Contrary to popular belief, there is hockey in the West. Not only that, but there are great teams and great players that often get over-looked by the East Coast media.
It is time for a little West Coast bias.
As the 2011 season draws nearer there is a lot to be excited about in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks have made a lot of moves to make them serious contenders.
The defending conference champions, the Vancouver Canucks, will be in the mix again, as will the always dangerous Detroit Red Wings.
What about the players in the West?
Well, the West boasts the last two Hart and Art Ross Trophy winners, along with numerous Olympic medal winners and all-stars.
So, who are the best of the best out West?
Here is a look at who will be the best 15 players this coming season in the Western Conference.
Who do you have in your top 15?
Doughty burst on the scene two years ago as a fast, energetic, feisty puck-moving defenseman and looks like he will be the real deal for years to come. The Kings appear to expect Doughty to back stop them into a serious Stanley Cup run this season.
Locked into a tense contract negotiation this offseason with the Kings, it will be interesting to see what affect, if any, it has on Doughty.
Doughty did see a dip in production in 2010-2011, but with a roster more stacked than its been in a long time, Doughty should benefit and get his numbers back up to where they should be for one of the best young defenseman in the league.
Ryan Getzlaf has been around and accomplished so much in his career so far that people often forget he is only 26 years old. Not many 26-year-olds have an Olympic Gold Medal and Stanley Cup on their resume.
Getzlaf does, and he has become one of the most consistent players in the NHL.
He has fought the injury bug a bit the past two seasons but has shown he can be a point per game guy in this league, even with the injuries. Playing on a line with the reigning Hart winner won’t hurt his chances this coming season.
Look for Getzlaf to put in another stellar year in Orange County.
Iginla continues to run out great season after great season. Sadly, he doesn’t have a whole lot of help, so nobody seems to notice.
Nobody except his opponents, that is.
Iginla lit the lamp 43 times last season and hit the 80-point mark for the fifth time in his career. He still brings it on each shift and will again lead the Flames this season.
There have been whispers that maybe the Flames would trade him to a contender this season, which would be good for Iginla, as the Flames are far from being a contender. He may end up in the East, but for now he’s still one of the West’s best.
Kesler has grown from a pest to a leader and 40-goal scorer. His intense style and cold interaction with the media rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but on the ice, nobody plays harder.
Kesler won the Selke last year after turning in another great defensive year, killing penalties and checking the opponents best players night in and night out.
Getting some time on the power play this past season he was able to top the 40-goal mark, and if the Canucks can find some line-mates for him this season, he should be in for another great season.
Toews is on his way to becoming one of the league’s best all around players. Only 23 years old, he has established himself as the Blackhawks leader, has already won a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe award and has been nominated for the Selke Award.
It is mind boggling to think what he will have accomplished by the time he hits 30.
Toews had his career high in points last season with 76, and there is no reason to think he won’t surpass that total this year.
Like Roberto Loungo, Thornton takes heat for his supposed playoff choke jobs. The truth is that he was actually pretty good in last year’s playoffs and has led his team to the Western Conference finals two years in a row.
There are a lot of teams who would relish that kind of choke job.
Thornton will continue to be a force in 2011, and with the additions the Sharks have made this offseason, Thornton may get to take that next playoff step into the finals.
The media and fans seem to be writing off Luongo each offseason, but he keeps coming back with great season in the net.
Many wonder how he will rebound from those memorable melt downs in Boston during the finals last year. His confidence has to be bruised, right?
Well, maybe not.
He faced the same criticism and bad playoff games the year before and responded in 2010-2011 with a Vezina nominated season. Luongo will be back and put in another great regular season.
Now, about those playoffs…
Rinne had a monster year in net for the Predators last season, as he set career highs in wins, goals against and save percentage.
There is no reason to think he will falter at all this year and could even better those numbers. The Predators struggle to score and will again in 2011, but Rinne will keep them in every game.
He is blessed with a defensive-minded coach and players like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter protecting him on the ice. Rinne will shine again in 2011.
Kopitar is ready for the prime time. After having played in some obscurity on the coast, Kopitar now leads a loaded Kings team and will make big waves this season.
Kopitar has been a 70-80 point scorer so far in his career, but this is the year he could break the 100 point barrier and push for the Art Ross.
Not only will Kopitar lead the Kings offense, but he has shown that he can play both ways and has to be happy with the moves Los Angeles made this offseason to get him some help.
Not to be outdone by his twin brother, Daniel went out and won the Art Ross trophy last year by leading the league with 104 points.
As part of Vancouver’s dynamic duo there is no reason to suspect Daniel won’t put up similar numbers this coming season. As the goal scorer of the two, Sedin should push the 40-goal mark again this year.
Daniel is a big reason the Canucks led the league in scoring and had the No. 1 power play. With Sedin back again they will be right in the thick of things again in 2011.
Lidstrom is simply the best defenseman of our generation, and he’s back for one more go around. What award hasn’t he won?
Four Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold, seven Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe all litter Lidstrom’s resume.
At 41 years old, he has to slow down, right?
Well, he’s coming off another great offensive year where he put up 16 goals and 62 points, so it seems he still has gas in the tank. One chink in the armor that has him down on this list a bit is that he went from a plus-23 in 2009-2010 to a stunning minus-2 last season.
While he may not have the shut-down skills he once had, he still is a great player and should still be able to contribute 50 plus points this season.
Perry has long been the type of player that the fans in Anaheim love, but every other team and fan base can’t stand. He has been known to push the limits at times, as most of the Ducks are, but he has blossomed into a phenomenal scorer.
Perry exploded last season potting 50 goals and winning his first Hart Trophy as the league MVP. He was clutch down the stretch and helped propel the Ducks into the playoffs.
At only 26 years old, his is just hitting his prime and should once again be at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the season.
Weber has been in the news lately for his staggering arbitration hearing victory that has his future in Nashville in some doubt. Wherever he plays he will continue to be a monster.
With the ability to play as a stay-at-home defenseman and equal ability to score goals, Weber will again push for a Norris Trophy this season.
Weber has the hardest slap shot in the league and can just as easily put you through the boards.
Many players wilt when they hit the jack pot contract, but Shea Weber seems like he is the kind of guy who will stay focused, and you can bank on a 50-plus-point season out of the defenseman.
Vancouver Canucks captain and one half of the great, or creepy, Swedish twins, Henrik followed up his Art Ross and Hart Trophy wins with another spectacular season. He finished just under the 100-point mark with 94.
A tremendous play maker, Sedin set up 75 goals last season for the Canucks, which led the NHL. Can he hit the 80 assist mark again? 90?
Despite a lackluster showing in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, Henrik Sedin will be at the top of the league’s scoring race again in 2011-2012.
Datsyuk continues to be the best all around player in the Western Conference. Despite only playing in 56 games last season due to injury, the Detroit center still managed 59 points and was the leader on ice that Red Wings fans have come to love.
When healthy, and he should be this year, you can pencil Datsyuk in for anywhere from 80-90 points and his name on the Selke ballot at the end of the year.
His point per game numbers last year serve as proof that the veteran is showing no signs of slowing down.