As the 2008-2009 hockey season draws closer, I felt now would be a decent time to do a preseason projection for the Western Conference.
For those of you who follow my work, I will not be covering the Eastern Conference, as I only follow the east come playoff time. I will not project points, as it is useless.
Instead, I will project all 15 teams, and discuss why they will or will not make the playoffs. Enjoy, and I look forward to the feedback:
1. Detroit Red Wings
An easy first choice. Not since the lockout has a team dominated in every dimension of the game and claimed the title so dominantly. Adding Marian Hossa makes this team eve more dangerous, and they've lost no real high-value players. Detroit will lose in the Conference Finals, doing a far cry better than the Stanley Cup champions before them.
2. San Jose Sharks
The top team in the Pacific claims the crown again this year, having a potent defense and goaltender returning.
The Sharks focused on defense in the offseason. Landing Rob Blake alone is enough to improve the blue line, but with Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich added as well, this team is dangerous.
If there is ever a year the Sharks could win it all, this is it—but with a new coach and so many changes I fear they fall short yet again at the hands of a Pacific Division rival.
3. Minnesota Wild
In the crazy Northwest Division, this is an almost impossible spot to predict. An educated hockey analyst could look at stats all day and still incorrectly project the Northwest.
Minnesota has shown it has what it takes to be top dog, and they will do it again in '08-09. Their blue line is still too weak to really move them far into the playoffs, but their forwards are dangerous and they've got a solid goaltender in net.
4. Dallas Stars
Another team with few changes. The loss of Norstrom to retirement will slightly hurt the Dallas defensive core, but with energetic youth mixed with great experienced players, this team is potentially one of the most dangerous in the NHL.
A full season of Brad Richards and Sean Avery, along with great goaltending by Marty Turco, could easily flip Dallas over San Jose. Dallas will yet again be the team to stand in the way of the Sharks' Cup. Projected Western Conference Champion, in seven games.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
I must admit, the fifth and sixth spots are where things get crazy. The Blackhawks a young, talented team on the rise in the Central Division.
This season will likely see the rivalry between the Wings and Hawks turn even bloodier with the Winter Classic, and motivate the Hawks to great things. The Blackhawks will get a lesson in playoff success from the Stars, and lose in a one-sided 4-5 matchup.
6. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks will start the season slow, speed up, and skid into the final games of the season. Regardless of Teemu Selanne, this is the same basic team we saw last year. Scoring will still be an issue, and the Ducks will find better Pacific teams in the playoffs. Anaheim will likely beat the Wild and lose to the Sharks.
7. Phoenix Coyotes
Yep, the 'Yotes make it. Bryzgalov and the youth movement in Phoenix will boost one more Pacific Division team into the postseason. A hard-fought, bloody series between San Jose and Phoenix will see the Coyotes limp home licking their wounds.
8. Nashville Predators
I would love to put Columbus here. But in the Central—where it is Detroit, and then everyone else—Nashville will be neck-and-neck with Chicago. The Predators will win their final couple of games to leapfrog Columbus into the playoffs, only to be swept by the Wings.
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets will make a push for the playoffs, but still fall short. The motivation is there, but late-season losses will keep the team short. Rough guess is the Jackets miss the playoffs by four points or less.
10. Colorado Avalanche
With or without Joe Sakic, this team doesn’t impress me. Sakic alone can’t carry the team, and I see no defense to really prevent me from giving Colorado this low of a position. I truly hope I am wrong here.
11. Edmonton Oilers
A couple of changes in the Oilers lineup doesn’t yield more success, sadly. This team needs a year or two more to really shake things up, and will likely be another team that barely misses the playoffs.
12. Calgary Flames
The Northwest is by no means terrible, but the playoffs need room for the loaded Pacific Division. The ninth through twelfth spots will likely miss the playoffs by six to eight points.
Calgary’s defense and goaltending are good, but they have no real impressive forward-scoring, aside from Iginla.
13. St. Louis Blues
A small jump up in improvement, but St. Louis should still miss the playoffs by quite a bit. The youth movement here needs a few more years. The scoring and goaltending are there, but the defense is a little too green.
14. Los Angeles Kings
A great team with no goaltending, in the tough Pacific Division. The Kings will be like a nerd at a high-school dance—every time they pull themselves out of the locker, they'll face another Pacific bully. If anyone finds a lost goaltender with talent, please call the Kings.
15. Vancouver Canucks
Pavol Demitra won’t help, and a team that struggled greatly will only sink further down after losing some great players this offseason and adding very little. The Canucks will be beaten like a drum most of the year, until a late-season surge to make them appear “okay.” Likely not the worst team in the NHL, but there’s no bragging in the basement.
Western Conference beast: Dallas Stars
Marty Turco, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and Sean Avery all have chips on their shoulders. The right motivation can push any team deep in the playoffs. Dallas will make jaws drop in the postseason.
Western Conference bust: Columbus Blue Jackets
So much work to make the playoffs, but they'll stumble due to poor choices at the end of the season.
Team(s) to watch: St. Louis and Chicago
Both of these teams will be fun to watch this season.
Ken Armer is a Senior Ducks Writer and a Community Leader for the NHL and Anaheim Ducks. You can contact him on his profile or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org