The 2010-11 NHL season begins tomorrow so I should get my predictions out. Today I’ll make my western conference predictions and tomorrow the eastern conference.
1. Detroit Red Wings, 109pts – Unlike last year, this year they are healthy. Their third line consists of Jiri Hudler, Mike Modano and Daniel Cleary all of whom are capable of scoring 15-20 goals. Not many teams can boast that kind of depth and their defense and goaltending isn’t too shabby either.
2. San Jose Sharks, 103 pts – Lost some depth when they lost Malholtra but their young players are another year more experienced which makes their top 2 lines as good as anyone’s.
3. Vancouver Canucks, 103pts – I am not sure the Sedin’s will repeat last years performances but as a team the Canucks are good from top to bottom.
4. Los Angeles Kings, 101pts – The Kings are the up and coming team. They may not be quite true Stanley Cup contenders but they are getting awfully close and they will take another step in that direction this year.
5. Chicago Blackhawks, 98pts – They lost a lot of depth in the off season and a goalie tandem of Turco and Crawford isn’t without uncertainties so one has to assume they will take a big step back this season. They will still be good though, but it will be a bit of a transition year until some of their young replacements get up to speed with the NHL game. Long term I think they might regret not keeping Niemi though.
6. Phoenix Coyotes, 96pts – Hard to predict where the Coyotes will end up. Two years ago they had 79 points, last year they had 107 points. They won’t repeat last seasons success but how far will they fall? I’ll say they will get 96 points, but I may be optimistic.
7. St. Louis Blues, 95pts – The Blues are the team in the west that I think will make big strides forward. I like Halak in goal and I think Boyes will have a bit of a bounce back year.
8. Calgary Flames, 93pts – There always seems to be high hopes in Calary but it seems they also seem to fizzle those hopes away one way or another. They still don’t have another high end forward to support Iginla nor a quality goalie to back up Kiprusoff. The time is running out on the Iginla-Kiprusoff led Flames as they both are about to enter their post-prime years.
9. Colorado Avalanche, 92pts – After being a big surprise in the first half of last season the Avalanche almost fell out of a playoff spot struggling through much of the second half depending too much on a fatiguing Craig Anderson in goal. Hard to see how they will be any better this season so will be in a dogfight with a handful of other teams for the final couple playoff spots.
10. Nashville Predators, 91pts - The Predators are neither a great team, not a bad team. I think they will miss Jason Arnott and his 2-way play but they have enough good players to be competitive for a playoff spot, but not enough to be a great team, much like the past several seasons.
11. Anaheim Ducks, 89 pts – If they had a little more on defense I might have given them a playoff spot but there are enough issues with their defense and their overall depth that they will probably be on the outside looking in again this year.
12. Minnesota Wild, 86pts – They have strengthened their team down the middle with the additions of Scott Cullen and John Madden but they lack the game breakers up front to make their transition from a defense first team to a more offensive style of play a successful one.
13 – Dallas Stars, 80pts – The franchise is going through a transition both on and off the ice. Their goaltending is a huge question mark from the injury prone Lehtonen to the downright bad Raycroft. They will be lucky if the floor doesn’t completely fall out and they end up merely a bad team.
14 Columbus Blue Jackets, 79 pts – Beyond Rick Nash they have some decent forwards but lack a lot of depth and their defense lacks a true top pairing guy and they have question marks in goal. It will be yet another mediocre season for the Blue Jackets.
15 Edmonton Oilers, 76pts – The Oilers may not be good but they should be better than last season and there should be some reason for optimism about the future. A healthy Hemsky along with some up and coming young talented forwards will help the Oilers win a few more games and as inconsistent as Khabibulin can be he would be an improvement over what Deslauriers and Dubnyk provided last year.