September 12, 2011
1. Vancouver Canucks – Losing Ryan Kesler to start the season will hurt, the ‘Nucks are still the most balanced team in the National Hockey League. I don’t think the loss of Raffi Torres will hurt – they’ve got youngsters ready to jump in and could be even better than last year.
2. Anaheim Ducks – Have the best line in the game and play a ferocious style of hockey. Recent reports have stated that goaltender Jonas Hiller is healthy and will be ready to start the season which is a good thing for the Ducks. If they stay healthy upfront and Teemu Selanee returns, the Ducks should be mighty again. Get it?
3. Detroit Red Wings – I wasn’t sure who to put here betweet the Winged Wheels and the Chicago Blackhawks, so I went with the Wings. I like Jimmy Howard and the return of Nik Lidstrom better than Corey Crawford and the ‘Hawks makeover of their back-end. Until Detroit lets us down, they should always be considered a candidate. Oh yeah — Pavel Datsyuk is my favorite NHL player.
4. Chicago Blackhawks – The Hawks got gritty in the offseason and I like it. Although a lot will be on the shoulders of Patrick Kane’s healthy, even with Dan Carcillo in the line-up I think the Hawks are improved. If Nick Leddy can play adequate top-four minutes, he should be an upgrade to Brian Campbell. Captain Toews is one of the best and I expect the Hawks to be competitive again this season.
5. San Jose Sharks – I love the addition of Brent Burns. I think he’s one of the most underrated d-men in the league. But can the Sharks fill the void’s left by Heatley and Setoguchi? Marty Havlat will bring some much needed skill to the top-six in the tank. Unlike most, I’m a big fan of Antti Niemi and I like the D in front of him – They should finish second in the Pacific.
6. St. Louis Blues – If the team can stay healthy they have one of the most lethal young line-ups in the game. Jaroslav Halak didn’t get his dues a season ago and I expect a huge season this year from him. Draft Patrick Berglund in your fantasy hockey draft.
7. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings have a solid top-six and have some good young talent but I’m not sold they’re a Western Conference contender. I think Jon Quick is overrated and Simon Gagne was overpaid. IF Gagne can stay healthy (something he hasn’t done in years) he will be an upgrade at the wing, but it’s a big if. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dustin Penner was shopped come Christmas – he hasn’t been the power forward he showed in Anaheim. Also, Drew Doughty still isn’t signed. The positive? Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards are the best one-two punch in the West – I fully expect Mike Richards to have a career season in sunny LA.
8. Minnesota Wild – They’ve got some much-needed scoring punch and one of the most underrated centers in the game : Mikko Koivu. I think the eighth spot comes down to Nashville and Minnesota.
1. Detroit Red Wings – Though they lost Brian Rafalski to retirement, the team brought back Nicklas Lidstrom and added some depth to their defense with Ian White and Mike Commodore. There isn’t too much else to say, I just really like their team and experience.
2. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks lost a few key players this off-season, but they were able to keep the rest of their team relatively intact. I think Henrik and Daniel Sedin lead the Canucks to another Northwest division title.
3. Anaheim Ducks – Despite the fact that two of the Ducks best players, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller, missed significant amounts of time due to injury and illness, the Ducks managed to finish 4th in an extremely tough Western Conference. With Ryan Getzlaf and Jonas Hiller at 100 percent, and Teemu Selanne returning for one more year, I see no reason why the Ducks can’t win their division this season.
4. San Jose Sharks – I like the additions of Martin Havlat and Brent Burns, but I think they will take a bit of time to gel with the Sharks. That said, I think the Sharks will have another solid regular season and finish top-four in a tough Western Conference.
5. Chicago Blackhawks – I absolutely love what the Blackhawks have done in this off-season. Though they lost some good players, this year’s team has much more depth – something that led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup just two seasons ago. With the Blackhawks well rested, and the additional depth added to the team, I think the Blackhawks will improve on last season when they finished 8th in the West.
6. Los Angeles Kings – I like the addition of Mike Richards, but I’m not crowning them division champs just yet. I think they have improved, but not enough for me to rank them ahead of any of the five teams listed above.
7. St. Louis Blues – The Blues are a deep, young, skilled team. I think they get back to the playoffs this year.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets – I love the additions of James Wisniewski, Jeff Carter and Vinny Prospal. If Steve Mason can provide the Blue Jackets with average goaltending (he can), I think the Blue Jackets will make the playoffs.
1. St. Louis Blues – The Notes had a tough 2011-12 season with injuries, but the hockey Gods can swing the pendulum the other way. The Blues have such an impressive group of young players (David Backes, Chris Stewart, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk) on their team. Now they’ve been augmented by the additions of playoff warriors Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, two free agent signings that went under the radar. But most importantly, the emergence of Jaroslav Halak in net this season as a surprise Vezina Trophy candidate will spur the Blues to a shocking rise to the top of the Western Conference.
2. Los Angeles Kings – With a similar cast of top young players to the Blues, the Kings emerge in the Pacific as division champs. While many will point to the addition of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne as reasons, top center Anze Kopitar moves into the Art Ross picture as a dominant pivot. They will overcome their contract impasse with D Drew Doughty and will ride Jonathon Quick’s excellent goaltending to contention in the West. The key is how their bottom six forwards do in support of the top six.
3. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks will initially sputter out of the gate but will find firm footing and capture the Northwest again, primarily because the rest of the division isn’t quite as good as they are yet. The loss of D Christian Ehrhoff was somewhat expected and they have the defensive depth to compensate. The forward unit is still very impressive and can overwhelm you in waves. Expect that G Corey Schneider will continue to emerge with good performances, but Roberto Luongo will still rule between the pipes.
4. San Jose Sharks – A major offseason makeover has the Sharks looking faster at forward and potentially better on their blue line. The Dany Heatley deal has more than a few similarities to the Mike Richards deal as GM Doug Wilson took advantage of a contractual trading window in order to send him to Minnesota for RW Martin Havlat. While Havlat doesn’t have Heatley’s prodigious scoring touch, he has always played well in a highly skilled lineup (see Chicago) and the Sharks are confident that his creativity will flourish. The other major deal with Minnesota saw winger Devin Setoguchi (who signed a contract the day before he was dealt) on his way north in exchange for defenseman Brent Burns. While Burns has some tremendous size and skill, he is oft injured, so there is a risk there. Center Michal Handzus, while slow afoot, is a strong third line center. If the goaltending with Antti Niemi and Antero Niitymaki holds, the Sharks will battle the Kings all year for the Pacific.
5. Detroit Red Wings – At some point, a changing of the guard has to occur for the Red Wings in the Central. That said they are still a team to be reckoned with as they compensated for the retirement of defenseman Brian Rafalski with the free agent signings of Ian White and Mike Commodore. The Wings have two of the best players in the league in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and goaltender Jimmy Howard will hold the fort. The concussion to Todd Bertuzzi will test their depth, but there are several prospects that could emerge to compensate.
6. Chicago Blackhawks – They will rely heavily again on their core of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland, Keith, and Hjalmarsson along with another good year from emerging goaltender Corey Crawford. Defenseman Steve Montador was also a good defensive pickup. However, their forward free agent signings were underwhelming. Jamal Mayers looked like he was done last year in San Jose and until Dan Carcillo learns to reign in some his emotional outbursts, the Hawks bottom six will not contribute what is necessary to make them Stanley Cup contenders.
7. Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks are in an interesting quandary. The top line is arguably the best in hockey with Hart and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Corey Perry heading up a unit that includes a pair of physically and hockey sense gifted forwards in Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, but the remainder of their lineup is kind of pedestrian and their goaltending situation with Jonas Hiller suffering from Vertigo symptoms really prevents them from being able to battle the Kings and Sharks for the Pacific Division. They’re in the playoffs, for sure, but they have the look of a first round and out team.
8. Nashville Predators – The Predators tease at times, showing tantalizing promise. If their young promising forwards from the post season last year (Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk) continue to emerge along with the continued excellence of goaltender Pekka Rinne, then the Preds pull themselves into the contender picture with a solid group that includes centers Mike Fisher and David Legwand, winger Martin Erat, and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber.