NHL Western Conference Midseason Report Card

Dan NoonCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2009

Here is the other half of my report card in regards to the Western Conference.

My grades are based on overall performance and whether the team has lived up to, exceeded, or failed to meet preseason expectations.

Anaheim Ducks:

This just might be the toughest team to grade so far in the entire NHL. Sure, they are sitting fifth in the conference, but who thinks they should be higher?

It's hard to say, considering how well the Sharks are playing. Fourth or fifth is as high as the Ducks are going to finish. Ryan Getzlaf is having a stellar season, and the emergence of Bobby Ryan is just what the Ducks thought he would do.

The special teams are not great, but the goaltending is solid as usual in Anaheim. They are above .500 on the road so that helps their grade to this point.

Grade: B

Calgary Flames:

This hockey team knows how to win and win mean. Everyone in the organization, from the G.M. to the coach, to the players always seem to have a chip on their shoulders and enjoy beating up on other teams.

Finally, the Flames have found secondary scoring in the form of Mike Cammelleri. Jarome Iginla is one of, if not, the best leaders in the NHL, and everyone around him is better with him on the team. Kipper is solid between the pipes, and the defense is rock solid.

In my mind, this team should be mentioned in the same breath as San Jose and Detroit, and I don't think any team can defeat them in a seven-game playoff series.

Grade: A

Chicago Blackhawks:

Who expected this team to excel with the way they have been doing? One of the best home teams in the entire league, the 'Hawks look very similar to the Penguins of 2007-08—middle of the pack in special teams and nobody in the top 30 scoring in the NHL.

This team wins as a team and loses as a team. They have proved that with good coaching, anything is possible.

I can't see the Hawks do too much damage in the playoffs, but just making it to the second season is a great improvement for this club. The 'Hawks should be a top team in the West for many years to come.

Grade: A

Colorado Avalanche:

The Avs didn't have high expectations for this season, but even with that said, they still have had a season to forget.

With two goalies who are nothing more than backups and an aging captain who is often injured, the Avalanche have had to rely on their young stars to carry the team. They have also failed at this however.

With Ryan Smyth at 40th overall in points, that is the highest ranking player they have.

Less than stellar special teams, I'm not surprised that this team is 14th in the conference.

Grade: D

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Last on the power play and middle of the pack on the penalty kill, this team should be better.

Great goaltending in the form of super rookie Steve Mason has kept this team in the running for the final playoff spot in the West.

Rick Nash has lived up to the pressure of being a star player, but as long as they continue to allow more goals than they score, it will be yet another long summer for the Jackets.

Grade: C-

Dallas Stars:

2008-09 has been two different seasons for the Stars. The season with and without Sean Avery.

This team is 16-7-4 since the "sloppy seconds" incident, and this team looks like they just keep getting stronger. Marty Turco is starting to play like an elite goalie finally, and Riberio, Richards, and Modano have been shouldering the load up front.

25th on the PP and 26th on the PK, Dallas will have to improve their special teams if they want to make a run at the playoffs. I'm giving this grade on the team's performance since Avery has left.

Grade: B-

Detroit Red Wings:

Well, here they are again. Near the top of the standings, this team only knows one thing—winning. Not much else to say.

Detroit is the model of excellence in the NHL and are poised to seriously try to defend their title.

Grade: A+

Edmonton Oilers:

Playing in oil country has had its ups and downs this season. Sitting in eighth right now, the Oilers look like a team on the brink. Their young stars are not playing to their potential, and the Dustin Penner experiment seems to be over amidst trade rumours.

Terrible special teams and a three-goalie rotation will be the reasons why the Oilers don't make the playoffs. They give up more than three goals a game and can't even win 50 percent of their faceoffs.

Unless they get on a serious roll, Edmonton will continue to be near the bottom of the class. But so far, I think they are over-achieving.

Grade: C

Los Angeles Kings:

Only four points behind eighth place—who saw this coming?

With decent special teams and surprisingly decent goaltending, the Kings are no longer a laughing stock. This team is stellar in the faceoff circle and own one of the most exciting young players in the game in Anzi Kopitar.

Look for the Kings to battle for eighth but fall short, make a couple moves in the summer, and earn a berth into the second season next year.

Grade: C+

Minnesota Wild:

The Wild are where they are right now for one reason—Backstrom. This guy is phenomenal.

Gaborik was a bust this year and his days in Minnesota are over.

Eighth on the PP and second on the PK, the coach gets full marks.

The Wild score by committee, much like the Blackhawks.

Nothing bad to say about the Wild, a solid team with the best fan-base and a good home record.

Grade: B

Nashville Predators:

The Preds are not a surprise team anymore. I find that odd, because as soon as we all think they will again somehow make the playoffs, they have laid out a dud of a season so far.

One of the worst road teams, Nashville has suffered because of it. I think Barry Trotz's time is running thin, and unless the power play improves, the Preds could be in the Hedman-Tavares sweepstakes.

Grade D

Phoenix Coyotes:

I am surprised at the success of this team so far considering all the front office problems that they are having. Playing in front of scarce crowds every home game, the Coyotes have kept themselves in a position to have a run at the playoffs.

Full marks to Mr. Gretzky and his staff for getting this young team to play up to their potential. Shane Doan is having a career season, and Bryzgalov is making Anaheim regret moving him with every game he plays.

This team will make the playoffs if they can improve the power play, but for now, that part of the game has hurt their grade. However, their overall success to this point has surprised everyone and vastly improves their midseason mark.

Grade: C

San Jose Sharks:

There is nothing to say about the Sharks that we all didn't expect. The Sharks are a deadly hockey team with a great coach, amazing goalie, stellar defence, and great offence. Full marks to the Sharks.

Grade: A+

St. Louis Blues:

The Blues are in last place, but I think it has something to do with playing Detroit and Chicago a lot. The Blues are right where everyone expected them to be, and with the exception of Brad Boyes (trade bait), the Blues have nothing going for them.

Arguably their best D-man is playing in Niagara in the OHL right now, and I have a strong feeling the Blues will be back in the postseason in a couple of years. This is the team I expect Victor Hedman to end up playing for.

Grade: D-

Vancouver Canucks:

Once again the 'Nucks are struggling for offense. What a surprise.

They have failed to meet everybody's expectations and have actually gotten worse since the arrival of Mats Sundin. Losing eight in a row on home ice does not help their chances of going anywhere this season.

Possibly the biggest failure of the West, the Canucks have let down a lot of people. Only Luongo can save them now.

Grade: F


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