The West

Posted: 09/06/2010 by bc in Uncategorized

The four categories of teams are contender, pretender, bubble and lol.  Three contenders, three pretenders, six bubble teams and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver… The Contenders…

1.  Detroit Red Wings

Yeah pretty gutsy picking a trophy case team like the Wings as the team to beat in the West. Detroit is still loaded with Jack Adams candidate in coach Mike Babcock, Norris candidate Niklas Lidstrom, Datsyuk or Zetterburg are always a threat to win the Hart, Jimmy Howard looks like a Vezina or Roger Crozier Saving Grace candidate and Datsyuk is the perennial Frank Selke winner. Add to the trophy players is an impressive and suddenly deep supporting cast with the return of Jiri Hudler and the additions of Mike Modano and Rusaln Salei.

The two guys to watch are Valtteri Filppula and Jonathon Ericsson. If these two produce in their roles as 2nd line center and top 6 D respectively, Red Wings roll.

2.  San Jose Sharks

With very tactical moves on the Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks, GM Doug Wilson put a twist on the old, “If you can’t beat ’em join ’em” cliche. In the salary cap era Wilson played “If  you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em” strategy. Wilson forced Stan Bowman’s hand by making an offer sheet to RFA dman Niklas Hjalmarsson and picked up Hawks netminder Antti Niemi. Stil, taking your competitor down a peg did nothing to make up for the retirement of Rob Blake.

Sharks are a great team but they still look more like a bridesmaid than bride.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

With all the changes to the roster even the players are buying programs and wearing name tags. The Hawks kept the blue line intact. The key forwards are all back. The goal tending and the supporting cast is virtually all new.

Chicago will still contend even though it may take a while to come together as a cohesive unit.

The Pretenders

4. Vancouver Canucks

Gone are shutdown dman Willie Mitchell, depth forwards Kyle Wellwood & Steve Bernier, promising young winger Michael Grabner and checking depth forward Ryan Johnson. Alex Burrows and Sami Salo will start the season on the IR. Burrows isn’t expect back until late November – early December. Salo’s return is indefinite.

Nucks are traditionally slow starters. Between the injuries and breaking two new top 4 dmen, Dan Hamhuis & Keith Ballard along with depth forwards Manny Malhotra & Raffi Torres, Nucks have an excuse for a slow start.

The Nucks will be different. Especially an improved transition from the back line. I’m still not sold though. Loungo is questionable in big games. There is no genuine #1 Dman.  The injury to Burrows exposes the Nucks lack of scoring depth.

It’s a good team. I want to see them in the second half before becoming a believer.

5.  Phoenix Coyotes

Probably not fair to call Phoenix a pretender after emerging as a huge surprise team last season. Coming off a 4th place finish in the West and pushing the Red Wings to 7 games, the Coyotes proved their a good team.

The bad news is UFA shut down Dman Zbynek Michalek left for Pittsburgh. Losing Michalek wouldn’t be so bad but Amy Jo Green of The Fourth Period reports that Kurt Sauer still hasn’t recovered from a head injury that saw him play just one game last season. Sauer isn’t expected back.

If not for Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryszgalov was the hands down favorite for the Vezina.  The Coyotes will still get their goals by committee. It is a committee that is 4 lines deep though.

Look for Phoenix to hold their own from last season and depending on all the youth maybe make some improvement.

6. Los Angeles Kings

Why all the love? I don’t get it. For the sake of disclosure, I’m a Ducks fan. One playoff appearance in seven years that resulted in a quick first round exit and the Kings are anointed the next up and coming powerhouse. Were it so easy.

Willie Mitchell is a solid addition. Kings still lack a genuine 2nd line center. Brayden Schenn? That’s a lot to ask of rookie let alone on a team with pretensions of actually being a Stanley Cup contender. The goal tending is questionable. Ponikarovsky is not necessarily an improvement on Alexander Frolov. Smyth and Williams offensive production has declined four consecutive seasons.

The young core of Kopitar, Doughty, Johnson, Brown and Simmonds must take it up another level. With the vets in decline it may not be enough for the Kings to move up.

The Kovlachuk experience now well behind them, one does wonder if “Governor” Tim Lieweke will force more “hockey” decisions on GM Dean Lombardi.

Basically these LA Kings are a one line team with a solid blue line. In other words, the Ottawa Senators.

The Bubbles

This group is the hardest to pick. Each of these teams has at least one glaring hole.

7. Minnesota Wild

The additions of Matt Cullen and John Madden make the Wild much stronger down the middle and much more responsible and accountable. Point a game scorer Martin Havlat all of sudden tanks at age 29? Look for the comeback season from Marty.

Sports cliche No. 73 is “Sometimes the best trades are the one’s you don’t make.” The Wild still have Brent Burns who was plagued with hip problems most of last season. Watch for Burns to amaze everyone.

My prediction is the Wild will be this year’s surprise team in the West.

For the last seed I’m going to play chicken and pick any of the following five:

8-A. St. Louis Blues

Yes, Jaroslav Halak is really that good. Eric Johnson, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund all suffered the sophomore jinx.  That is now history. The hockey gods did have their fun with the Blues last season. Most of it got corrected when David Payne replaced Andy “Short Shelf Life” Murray behind the bench.

Look for the Blues to rebound.

8-B.  Anaheim Ducks

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Ducks fan. This is my team. I live and die with the Ducks all season. This is the best I can reasonably do though. No way am I picking my team to finish out of the playoffs when it’s reasonable, kinda sorta they might make it. Maybe.

In little more than one calendar year my Ducks went from a top four blue line of Scot Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ryan Whitney and Francois Beachemin to Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, Andy Sutton and We Don’t Know Who Yet. What else do you need to know?

No doubt changes must be made in how the Ducks approach the game. Is Randy Carlyle the great coach some claim? Am I and others right that Coach Carlyle is just a holler guy with a playbook? This is the year we find out.

Ducks chances of making the playoffs might hinge on how soon Carlyle is fired and how quickly new Assistant Coach Mike Foligno can simplify the system.

8-C. Calgary Flames

Somebody had to pay the price for my admitted partiality toward my Ducks. Flames are it. Calgary is all questions and ‘Ifs. IF Jokinen and Tanguay transform Sutter from “stupid” to “evil genius” I’ll take my crow medium-well Flames fans. Are Iggy and Kipper’s best years behind them? Who was that guy impersonating Jay Bouwmeester on the blue line last season?

The forward lines and D look deep. As Mike Babcock says, “You need your best players to be your players.” Just not sure if that will be true often enough for the Flames to make the playoffs.

8-D. Colorado Avalanche

The hockey gods have left St. Louis and arrived in Denver. I’ve been wrong before but going into a season with seven sophomores in key positions is just asking to be jinxed. I’m not a real superstitious, touch wood, guy. I do have a pair of socks from a 5 point game that haven’t been washed in over 20 years. I think I still have them. Maybe “Retired Hockey Mom,” my bride of 25 consecutive years, tossed ’em. Obviously it’s been a while since a player needed to borrow my lucky socks.

The Avs no longer have luxury of surprising anybody. Matt Duchene, T.J. Galiardi, Ryan O’Reilly, Brandon Yip, Kyle Cumisky and Ryan Wilson have to improve on last season or it will be a disappointing season for Avs fans.

Should the Sophomore Seven avoid the jinx, “lookout cookout” as Ducks play-by-play announcer John Ahlers likes to say.

8-E. Columbus Blue Jackets

I could regret picking the Blue Jackets 11th. All it will take is (1) for Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger to prove they are really are that good, (2) Derrick Brassard and Steve Mason to rebound from bad sophomore years;  and (3) can the very young blue line, average experience among the top 7 is just under 300 games, produce what is needed? The operative phrase is still developing.

Columbus is a young team that is either just coming into its own or a young team that needs to be blown up and rebuilt. We’ll know in about 60 games.

13. Edmonton Oilers

Rookies, eh. Too stupid to know they’re supposed to finish last so they won’t. Edmonton will be slick and quick but not much else.

Coach Tom Reney is absolutely the right guy to help a very young team grow and develop.

Oilers have some unfinished business in the front office. Injury prone PP QB Sheldon Souray is still with the team. Do they use Nickolai Khabibulin’s recent legal trouble as an excuse to get out of a bad contract?

So long as Oiler fans have no illusions this should be a fun year.

14. Dallas Stars

Like the Anaheim Ducks this is a team that should have started rebuilding 3 years ago. Now both are solid examples of what happens when owners fall in love with players.

And while it’s unheard of to trade within your own division,  Stars and Kings could be perfect dance partners. Stars need to trim salary and rebuild. At center they have Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro. Either is perfect for L.A.

Kings are well stocked with picks and prospects who could advance a Stars rebuild. One thing is certain, the Stars price is only going up as the season progresses.

15.  Nashville Predators

It’s Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rhinne and a bunch of guys. Yes coach Barry Trotz has been more than impressive getting the most of “not so good on paper” Predator teams in the past. Not this season.

  1. czhokej says:

    Good reading. Very few non-professional people understand coaching issues like you do.

  2. BackCheck says:

    Thank you cz. Yeah, “non-professional” is the operative word lol.

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