Western Conference Outlook
Since the East has been done now, let’s take a look at the west.
Detroit Red Wings- Continue to be a dominating force in the Western Conference. Although they lost Schneider, they gained a mirror image in Rafalski. Now that they landed Hasek, expect them to challenge for the conference once again. Although they lost Lang, and Bertuzzi, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.
Nashville Predators- After taking a huge step forward last year, they took a huge step back this offseason. Unable to keep Vokoun, and Kariya will prove to be a huge loss. Also with trading the rights of Timonen and Hartnell, it will be interesting to see what they can do this year. Their offence is weaker, they lost their stud defenceman, and probably one of the best goalies in the world. Expect Mason to be good, but not enough to puch them out of the funk they got in this offseason. Expect them to either squeak into the playoffs or not even challenge.
St. Louis- A much better team with the addition of Kariya. Expect Andy Murray to keep drilling this team. After a very strong finish last year, the team has gone nowhere but up. Don’t be surprised if you see this team in the playoffs as a low seed. With their heart and Murray’s fire, this team could challenge. Goaltending is questionnable, but they are beginning to look like the Ducks team with a bunch of no-namers.
Columbus- Still a questionnable team. They always look like they are going to break out of it, then funk and find themselves near the basement. AFter not adding anything to monstrous expect this team to be around the same. A goaltender would be nice, but it is uncertain who is truly available without giving up anything. I hope their scouts are good because things are not promising.
Chicago- Still a team with a lot of potential. If they can get some of their younger players into the lineup night in and night out it will only help the cause. Will not contend this year but will find themselves out of the basement and possibly into a low seed. Expect nothing but good vibes coming from the Windy City this year. Looking a lot like the Penguins, a contender in a couple of years.
Vancouver- Still a great defensive team with possibly the best goalie around. The team still looks to find some offensive punch, but as long as Naslund and Morrison’s woes don’t control this team again, and the Sedin’s prove they are no fluke, this team will win the division and even challenge the conference. Be interesting though who GM Nonis signs for offense.
Minnesota- I like this team. They have a lot of promise. The only thing that I question is getting rid of Fernandez. Sure Backstrom has a great year, but what if he folds. If they can pick up a solid backup, they will be a solid team. Still not enough offense to push them into the top 4, but enough defence and goaltending to get them a playoff spot. Expect Gaborik and Demitra to be lights out if they can stay healthy.
Calgary- Still the same team as last year minus Hamrlik. Don’t expect any major problems on defence because Kipper is there to save the day. With Phaneuf probably getting more time, Calgary will be a tough team to play. Now we get to “Iron Mike”. His nickname is no joke. Expect this team to be equally as good on home ice and pick up the pace on the road. A 4-6 team.
Colorado- Wow what a signing. Ryan Smyth will be a huge addition to this team and Hannan always helps. Still questionnable in goal. Budaj is good but inconsistent. Theodore, well I won’t go there. This team will be back into the playoffs but probably won’t challenge for the cup unless the goalies pull a Roloson-Markannen of 2005-06. The toughest division in the conference.
Edmonton- Well it is time for the Oilers to re-build. After Lowe traded Smyth last year, it proved to be costly. Yes, Smyth is now in the same division and he is sure to punish the Oil. Don’t expect a miracle out of this team because it won’t happen. They will have a very high draft pick come Draft Day ’08.
Anaheim- This team is thriving off of Brian Burke. Just when it looked like their defence would weaken, they signed Schneider. When Selanne was contemplating retirement, they picked up a big hard-nosed winger who can put up similar numbers when healthy and on top of his game. They have the best defence in the league, a great tandem in net with Giguere and Bryzgalov and one of the toughest forward group to deal with. As long as Bertuzzi proves to be a great signing, this team as potential to repeat. Conference winners?
San Jose- Yeah they locked up Thornton and Rivet, and Cheechoo will probably be better, but still a question mark on this team. They have it all but when it comes to the playoffs, they sputter. After trading Toskala away, let’s just hope Nabokov does not get injured because it is not pretty after that. This team is no different from last year so expect a similar position.
Dallas- Similar to San Jose. Looks like they can put it all together, but flutter in the playoffs. If Turco can snap out of it, then this team could go a long way. Losing Nagy is no big deal because he wasn’t much help last year anyways. A 5-8th seed is in the cards for Dallas.
Los Angeles- The question mark of the Western Conference. Huge signings with Nagy, Handzus, Stuart, Preissing and Calder. This alone should push them into the playoffs. Goaltending is the problem here though. Cloutier has been injured way too often and they don’t have anything great to back it up after losing Garon. If they are willing to part with prospects and draft picks, they could get Raycroft who had a better year last year. A Playoff team, could be a miracle team with the right leadership.
Phoenix- Still not a stunning team. They have no goaltending and their players are washed-up. This team needs a new coach and a new face in the front office. It is time for this team to re-build.
I would like your input on this assessment of the teams.