Quiet? What quiet? Western Conference Preview

Hey, this is tomorrow, right? Close enough, in any case. I don't want too many days going by, or I won't be able to use the fact that I posted these predictions up before training camps got going as an excuse when I'm wrong on 90% of what's here. The joy of the internet: when it's out there, there's nothing you can say that will make it go away. Once an internet porn star, always an internet porn star!

And on that note, let's look out West:


Biggest hello: Andrew Cogliano - possibly. If his hands ever catch up with his feet, he’ll give the Ducks the depth scoring they need.
Biggest goodbye: Ray Emery, a reaction goaltender with streaks of brilliance and tremendously improved mental toughness after injuries kept him out of the league for a full year.
Watch for: Ryan Getzlaf had his breakout season three years ago; Corey Perry had his last year; Bobby Ryan’s turn? Not that there’s anything wrong with hitting 71 points, but even so…
Watch out: Jonas Hiller missed a large portion of last season with vertigo, and his back up is Dan Ellis. Ellis did good stuff for the Ducks when he came over from Tampa Bay, but he lost the starting job there for a reason.
Note: Now that Satan has re-upped Teemu Selanne’s contract, the next question: how does one team have two defencemen who played the full season, one of whom finished at -25 and the other at +32?


Biggest hello: Lee Stempniak is slight and inconsistent, but can score in streaks and is younger and cheaper than Daymond Langkow.
Biggest goodbye: Daymond Langkow. His injury history and contract, plus the Flames modest depth at centre, made him expendable.
Watch for: Lots and lots of pressure on Mikael Backlund to show he can earn one of the top two centre spots, and not just have it handed to him.
Watch out: As much as Calgary wants a centre who clicks with Jarome Iginla, if they can’t find a winger who can finish for Olli Jokinen, they’re doomed.
Note: The Chris Butler for Robyn Regehr trade was looked at mostly as a salary dump, and to a large degree it was (goodbye, Ales Kotalik!); but Butler is a far better fit for Brent Sutter’s pursuit game


Biggest hello: Penalty minutes, and lots of them. A bit of secondary scoring, too, with the addition of Andrew Brunette, but that wasn’t the focus of the off season.
Biggest goodbye: As overpriced as Brian Campbell was, he was also an effective puck mover.
Watch for: Corey Crawford has been handed the reins, but he’ll need a quality back-up, and the hope is Alexander Salak is that guy on his second shot at North American hockey.
Watch out: The Blackhawks were looking for a centre good enough to move Patrick Sharp out of centre and back onto the wing where he’s more effective. They didn’t find one.
Note: With Sharp being out for the season opener (appendecectomy, plus why rush him back?), Dave Bolland is getting all the ice time he could ever want.


Biggest hello: Seymon Varlamov has yet to play a full season as the starter, but after a year of Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott, the pressure is quite low.
Biggest goodbye: John-Michael Liles’ point production doesn’t have an obvious replacement.
Watch for: Number 2 overall draft pick Gabriel Landeskog is going to start with the big club.
Watch out: Unless Erik Johnson suddenly lives up to expectations, there are no puck moving defencemen in the line up, and that’s going to hurt.
Note: The Avalanche have handed the keys to Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere; goaltending could be either their strongest position or one with a lot of injury trouble.


Biggest hello: Hello, Jeff Carter! Not just a passer for Rick Nash, but a good finisher in his own right.
Biggest goodbye: Jakub Voracek, in an exchange of potential for proven.
Watch for: With a bit of luck, Carter and Nash should only ever play together on the power play. That means the Blue Jackets have two working lines.
Watch out: If the "biggest goodbye" is Mathieu Garon, then something has gone horribly wrong.
Note: There has been a clear change in philosophy here: instead of focusing on shutting down opposing forwards, they are going to try playing more in the opposing zone, and James Wisniewski is key.


Biggest hello: Michael Ryder is a finisher, but he needs a centre that can feed him. If he can find chemistry with Mike Ribeiro (or even better, Jamie Benn) then he’ll be back at 30 goals.
Biggest goodbye: Brad Richards is a top level scorer, something the Stars will have trouble with this season.
Watch for: Alex Goligoski has stepped into Sergei Zubov’s skates, giving an excellent push from the Stars own zone.
Watch out: That Ribeiro is now the #1 centre on this team is bizarre - his light, no-contact game is the antithesis of every other player on the team.
Note: The most important player could end up being Sheldon Souray for what he does or doesn’t do. He’s played passionate, aggressive hockey all his career; in Edmonton, that proved his downfall. Is he a calmer player after a year in the AHL, and can he produce if he is?


Biggest hello: Ian White is here to keep pucks away from Jimmy Howard, if not opposing forwards.
Biggest goodbye: Brian Rafalski’s 48 points in 63 games are numbers Nicklas Lidstrom is too polite to sneer at, but that’s a lot of skill lost to retirement.
Watch for: Pavel Datsyuk finished the season with 11 fewer points than last season - in 24 fewer games.
Watch out: If new arrival Garnet Exelby sees more than half the season in the NHL, then something’s gone wrong in a big way for the Red Wings.
Note: With Jimmy Howard, Ty Conklin, and Joey MacDonald manning the net, they’re going to want to keep the puck as far away from their end as possible.


Biggest hello: Much as I like the return of Ryan Smyth, and as good as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be, Eric Belanger will do more for the Oilers with a solid faceoff ability and excellent defensive presence.
Biggest goodbye: Andrew Cogliano never quite reached expectations, but may have been misused as a defensive specialist.
Watch for: Only two of their top ten scorers last season managed 70 or more games. Starting healthy and staying that way could produce much better results.
Watch out: Sam Gagner is going to get every chance to seize the second line centre position; if he fails, there are few other options available.
Note: Strange to think of a team this young having "reclamation projects", but Gagner, Belanger, Cam Barker, Ryan Whitney, Gilbert Brule, Shawn Horcoff, and Nikolai Khabibulin are all looking to rebound from either failed expectations or just down years.


Biggest hello: Getting Mike Richards cost a lot, but now the Kings have two top-flight centres, with another (Andrei Loktionov) on the way.
Biggest goodbye: Ryan Smyth was brought in to show the young guys what a never-say-die attitude was. Mission accomplished?
Watch for: While Dustin Penner didn’t do much on his arrival, he’s in a contract season and the talent is certainly there…
Watch out: …But is the drive? A complaint that’s followed him his entire career, he’s got to pick up his dedication for his own sake and the Kings’.
Note: LA needs goals. In addition to Penner, Jack Johnson has got to get more than the three power play markers he’s managed each of the past three seasons. Smyth’s nine PP goals led the team last year.


Biggest hello: Dany Heatley may have had the worst full season of his career, but his goal and point totals were still better than anyone on the Wild managed.
Biggest goodbye: Brent Burns’ transition from right wing to defense seems to have gone well, yes? Certainly well enough to earn a regular spot on Team Canada.
Watch for: Matt Cullen is going to line up with either Heatley or Devin Setoguchi - expect his numbers to reach the 60+ points mark.
Watch out: Josh Harding has to come back strong to spell of Nicklas Backstrom, who was burning out by the end of the year.
Note: Cal Clutterbuck has likely peaked as far as his offense: he’s going to lose some ice time to actual scorers coming back to health, including Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.


Biggest hello: Er.. Niclas Bergfors? If this light, gentle player doesn’t hit the 20 goal mark, then he will contribute nothing to the Predators.
Biggest goodbye: Steve Sullivan. Despite injury trouble, Sullivan was one of their few creative offensive threats.
Watch for: Fourth generation Blake Geoffrion (yes, that Geoffrion) will be pushing Cal O’Reilly for the third line centre position, but could end up on the wing if they both do well.
Watch out: If pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Suter’s contract isn’t worked out quickly, it will be a distraction off, then on, the ice. Shea Weber’s $7.5 million arbitration win, coupled with Ryan Ellis and Jonathan Blum looking ready, mean that someone is likely to get moved from this position of strength.
Note: Is Sergei Kostitsyn the real deal? He finally found his game after months of searching, but now with a big contract, will he continue to play as hard as he needs to, or coast? When the going got hard in the playoffs, he only managed 5 assists in 12 games.


Biggest hello: The slightly erratic Mike Smith to replace the "Cool Bryz". Not an upgrade, but affordable.
Biggest goodbye: Ilya Bryzgalov’s absence leaves the Coyotes with a larger, if less talented, goaltending brigade.
Watch for: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Kyle Turris were handled with kid gloves as far as ice time and situations went: the reins will be loosened this year.
Watch out: Smith’s back-ups include the short-burst capable Jason LaBarbara, Curtis "Meh" McElhinney, and the former Toronto Saviour Justin Pogge (seriously, they moved Tukka Rask to make room for him). This means Smith will play 50 games for the first time in his pro career.
Note: When discussion for Most Underrated Player came around, Lauri Korpikoski didn’t get any votes at all. THAT’S how underrated he was, but not any more.


Biggest hello: Stanley Cup rings. Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner were brought in to keep the kids on an even keel and avoiding the massive swings young teams are prone to.
Biggest goodbye: Cam Janssen. Young players can get distracted, and his job was to keep those distractions to a minimum.
Watch for: As much attention as the forwards get (for good reason), the defense pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk will bring the Blues back to playoff contention.
Watch out: A lot of young players had great seasons last year, and there is a risk of some of those numbers coming down for a few of them.
Note: Injuries - everywhere - weren’t as bad as they seemed, but they hit at almost exactly the wrong moments for a talent-thin team. This year’s improved depth - everywhere - should make dealing with injuries easier.


Biggest hello: Martin Havlat. Or Brent Burns. Whoever stays healthiest, really.
Biggest goodbye: A season in which niggling injuries produced a sub-par season for Dany Heatley, meaning below 39 goals for the first time in six years.
Watch for: With apologies to those folks suffering anterograde amnesia, the Sharks are clearly past the "playoff choker" label, having played in six rounds of playoffs in the past two years.
Watch out: If Havlat gets injured (always a risk), the Sharks are reduced to a one+ line team. Again.
Note: You’d expect Antti Niemi’s confidence to be high after a fine season establishing himself as the clear #1, but a shaky series against Vancouver to end the season may have derailed that boost.


Biggest hello: The fast and versatile Marco Sturm is going to get a shot at the top two lines with the Canucks.
Biggest goodbye: Christian Ehrhoff’s surprising offense priced him out of town.
Watch for: Auditions are wide open up front, with both Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler (and possibly Manny Malhotra) out to start the season.
Watch out: If no one seizes that opportunity, confidence in the team’s depth will be shaken.
Note: Arguably the most devastating injury could be the one to Malhotra: if he can’t recover his effectiveness as a premier face off man and defensive forward, Vancouver doesn’t have anyone ready for that role. This could force Kesler into playing as a checker, bringing his numbers down.

As for where they're going to finish, I flipped a series of carefully selected coins and came up with this:

1) Vancouver

2) San Jose

3) Chicago

4) St. Louis

5) Los Angeles

6) Detroit

7) Calgary

8) Columbus

9) Nashville

10) Colorado

11) Minnesota

12) Anaheim

13) Edmonton

14) Dallas

15) Phoenix

Done and done. So let's drop the puck already!

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