East finished, it's time to look at the West:
The Good: Corey Perry is looking at another monster season. He’ll be in Vancouver for the Olympics if he can tie his skates.
The Bad: Getzlaf is on track for ten goals, and Niedermeyer having his worst full season in six years.
The Weird: Giguere is insistent that he be the starter, or he’s going to retire. Which begs the question “Is $6.5 million enough to pay for a starter with a .900 save percentage?”
The Future: Currently the worst team in the West, and it’s hard to picture the Ducks staying there, but who are they going to knock aside? A bottom five finish is likely.
Note: I know I said that the biggest loss last off season was Pronger, but with the increase in goals against over last year, it may have been goalie coach Francois Allaire.
The Good: Kiprusoff’s weak start in October has been covered by an astounding start from Rene Borque.
The Bad: The entire team may now have a sudden aversion to needles…
The Weird: Criminal mug shot or 1st line centre? (Well, 2nd line centre at this point.)
The Future: The same problem as ever - depth in scoring. Unless Jokinen can pick up his scoring, the Flames are going to hit a wall come the playoffs, if they make it.
Note: Sutter and Phaneuf apparently had themselves a shouting match after the Colorado loss, which should surprise exactly no one: Sutter is one of the most demanding coaches in the game, and one reason to looks for Calgary to avoid last year’s late meltdown.
The Good: Fans bringing noise every game and the best penalty kill in the league.
The Bad: Losing Bolland for half a season cuts into their depth, but not much more than that.
The Weird: If rumours of long-term contracts for Kane, Toews and Keith are accurate, then they are going to be so far over the cap they’ll need oxygen. A change is gonna’ come.
The Future: They haven’t had to add Hossa’s salary just yet, which is both good and bad; Niemi and Crawford are both goalies under NHL contracts for far less than Huet’s getting. See where this is going?
Note: Huet is on pace for 60 games, so it looks like Chicago is pacing his play for the season. Reasonable, given he’s never played more than 52 games in a season, and that only once; unreasonable, given he’s being paid over $5.5 million for this and two more seasons.
The Good: A team that had most predicting a last-place finish is first in their division. What hasn’t been good for this team?
The Bad: Budaj, for one (bouts with the flu notwithstanding). The same caveat that was in place at the beginning of the season still holds - how many games can Anderson play? Because he’s on pace for 45 more than he’s ever done before.
The Weird: The fact that they’re first in the Northwest is plenty weird, thanks.
The Future: Six players on the big club still have entry level contracts, and they’re doing quite well with them, thank you. Even if they slip to .500 the rest of the season, they’ll be making a strong push for the playoffs. More likely is the peaks/valleys season young teams tend to have.
Note: The Avs are setting themselves up for a pretty clean slate to work with next season, having nine players going to free agency. If their improvement continues, they’ll be moving up on the list of free agent destinations in the off season.
The Good: The offense has, for the most part, been holding up; Nash is running hard for his first 80+ point season.
The Bad: A lot of that was because of a strong power play; at even strength and on the kill, this hasn’t been a strong team.
The Weird: A solid power play and weak penalty kill has the team +/- a ludicrous -31, despite their position in the standings.
The Future: Filatov being sent to his hometown team (Moscow CSKA) to develop for another year has some fans up in arms, picking sides between him (lazy, floating Zherdev clone!) or coach Hitchcock (jingoistic, egotistical thug-lover!), but it’s the best move. He’ll mature another year in familiar surroundings, and next season be better prepared for what Hitchcock wants. And Hitchcock will be spared an aneurism from Filatov’s weak defense.
Note: Something is going to have to improve, and quickly, for this team to get to the playoffs again. If Steve Mason can recapture last year’s form before Garon takes his starting job away permanently, so much the better.
The Good: Turco has come roaring back from last year’s aberrant season (.920 save percentage this year compared to .898 last year).
The Bad: Winning the Fabian Brunnstrom lottery last year is looking less and less like a good thing.
The Weird: Two players from Prince Edward Island are major components of this team. No, seriously.
The Future: Someone other than Robidas has got to take on an offensive role on the blue line or they risk being one injury away from a pop-gun power play (which is currently 21st in the league).
Note: Still playing $2 million in cap space for Avery. You can be sure Niewendyk thanks Brett Hull every night.
The Good: By only having 10 wins in their first 18 games, the Wings have decided to let other, lesser teams think they have a chance to catch up this year.
The Bad: Franzen having major knee surgery three games into an 11-year, $43 million contract.
The Weird: Holmstrom hit 8 goals before anyone else on the team managed 4.
The Future: Osgood and Howard are sharing the goal this year, with indifferent results. But there can’t be anyone left who questions Osgood during the regular season any more, can there? No one in Detroit does, any way.
Note: This year is a changing of the guard in a measured way; next season is looming bigger with eight unrestricted free agents, including defensive automaton Lidstrom.
The Good: Penner has finally emerged as the scoring threat everyone predicted.
The Bad: Gagner, Horcoff, Cogliano all seem determined NOT to be the scoring threats everyone predicted.
The Weird: When a goalie has a .910 save percentage, he’s not supposed to also have a 3.03 goals against average. Edmonton is allowing too many shots against.
The Future: First year with a new coach (or two), so there’s going to be some transition period; but it’s not looking good when offensive players don’t respond to a more offensive game plan.
Note: If one coach goes, does the other follow?
The Good: Doughty looks like his massive upside is going to appear before the more-vaunted Johnson’s.
The Bad: Speaking of whom, it looks like this is going to be another “development” season for the 3rd pick overall from 2005.
The Weird: In further proof of the screwed-up relationship between the NHL and Olympics, the league’s highest scorer won’t be in Vancouver for the games. Ask Denmark how they’d feel adding three NHL players in the qualifying tournament…
The Future: After years of being a favourite “dark horse” candidate for a breakout season, it looks like they have finally made the transition from potential to playoffs.
Note: The Bad was a toss-up between Johnson’s continued struggles and Smyth going down to a long-term injury; so now we’ll see if Smyth’s work ethic (and identity) is going to stay with the team in his absence.
The Good: Koivu is continuing to play a bigger offensive role with the team
The Bad: Replacing your scoring star with someone who suffers an 11-game goalless streak is not going to endear fans to your “new, more aggressive playing style”.
The Weird: The Wild have given up 5 short handed goals so far; they gave up 6 in all of last season.
The Future: It looks like Bouchard may have finished his career, having played 10:44 of this season before the effects of a concussion from last season took him off the ice again.
Note: Another “transition team”, looking to alter their playing style. So far, the results haven’t been there, and the coach may not be soon, either.
The Good: Webber keeps a hot hand with 5 goals in just 17 games.
The Bad: Nineteen games in, and Webber is your leading goal scorer.
The Weird: J.P. Dumont is their leading scorer. Not really a surprise until you see he’s missed a third of the Predator’s games.
The Future: As much as it pains me to say, without some scoring help - and soon - this could be Trotz’ last season as coach.
Note: Nashville is a perpetually cash-strapped team, so the free agent market isn’t where to look for help. Their biggest asset is their (very) young skilled defensemen and the potentially-valuable Radulov contract. It’s unlikely anyone is going to take the contracts of underperforming Arnott, Erat or Legwand.
The Good: Bryzgalov and Jovanovski are having phenomenal starts.
The Bad: Okay, we can finally stop talking about the off-ice nonsense, right? Right? Please?
The Weird: Describing injuries as “upper body” or “lower body”. I know you want the playoffs, but wait until you get there before the cryptic descriptions, eh?
The Future: Whatever having two players signed past next season tells you.
Note: Don’t need to say that a lot is riding on this season - the playoffs are free money for teams (as far as salaries go), and a series or two would do a lot to enhance the stability of the team as a whole. Right up until the next lockout.
The Good: Mason and Conklin have been playing lights out this season.
The Bad: The offence has not. Kariya is costing about $1 million per point so far.
The Weird: They’re currently sitting on eight healthy defensemen; but given last season’s injury record, it would be understandable if they kept them all.
The Future: A lot of young players that the Blues were counting on to make a step up have failed, outside the goaltenders. They’ve been great, but until they can score this team is not going to the post-season.
Note: St. Louis has been tending to incentive-laden contracts, but those haven’t been producing the results they want. Object lesson or aberration?
The Good: Ho, hum. Another season with four players near or over a point-a-game pace (five if you include Pavelski’s eight games), fantastic special teams, and rock solid goaltending.
The Bad: It’s not the playoffs.
The Weird: How is “Jed Ortmeyer” not playing with Nashville? C’mon! The guy’s name is JED!
The Future: Let’s face it, this team is all about the playoffs and nothing but. In Puck Daddy’s recent “10 Biggest Hockey Upsets of the 2000’s” post, not one of the Shark’s first or second round exits is mentioned. It’s just to be expected now, apparently.
Note: Marleau is in the last year of his contract, along with nine other players. With another early playoff exit, where will the blame go? Will there be any pressure to re-sign players, or more noise to throw it out and start over?
The Good: Raycroft (yes, that Raycroft) picking up 4 wins while starting six games during Luongo’s injury. A 2.19 goals against and .920 save percentage were not what was expected.
The Bad: The much-vaunted scoring from the defense hasn’t yet materialized.
The Weird: But… There’s only one Sedin! How is that possible?
The Future: If the Canucks are going to insist on being the most penalized team in the league, they better improve on that bottom-ten penalty killing percentage or it’s going to bite them hard.
Note: St. Salo of the Perpetual Injury came back earlier than expected from his first layoff of the season, but his offence hasn’t.
Okay, that’ll do for another 20 games. The stretch to make Olympic teams is officially on!