same deal as last time, teams in italics make the playoffs, everyone else sucks. well, not really, this is the west, so some good teams will miss the playoffs. unfortunate side effect of being in the more competitive conference.Central
1. Detroit Red Wings
: god what a no-brainer. last year's Cup team, plus Marian Hossa. the only question mark they have is their goaltending, but Conklin & Osgood both played really well last year so I think they can handle it (even though Osgood looked pretty crappy tonight in their upset loss to the Leafs).
2. Chicago Blackhawks
: the most exciting team in the West, with Towes & Kane up front and the free agent signings of Campbell on the backend & Huet in goal. if Havlet isn't finally ready to have an injury-free season they'll struggle a bit before ultimately making it, but if he is they'll coast to a high playoff spot.
3. Nashville Predators: I think their whole ragtag story is inspiring and all that, but with seemingly every other team in the West getting better I just don't see how they make the playoffs for a sixth year in a row (unless other teams majorly underperform due to injuries, which is always possible in this league).
4. Columbus Blue Jackets: they're definitely heading in the right direction, and Hitchcock will have them playing good defensive hockey. but they're the Senators of the West: one good line (that isn't nearly as good as Ottawa's really good line) and absolutely no scoring beyond that. don't see how that's enough to make the playoffs, especially in the ultra-competitive West.
5. St. Louis Blues: they're a draft lottery team. not much else to say about them. if Kariya has a more consistent year up-front they could get on a run but I seriously doubt it's going to happen and the team certainly isn't expecting it to.Northwest
1. Edmonton Oilers
: if the injury bug is finally ready to let up its death-grip on the Oilers, they've got the best shot of any team at winning the most competitive division in all of hockey. either way, they're a playoff team. the young guns will take another step and the power play should be even better with a healthy Souray and Vis-oh god I can't spell his name, the guy they got from the LA trade. this will be a fun, exciting team to watch.
2. Calgary Flames
: they'll be there till the end for the Northwest crown, and anytime you've got Jerome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf you're pretty clearly a playoff team. how good they ultimately end up being depends a lot on whether or not Mikka Kippuersoff is finally ready to have another consistently great season in net. and with Mike Keenan behind the bench I don't see that happening. but if he does, they'll take this division.
3. Vancouver Canucks
: my upset pick in the West, I think everyone is writing them off WAY too fast. Luongo will have a better season this year and if the defense isn't crippled by injuries again, they'll keep enough pucks out of their own net to make up for their glaringly obvious offensive deficiencies. not enough to win the Northwest, but enough to sneak into the playoffs. of course, if I'm wrong on both those accounts they miss again, but such is life.
4. Minnesota Wild: this is a tough team to pick to miss, because it's a Jacques Lemaire team so you know they will play the trap and get a lot of points from OT and SO losses. but the Marian Gaborik thing will be such a distraction, I don't see how they can make it when they're playing in such a competitive division. it'll be close, but I say they miss this year.
5. Colorado Avalanche: your goalie tandem is Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft. 'nuff said.Pacific
1. Dallas Stars
: Brad Richards has an entire season to play in Dallas, Sean Avery will add the intangibles, and it's looking like they'll get Sergei Zubov back from injury MUCH earlier than they did last year. to me, if the Red Wings falter, this is the next big pick to win the entire West and probably the Stanley Cup.
2. Anahiem Ducks
: no more distractions with Neidemeyer and Selanne back for the entire year. they're clearly not as good as their Cup-winning team from a couple years back but I don't think they're that far off, and they'll almost certainly get farther than the first round of the playoffs this year (maybe not much farther than the conference semis, though).
3. San Jose Sharks
: this is a team that's clearly on the downswing, new coach or no new coach. Joe Thornton will get his regular season points before disappearing in the playoffs yet again, Nabakov will be great again, and Boyle & Blake will improve their blue line. but I don't see how this team is significantly better than the team that faltered last year unless Marleau & Cheechoo are finally ready to get back to where they were a few years back. and I don't think they are.
4. Phoenix Coyotes: the biggest tragedy of the West, the Coyotes are a very good team that will probably still miss the playoffs just because they're in a division with the Big 3 listed above and they're in such a competitive conference in general. still, they've got a shot to make it if Olli gets out of the gate fast for them and Ilya in net can make up for their defensive shortcomings now that Ballard & Boyton have been shipped off to Florida. they'll definitely be there until the end, but if I had to guess I think they just barely miss (before probably making it the following year).
5. Los Angeles Kings: they won't be nearly as bad as some people think they will be, just because this will probably be a breakout year for Anze Kopitar (he showed a lot of signs of it last year) and they've got so much young talent with Dustin Brown & Patrick O'Sullivan up-front and Jack Johnson & Drew Doughty on the backend. but they've still got no goaltending, so I can't see how they make it unless all those aforementioned young talents really come together and just will them into the playoffs.
andddd there you go. enjoying some hockey right now, mostly with teams I don't really care about though (Leafs-Red Wings was earlier with the big upset win for the Leafs, and now it's Bruins-Avs, Canucks-Flames, and Ducks-Sharks as I write this) but tomorrow is when the fun REALLY starts.