2002-2003 Preview: How the West Will Rule

If the only thing more exciting than the playoffs is the race to the post season, then this year’s western conference showdown should be a doozy. Most likely more exciting than the finals, because we all know who wins that anyways. The west exhibits total domination annually. In case you have an argument to throw in here, I’ll throw a stat at you I’ve used many times before. 6 of the past 7 years, the west won the cup. 3 of those years the eastern team was swept. And the west is only getting better.By the end of the 2001-2002 campaign, there were 9 teams all within 9 points of eachother. And only two of those nine didn’t make the playoffs. Those teams who you could all call contestants in the playoff race were Colorado, San Jose, St. Louis, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Dallas. The list looks to grow this season with Nashville boasting its readiness for the post season, although hardly exhibiting it, and Anaheim is looking much improved. Minnesota is also looking to be rid of its expansion status and if Calgary can build on that amazing early season streak they had going last season, anything is possible.

In the east however, the only teams that have looked to show improvement are Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Jersey, and Washington. Boston, as a result of Harry Sinden refusing to shell out any long term deals, has not improved what so ever in this off season. Out: Guerin, In: Shields. You be the judge of that. Toronto did some wheeling and dealing but hardly improved. I can say though that they haven’t really weakened as much as I thought they may have. They lost Cujo but invested in the 37-year old Belfour who I believe isn’t finished yet. He’s got plenty more bars to knock over and get rowdy in. But besides that, he should play well under Quinn, especially compared to how he played under Hitch in his last year with Dallas. Yushkevich for Svehla wasn’t much of an improvement but still an attempt to address Toronto’s blue line woes. Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, and the Islanders didn’t do anything to hurt their club but I wouldn’t call it improvement.

Atlanta, although looking to be much improved by adding depth to the front line and rear guard, likely won’t be making any sudden push for the post season. Once again, as it seems an annual thing now a days, New York has drained the pocket book in an attempt to buy their way into Lord Stanley’s reach. Its hard to say what will happen there, but Holik looks like a good investment and if they picked up Bure for scoring they definitely hit the nail on the head. Philly also will be hard to foretell. I only said they improved because they picked up Hitch but who knows how well Hitch, Bobby, and one of the most stubborn teams in the league will get along. New Jersey made some risky moves in the past few months and I’m not sure what to say about them. For now, I’ll say they’re improved but only the future may tell. Its hard to imagine they’ll do much worse than last year. Washington signed Lang on the advice of the world’s best active player, which is more than good enough to be considered an improvement.

In the West my list of movers and shakers include Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, and Anaheim. That’s it, these are the only three teams that went out of their way to improve their hockey club dramatically. The rest improved with stability. Edmonton got Jiri Dopita, an under used asset from Philly, and they got rid of Hecht who was useless with the Oilers anyway. St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose, and Los Angeles just tried to keep the team they had the year before because they know what works so why mess with it. I’m not going to go out of my way to defend Nashville so I won’t. I just don’t get the Predators. They’re doing nothing to improve their hockey club. I guess they just thought why kick a dead horse if it ain’t moving. Think about it.

Dallas finally found someone who could keep up with Modano, which will make a deadly one-two combination on the first line and on the powerplay. Phoenix found what they really lacked during the playoffs, a bonafide scorer. And they found one at an affordable price (hard to think 6 mil is affordable). But really I guess its hard to say that Detroit did much spending though because the only thing they really did of any significance was get Cujo (money that would have gone to Hasek). Who by the way will not lead them to the finals. They managed to keep Chelios which was good and they made coaching adjustments from within just like the players asked. Anaheim bought long time vet Adam Oates as a quick fix for their front line problem. They also got Sykora which should make for an excellent addition to Anaheim’s scoring touch, or lack there of. The rest will pan out from within the organization. They got Mike Commodore in the Jersey deal and they have the likes of Stanislav Chistov and Joffrey Lupul to look forward to.

All in all, I just can’t wait for the upcoming season to get rolling. There’s so much to look forward to, and so much that could pan out. From Philly either falling flat on their faces or taking off under Hitch, to Roy avenging his memorable hot dog extravaganza in game 6 of the conference final last year. Whether Spezza will become the player Don Cherry once touted him as being or whether Bouwmeester will be able to gel with one of the weakest defensive cores in the league. If Lemieux’s hip can hold out or if Iginla will hold out.