Here are my western conference predictions. Eastern conference predictions to come later this afternoon.
1. San Jose, 113pts – They have lost some depth but added a big time scorer in Dany Heatley. I am not sure if they will be a better team, or most importantly for San Jose fans, a better team in the playoffs, but they are still good. They need aging Rob Blake to have another good year in him though and youngsters Setoguchi and Clowe to repeat or improve on last year.
2. Chicago, 107pts - Detroit’s loss is Chicago’s gain with the addition of Marian Hossa although he will miss the early part of the season, possibly up to a couple of months. But the remainder of the young Chicago players will take another step forward which should be enough for them to take the central division. The big question mark is in goal which could hurt their chances to be a 100+ point game.
3. Vancouver, 104pts – Vancouver may not have the offensive flair of the Sharks and Blackhawks or a few of the eastern conference teams but they have a very well balanced team with an elite goalie, a solid and deep defense and a well rounded group of forwards. It is hard to pinpoint any significant flaws except that as a group they don’t have a history of success, particularly in the playoffs. They are a very good team though.
4. Detroit, 103pts – With the loss of several significant players – Hossa, Hudler, Samuelsson, etc. – the Red Wings will almost certainly take a bit of a step back this season, at least until some of the new players adapt to their new roles. That said, their defense is still second to none and they still have a number of top level forwards so they will still be a team to contend with.
5. Anaheim, 98pts – I have Anaheim higher than maybe most people do but I believe they are an elite level team and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were even better than I am predicting. Few teams can boast the quality of forwards that the Ducks have with a top six of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Lupul, Selanne and Koivu. Their defense isn’t as strong as in the past with the loss of Pronger but it isn’t bad and they are certain to have quality goaltending with either Giguere or Hiller.
6. Calgary, 95pts – I am not as optimistic on the Flames as many are. Sure they added Bouwmeester which will give them a very good defense, but the loss of 39 goal scorer Cammalleri will hurt the offense in a significant way. But making matters worse is Kiprusoff’s steady decline from elite level goalie to just a good one, at best. His save percentage has dropped steadily (.933, .923, .917, .906, .903) an his goals against average has risen steadily (1.70, 2.07, 2.46, 2.69, 2.84). Those are not good trends and unless he can reverse them I don’t see Calgary being much of a threat this season.
7. Minnesota, 93pts – This year is a bit of a transition year as the Wild will move to be a bit less of a defense first team and I think they have the players that will work well in that system. They are a playoff bubble team, but I think they will get in.
8. St. Louis, 91pts – Last year was a break through year for the Blues and they went from one of the worst teams in the league to a playoff team. I am not sure their young players are quite ready to take the Blues from borderline playoff team to a contender but they should remain in the playoff hunt again. Goaltending and the play of Erik Johnson are keys to the Blues success.
9. Columbus, 90pts – They made some solid strides last season to get their first playoff birth, largely on the back of stellar rookie goalie Steve Mason. I am not sure Mason can have a repeat of that performance. A full season of Derick Brassard will help, but may not be enough to gain them another playoff birth.
10. Nashville, 87pts – Solid goaltending, good defense and hopefully good enough forwards are a good analysis of the Predators heading into the season. Rumour was that the Predators really wanted to add Phil Kessel which is the kind of talent that they still need to be a true playoff system. But as of yet they have been unable to obtain that kind of offensive help so they will once again fall a little short.
11. Los Angeles, 86pts – The Kings will improve a fair bit this season with the addition of a veteren leader like Ryan Smyth and the hopeful improvement in young defensemen Doughty and Johnson. I just don’t think they have the goaltending or the overal team experience needed to be a playoff team this season.
12. Edmonton, 85pts – They were mediocre last year and I am not sure Khabibulin is an improvement over Roloson so I just don’t see how they can be any better this season barring unexpected (by me anyway) break out seasons by Gagner, Cogliano and others.
13. Dallas, 83pts – Their ownership is in a bit of a mess and they are changing from a defense first team to a more offensive oriented team and while they have some decent young forwards to help them achieve that their defense is weak and Turco has been a little hit and miss the past several seasons. They might be a little better than I am predicting here but I wouldn’t be optimistic if I were a Stars fan.
14. Phoenix, 76pts – While Dallas’s ownership might be a bit of a mess, the Coyotes ownership is non-existant. Literally, unless you consider the bankruptcy courts an owner. They have some decent components on their roster and I really like Dave Tippett as a coach, but there are a lot of unproven youngsters or cast offs from other teams here. It could be another long year (and possibly the final year) in Phoenix.
15. Colorado, 66pts - With the retirement of Sakic and the trading of Smyth, the Avalanche are in full out rebuilding mode. Expect more veterans to be traded between now and the trading deadline. But that might be the best thing the Avalanche can do so they can add another big time future star to Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene.