NHL Preview West (Blind Pigs and Acorns, Part 2)

To quote Michael Frante: "To the East, to the West"

Yesterday's East predictions are over here, just to be sure I can get embarrassed on both coasts by season's end.


Biggest hello: Saku Koivu.  Last year, the Ducks were one line + one player, and now they’re up to two scoring lines.
Biggest goodbye: Chris Pronger.  The astoundingly talented Scott Niedermayer is still there, but 27 minutes of nasty is gone.
Watch for: Jean-Sebastien Giguere is not going to let Jonas Hiller take his starting job without a fight.
Watch out: If the Sakuu - Teemu connection doesn’t work out as hoped, there may not be enough extra offence here to gain a playoff spot.
Note: Joffrey Lupul is coming back for a second go-around with the team that drafted him, but his peak production is probably where he’s at now; 25 goals, 50+ points.


Biggest hello: Jay Boumeester.  Now, neither he nor Dion Phaneuf will be expected to win the cup for their franchise.
Biggest goodbye: Mike Cammalleri.  I know the idea is to allow fewer goals against, but Fredrik Sjostrom isn’t going to be scoring 40 goals any time soon.
Watch for: New coach Brent Sutter is determined to make the Flames a defensive team, and their defense shows it.
Watch out: If Miikka Kiprusoff can’t reverse five years of decreasing GAA, then all the blue line help they can get won’t save them.
Note: Big changes in coaching and playing style over a single off-season may get Calgary off to a slow start, for half the team at least; every forward brought in have had defensive roles throughout their careers.


Biggest hello: Marian Hossa.  He won’t be playing for the first six weeks or so, but given that he’s replacing the often-injured Martin Havlat, a star scorer missing six weeks is nothing!
Biggest goodbye: Khabibulin.  Cristobal Huet has managed 50 games in a season once.  Unable to afford any security, can he stay solid year-round?
Watch for: With John Madden in to provide (and teach) defensive responsibility, there’s definitely a clear division of labour between the lines.
Watch out: Distractions, distractions, distractions!  A young team can have their heads turned by what can only be described as and eventful off-season.
Note: The young guns on Chicago’s blue line matured faster than feared, but that leaves the very good Brian Campbell taking up a lot of cap space, which the Blackhawks would love to have back.  A trade for a veteran backup would be ideal.


Biggest hello: Matt Duchene.  The youth movement is in full swing, and all pretensions of going for the playoffs are gone.
Biggest goodbye: Ryan Smyth.  One of the hardest working players in the league, and 26 goals to boot.  The youth here could have used his example.
Watch for: Duchene is going to get all the ice time he can eat.  Prime Calder candidate, assuming he survives the first month.
Watch out: If Craig Anderson melts and Peter Budaj repeats last year’s sub-.900 save percentage.
Note: Anderson has never player more than 34 games in a season since turning pro.  He’s had great numbers the past few years, but it’s unknown how he’ll hold up even if he does wrest the starting job from Budaj.


Biggest hello: Nikita Filatov.  Not much on defense, but loads of cunning and speed.
Biggest goodbye: Manny Malhotra, though his role is going to the more experienced (if less skilled) Sam Pahlsson, so it won’t hurt too much.
Watch for: Derick Brassard proving he’s for real.  An astounding puck handler, he could be Nash’s set-up man this season.
Watch out: If Kristian Huselius’ numbers continue to drop, look for someone else, someone much larger, to take his place.
Note: With the signing of Rick Nash to a long-term contract, it’s clear that Columbus has no intention of taking a step back.


Biggest hello: Coach Marc Crawford.  Yet another Western Conference coaching change, with another team trying to change their playing style.
Biggest goodbye: Sean Avery, who’s actually a good player.
Watch for: Fabian Brunnstrom will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself after a tough year of life in a new country and league.  He’ll live up to his pre-rookie reputation.
Watch out: If Turco’s game doesn’t recover from last year’s slide, Auld will hold the fort until GM Joe Nieuwendyk can get help for next season.
Note: A full season without Sean Avery is like having Spring in Winter.  No one in Dallas was sad to see him, and his antics, go back to the city he fits best.


Biggest hello: Jason Williams.  Adding a defensively responsible 20 goals is never a bad idea.
Biggest goodbye: Marian Hossa.  Losing a defensively acceptable 40 goals is never a good thing.
Watch for: Brian Rafalski takes over the point lead from Nicklas Lidstrom this year.
Watch out: This is Jimmy Howard’s last shot with Detroit.  With no NHL-tested goalie signed other than Osgood, if either stumbles, something’s got to give.
Note: Despite expectations of a fifteen years, this is one a very young team.  A transition is already underway, but you can’t tell in the standings.


Biggest hello: Nikolai Khabibulin.  They may regret signing him to more than perpetual "final year" contracts, but at least there will be some stability.
Biggest goodbye: Ales Kotalik.  Any scoring helps the Oilers, and without any real scoring stars as many people who can score 20 goals as possible are needed.
Watch for: New coach Pat Quinn wants the team to go on the attack full time…
Watch out: …Meaning it’s a good thing he brought Tom Renney to manage the defense.  It may work, or it may end in Multiple Personality Disorder.
Note: Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers has been waiting a long time to get to the NHL, and now he’s behind an All-Star with a four year deal.  Hope he’s happy playing 15-20 games a year.


Biggest hello: Ryan Smyth.  Biggest beneficiary will be team captain Dustin Brown.
Biggest goodbye: Denis Gautier, who would have fit right in on what LA wants to do.
Watch for: Smyth is going to be the face of the team, bringing in his drive, focus, and heart to a team that was often lacking all three.
Watch out: If Jack Johnson doesn’t settle down this year and simplify his game, he’s going to end up a high draft bust.
Note: For years, the Kings have been a fashionable "dark horse" pick to make the playoffs, yet they never quite perform up to hopes.  A big part of that is a lack of identity, and a big part of curing that is trading for Smyth and picking up Scuderi.


Biggest hello: New coach and new GM, both of whom promise an "exciting, up-tempo" game.
Biggest goodbye: Marian Gaborik, one player who could pull that off.
Watch for: Mikko Koivu is going to continue emerging as an offensive star, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard will get back on track after a year of niggling injuries.
Watch out: Is going on the offense a great idea for a team that finished 22 in goals for and lost their most talented forward?
Note: It will be interesting to see if the speed the Wild have can translate from pursuit to attacking.  A healthy season from Havlat is going to be essential if there is any chance of the playoffs.


Biggest hello: Er… Ben Guite?
Biggest goodbye: Radek Bonk.  Never as good as predicted, he’s settled in to being a solid defensive centre who could pitch in some scoring.
Watch for: The defense has gotten young, but is also rock solid.  Arguably the best top three in the league is joined by three first and second year players who have developed in the minors.
Watch out: Desperately seeking Radulov, but that’s not looking likely.  He’s looking more and more like an asset to be moved.
Note: The real "Biggest Hello" is having Steve Sullivan for the start of the year.  On the down side, his over/under for games played is 55, and Nashville needs more.  Some of the Predators’ astounding defensive depth could be moved for scoring help, too.


Biggest hello: Adrian Aucoin.  Two healthy seasons in a row?  That alone gives hope for the improved Coyotes blue line.
Biggest goodbye: I’m just not going there.
Watch for: It’s hoped Keith Yandle will be taking over Jovanovski’s job on the top pairing soon.
Watch out: The team may rally around the outside nonsense going on, but that same nonsense isn’t going to do much for attendance.
Note: Kyle Turris is going to be kept well away from the mess that is Phoenix this year.  He may get a call up or two, but ideally that will be after the court cases have been played out.


Biggest hello: A healthy team.
Biggest goodbye: Erik Johnson’s golf career.
Watch for: The veterans that are back from injury now have to perform, with Paul Kariya having the biggest upside for this season.
Watch out: If anyone feels entitled to a roster spot, the dressing room runs the risk of division.
Note: With a lot of "replacement" players doing quite well last season, there’s massive competition for positions this season.  There may be injuries, but the farm team is loaded with experienced NHL players now.


Biggest hello: Took a while before they added anyone, but boy did they!
Biggest goodbye: Brian Boucher.  He outplayed Nabokov, but didn’t get a sniff of ice in the playoffs.
Watch for: Thornton could challenge the 100 point mark again on a line with Heatley, with Setoguchi on the other side.
Watch out: Nabokov faltered badly in the second half of the season and playoffs, so rookie Thomas Greiss had better be ready.
Note: No one is going to care what happens during the regular season.  They could finish first or eighth, and the Sharks’ fans wouldn’t blink.  The playoffs are all that matter in San Jose.


Biggest hello: Mikael Samuelsson.  He might be part of an All-Sweden line, or he might be used on the second or even third lines.  Shoots way, way, WAY more than he scores.
Biggest goodbye: Mattias Ohlund.  Rock-solid defender for a decade.
Watch for: Another 80-85 point season from each Daniel and Henrik Sedin.  Other than that, both Mason Raymond and Steve Bernier are poised for breakout seasons.
Watch out: If it weren’t for the Long Term Injury List, the Canucks would be well over the salary cap with the season only a few days away.  Moves are going to be made.
Note: Another Western team with huge defensive depth, Vancouver is hoping for secondary scoring to emerge from within so they don’t have to lose some of that depth in trades…

So who’s making the playoffs? Who knows? With all the changes in personnel, teams are going to need a little time to gel. That means that the best coaching is going to have the biggest advantage early. Other than that, well…  As they say, any fool can read what’s on paper: they play the games for a reason.

Now drop the dang puck already!

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