Hockey Independent’s divisional predictions continue on today, this time with a look at the Western Conference. Will some of the changes that took place this offsesason shift the balance of power in any of the divisions? Read on to see what members of the Hockey Independent writing staff think.
Northwest Division – Alex Muscat (@AlexMuscat73)
1 – Vancouver Canucks The team’s top line of Daniel & Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows will rebound from an off-year statistically. The free-agent signing of defensman Jason Garrison was key to the Canucks’ blueline corp as he will play along side Alexander Edler and will also give the team’s power-play unit a boost. The team will miss Ryan Kesler, who out until at least mid-November as he is recovering from a shoulder injury. Cory Schneider will be more than ready to assume the role as the Canucks’ number one netminder.
2 – Minnesota Wild It was certainly a ‘Wild’ Summer in Minnesota as the team shook the hockey world by landing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The Wild gained legitimacy and will make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Parise will lead the team in scoring and expect a bounce-back season from Dany Heatley. Mikael Granlund, one of the many team’s top prospects, will be a Calder Trophy candidate.
3 – Calgary Flames New Bench Boss Bob Hartley will try to work his magic in Calgary. At 35, Jarome Iginla was on the decline, but will get to play with Mike Cammalleri for a full season. The jury will be out on newly-acquired Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler as they will play in a new environment while Dennis Wideman will be the team’s top defenseman. Miikka Kiprusoff will play 65+ games again, but the Leland Irving experiment has to pick at some time this season.
4 – Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog will pick up where he left off from last season and will avoid the sophomore jinx. Entering his fourth NHL season, Matt Duchene will live up to his potential and become the scoring threat that the team expected him to be when he was the third overall pick in 2009 and playing with PA Parenteau will help. Semyon Varlamov had a strong finish to the season and will continue to be the man in the cage in Colorado. Those are the bright spots for the team, but a spot in the playoffs isn’t likely.
5 – Edmonton Oilers While the other teams in the division are trying to get better, the Oilers continue their youth movement by landing top overall pick Nail Yakupov and free agent defenseman Justin Schultz. Even though Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle will get better, the Oilers will miss the playoffs again for the seventh straight season. Devan Dubnyk’s role will increase as the top goalie in Oil Country. The Oilers will not have a top-five pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Central Division - Alex Muscat
1 – St. Louis Blues Ken Hitchcock will be behind the Blues bench for a full season and will get more out of his players. The team has four functional lines, the defense led by Alex Pietrangelo will be top-notch and the goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak will be in the running for the William M. Jennings Trophy once again. Vladimir Tarasenko, who will finally land is St. Louis, will be the team’s Calder Trophy candidate.
2 – Chicago Blackhawks Even though they didn’t land a key free agent, the Blackhawks still have star power with Jonathan Toews and the Patricks, Kane and Sharp. Once he gets going, Marian Hossa will fully recover from the vicious hit that he took from Raffi Torres this past spring. The blueline will still be stellar with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading the way. The goaltending is still a concern. It’s a matter of who wants it more, Corey Crawford or Ray Emery.
3 – Detroit Red Wings Mike Babcock is still one of the best coaches in the NHL, but he has his work cut out for him with life after Nicklas Lidstrom. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still two of the top forwards in the world, but the Red Wings need a consistent effort from both Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula. Time for Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist to grab top-six forward spots The training wheels will be also taken off of Brendan Smith. The team struck out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but general manager Ken Holland has a trick up his sleeve to acquire a blueliner (ie Jay Bouwmeester or Carlo Colaiacovo).
4 – Nashville Predators The team lost Suter to the Wild, but they still have Shea Weber and that was crucial to the franchise. Defenseman Ryan Ellis is ready to take over and play a full season. With Alexander Radulov back in the KHL, the Predators have to look elsewhere to find another goal scorer. Pekka Rinne will continue to be the brick wall in the Music City.
5 – Columbus Blue Jackets No hope in C-Bus, but there always is the NHL Draft Lottery. Oh, wait, they lost out on that to the Edmonton Oilers. All kidding aside, they’ll be in the running for either Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones or Alexander Barkov in 2013.
Pacific Division – WB Philp (@LightningShout)
1 – San Jose Sharks With Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, the Sharks will easily lead the division in scoring. Dan Boyle and Brent Burns lead a solid defense in front of Antii Niemi who will be the best goalie in the division.
2 – Los Angeles Kings How can I pick the Stanley Cup winning squad that lost absolutely no one to finish second? The Kings will suffer a Stanley Cup hangover; finding success very tough to handle … early on and will be unable to overtake the Sharks for the division crown.
3 - Phoenix Coyotes After losing top scorer Ray Whitney, the ‘Yotes offense simply cannot afford to lose Shane Doan. While the defense has a perfect mix of veterans and young up-and-comers, I expect goalie Mike Smith to come crashing back to earth with a mediocre season at best.
4 – Dallas Stars The Stars added some offensive punch with the addition of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy but their defense is average at best. Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are offensive blue liners that need their young teammates to cover for them if the Stars go anywhere near the playoffs.
5 – Anaheim Ducks The Ducks have two solid scoring lines, but need Ryan Getzlaf to rebound from a poor season. Goaltending will tell the story as Anaheim needs Jonas Hiller to improve drastically over his lackluster performance of last year.
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