As we head into the final hours of the NHL offseason, it is time to reveal our picks for the coming season. Today Jackson and I will look at the Western Conference and tomorrow we will tackle the East.
The Western Conference was dominant last season with seven teams over 100 points. I expect nothing different this year with most teams working diligently to improve in the offseason.
In putting together the rankings, I made three groups to better sort out the full listing. The first group includes the seven teams that I think will repeat. San Jose, Los Angeles, and Phoenix from the Pacific; Detroit, Chicago, and Nashville from the Central; and Vancouver from the Northwest.
My next group are the four teams that will battle for eight; Colorado, St Louis, Anaheim, and Calgary.
The final four are the teams that will battle not to finish at the bottom; Minnesota, Edmonton, Dallas and Columbus.
Here is the final result...
1. Detroit - The Wings may not have made many big moves in the offseason but they didn't need to. The biggest issue they had last year was injuries and coming off two long years that had them playing until mid-June. They should be more rested to start the season and I do not see the injury bug hitting them two years in a row.
2. Vancouver - The Canucks have the advantage of playing in the West's weakest division and could get past the Wings for the top seed if the rest of their division is non competitive. They have few weaknesses and Luongo may play better since he is over his captaincy period.
3. Los Angeles - I think that the Kings and Sharks will be in a dead heat for the Pacific division title but the Kings should have better goaltending and defense. Bernier will play enough to keep Quick fresh and could take the number one slot before the year is over.
4. San Jose - It will be interesting to see how the Shark's goalie situation plays out with the two Finnish netminders in a 1 and 1a situation. The Sharks made more headway in the playoffs last season but are not as solid on defense as they were last season.
5. Nashville - I really expect to see a close three way race in the Central with the Predators and the Blackhawks pushing Detroit all season long. I see the Preds and Hawks in a dead heat but the last piece that David Poile brought to the table with the grit of Shane O'Brien makes me give the Preds the edge.
6. Chicago - Chicago lost the most players of any team in the West but managed to keep their nucleus intact. They will miss the role players that were so important in the playoffs and it will be interesting to see how the new guys fill in. I like Marty Turco as a person but do not think he will lead the Hawks deep in the playoffs.
7. Phoenix - The Coyotes were the surprise team in the NHL last season. They have lost some firepower and will not repeat the season they had last year. The team will basically go as far as Ilya Bryzgalov will take them. They will make the playoffs but will not get 100 points again.
8. St. Louis - The race for the last playoff spot will be close and is basically a toss-up between the Blues and the Avalanche. The Blues get the edge because I don't feel they will repeat the horrible record at home that killed them in last year's playoff race. I don't think Halak will be the savior in goal that is expected. All of the Blues young players will have to step up and improve over last season.
9. Colorado - The Avs have the advantage of playing in the weak Northwest Division and should be able to make a solid run at a return to the playoffs. The key will be whether Craig Anderson can repeat his career year last year. Also, the Avs must avoid a sophomore slump by their young stars.
10. Calgary - I really don't like the Flames team and cannot figure out what their core direction actually is. Beyond Miikka Kipprusoff and Jerome Iginla, there really isn't a lot to be excited about in Southern Alberta.
11. Anaheim - I made the mistake of thinking the Ducks would go to the finals last season and was completely fooled. This year, they have a much weaker (and older) team and do not have the leadership that they have had in the past.
12. Edmonton - The surprise team in the West this year will be the Oilers. They have a young team with nothing to lose. If Khabibulin can stay healthy and keep the Oil in games, they should have enough offense to leave the conference cellar.
13. Minnesota - The Wild finished 13th last season and did little to improve their chances this season Jose Theodore was a nice addition in goal but their play in net was not their primary issue last season. Their offense was anemic and it doesn't look any better this season.
14. Dallas - The Stars have little to offer and the franchise appears without direction. Kari Lehtonen will be asked to stay healthy and carry the team, neither of which looks likely at this point. It will probably be a long year for the Stars faithful.
15. Columbus - The Blue Jackets fell mightily last season from a 2009 playoff appearance to having a lock on the bottom of the Central Division. Steve Mason had a career year as a rookie and may never get back to that level again. Rick Nash is not a player that can carry the heavy load of the Jackets so they will be flirting with last place right from the get go.
1. Vancouver Canucks – With the addition of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard and of course, Roberto Luongo stepping down as captain, the Canucks are ready to make a big run.
2. Los Angeles Kings – With Anze Kopitar up front, Drew Doughty in the back, and the goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier backstopping the whole operation, the Kings are set to finish high in the conference. It’ll be interesting to see who will be the number one at the end of 82.
3. Detroit Red Wings – With a healthy roster going into the season, the Wings should be able to make a strong push for the the division title that they lost last year.
4. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks will remain poised in the conference even after losing franchise goaltender Evgeni Nabakov. It’ll be interesting to see how the goaltending tandem works out there.
5. Nashville Predators – The Preds have arguably the best team they’ve had in franchise history this year. They’ll definitely be on the prowl for the division title.
6. Chicago Blackhawks – The Hawks lost several depth players that made last year’s team what it was. Not to mention, they’re relying on Marty Turco to carry them throughout the season. I can’t really see them making another run.
7. Phoenix Coyotes – If the Coyotes can keep up the same mentality that they carried all through last year and into the postseason, they’ll be able to slide into the playoffs.
8. St. Louis Blues – If Halak can play like he did in the postseason last year and the youth can rise, St. Louis will be a contender for sure.
9. Anaheim Ducks - The Ducks will be riding the bubble all year, but their lack of depth defensively will ultimately cost them a chance at the Cup.
10. Calgary Flames – As was the case last year, the Flames are set on the back end of things, but unfortunately their offense will underachieve yet again.
11. Minnesota Wild – When looking at the Minnesota roster, they really just don’t have, well, “it”. They don’t seem to have the talent to be successful this season.
12. Colorado Avalanche – After making it into the postseason last year when they weren’t really picked to do anything, the Avalanche have a lot to prove this year.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets – New season, same story. The Jackets just do not have enough on the blue line to extend their season beyond 82 games.
14. Edmonton Oilers – Edmonton will draft low yet again. Good experience for the kids though, right?
15. Dallas Stars – With uncertainty in goal and a mediocre defense corp, the Stars will be stuck in the cellar.
Buddy and Jackson Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass