Bottom Feeders, NHL Western Conference-
Who Will Miss the Playoffs?
Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
With the NHL season just weeks away everyone is wondering about their favorite team. Did they do enough in the off-season to secure a playoff spot?
The NHL’s Western Conference will be a dog fight from start to finish, there will be little room for error, a strong start is a must for those that yearn to represent the West in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Without further adieu, here is my list of teams that will be left on the outside looking in when it comes to making the Wetern Conference playoffs.
2008-09 rankings- Goals For= 30th; Goals Against= 26th; Finish= 15th Western Conference, 28th Overall.
The addition of Craig Anderson in net should solidify Colorado’s goaltending situation. Last year Colorado employed Andrew “Red Light” Raycroft and Peter Budaj as their goaltenders, probably one of the worst combinations in NHL history.
Anderson, who was signed away from the Florida Panthers as a free agent posted a 15-7-5 record, with a 2.97 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, good enough for third in the League. Budaj will be back, in a very limited role.
The Avs also brought in defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing. Quincey has the ability to move the puck and with 5 goals and 34 assists last year as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, he has proven to be a threat offensively.
Preissing, who also played for the Kings last season, was limited to just 22 games due to injury. The Avs are hoping Preissing will revert to his totals with the Ottawa Senators and San Jose Sharks, where he posted 38 and 43 points respectively.
The departure of the legendary Joe Sakic will hurt. Sakic, who retired over the summer, was the face of the franchise, the Avs leader and one of the best offensive players in the history of the game. Simply put, you cannot replace a guy like Sakic overnight.
Another player who found a new home was forward Ryan Smyth. Smyth, who also brought great leadership qualities, is now a member of the Los Angeles Kings. His presence in front of the net will be sorely missed on a power play that struggled to score goals as it was.
Smyth will be replaced up front with the likes of Ryan Stoa, who spent last season as a member of the University of Minnesota. Stoa, who was the Avs second pick in the 2005 NHL entry draft, 34th overall, has the ability to be a great power forward in the NHL. At 6’3” and 205 pounds, good skating abilities and his effectiveness down low, Stoa is a great candidate to make the roster in 2009-10.
Otherwise, Colorado’s first line of Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny and Milan Hedjuk ranks right up there with the NHL’s best, but the teams offensive depth is questionable at best, which should be the Avs downfall.
The Avalanche are going to be in tough this year. They owned the 25th ranked power play last season and the 21st ranked penalty kill and with special teams being such a huge factor every season, I don’t like Colorado’s chances.
Look for the Avalanche to struggle all year, a bottom five finish is likely their destiny.
2008-09 rankings- Goals For= 20th; Goals Against= 26th; Finish= 12th Western Conference, 23rd overall.
The Dallas Stars had a brutal 2008-09 season. The Sean Avery fiasco, Marty Turco’s poor goaltending, Brenden Morrow and Sergei Zubov’s extended injuries and an inability to put the puck in the net, all conspired to hand Dallas one of it’s worst seasons ever.
Going forward, the Stars brought in goaltender Alex Auld as insurance in net and Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka on defense. The moves strike me as unimpressive and when you consider the Stars said goodbye to Zubov, Steven Begin, Mark Parrish, Darryl Sydor and others, the additions do not exceed the subtractions.
Mike Modano is a diminishing asset as is Jere Lehtinen. Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro will all be relied upon heavily to do the scoring, all of whom are consistently hot and cold players.
Fabian Brunnstrom will be asked to have a big season. After being touted as the best player not in the NHL last season, Brunnstrom did not meet expectations and needs to find his game and be an effective scorer this season. If Brunnstrom flops, it’s just another shortcoming for the Stars.
Defensively the Stars are weak. A top six of Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Niklas Grossman, Matt Niskanen, Karlis Skrastins and Mark Fristic is anything but spectacular. I expect the Stars defense to struggle mightily and I wouldn’t count on any of them to step up and be an offensive juggernaut either.
Special teams should continue to be a source of embarrassment for the Stars. The Stars had the 27th ranked power play and the 24th ranked penalty kill last year, I expect more of the same this season.
If you ask me the Stars are real close to a full rebuild. Look for the Stars to finish at or near the bottom of the NHL. Could Marty Turco be traded this year? Modano?
Phoenix (Hamilton) Coyotes
2008-09 rankings- Goals For= 26th; Goals Against= 24th; Finish= 13th Western Conference, 25th overall.
Let me preface my thoughts on the Coyotes by asking a question. If anyone other than Wayne Gretzky is behind the Coyote’s bench the past few seasons, does he have a job in 2009-10? Yeah, I thought not. Gretzky might just be the best player to ever play the game, but he’s a dud behind the bench.
Ok, with that behind me, let’s look at the team.
I will make this short and sweet. The Coyotes off-ice ownership fiasco has to be extremely disheartening to the players. When and if this situation finally gets resolved, there is liable to be a ton of fallout.
Will the players have to re-locate to Hamilton? Who will be behind the bench when the season commences? Will the Coyotes be given the green light to increase their payroll? Or will they need to reduce the payroll and clean house? If the NHL continues to control the Coyotes is that a conflict of interest? Is anyone going to bother to show up in the stands?
Clearly, there will be plenty of distractions for the players this season. The question is, can they get it done on the ice?
The off-season has proven to be a pathetic exercise of futility for the ‘Yotes. Aging veteran defenseman Adrian Aucoin was brought in to shore up the D, Jim Vandermeer was brought in to ride the bench, unproven goaltender Jason Labarbera was brought in to off-spell starter Ilya Bryzgalov in net, yada, yada, it all amounts to Bo...Bo “Diddly” squat!
The Coyotes shipped Steven Reinprecht out, Ken Klee, Dmitri kalinin, Nigel Dawes and others out. The Reinprecht move seemed curious, especially when he was the third leading scorer on a team that struggles to score.
The late season move to bring Scottie Upshall should help the Coyotes grind out a few more wins, but don’t expect this team to improve dramatically.
Big seasons will be needed from a number of youngsters including, forwards Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Peter Mueller and Viktor Tikhonov. Boedker looks like the real deal, as does Mueller, but Tikhonov will likely struggle again this season and Turris, while talented, has struggled to adjust his undersized body to the rigors of the NHL season.
On the back end the Coyotes look pretty rough around the edges. Ed Jovanovski, while talented, is not a number one defenseman anymore. Expecting Jovo-cop to log 20 plus minutes a night is insane and his plus/minus rating of -15 last season was an eyesore. A combination of Jovanovski, Zybynek Michalek and Keith Yandle will be asked to run the power play, but don’t expect miracles—the ‘Yotes ranked 28th overall last season.
Poor special teams, lack of depth on the blue line, off-ice distractions, poor coaching, possible re-location, possible attendance issues, financial concerns and questionable goaltending will all conspire to put the Coyotes into the NHL’s basement this season. A bottom five finish is all but a certainty.
Nashville Predators- 2008-09 rankings- Goals For= 24th; Goals Against= 13th; Finish= 10th Western Conference, 19th overall.
For the Nashville Predators, the 2009-10 season will be a difficult one. The off-season saw the Preds lose Radek Bonk, Greg de Vries, Ville Koistinen and Greg Zanon, amongst others.
While the losses were not earth shattering, the Arrivals were equally unimpressive. defensemen Cody franson and Alexander Sulzer will join the team as will highly touted prospect Colin Wilson.
Steve Sullivan, who had yet another injury filled season in 2008-09, will be counted on to be healthy in 2009-10. If Sullivan can remain healthy he will be a huge boost the the Predators 24th ranked offense and their 26th ranked power play. Without him I am afraid it will be another season of “What ifs” for the Preds, a season without a birth in the playoffs.
Jason Arnott, J-P Dumont, David Legwand and Martin Erat will lead this team offensively, but do they collectively have enough to outscore their opponents in the ultra-offensive minded Western Conference? I think not!
In-between the pipes, Pekka Rinne will be asked to have another stellar season and 2007-08 hero Dan Ellis is waiting in the wings to get his starting job back. Clearly, goaltending would appear to be the Preds strength.
Special teams will be an uphill battle for the Preds. Ranked 10th overall, the Predators Penalty Kill was one of the NHL’s best, but they "blew chunks" on the power play, finishing the 2008-09 season ranked 26th overall. Once again, scoring is an issue.
The Predators should be a very competitive team in 2009-10, but I just couldn’t bring myself to slot them into the playoffs. It will be close, but I don’t foresee Steve Sullivan playing a full 82 games, which will hurt the Preds chances. When everything is all said and done I expect the Preds to finish tenth or eleventh overall in the Western Conference.
Columbus Blue Jackets- 2008-09 rankings- Goals For= 21st; Goals Against= 9th, Finish= 7th Western Conference, 16th overall.
Admittedly, picking Columbus to finish out of the playoffs is a tough pill to swallow. Everything about the 2008-09 season points to the Blue Jackets having a huge year in 2009-10, that said, I think all the stars aligned for the BJ’s last year and I cannot foresee it happening again.
For starters, let’s look at the success that rookie goaltender Steve "The Canadian Shield" Mason had last season. Do you think he is capable of playing that well again? Personally, I think Mason is a great goaltender, with the potential to be one of the games best, but I have watched numerous sophomore goalies come back after a strong rookie year (Dan Ellis comes to mind) and fall a bit flat. Expect Mason to do the same, just not to the extent that others have.
Am I talking about a complete collapse? No, far from it, but I do foresee Mason struggling to put up the kind of numbers he did last year. Heck, any goaltender would be hard-pressed to have back-to-back career seasons...Mason is not Superman, is he?
Franchise forward Rick Nash re-signed in the off-season, which should give the owners and fans something to cheer about. Nash is one of the NHL’s best forwards, one fully capable of putting up top ten numbers this season, especially with the likes of Kristian Huselius and Derick Brassard to play with on the first line.
The second line of Antoine Vermette, Jakub Voracek and R.J. Umberger is impressive and, with the addition of talented Nikita Filatov a real possibility this season, the BJ’s look solid up front.
Where I worry about this team is on defense where Rotislav Klesa and Fedor Tyutin are pencilled in as your one-two punch. The BJ’s struggled on the power play last year, ranked 25th overall and the penalty kill was a woeful 21st overall. Clearly much of the blame falls on the shoulders of the defense, expect more of the same results this year.
In the tough Western Conference a loss here or there can mean the difference between making the playoffs and going golfing early. The Blue Jackets will be tough to beat, their compete level will be good, but I gotta bet that Mason will take a small step back and the defense is a huge question mark to me.
Poor defense, questionable special teams and a slight slip in Mason’s play all combine to see the BJ’s on the outside looking in when the NHL playoffs roll around. Again, it’s going to be real close, but I had to choose someone to miss out and the BJ’s are the team.
2008-09 Rankings- Goals For= 18th; Goals Against= 22nd; Finish= 11th Western Conference, 19th overall.
The Edmonton Oilers made two major changes in the off-season. First they brought in distinguished head coach Pat Quinn to take over the duties behind the bench. Quinn, who has had success everywhere he has coached, should change the locker room for the better and, in all likelihood, will continue to allow the Oilers to play a high-flying offensive game.
The second major change came in the form of former Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The “Bulin wall”, as he is so aptly nicknamed, should be an improvement on Dwayne Roloson, (who was great for the Oilers last season), but I do question Khabibulin’s ability to play a full season, which may very well cost this team a playoff spot. If Khabibulin does go down the Oilers have virtual unknown Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers penciled in to the backup goaltending position, which may prove to be a huge problem.
Edmonton’s inability to land a front line player is well documented. Marian Hossa chose the Detroit Red Wings in 2008-09 and the Oilers were unable to land Dany Heatley from the Ottawa Senators via trade this offseason.
The first line of Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky is decent, but not in the class of many Western Conferences teams first option. Simply put, the Oilers need more up front if they want to be a true contender in the Western Conference.
The Oilers power play ranked 22nd overall last season, while the penalty kill was a paltry 27th overall. Much of the blame can be directed at the defense, where the Oilers lack a legitimate shut-down guy.
The departure of forward Ales Kotalik, who had 7 goals in just 19 games, may appear to be small, but Kotalik has the tools to score 25-30 goals and that output will be sorely missed.
The Oilers should have an improved effort under the tutelage of Pat Quinn and the power play should get a shot in the arm as well. That said, I am hard pressed to slot Edmonton into a playoff spot.
The Oilers improve form 2008-09, but not enough to earn a playoff spot, 9th or 10th overall in the West is a real possibility.
Los Angeles Kings
2008-09 Rankings- Goals For= 27th; Goals Against= 11th; Finish= 15th western Conference, 26th Overall.
This was the toughest team for me. I like where the Kings are headed and I see a bright future in L.A...sooner rather than later.
When you look at the Kings, there are a few stats that are puzzling to me. I am baffled by the Kings 11th best goals against per game last season...how did they pull that off with their goaltending? Another stat that stood out was the Kings 7th best penalty kill and to a lesser extent the Kings 14th ranked power play. Collectively these are great numbers.
With that in mind, I was equally impressed with the numbers the St. Louis Blues put up last season, ultimately I chose St. Louis over L.A., but the margin was very slim.
The Kings have one of the best young defenses in the entire NHL. Rookie defenseman Drew Doughty was solid last year and, if not for Steve mason, easily could have been the rookie of the year. Jack Johnson is highly touted and should make an immediate impact on this team. The addition of Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi should solidify the second unit, while Matt Greene, Sean O’Donnell and Peter Harrold provide great depth. Defense is the Kings strength.
The issue for the Kings is their forwards. The Kings ranked 27th overall last year in scoring, which was their undoing. Sure the power play was ranked 14th overall, but 5 on 5 the Kings really struggled.
The addition of “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth should bring a tremendous veteran presence. His leadership skills on and off the ice should prove very valuable to a young team trying to find it’s way. Smith will also be valuable on the power play, he is tough to move in front of the net, which should help him net his fair share of PP goals.
In net the Kings are going with Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg. Both goalies are unproven, whoever establishes themselves early will likely get the nod as the Kings’ starter.
A better effort form Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll and Michael Handzus is a must for the Kings. The addition of Oscar Moller and Teddy Purcell should add some offensive depth, which should net the Kings a few more W’s.
The possibility of the Kings making the playoffs is good, but going form 26th overall to 16th or better is tough to do this day and age. Expect the Kings to be in the playoff race for much of the season and, with the right addition/s, they could very well find themselves in a playoff spot.
That concludes my analysis of the NHL’s Western Conference Bottom Feeders. Agree? Disagree? How do you feel about Minnesota’s chances? Let your comments be known in the comment box.
Until next time,