2010-11 NHL Preview: Western Conference
Central Division (projected order of finish and records; points)
Chicago Blackhawks (47-26-9; 103) – A great offseason purge saw Chicago lose nine players from its Stanley Cup winning team, and though a few were players who they couldn’t have won it without, they still return Kane and Toews and four out of six starting defensemen. They will not relinquish the division’s top spot since no one else within it made vast improvements. The ‘Hawks are certain to take a step back, but not enough to fall from title contention.
Detroit Red Wings (46-28-8; 100) – Even in a down year, they advanced to the second round, but this time it seems like this really may be the last shot for this set of ‘Wings to win another championship. Needless to say, they still have a loaded roster and are the probably the best coached team in a league. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Howard in net among others make them one of the favorites to get there, not to mention help from a fairly weak Western Conference.
St. Louis Blues (42-31-9; 93) – The Blues are more likely to return to their playoff form of two seasons ago than their losing ways of last season, mostly because of a boost gotten from young goalie Jaroslav Halak. They need to score more, probably the main factor that they fell five points short of the eighth spot last season. It’s been an up and down few years for a team whose expectations were on the rise, but they should live up to them this season.
Nashville Predators (35-35-12; 82) – A team that is always described as non-descript made the playoffs yet again last season, but don’t look to be a sleeper this season. They usually make the most of what they have with never a great player, but they’ll more offense to complement their good defense and alright goaltending this season. Too many teams are better than they are out west for Nashville to get back to the playoffs in what will be a disappointing season.
Columbus Blue Jackets (31-51-10; 72) – The dream is over. Columbus regressed a ton from their playoff team of two years ago, and now finds themselves in full rebuilding mode once again. They’re in the wrong division for a reversal of their fortune, and though their good pieces are still around in Nash and Mason, a new coach doesn’t usually make for instant success, as the Blue Jackets (I still don’t know what that is) will miss the postseason cut this year.
Northwest Division (projected order of finish and records; points)
Vancouver Canucks (52-24-6; 110) – This is a Stanley Cup or bust type season for the Canucks, and with good reason. Though they haven’t advanced past the second round in three of the previous four seasons, the Sedins are getting better with age in terms of offensive production, and young players like Alex Burrows are transforming into stars. A loaded offensive arsenal, a still very good goaltender, and good additions make them the favorite to win the West.
Colorado Avalanche (41-32-9; 91) – An season of overacheiving put Colorado into the playoffs in a year where no one expected it, and in a division where not many others will contend, the Avalanche need to get good seasons from young players trying to avoid sophomore slumps. Until we see that Anderson’s good year was a farse, it would be foolish to count out such a traditionally solid franchise from playoff contention, where they will make it for a second year in a row.
Calgary Flames (39-36-7; 85) – Any way it’s sliced, the Flames look to be a lock for third in this division. Not as good as the top two, but not as bad as the others, what was once a perennial Cup contender has taken a step back into mediocrity and may not even be a playoff team. Iginla and Kiprusoff would have been a nice tandem to start your team with about half a decade ago, but turnover within the franchise puts Calgary in tough spot coming into this year.
Minnesota Wild (33-38-11; 77) – In a best case scenario, the Wild are a fringe playoff team, but they haven’t offset the loss of Gaborik in terms of goal scoring, and Backstrom, once considered to be a great, young goalie wasn’t exactly that last season. The squad as a whole doesn’t stand out as a team looking to make a jump this year, and they find themselves in a division with three teams that are clearly better than they are, which makes for a disappointing outlook.
Edmonton Oilers (30-42-10; 72) – It’s working from the ground up right now for Edmonton after what was a dismal campaign. The first overall pick, Taylor Hall is certainly expected to contribute right away along with a few other youngsters and new faces. However, the Oilers have not gotten substantial production for who were once reliable veterans, and are a very long way from getting themselves back into the mix in the division and in the conference.
Pacific Division (projected order of finish and records; points)
San Jose Sharks (49-26-7; 105) – The Sharks, as always are a lock to make the postseason, and though they did show some progress by advancing to the conference finals last season, they still fail to get over the hump come playoff time. Marleau, Thornton, and Heatley continue to put up more than respecatable numbers, but San Jose loses Blake to retirement and Nabokov to Russia. Some good young teams may push them, but they’re still too good to succumb.
Phoenix Coyotes (45-30-7; 97) – Out of nowhere came this dying franchise last season, and though a 50-win, 107-point season will be tough to replicate, another phenomenal year from Bryzgalov and a balanced scoring attack up front will certainly help them get there. They’ll be in the playoff mix as long as their offseason subtractions caused by financial strapping don’t leave a huge void, and are certainly a contender to challenge San Jose for the Pacific crown.
Los Angeles Kings (44-31-7; 95) – Another team on the rise tasted the postseason last year and came up well short, and in cases like this, teams usually experience postseason failure a few times before success. With a little luck, they have Cup potential, mostly because of Anze Kopitar’s veteran scoring, Drew Doughty’s Norris candidacy, and the potential of Jonathan Quick as a top young goalie. They’re a playoff with potential to do some damage when they get there.
Anaheim Ducks (37-35-10; 84) – The Pacific keeps getting better, while the Ducks stay the same. They really are pretty good all over, but nowhere are they great. Getzlaf and Perry are among the game’s better scorers and Hiller has developed into a more than serviceable goalie. They might linger near the playoff bubble, but if you take a look at the three teams above the Ducks in the division, it would be a mighty task for them to get back to the postseason.
Dallas Stars (36-35-11; 83) – Dallas is by far the best last place team in hockey, and though they finished 13th in the conference last season, there’s definitely more potential to go up than there is go down. They lose their veteran leader, Modano, after an eternity, but look to their solid core of youngsters led by Eriksson and Neal to provide the scoring. The playoff fring will be six or seven teams deep, with teams like the Ducks and Stars solidly a part of it.
Western Conference First Team
F - Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
F - Henrik Sedin, Vancouver
F - Patrick Kane, Chicago
D - Duncan Keith, Chicago
D - Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
G - Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix
Western Conference Second Team
F - Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
F - Patrick Marleau, San Jose
F - Alex Burrows, Vancouver
D - Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
D - Shea Weber, Nashville
G - Jimmy Howard, Detroit
Western Conference Third Team
F - Jonathan Toews, Chicago
F - Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit
F - Joe Thornton, San Jose
D - Brian Campbell, Chicago
D - Brent Seabrook, Chicago
G - Roberto Luongo, Vancouver
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