Hockey Independent Roundtable: 2013-14 Season Predictions Part II – The Western Conference

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Members of Hockey Independent’s writing staff - Cris CohenSeth LevinChristopher Triantafilis and Benjamin Woodward - continue giving their  take on the race for the playoffs. In part II, they predict which teams will finish at the top of the new Westerm Conference and which will wind up with the two wild cards.

Western Conference

Central Division

Cohen (@CC_927)
1) Chicago Blackhawks  Two seasons ago the Central was arguably the toughest division in the NHL. Not anymore. That should benefit the Blackhawks as they try to avoid the dreaded “Stanley Cup hangover” that befalls so many champions.

2) St. Louis Blues  I was incredibly high on this team last year, predicting them to reach the Finals. Instead they bowed out in the first round. A year older and wiser, this defensive-minded squad too should benefit from a division that’s not as strong as it once was.

3) Minnesota Wild  The big money men – Zach Parise and Ryan Suter – will need to earn their keep and then some, but they’ll also need kids such as the recently acquired Nino Niederreiter to pitch in if they want to more than merely make it into the playoffs.

Levin (@levinakl)
1)  Chicago Blackhawks  This team has to remain the favorite, coming off a championship, and not really losing anything too valuable.  Age shouldn’t be an issue and Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman won’t allow complacency.  Expect big things to continue in the Windy City.

2) St. Louis Blues  Solid defense and goaltending will do wonders, plus I like the addition of Derek Roy to the mix.  Another great coach in Ken Hitchcock and the Blues pretty much have it all.

3)  Nasvhille Predators  The easy choice here would be Minnesota, but I like Barry Trotz to have the Predators back where they belong, near the top.  The addition of Seth Jones should finally help close the void created from the departure of Ryan Suter last off-season.  Teamed with Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, there is a strong foundation in place on the blueline and I expect Pekka Rinne to be a Vezina candidate this year.

Triantafilis (@ChrisTriants)
1) Chicago Blackhawks It’s hard to bet against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The team remains intact (for the most part), and I see a scenario where Patrick Kane scores upwards of 90 points.

2) St. Louis Blues  The Blues have a bit of a different look for this upcoming season, but their defense and goaltending, on paper, looks just about as good as any.

3) Minnesota Wild  The Wild enters 2013-14 with some new offensive weapons to go along with an already dangerous unit, which includes Zach Parise. Nino Niederreiter should be expected to score some extra goals for the Wild. Ryan Suter should be expected to perform like a Norris Trophy finalist for the second straight season.

Woodward (@_BWoodward)
1) Chicago Blackhawks The defending Cup champs may have lost a couple of valuable role players from their 2013 championship winning squad, but still look to be the class of what seems to be the league’s weakest division.

2) St. Louis  Blues  One of the most defensively sound teams in all of hockey, expect the Blues to be right back in the thick of things in the Western Conference playoff race.

3) Minnesota Wild  In what looks to be a very top-heavy Western Conference, the Wild will sneak back into the postseason for a second straight year.

Pacific Division

Cohen
1) Los Angeles Kings With still most of the 2012 Cup-winning roster still in place and Jonathan Quick between the pipes, the Kings still have to remain the favorites to finish first in the revamped Pacific.

2) San Jose Sharks This team always sets the expectations high, then can  never seem to get it together when it really counts. Sure they have a star in the making in Logan Couture, but how much more do their big-name veterans like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle – all north of 30 – have left in the tank?

3) Anaheim Ducks Parting with Bobby Ryan had to happen, and even with mainstays Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry still there, that has to hurt.

Levin 
1)  Los Angeles Kings  The core of the team that won the Cup two years ago is still there and more hungry after falling short of a repeat last year.  There is some additional talent working its way up to the big team and players like Slava Voynov should only continue to improve.  With Jonathan Quick between the pipes, the sky is the limit for this team.

2) San Jose Sharks  This has been a hard team to figure out over the years, they’ve been a great regular season team that was never able to win that big series in the playoffs to create that defining moment to take them to the next level.  While the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau leadership is beginning to yield to the Logan Couture/Joe Pavelskis of the world, you can’t underestimate their capabilities, the talent remains for this team to do big things.  Will this be the year?  I certainly see a nice regular San season, but Sharks fans at this point must be wondering if this team can get it done in the postseason.

3) Anaheim Ducks  How much will this team miss Bobby Ryan?  I don’t think too much, as there is a lot of young emerging talent to join Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.  There is good depth on the backline and in net to there’s no reason to think good things won’t come to the Ducks this season.

Triantafilis
1) Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick is enough to keep the puck out, and the trio of Jeff Carter/Mike Richards/Anze Kopitar is enough to put the puck in. That blue-line consisting of Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov get involved too.

2) San Jose Sharks Regular season masters, but once again, what can they do in the playoffs?

3) Anaheim Ducks Teemu Selanne isn’t returning for one more year to not make the playoffs. Selanne will have a better season than the last, and the core of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will keep the Ducks firing on all cylinders. The loss of Bobby Ryan hurts, but Jakob Silfverberg should be a nice addition. Dustin Penner also returns to Anaheim, where he was poached from via offer-sheet back in 2007.

Woodward
1) Los Angeles Kings  Led by potential Team USA starting goaltender Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Cup champs still possess one of the deepest and most well-rounded lineups in all of hockey.

2) Anaheim Ducks  GM Bob Murray got tremendous value in the Bobby Ryan trade, and increased him team’s depth up front, something that’s been one of Anaheim’s biggest problems over the past handful of years.

3) Edmonton Oilers  Is this finally the year it all comes together in Edmonton? Still too many question marks on the blueline.

Western Conference Wild Cards

Woodward  7) San Jose Sharks  8) Vancouver Canucks

Cohen 7) Vancouver Canucks  8)  Nashville Predators

Levin  7) Vancouver Canucks  8) Edmonton Oilers

Trinatafilis 7) Edmonton Oilers  8) Vancouver Canucks

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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927

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