San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have most of the same players from last year's squad returning this year. Those who departed from the team won’t make a big enough impact to drop the Sharks down the leader board.
While the Sharks may not be able to duplicate their President Trophy winning season, on paper they should at least finish with 48+ wins, and that may just be good enough.
Devin Setoguchi will be able to build off the experience he got from playing his first full season last year, and will be called on once again to be a scoring threat.
Dan Boyle and Rob Blake will also be making their second tour with the Sharks, keeping the “D” as one of the best in the league.
If Jonathan Cheechoo, who was plagued with injuries throughout last year, can bounce back and provide 25+ goals this season, then the Sharks may just make a run for the President Trophy (and maybe even the Stanley Cup) again.
The Blackhawks added a huge name to their roster this year by signing Marian Hossa, a 40-goal scorer. Only one player on the Hawks roster scored over 30 goals this season, so Hossa is going to add a huge punch.
Even though only one player scored 30 goals from the Hawks last season, four players scored 20+ goals, and three of those players scored 25 or above.
If that wasn’t enough to get you excited about this team, factor in that they only have two forwards who are older then 30. The Hawks are poised to be a good team for a very long time.
Last year they made it to the the Western Conference Finals, and now they play with the confidence that they can go all the way. The only question left is how will Cristobal Huet play? Will he be the Huet who went 32-14-6 with the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals, or the Cristobal Huet who went 20-15-4 last season?
The Calgary Flames looked poised to clinch the Northwest Division Title last year, but injuries, and a collapse at the end of the season, let the Vancouver Canucks come from behind and take it away.
This season the Flames added some more depth to their D by signing Swedish defenseman Staffan Kronwall, and one of the best young defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester.
After losing some forwards near the end of last season to injuries, the Flames signed some bottom-six fillers such as Jason Jaffray, Garth Murray, and Nigel Dawes.
Olli Jokinen, who was acquired at last years trade deadline, has last years playoff experience to draw from, and will benefit from playing on the same line as Jarome Iginla in his first full season with the Flames.
Will some key losses and age finally catch up with the Red Wings? Gone is Marian Hossa, Ty Conklin, Mikael Samuelsson, and Jiri Hudler (Hudler is in limbo right now, will he go to Europe or stay?.)
Their goalie, Chris Osgood, is 36-year-old, and statistically had one of his worse seasons last year.
Their All-Star defensemen, Nicklas Lidstrom, is 39 this year. While Lidstrom is one of the best (if not the best) defensemen in all the NHL, you have to wonder how much he has left in the tank.
First-line partners Brian Rafalski is 35, Tomas Holmstrom 36, and Draper is 38. Eventually, time catches up with everyone.
While the Wings should still post a good record this season, I don’t think we will see them in that No. 1 or No. 2 spot.
There will be no "barely-making-the-playoffs" this year for the Anaheim...the Ducks are going to have a secure spot.
The Ducks are a very well-rounded team with a good group of young guns (Joffrey Lupul, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf), and some excellent older players to learn from (Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, Saku Koivu).
Young goalie Jonas Hiller is going to get some more time this year, and may even lock up the No. 1 job. If he can play like he did in the playoffs last year, Hiller may just have what it takes to bring the cup back to Anaheim.
The Vancouver Canucks should be able to secure a playoff spot this year without Mats Sundin on their squad.
The Canucks have the young sensation Cody Hodgson who, as long as he doesn’t have a horrible camp, should make this years team. While Cody Hodgson doesn’t have the veteran experience of playing in the NHL, recent signing Mikael Samuelsson does.
Samuelsson will be called on to play as a top-six forward (perhaps even on the first line), and brings in a ton of post-season experience (something the Canucks lacked last year).
While they lost Mattias Ohlund, the Canucks have some guys (Bieska, Edler, O'Brien) who are all improving. With All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo in net, you have to give the Canucks good odds of making the post-season.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues were one of last year's Cinderella teams. The team only had their most dangerous offensives threat, Paul Kariya, for 11 games out of the season.
When you consider the fact that they hadn’t placed higher then 10th since the '05 season, it is clear that the Blues are a rejuvenated team.
Adding Ty Conklin provides some depth in net, and the Blues are going use their experience from last year to take themselves to the post-season.
The Wild came close to making the post-season last year. After making some changes to the front office and offense, the Wild may be ready to make it to the post-season.
Losing Gaborik was an inevitable for the Wild, so they made a deal and brought in Martin Havlat. If Havlat can stay healthy (much like Gaborik), then he can be a great player.
The Wild are also moving to a more offensive system, which should compliment players like Havlat and Koivu. The Wild are hungry, and I believe in them.
The Kings added another scoring threat, and a good shut-down defenseman. On paper, they look like they may have a shot, but I’m not convinced. Look for them to rack up a few more wins this season, but will probably end up in 10th place.
How I see the Western Confrence ending up:
1.San Jose Sharks
4.Detroit Red Wings
7.St Louis Blues
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