Oh sure, we’re only one game in… But we’re undefeated. And based on this information and this information only, we think it’s fair to make some predictions about how things are going to shape up in the West this season.
Jean Lefebvre’s Predictions
On the theory that it’s too boring, one should never go to the default easy selections when drawing up something as preposterous as projected conference standings in early October. If it’s obvious to one and all that Detroit is the best team in the West, as has been the case for a good many winters, then by all means pick someone else. But the funny thing is, the Red Wings’ supremacy is not at all a given this coming season and the Blackhawks, armed with arguably the best goalie from France they’ve ever had in their history, could well be the smart pick to pass the Motowners by.
We could instead play the I-don’t-think-these-guys-are-actually-the-best-team-in-the-division-but-I-just-can’t-pick-the-obvious-favourite game in the Pacific but promoting anyone but the Sharks, playoff warts and all, seems totally dumb with that grouping in its current crippled state. So San Jose it is, but let it be said that the Los Angeles Kings could be tomorrow’s Chicago Blackhawks (as opposed to their usual act of being yesterday’s Kansas City Scouts).
Vancouver’s status as the Northwest Division frontrunner was cemented this week when Mats Sundin announced he wasn’t going to come out of semi-retirement/suspended animation to “help” the Canucks again this year.
- San Jose
- St. Louis
- Los Angeles
Kent Wilson’s Predictions
- CHI – Good depth bolstered by the addition of Hossa and Madden. Huet had a down year last season and his SV% was still better than Kipper or Nabokov. Defense is solid through and through. No weaknesses and a lot of strengths
- SJS – Best first line in the conference, some other notable pieces in Blake, Vlasic, Clowe and Pavelski. Depth falls off a cliff after the front liners though and may become an issue if injuries hit.
- VCR – see previous post
- DET – Still quality, but lost a lot of talent this summer and only brought in dubious replacements. In addition, Nik Lidstrom can’t be immortal forever and Osgood might be the worst staring goalie in the conference.
- CGY – see previous
- ANA – Top notch first line but dubious depth. The loss of Pronger will hurt, although the duo of Hiller and Giguere is formidable.
- CBJ – Nash is one of the best players in the league and Hitchcock is one of the best coaches. If Steve Mason can repeat or at least be a reasonable facsimile of the goalie he was last year, the Blue Jackets are in.
- STL – Skilled youngsters improving plus healthy Kariya, McDonald and Johnson means the Blues are on track and looking to move up.
- MIN – A question mark given the new coach and GM, the Wild have lackluster forward depth and it remains to be scene if Backstrom is the real thing without Lemaire.
- LAK – A team that could make the leap, the Kings have lots of skilled youngsters that they reinforced with vets like Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi this summer. Goaltending and depth beyond the top 6 remain issues, however.
- EDM – Not a single superstar on the roster and an aging, injury-prone goalie spells trouble for the Oil.
- Dallas – While the return of Morrow and Richards should help, Marty Turco is in fell-on decline mode and the blueline isn’t impressive.
- NSH – Great young blueline, but little else for the cash-strapped Predators.
- COL – When Stastny inevitably goes down in the middle of the season, the Avs first line will be Wolksi – Hejduk – Svatos. And things get a lot worse after that.
- PHX – Forsaken club has some nice pieces and Tippett was a good addition, but it’ll be tough for anyone to care about winning in the desert this year.
Top teams in the West
- San Jose
- St. Louis
Look how far down Detroit is! Kinda funny, isn’t it? They’ll lose the division by a fairly slim margin, mainly because I have a bit of faith in Cristobal Huet for some hideous reason and all three of Jonathan Toews, Patty Kane and Duncan Keith are in contract years. San Jose is, I think, the clear choice in the Pacific. Calgary wins the Northwest (obviously), but by a very narrow margin over Vancouver. St. Louis will be very good if everyone can stay healthy and might nudge ahead of the Northwest runner up, and both Minny and Phoenix will get a huge pick-me-up from their coaching changes.
Of course, I’ve been wrong before.
Read what the enemy has to say about the Western Conference: