is best powerplay quarterback in the West and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's production can't dip any further. Whether or not this team can succeed in the post-season is yet another question. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+

Things were looking so good in St. Louis when they took a giant step back. There's enough talent up front even but David Backes and Brad Boyes need to regain their scoring touches. Jaroslav Halak is more than an adequate replacement for Chris Mason. Erik Johnson is a stud defenseman but they still need Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to stay healthy. Easier said than done, of course. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+

<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3416/3276791653_6041358afd.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Bar none, the Canucks are the best team in the West. This isn't just some hometown bias working here, it's the truth. No other team can match the Canucks' depth, up front or on the blueline, and there shouldn't be any questions in net... unless Keith Ballard knocks out Roberto Luongo. We may see Mason Raymond score 30 this year and while many didn't like the Raffi Torres signing, I definitely did. After losing out on Arron Asham you can't go wrong with a former 27-goal scorer with some sandpaper for only $1 million bucks. Offense: A+, Defense: A, Goaltending: A

STANDINGS

  • 1. Vancouver
  • 2. San Jose
  • 3. Detroit
  • 4. Chicago
  • 5. Los Angeles
  • 6. Phoenix
  • 7. Nashville
  • 8. Calgary
  • 9. St. Louis
  • 10. Colorado
  • 11. Columbus
  • 12. Minnesota
  • 13. Anaheim
  • 14. Dallas
  • 15. Edmonton



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No Way Calgary goaltending is rated that low.

its probably just rated that low because of the back-ups, and because of how many games that Kipper has to play.........must get a little fatiguing playing in that many games!! bored.gif

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I didn't know letter grades could only range from A to C. And there's no way Anaheim finishes 13th. You've overrated Chicago too in my opinion, and you've also overrated the Flames, while probably underrating the Blues. How does LA goaltending get A-? B at best.

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kirk mcleans baby, yes, the Flames' goaltending would be rated higher if Kiprusoff didn't have two very, very inexperienced back-ups behind him. If I was Darryl Sutter, even if Kiprusoff can play 75+ games I'd be looking for a more experienced back-up, either at the NHL or AHL level.

Gretzky's Mullet, I only used A+ to C- because I don't think any team deserves a D (there's enough parity to reasonably deduce that even a team like Edmonton could make the playoffs... however low those odds may be). Anaheim could finish as high as 10th but I can't see it happening because they don't have a well-rounded team. That defense just isn't good enough to be a playoff team. Don't forget that the difference between 8th and 13th in the West is about 5-8 points every year. The Flames' rank may be high but if all goes according to plan the Sutters do have a playoff team. LA's goaltending gets an A- because Quick, Bernier, and Ersberg are all trending up in varying degrees. Quick was one of the few goalies who came close to 40 wins last year even with an average SV%. Chicago still has a good team even without the depth. The Blues were a hard team to figure out and I had them rated that low because I personally don't think Davis Payne can do the job.

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Although Chicago lost some depth, they have good young talent (as you mentioned) ready to go and they still have their top 4 defensemen and top 6 forwards.  Now you add Turco who won't have to win any games- just not lose too many and I think the division is still theirs.

LA is dangerous and have some pretty impressive players.  My gut says they will overtake San Jose.  Niemi is good but the outstanding defense of Chicago made his numbers more impressive than he is.

And Anaheim is not the 3rd worst team in the West and if they pick up a good defensman. . . Bieksa perhaps?. . . look for them to sneak into the playoffs.

I dont think Calgary is going to be any good but when you play Edmonton 8 times and Minny 8 times you are bound to have a good record.

1:Vancouver 2:LA 3:Chicago 4:San Jose 5:Detroit 6:Calgary 7:St Louis 8:Phoenix 9:Colorado 10:Columbus 11:Anaheim 12:Nashville 13:Minnisota 14:Dallas 15:Edmonton

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LA definitely has a good chance to overtake SJ. It'll be an interesting battle all season long. Anaheim could sneak in if they shore up that blueline, or if Festling and Mikkelson and Fowler all make positive impacts. Calgary will be bounced in the first round even if they do make it but for Sutter and co. that's a positive good-faith sign to the fans who were up in arms after missing the playoffs last year.

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It may be wishfull thinking that Chicago has fallen that much. I remember last year Chicago's goaltending was suspect too. Turco had the same stats as Neimi but no where as good a defense in Dallas. And as if their transition game was not quick enough, Turco moves the puck up the ice extremely well. Their special teams have not changed one bit either. No Byfuglien in the playoffs though and Verstig is a big loss. They did however get some talent back for their cap dump.

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It may be wishfull thinking that Chicago has fallen that much. I remember last year Chicago's goaltending was suspect too. Turco had the same stats as Neimi but no where as good a defense in Dallas. And as if their transition game was not quick enough, Turco moves the puck up the ice extremely well. Their special teams have not changed one bit either. No Byfuglien in the playoffs though and Verstig is a big loss. They did however get some talent back for their cap dump.

I have a hard time believing that losing Versteeg, Ladd, Eager, and Burish won't hurt. As much talent as Chicago is pumping through the pipeline their new blood lack experience. I didn't think Chicago's goaltending was suspect although I have to say I didn't see Antti Niemi coming. Bowman knows that given the quality of players up front and on the blueline they don't need an all-star netminder which is why Turco makes sense even though he's nowhere near what he used to be. Turco's stickhandling abilities will definitely help, that's a great point.

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