Thursday, October 9, 2008

NHL 2008-09 Western Conference Breakdown

Back again, our buddy Casey from Bringing Hockey Back and the Penguins Analysis Blog has taken the time to break down the West for us. As I feared, my Kings will be at the bottom of the pile. I'm afraid I will have to agree with him on that one (sad face).

With the full North American NHL season about to open up later this week, it's about time to continue the predictions and breakdowns. Let's just jump right into the Western Conference.

Central Division

#1 – Detroit Red Wings – If it was possible for this team to get better than the team that dominated its way to the Stanley Cup last season, they found a way. Marian "Judas" Hossa turned down a long-term deal with the Penguins to sign a one-year deal with the Red Wings.

Sounds like a guy desperate for a ring to me, but that's his own prerogative.

Also new to the mix is the backup goaltender from the runner-up Pens in Ty Conklin. I don't necessarily agree with this move. The Wings have a great young goaltender in the farm who is probably ready to at least be a backup in Jimmy Howard.

The absence of the now once again retired Dominik Hasek freed up a roster spot for Conklin who can expect to get between 15-20 starts behind the aging Chris Osgood. If Osgood gets hurt and the load falls on Conklin and Howard, the Red Wings might be vulnerable. Outside of that, expect another near wire to wire division title and long playoff run.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks – I'm surprising myself with this one too. However, with the young core on this team and a solid goalie in net this doesn't seem too farfetched.

Sensations, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are back to terrorize the league. The Hawks signed Cristobal Huet in the free agent market and have placed last season's starter Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers. Expect him to be moved or bought out soon.

They also brought in free agent defenseman Brian Campbell who decided to take the money and run from the Sharks.

Young teams are dangerous in the new NHL and in this incredibly weak division, Chicago fans may once again be reminded of what hockey is.

#3 – Nashville Predators – There are a lot of question marks with this team this year. Alexander Radulov is gone. So are Marek Zidlicky, Martin Gelinas, Darcy Hordichuk, Jan Hlavac and goaltender Chris Mason.

What they were able to do is lock up Shea Weber and Ryan Suter who will now patrol the blue line for years to come. Not a bad move, but can this team rebound with the loss of all the guys listed above?

Dan Ellis will be the main man in goal this season and if something happens to him, rookie Pekka Rinne will have to step up.

The Preds shocked me last year by making the playoffs with a depleted roster, but I don't think we're going to be experiencing déjà vu this Spring.

#4 – Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets made a ton of offseason moves and on paper have a much improved team over last year's squad.

The problem here is the guys they landed aren't exactly A-quality players. The best move they made was acquiring Raffi Torres from the Oilers.

The also added Christian Backman, Fedor Tyutin, Mike Commodor, R.J. Umberger and Kristian Huselius.

The Rangers won't lose sleep over the loss of Tyutin, but Backman could be a very solid physical defenseman. Commodore is another good signing and Umberger and Huselius will need to prove that their success wasn't just a fluke due to the lines they were on in Philadelphia and Calgary respectively.

The other question I'm having trouble with is about goaltender Pascal Leclaire. He put on a very good show last season and was a surprisingly good fantasy pickup for GAA and save percentage. Is he for real? Are the new acquisitions for real? Could this be the season that the Jackets make the playoffs for the first time in franchise

These guys could challenge for a playoff spot, but there will be no playoff hockey for the Jackets this year.

#5 - St. Louis Blues – Woof. It does not look good for the Blues at all this season. There is a youth movement going on and with any youth movement, there's a learning curve of a couple seasons before you see

Welcome to the beginning of the youth movement in St. Louis.

Blues fans will have to wait another season to see defenseman Erik Johnson again, who tore two ligaments in his right knee in a freak golf accident.

The Blues were able to go out and sign Steve Bernier away from the Canucks and he should help contribute on the offensive side of things.

For this team to have any success whatsoever, Bernier, Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya are going to have to take the team under their wings. Don't expect much in St. Louis this year, but looking down the road a couple years should make Blues fans smile.

Northwest Division

#1 – Vancouver Canucks – Is this the year the underachieving Canucks finally take a run at the Cup? Not sure, but I do see them winning this wide open division.

The major knock against this team was the lack of offense they had. Basically if you scored 3 goals and some could argue even 2, you would win against these guys.

They are going to be without Markus Naslund who left for Broadway, Brendan Morrison and Trevor Linden.

At the draft they snagged Kyle Wellwood away from Toronto in a brilliant move. This kid is going to be a stud in the league for years to come. They also added veteran Pavol Demitra to the mix. If Demitra can stay healthy, he's a proven scorer and could ignite some more guys to get in on the act.

The best aspect of this team is their defense and especially in net with Roberto Luongo. Look, Luongo is a fantastic goalie, but he needs help. If the Canucks can find the back of the net, Luongo can lead them to the promised land.

#2 – Edmonton Oilers – This was one of the busiest teams in the league during the summer. They acquired a major threat on the blue line in Lubomir Visnovsky from the Kings. To make room for Visnovsky, the Oilers shipped Joni Pitkanen to Carolina for Erik Cole and sent Torres was sent to Columbus for Brule.

They are returning with a young core of guys including Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky who will need to continue to put up big numbers.

Sheldon Souray is returning from an injury plagued season and I would think he would play with Visnovsky. I'd be afraid to skate into the zone with those two on the ice. Seriously, keep your head up.

A lot of people are taking these guys to win the division. I'm not totally sold yet, but I'm encouraged by what I've seen so far.

#3 – Calgary Flames
– I'm not so sure about the moves they made this summer. They allowed guys like Eric Godard, Owen Nolan and Alex Tanguay to get away.

They then went out and got Mike Cammalleri Curtis Glencross nd Rene Bourque. I like those acquisitions for the most part and thought they were on a war path to the division title.

They follow this up by adding in glassjaw Andre Roy and inexplicably go out and sign Todd Bertuzzi. I don't understand the Bertuzzi move at all considering we are only a few years removed from one of the most horrific moments in NHL history, which ironically happened between two teams in this division. Now he's back in the division with a different squad.

Anyway, the Flames do have one of the better goaltenders in the league in Miikka Kiprusoff. However, Kipper has looked a little old over the last couple seasons. Maybe it's the lack of consistency the team has shown that's getting to him, but we'll see.

It will be up to Jarome Iginla to spark the team and if the new guys step up and produce, this is another team that could win the division.

#4 Minnesota Wild – This is kind of low for a playoff team from last season, I know. However, these guys lost some very key guys and are on the verge of losing another.

Gone are forwards Brian Rolston and Demitra. Mark Parrish is also gone after being bought out. The one guy who may be on his way out? Marian Gaborik. The Wild and Gaborik are trying to get a long-term extension worked out and if that doesn't happen expect a blockbuster trade to happen sooner than later.

If Gaborik leaves town, that would mean the entire top line from last year is gone and a big chunk of the second line is gone as well. The new additions of Nolan and Antti Miettinen from Dallas will help, but they're not Demitra, Rolston and Gaborik.

This is shaping up to be a bad season for the Wild, but I didn't expect them to do as well as they did last year either. Maybe they'll do it again, but it's going to be very tough.

#5 Colorado Avalanche – This is a team that just keeps getting older and as a result it's going to be a long year in Denver.

Joe Sakic has returned and the team brought in Darcy Tucker from Toronto. They also locked up defenseman John-Michael Liles to a long-term deal. Those moves are solid and all, but what did they do to help the biggest weakness being goaltending?

Not a whole lot.

Peter Budaj will be the number one guy and he's either on or he's not. They lost Jose Theodore to the Capitals and replaced him with Andrew Raycroft. Razor was basically exiled from Toronto after his sub-par play with his big contract and is looking for another fresh start. I wouldn't expect to see these guys in the playoffs, but stranger things have happened I suppose.

Pacific Division

#1 – Dallas Stars – Fresh off a Western Conference Finals appearance, the Stars are back and are poised to make another deep playoff run.

The Stars made a somewhat peculiar move in letting Miettinen walk and replaced him with super agitator Sean Avery.

Brad Richards was acquired at the trade deadline for goaltender Mike Smith and was a pleasant surprise during the stretch run and playoffs for Dallas. Now that he's had a chance to play with the club and get used to his new surroundings, look for a big year out of Richards.

Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen are another year older, but bring a veteran presence that you can't put a price tag on. This division is the polar opposite of the Northwest, which is wide open due to mediocrity. The Pacific is wide open because there are 3 powerhouse teams and any one of them is deserving of this No. 1 spot.

#2 – San Jose Sharks – I don't think any team improved its defense more than the Sharks this summer. I'm still in awe of what they were able to get.

They had Campbell who they got at the trade deadline. I was a bit puzzled to see the Sharks just let him leave town and not lock him up. Then they go out and land veteran Rob Blake from the Kings.

In addition to Blake, the Sharks made a trade and landed fantasy stud Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich from the Lightning. That's 3 guys who will vastly improve this defense and could very well shake the playoff curse that hangs over the Shark Tank.

Evgeni Nabokov proved he is a workhorse last season starting 77 out of 82 games last season and winning 46 of them. Maybe this time around the Sharks will tone his load back a little to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

Should that happen and Joe Thornton continue to light the way for the Sharks, this could be the year they give Stanley a tan.

#3 – Anaheim Ducks – At face value, this is the exact same team as last year's roster. The only major acquisition was Morrison from the Canucks.

However, last season both Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer delayed retirement and joined the team late in the season. This time around, both are signed and ready to go on opening night. They'll have their skating legs under them and regardless of what they have in the tank still, you know they will produce.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere is once again the main guy between the pipes and I must say, a very solid fantasy choice. He finished last season with 35 wins in 58 games with a 2.12 GAA and .922 save percentage. You'd be crazy not to pick him in your drafts.

Either way, the Ducks have a ton of young talent with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and former number-two draft pick Bobby Ryan. Ryan should be on the opening night roster and if the hype about him is correct, he could make a huge impact.

#4 – Phoenix Coyotes – The Fighting Gretzky's just missed out on the
playoffs last season and could very well be in the hunt again this year. The biggest problem for them is that they're in a division with the Stars, Sharks and Ducks.

The Coyotes improved by subtraction this offseason. Gone are defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, both dealt to Florida for Olli Jokinen.

I absolutely loved this move. Jokinen figures to be a top line player and they unloaded two defensemen, who are average at best. Yes, they're physical guys but I would have done the same thing to get Jokinen.

The other move that could end up looking more brilliant than it was last season, is the signing of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who will need to be solid once again for this team to have a shot.

#5 Los Angeles Kings – Well, the good? Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Patrick O'Sullivan and Dustin Brown are a very nice core to have. Defensemen Jack Johnson is also a nice commodity to have on you team,
even with how young he is.

The bad? That's about all that's on this team. Rob Blake and Visnovsky are gone from the top defense pairing, another scoring threat in Cammalleri is also gone and they have no goaltending to speak of. Jonathan Bernier is still a year away or so, but unless he gets a defense to play in front of him, it will be a rough go of it.

Jason Labarbera and Erik Ersberg may not be bad goaltenders on paper. However, there's a saying that a goalie is only as good as his defense. In this case, these guys are in trouble.

Baring a miracle of Biblical proportions, the only thing the Kings will be battling for in the Spring is the No. 1 draft pick.


Lindsay said...

I'm excited that hockey is starting up again. Although I care a lot more about college hockey than pro. I also like watching in person rather than on TV. It's just hard to catch everything on TV because the game moves so fast.

Apryl DeLancey said...

Me too! I especially love going to games!