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Now With More Winnipeg! Western Preview and Prediction

Let's dig in to the side of the continent that really matters, shall we?

Western Conference Preview

ANAHEIM

Biggest hello: Jakob Silfverberg. At least, he'd better be.
Biggest goodbye: Bobby Ryan. Regular 30-goal scorer with second line ice time.
Watch for: Dustin Penner seems to have accepted his thrid-line role, but if he decides to step up he can put in 20 goals from there.
Watch out: This is not what you would call a fast defense; they can get badly burned by a cycling team.
Note: They got to the playoffs by having a huge start (22-3-4), but tailed off badly and were bumped in the first round. Which team's the 'real' Ducks?


CALGARY

Biggest hello: Karri Ramo? Well, he's done great in the KHL for the past two years, so this time around in the NHL should go better for him.
Biggest goodbye: Alex Tanguay may be older, but he managed 27 points on a team that finished 13th in the West last season.
Watch for: Mark Giordand and Dennis Wideman are a solid 1-2, and can run an effective power play.
Watch out: Their pojected centres are Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund, and whichever kids can step up. Possibly Ben Street by default.
Note: The Flames have been waiting three years for Backlund to become their top centre, fairly or not; and now they have no choice.


CHICAGO

Biggest hello: Nikolai Khabibulin. Adding a Cup winner who had a .923 save percentage with Edmonton last year isn't a bad option. He doesn't expect to be the starter at this stage, but could if Corey Crawford gets injured.
Biggest goodbye: Dave Bolland. Played ugly minutes for the Blackhawks and was very good at it.
Watch for: Now that they know two Stanley Cups in a short span is possible, they're trying for two back-to-back.
Watch out: Er... Well, Bolland and Viktor Stalberg were great players for a third line, so some of that depth is gone.
Note: Okay, despite what I said about depth being gone, it was ably replaced from within the ranks. What was an exploitable weakness - their heavy reliance on youth - is tempered with maturity.


COLORADO

Biggest hello: Speaking of youth, how about some more offense? First overall pick Nathan MacKinnon should be staying with the team for the year
Biggest goodbye: Shane O'Brien, odd as that sounds to say.
Watch for: Nathan MacKinnon is the real deal. This is a fast, dangerous collection of forwards, if not exactly experienced.
Watch out: Cory Sarich is a hammer, but brittle; and Erik Johnson hasn't developed an all around game yet. Not seeing a lot of good things on this blue line after Jan Hejda.
Note: Patrick Roy coaching here is not the same as Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix - Roy actually has coaching experience, and did well at it.


DALLAS

Biggest hello: Tyler Seguin. Youth will be served, and Seguin will get all the ice time he'll want.
Biggest goodbye: Loui Eriksson. Seguin has 70-point potential, but Eriksson was already doing that, and a defensive champoin to boot.
Watch for: Suddenly, Dallas has a bounty of middle men (Seguin, Vern Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff, Cody Eakin, Chris Mueller, hopefully Rich Peverly) so Jamie Benn can get back to his favoured wing position.
Watch out: Sergi Gonchar was brought in to add some firepower to a defense that doesn't look all that potent.
Note: Valeri Nichushkin was considered a steal when he was drafted 10th overall, but he fell for a reason - he's outright said that he's not in North America to play in the AHL. Is his ice time going to be a factor for him? What if he's a healthy srcatch?


EDMONTON

Biggest hello: New captain Andrew Ference. Solid, if unspectacular, defenseman with a ring.
Biggest goodbye: Magnus Paajarvi. Supposed to be one of the many excuting young forwards to lead the Oilers out of the playoff wilderness, but there's only so many they could keep.
Watch for: Ference will improve the blue line by letting either Jeff Petry of Justin Schultz go on the attack knowing he's there to back them up.
Watch out: It's still a risk-taking defensive corps, and the majority of forwards aren't exactly three-zone players, so Devan Dubnyk had best be ready for it.
Note: Edmonton's moves addressed a need for skilled defensive players (Ference, David Perron, Boyd Gordon) to go with the adrenaline-junkies on their offence.


LOS ANGELES

Biggest hello: Dan Carcillo. Agitator extrordinaire, seems to have given up on using any other talents.
Biggest goodbye: Rob Scuderi. Steady, reliable, shut-down defenseman.
Watch for: Slava Voynov is showing himself to be a credible threat from the point, just in case Doughty wasn't enough.
Watch out: Who on Earth deliberately acquires Dan Carcillo? If the Kings are playing a game where they think he's an upgrade, something has gone horribly wrong.
Note: Jonathan Quick is a workhorse, so losing Jonathan Bernier shouldn't affect the team much; but if he goes down, is Ben Scrivens who you want?


MINNESOTA

Biggest hello: Matt Cooke. One of the best agitators in the league, can also play either wing, put up 15 goals a season, and is a very good penalty killer.
Biggest goodbye: Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck... That's a lot of forward depth to lose in a single off season.
Watch for: Josh Harding is back and more than ready to put last year behind him.
Watch out: Dany Heatley is officially a question mark: a talented but frequently listless scorer. His bio says he's 32, but there are games when he looks a decade older. Off season shoulder surgery will help his stickhandling, at least.
Note: A lot of youth is going to have to step up and fill the spaces the outgoing veterans left behind. If the top line stumbles at all, this could be a lost season.


NASHVILLE

Biggest hello: Viktor Stalberg. Surprisingly fast and can play either wing, he's produced well for Chicago with 14 minutes of ice time.
Biggest goodbye: Sergei Kostitsyn. Unreliable, sure. Flaky, okay. But also a threat to score, which is something Nashville flat-out lacks.
Watch for: The Predators brought in Phil Housley as a new assistant coach for the express purpose of getting more points from the blue line, and they should improve on a 17th best power play this year.
Watch out: ...Which they need, because Patric Hornqvist is teh only player with a 30-goal season to his name.
Note: There was almost a morbid fascination watching Seth Jones fall into Nashville's lap during the draft - a team that desperately needs offense instead gets another defensive star. It's fine to draft the "best player available" and all, but if you never trade them for team needs, it's going to be tough to improve (see also: Edmonton)


PHOENIX

Biggest hello: Mike Riberio. A very creative playmaker, if only an occasional shooter, and someone who drives opposing players nuts. Ah, the benefits of having an ownership group!
Biggest goodbye: Boyd Gordon. Solid defensive forward with some versatility.
Watch for: Mike Smith had plenty of offers to ply his trade elsewhere, but decided to stay in the desert. That should pay off for everyone concerned.
Watch out: Smith also started encountering injuries. That, along with new backup Thomas Greiss, should keep his games played relatively low for a starter.
Note: The Distraction is officially gone, which you'd think would be a good thing; however, it also engendred an Us-Against-Them mentality. Weirdly enough, stability might be a bad thing of the on-ice product if the Coyotes don't find another rallying point.


ST. LOUIS

Biggest hello: Brenden Morrow. Just in case they didn't have enough grinding, defensively minded scorers who skate with a chip on their shoulder.
Biggest goodbye: David Perron. Slightly uncontrollable, he flies around the offensive zone with aplomb and is sometimes burned, but often rewarded for it.
Watch for: Derek Roy is a solid point producer and great passer whose one weakness - the physical game - can be taken care of by his teammates.
Watch out: Vladimir Tarasenko had a huge start to his rookie season, but tailed off badly as the year went on. How's he going to do over 80 games?
Note: The team lost Perron in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi, who they signed to a new two-year deal. So when will he hit the ice?


SAN JOSE

Biggest hello: Tyler Kennedy. The definition of "rambunctious depth guy" who can also put up 15 goals.
Biggest goodbye: Thomas Greiss. Backing up a Vezina trophy finalist isn't easy, but Greiss was a solid second choice.
Watch for: The transferring of responsibilities from Partick Marleau and Joe Thornton to Logan Coture and Joe Pavelski is going seamlessly. Ageing starts isn't a problem for the Sharks.
Watch out: Injuries to Raffi Torres and Martin Havlat make the depth up front a bit more vulnerable to open the season.
Note: Rookie Tomas Hertl is off to a roaring start, leaving San Jose scouts sighing with relief: they haven't had a draft pick play for them since 2008's Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers.


VANCOUVER

Biggest hello: New coach John Tortorella.
Biggest goodbye: Last season's starting goaltender Cory Schneider.
Watch for: The Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are going to get their wish for more ice time this year, including on the penalty kill. While they aren't fast, that's got to make the point men a bit more cautious.
Watch out: The 22-year old Zack Kassian has been billed as Vancouver's first power forward since Todd Bertuzzi, but hasn't shown the consistency or first line ability in anything other than flashes yet. If it's decided he still needs seasoning in the minors, that leaves few choices on the right side.
Note: (Insert the usual caveat about goaltending drama here.) Actually, given Luongo's mental toughness, goaltending simply isn't a concern despite opponent's dearest wishes.


WINNIPEG

Biggest hello: Devin Setoguchi. Can play in any situation and will be given the nod to attack more often out of Minnesota's system.
Biggest goodbye: Antti Miettinen. A 20-goal scorer used as a 4th liner on the Jets.
Watch for: Michael Frolik is another skating forward who should produce much better numbers with an increased role in Winnipeg.
Watch out: Not convinced Ondrej Pavelec is a starting goaltender, but there isn't much choice with Al Montoya as the only other NHL-ready goalie in the system.
Note: The Jets had lousy special teams last season; the additions of Setoguchi and Frolik can only help.


The silliness continues with predictions about the finishing positions in the West:

1) Chicago Blackhawks

2) St. Louis Blues

3) Los Angeles Kings

4) San Jose Sharks

5) Vancouver Canucks

6) Anaheim Ducks

7) Minnesota Wild

8) Nashville Predators

9) Dallas Stars

10) Colorado Avalanche

11) Edmonton Oilers

12) Phoenix Coyotes

13) Winnipeg Jets

14) Calgary Flames



Total mug's game, these predictions; but that's the fun of it, yeah? Truth be told, after the top five (who could finish anywhere at that level), there's a group of the next five (who could finish anywhere at that level), then the last four - any one of which might break through on one of those weird golden runs that occasionally happens in this league. I still think they'll miss the playoffs, but not by as much as expected.

The Eastern Predictions are all the way over here. Now let's see what the year has in store for us, shall we?

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