2013 Stanley Cup Road Map for NHL Western Conference

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2013 Stanley Cup Road Map for NHL Western Conference
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Last year's Western Conference finalists were both from the NHL Pacific Division and are off to slow starts in 2013

In ordinary seasons, the first NHL Stanley Cup forecasts are put out before the first regular-season game. My original prediction to win the Western Conference was the St. Louis Blues, but too little was known to make my opinions worth sharing.

Because of the NHL lockout, there were no preseason games and even training camp was very short. There was no time to evaluate how young talent would perform vs. offseason expectations and how well veterans maintained their performance level.

More weight is thus applied to early games. Not only are they a better barometer than how a team looks "on paper" but each game is over 70 percent more of the season in 2013 than with a full schedule.

Most teams have now played as many games as they would have in the preseason. In all, the Western Conference has played 64 of 360 scheduled contests, or 17.8 percent—about the same percentage that should have been completed by the 2012 Presidential Election.

The NHL can now fill the void left behind by the passing of the Super Bowl with 12 weeks of hockey. The shortened season makes every week more intense.

It is the perfect storm: A small enough time period remains of the season to build excitement, the sample size is large enough to get a feel and it is still early enough that anything can happen. Just looking at the Western Conference, a few questions spring to mind after the early-season action.

How well will the quick-starting Anaheim  Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues hold up?

Are the struggles of the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes going to derail the chances for financially-strapped franchises?

Does a disappointing start by the Los Angeles Kings mean anything? Will the Detroit Red Wings miss their first playoffs in two decades?

The following slides predict seeds and results for each round of the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Finals with the predicted winner of the lightly traveled teams out east...

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