Monday, September 28, 2009

2009-2010 NHL Season Preview Part I: The Western Conference

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, ready or not, the NHL Season is almost upon us and we have to admit, we're not ready for it because after the summer we've had, we're just going to have to start drinking...

But we digress so let's get this started in the usual predicted order of finish....

Central Division:

Detroit Red Wings: (51-31; 112 points; 1st Central Division, 2nd Western Conference, 3rd Overall; Hosed in the Stanley Cup Finals):
In what has to be the best division, top to bottom, in the NHL, somebody is going to have to prove that they can knock Detroit off before we go with anybody else here. Can they get through the Western Conference again though?

Chicago Blackhawks: (46-36; 104 points; 2nd Central Division, 4th Western Conference, 6th Overall; Lost in the Conference Finals):
A young up and coming team about to be derailed by serial salary cap mismanagement. The rehabilitation project over; can they not only meet lofty expectations but pay off the "all in" bet made by management this year?

Columbus Blue Jackets: (41-41; 92 points; 4th Central Division, 7th Western Conference, 16th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
Give Ken Hitchcock credit for getting this franchise headed in the right direction after years of floating around. They deserved a better fate in the playoffs last year but should learn from the experience. Can Steve Mason keep it going?

St. Louis Blues: (41-41; 92 points; 3rd Central Division, 6th Western Conference, 15th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
Came seemingly out of nowhere to make the playoffs after being considered also rans before the season started and a disastrous start once it did. While there's plenty of veteran leadership, that's just another way to say that the team relies on too many old players past their prime. They should contend for a playoff spot but will they actually grab one again?

Nashville Predators: (40-42; 88 points; 5th Central Division, 10th Western Conference, 20th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs)
Missing by three points, the Predators saw all of their division rivals make the playoffs leaving them the only team out. They're hoping that better health will be the difference this season but their division has improved making the sledding tougher. Will Trotz and Poile survive another non-playoff season?

Northwest Division:

Calgary Flames: (46-36; 98 points; 2nd Northwest Division, 5th Western Conference, 10th Overall; Lost in the First Round):
So much for the Mad Mike Keenan experiment. That lasted only one year. In spite of Keenan, the Flames almost won their division despite increasingly shaky goaltending and a disappearing offense. Luckily they have a blueline that is strong enough to carry the team. What were they thinking getting Olli Jokinen though?

Vancouver Canucks: (45-37; 100 points; 1st Northwest Division, 3rd Western Conference, 7th Overall; Lost in the 2nd Round):
Well, there's no hiding it anymore, Roberto Luongo is not a playoff goaltender. Though, like Calgary their blueline is rather solid, but can they score enough goals to seriously contend?

Edmonton Oilers: (38-44; 85 points; 4th Northwest Division, 11th Western Conference, 21st Overall: Did not qualify for the playoffs):
In comes Pat Quinn but, players still don't want to go out there if they have a choice. That should provide Quinn enough motivation to get the players going but is it enough to make the playoffs?

Minnesota Wild: (40-42; 89 points; 3rd Northwest Division, 9th Western Conference, 19th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Gone is Jacques Lemaire and the neutral zone trap in spite of falling two points shy of the playoffs. Gone will be Minnesota being that close to the playoffs because is the offense minus Marion Gaborik really good enough to open things up in the Western Conference?

Colorado Avalanche: (32-50; 69 points; 5th Northwest Division, 15th Western Conference, 28th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Finally Joe Sakic retires and the Avalanche can pay full attention to rebuilding, provided they can drive a stake through the Forsberg rumors. Though, where exactly is this team going? Is Joe Sacco the Head Coach going forward or just a placeholder?

Pacific Division:

San Jose Sharks: (53-29; 117 points; 1st Pacific Division, 1st Western Conference, 1st Overall; Lost in the First Round):
After the least surprising first round upset of the 2009 Playoffs, gone is Jeremy Roenick which immediately improves San Jose's chances. In comes Dan Heatley which offsets removing the Roenick albatross. When will San Jose learn?

Dallas Stars: (36-46; 83 points; 3rd Pacific Division, 12th Western Conference, 23rd Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
We happen to think there's too much talent in Dallas for the Stars to miss the playoffs again. Sean Avery is gone as are many of the veterans who couldn't stay healthy enough last season to help the team out. How much damage did Brett Hull's turn in the GM's chair do?

Anaheim Ducks: (42-40; 91 points; 2nd Pacific Division, 8th Western Conference, 17th Overall, Lost in the 2nd Round):
Good news Ducks fans, the rebuilding project has started with the departure of Sean Pronger, the bad news is that the goaltending is up in the air and next season is going to be painful. Did the Flyers overpay enough for Pronger to shorten the transition?

Los Angeles Kings: (34-48; 79 points; 5th Pacific Division, 14th Western Conference, 26th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
Simply put, do the Kings have enough to come out of a wild Western Conference to contend for one of the last two playoff spots?

Phoenix Coyotes: (36-46; 79 points; 4th Pacific Division, 13th Western Conference, 25th Overall; Did not qualify for the playoffs):
The Coyotes have a real coach behind the bench now, but still lack real ownership or direction. There isn't much to work with here but how much will the off-ice distractions effect the team's play on the ice?

At some point tomorrow, the Eastern Conference...



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