Well here it is, where I put my “reputation” on the line by picking where teams will finish in the standings after the 48 game season. Last year I picked the Senators to finish 8th, while so many pundits picked them dead last. I was right on that one, but missed the mark on some. So without further ado, here are my picks for the Western Conference: (click on the team name to see my preview of each team)
1. Los Angeles Kings – Return the full team intact that won the Cup. Slight hangover but the class of the Pacific Division.
2. Vancouver Canucks – The best duo in net. Even if Luongo does get traded, this is a deep regular season powerhouse. Secondary scoring will be a question mark early on with injuries to Booth and Kesler.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Neck and neck with the Red Wings, the Hawks nudge them at the finish line.
4. Detroit Red Wings - Even without Lidstrom, the system works and the veteran team knows how to get the job done. Many people question the defensive depth, I am not one of them.
5. Phoenix Coyotes – How far can Smith carry the Coyotes again?
6. Minnesota Wild – The additions of Parise, Suter and Granlund mean a playoff spot, but still not in Vancouver’s league in the Northwest.
7. St. Louis Blues – In a tough battle against the Hawks and Wings. The goaltending can’t possibly repeat the amazing 2011-12, can it?
8. Nashville Predators – Suter’s loss is felt deeply, but the Preds are still a playoff team with Rinne and Weber.
9. San Jose Sharks - Sliding down the standings, era of dominance and expectation is over at the Shark Tank.
10. Edmonton Oilers – On the upswing, late season games will finally mean something as they push for the playoffs.
11. Anaheim Ducks - Can’t get back the magic of ’07 and seem to be in quicksand.
12. Dallas Stars – Additions of Jagr and Whitney help, but they are also both over 40 in a travel heavy West. Need to get Benn signed soon to really compete.
13. Colorado Avalanche – Young Captain, young team, not quite ready yet.
14. Calgary Flames – Aging leaders, mean possible trades and falling in the standings.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets – The doormats for the Central powers in Chi, Det, StL and Nsh. Not in a position to compete any time soon. Erixson not making the team makes the Nash trade look even worse.
Basically, there are 3 levels of teams in the West. The top tier, which consists of Vancouver, Detroit, Chicago and LA. They are locks for the playoffs and all have a good chance to make some noise once they get there.
The next group is a big one, and consists of Nashville, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado, Phoenix, San Jose and Anaheim. Any one of these teams could conceivably, especially in a short season, catch a wave and make the playoffs. 4 of them will, while 6 of them will be left disappointed and the feeling that close isn’t good enough. I had to choose 4, and I went with the clubs I did above. You could make a case for each of the other 6 contenders, and I would listen to the argument, and might even agree with you.
The 3rd and final group consists of just 1 team – The Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the only club that I can confidently write off from day 1 as having no shot at making the playoffs. The fact that they play almost half of their season against Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville is almost a death sentence from the first drop of the puck. They will probably