Since the NHL saw fit to kick off the season in California, likewise I'll start my season previews in the West. And, much like the NHL season, this time out it's a rushed amalgam of impressions, tea leaves, and some numbers hastily brought to a boil. Feel free to mention gaffes, add missed information, and call me a bitter fool for not knowing Kevin Westgarth will lead Carolina to well deserved glory.
Off we go!
Western Conference Preview
Biggest hello: Sheldon Souray. He still has a hammer of a shot, and is more than happy to defend his teammates.
Biggest goodbye: Lubomir Visnovsky. Good speed, and one year removed from a 68-point season.
Watch for: Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are on their last rounds, and will be playing like it for the shortened season.
Watch out: There's a reason why those two are on their last rounds. Selanne is 42 years old and Koivu 38, and they are expected to be the secondary scoring for the Ducks.
Note: Using one of the smartest players to play the game (Scott Neidermeyer) as a coach can't be a bad thing. A more important question is how to keep Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan happy.
Biggest hello: Sven Baetrschi. Strong Calder candidate
Biggest goodbye: Oli Jokinen.
Watch for: Dennis Wideman is a good addition to a blue line that needs scoring.
Watch out: Michael Backlund has been pitched as a future star for a few years now, and the Flames need him to come through NOW, or they will be relying on NHL rookie/KHL veteran Roman Cervenka as their top line guy.
Note: Whoever Wideman gets paired with will get more points, but that won't matter much in hockey pools because it will be someone known for their defense.
Biggest hello: Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks don't absolutely need to call up a rookie winger, and Brandon Pirri might come up first; but I say their wings will need more help than their centres.
Biggest goodbye: Andrew Brunette. Veteran presence on either wing, good in tight, but probably not a 20-goal man any more.
Watch for: Marian Hossa has had time to recover from last year's playoff concussion, so he's once again a 35-goal threat...
Watch out: ...but it's a concussion. Using his body to gain position is a big part of his game, so the risk is always there.
Note: Special teams were a nightmate last season, which is a surprise with the high end talend Chicago enjoys.
Biggest hello: P.A. Parenteau. A late bloomer who can get into penalty trouble, very good with the puck and a skilled passer.
Biggest goodbye: Peter Mueller. Loads of injury trouble, but when he is on the ice he's dangerous.
Watch for: The defense is slowly improving and another year under Erik Johnson's belt will help.
Watch out: Naming Gabriel Landeskog captain after one year in the NHL is a risky move. He plays a simple, straight forward game, but also must keep an even temper to be effective. I don't think adding the pressure of captaincy will help his sophmore year.
Note: Expect four or five assists on every goal these guys score. Loads of great playmakers, not a whole lot of natural scorers, though.
Biggest hello: Artem Anisimov. Brandon Dubinski could fit in here just as well, but Anisomov is going to be handed the first line centre's job due to a lack of options.
Biggest goodbye: Oh, you know. Some guy.
Watch for: This is a very solid defense, even without the excellent Ryan Murray joining them this year because of injury trouble.
Watch out: Behind them, however, are question marks. When Sergei Bobrivski is brought in to "solidify" your goaltending, you could have some trouble.
Note: We all knew Rick Nash was getting moved, but did it HAVE to be to the Rangers?
Biggest hello: Derek Roy. Yes, they got Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr too, but Roy is a decade younger than either and is looking to rebound from a timid 2011-2012 season.
Biggest goodbye: Steve Ott. Pest supreme, but given the Stars were shorthanded more than 300 times last year, his loss may not be a bad thing.
Watch for: The leage-worst power play is only going to improve with the new acquisitions.
Watch out: GM Joe Nieuwendyk has been in town for four years, and Dallas has missed the playoffs in all of them. How patient will the new owner be?
Note: Dallas gained scoring threats, but they lost some defensive stalwarts.
Biggest hello: Jordin Tootoo. Tough as nails and a HUGE hitter. How huge? He'll occasionally take penalties on clean hits because his victim needs a couple minutes to get back to his feet.
Biggest goodbye: A 42-year old defenseman who led the team in ice time last year...
Watch for: Rookie Brendan Smith is ready to step in on the third pairing.
Watch out: Niklas Kronwall is now the number one defenseman with both Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart heading to greener pastures (or teal, in Stuart's case).
Note: Finally, some instability in Detroit! They even picked up Toronto cast off Jonas Gustavsson to back up Jimmy Howard! Still expecting they'll make the playoffs, though.
Biggest hello: Justin Schultz. Getting a full(ish) season out of Ryan Whitney is no longer the necessity it was the last few years
Biggest goodbye: Can Barker. Inconsistent, but can clear the crease and has an accurate, if underused, shot.
Watch for: Devan Dubnyk is going to get his shot this year. He has improved steadily, if slowly, but has an improved defense in front of him and a bit more experience to handle the pressure. Nikolai Khabibulin as a back up isn't a bad option, either.
Watch out: A new coach and shortened season with no practice games makes for a high risk of miscommunication.
Note: Having several of your starters playing together in the minors should get them off to a good start, which may be enough to get them into the top eight this year.
Biggest hello: The Cup.
Biggest goodbye: Being labeled as everyone's favourite "dark horse in the playoffs".
Watch for: A full year of Darryl Sutter and the confidence gained from (finally!) winning it all.
Watch out: ...but that's what Carolina said.
Note: Why change what works? No real moves, but the sooner Anze Kopitar returns from injury the better.*
*Aaaand they made a move, getting underperforming power forward Anthony Stewart for brawler Kevin Westgarth. Amazingly, Carolina threw in draft picks, too.
Biggest hello: Ryan Suter's 7 goals last year was more than the top two Wild defencemen combined.
Biggest goodbye: Guillaume Latendresse. Concussion problems, but when healthy a reliable scorer.
Watch for: It's not just the new arrivals coming in (Suter and Zach Parise), but a healthy Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard that will increase the scoring from a league-worst 166 goals.
Watch out: After Suter, it's still a bit of a "Who's that?" defence. Of course, since Suter will be playing 25+ minutes a game, that's not much of a worry.
Note: Koivu drives the team, but he's starting to break, and Bouchard is in the realm of concussion question marks.
Biggest hello: The return of goalie Chris Mason. Hope he's good with playing five games this season - if he can fight off Jeremy Smith in camp.
Biggest goodbye: Got to go with the obvious: Ryan Suter. Kevin Klein is going to be getting a lot more ice time.
Watch for: Having ten players with 14 or more goals makes the Predators a team full of "unsung heroes" that's nearly impossible to check.
Watch out: The league's best power play is now missing a guy who got 25 points there.
Note: After an influx of rookies last year, everyone's going to get a chance to settle in this season.
Biggest hello: Steve Sullivan. Small for a winger - heck, small for a hockey player - he compensates with skill and smarts. A wily veteran, but aren't they all?
Biggest goodbye: Ray Whitney. Any team losing its highest scorer is going to suffer, but Whitney's smart play and surprising durability of late hit hard.
Watch for: The Coyotes underrated defence has gotten better, adding Zbynek Michalek and possibly bringing Mike Stone up for a full time job.
Watch out: Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker each had a strong playoffs, but neither has had strong regular season numbers. Vrbata finally had his breakthrough year, but where's the rest of the scoring going to come from?
Note: To make the playoffs Phoenix is going to have to stick to coach Dave Tippett's game plan - except perhaps on the power play which was 29th last year.
Biggest hello: Vladimir Tarasenko. He was fantastic in the KHL last year, including in the playoffs, and is ready for the NHL game.
Biggest goodbye: Jason Arnott. Strong, veteran forward stepped up for a young team, and was also a big power play presence.
Watch for: This is a young and exciting team that will happily play coach Ken Hitchcock's aggressive puck persuit game all night long.
Watch out: Alex Steen, David Perron, Matt D'Agostini, and Andy McDonald all missed substantial time with injuries last season, and three of those were with concussions.
Note: Even before the hiring of Hitchcock, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were proving to be shockingly effective in net behind a fantastic defense. Call them the new "dark horse" if you want, but these guys are suddenly one of the best in the league.
Biggest hello: Brad Stuart. He and Adam Burish make San Jose a less pleasant team to play against right away.
Biggest goodbye: Some depth, with Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, Ben Ferriero, and Torrey Mitchell all headed elsewhere.
Watch for: Martin Havlat being in the lineup for the full season should be enough to keep them comfortably in the playoffs.
Watch out: The league's second-worst penalty kill has to improve.
Note: San Jose has slipped from "automatically penciled into the playoffs" to "might not make it" for the first time in a decade, and they have to use that as a wake up call. Last year they coasted, expecting to turn it on in the second season.
Biggest hello: Jason Garrison. Sami Salo's shot in a far healthier body.
Biggest goodbye: Sami Salo. Booming shot and effective net clearer, if not an aggressive one. And, hey! He only missed 13 games last year!
Watch for: Cory Schneider is ready for the lead role in the Canucks' ongoing goalie soap opera.
Watch out: With "Mr. Everything" Ryan Kesler out to start the season, there's an opening on the first two lines, but who can take it?
Note: Vancouver needs both David Booth and Mason Raymond to have bounce back seasons, or they run the risk of being a one-line team; at least until Kesler's return.*
*Naturally Booth is promptly injured. This should be interesting.
And since I've been pestered about it before, here's my predictions about the finishing positions in the West:
1) Vancouver Canucks
4) Chicago Blackhawks
6) Nashville Predators
9) Dallas Stars
10) Minnesota Wild
11) Phoenix Coyotes
12) Calgary Flames
15) Anaheim Ducks
Total mug's game, these predictions; but that's the fun of it, yeah? Enjoy!
Eastern preview is here: http://www.nucksmisconduct.com/2013/1/19/3894610/the-sun-also-rises