As with the East, I reserve the right to disavow all knowledge of poor predictions, and gloat over correct ones.
15. Chicago - Some good things have happened for Chicago; they acquired Havlat, Seabrook should continue to mature, Aucoin and Khabibulin probably won't play worse than last year and…that’s about it. They are still plagued by injuries (Daze might as well retire, and Ruutu is certainly thinking about it), and still paper thin in depth in almost every aspect. Its another bottom feeding year from the team with the worst owner in the league. Oh wait, now Wirtz is the 2nd worst owner. Congratulations go to Charles Wang.
8. Columbus - This is most definitely a team on the up and up. The top two forward lines are littered with talent (Nash, Federov, Zherdev, Carter, Brule, Modin) and LeClaire looks ready to tackle the number one goalie position. With Klesla maturing and Foote continuing to be the steadiest defenceman in the NHL, this is a team poised for greatness. Just maybe not this year.
7. Detroit - Gone are the Greats of the past, (Yzerman, Shanahan) still here are the relics of the past (Chelios), and the never will be of the present (Datsyuk). But among the hopelessness has emerged some hope - Zetterberg appears as interested as ever, Kronwall looked very solid in his first NHL season, the consummate defenceman Lidstrom is still around - and the Wings still have one of the best minds in the game at the helm-Babcock.
1. Nashville - When most people think of the Predators, they think of puke. Puke yellow to be exact, the colour of Nashville's 3rd jersey. But what they should be thinking of is cup contender. Nashville has the goalie, the forward depth, and one of the best young defence groups in the league. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
14. St. Louis - Last year Keith Tkachuk was so fat on the first day of training camp that he was told to leave and not come back until he was looking more like a hockey player and less like a power lifter. Number 1 defenceman Eric Brewer missed most of the season due to shoulder problems. Weight left to pursue the Cup. Well now the whole gang is back together again, but now Tkachuk isn't fat, Jay Mckee will be blocking shots, Brewer is healthy, and American pal Guerin is along for the ride. This 1996 Team USA 10 year reunion team will get an A for effort, but don’t expect them to be a lot better than last year.
3. Calgary - Kipper, Regher, Phanuef, Tanguay, Iginla. Calgary has a mix of dominant players, a decent cast of supporters, and a work ethic burned into their brains. They will have more offence than last year, thanks both to Tanguay and the full addition of Huselius, and they will have the best goaltender in the league. Undoubtedly they are a cup contender.
10. Colorado - Blake, Tanguay, Forsberg Roy. Leopold, Svatos, Arnason Theodore. The first group of names is what the Avalanche have lost since they last won a cup. The second group of names are the replacements. If you think the second group of names is disturbing because Arnason couldn’t even crack a heartless Ottawa squad (forget the concussion theory) and Theodore went from being the MVP to the GOAT then you're probably among the majority who thinks this Colorado team is a step down. You'd also probably be right.
5. Edmonton - They went from almost sipping from the cup, to having cold water poured on them. Pronger, Spacek, Peca and Dvorak are gone. In their place are the more youthful and inexperienced Lupul, Smid, Mikhnov, and the underachieving Sykora. While the Oilers defensive depth is highly questionable, their forward depth is unmatched in the league. Will this be enough to get the Oilers over that playoff spot hump? I'm betting it will.
11. Minnesota - Lemaire's group used to be known for its defensive efforts. Soon it will be known for its offensive explosivity and creativity-well, sort of. Minnesota has a good forward group including Gaborik, Demitra, Bouchard, and Rolston. Their defensive has no single powers, but a solid group top to bottom. Fernandez will no longer have Roloson looking over his shoulder. They should make a push for the playoffs this year.
12. Vancouver - For the first time in franchise history, the Canucks have a franchise goalie. Unfortunately they don’t have much of a team to put in front of that Goalie. Vancouver's defensive group is unintimidating, dull at best, and once you get past the Sedins and Naslund, there's not much up front either. Luongo has yet to make the playoffs. Don't be surprised if that trend continues.
2. Anaheim - If Anaheim plays this correctly, they could have either Pronger or Neidermeyer on the ice during the whole game. If this doesn’t intimidate opponents, nothing will. While the Ducks still have goaltending issues (who's the number 1 today?) its not as if neither guy can handle the job. Their forwards are young, but last year proved they have what it takes to get the job done. Probably the Cup favorites.
6. Dallas - Modano 'lost' the captaincy to Morrow. Turco's playoff woes continue. Mike Ribiero and Eric Lindros are now a key figures of the team. Despite this, Dallas still has a decent depth at forward, including shootout wiz Jokinen. Dallas won't light it up, but they'll keep it respectable.
13. Los Angeles - A questionable goaltender. A lack of depth at all forward positions. Sean Avery. If this sounds like a trainwreck, and if this looks like a trainwreck, well, lets face it, it’s a trainwreck. With Crawford coaching the Kings will make it close most nights, but it'll take a second Mircale on Manchester for them to make the playoffs.
9. Phoenix - The Coyotes cleaned house last year in an attempt to get rid of people that didn’t fit the Gretzky motto - If you didn't practice hard every day and leave it on the ice every night, you were off the team. (Quick note to Gretz and Co. -How come Morris is still on this team??). Roenick swore off partying, playing for money and rededicated himself to focusing on the sport (then promptly signed for the highest bidder in a winless situation and instantly flew to Vegas to watch some UFC fights), Nolan dusted off his crippled hips and Gorgeous Georges put on his boxing gloves. This team now has some added heart (Jovanovski), a little bit of forward offensive depth (Reinprecht, Comrie, Doan, Nagy, Nolan, Roenick) and a pretty good defensive group. Still, I can't shake the feeling they're going nowhere.
4. San Jose - Thornton/Cheechoo, Marleau/Bernier. Those are two pretty potent line combinations. Unfortunately, there's not much behind them. Niemenen will fulfill his role of the NHL's greatest pest, Mclaren and Hannan will add some toughness, but both Nabokov and Toskala must have confidence issues. Two lines can only carry a team for so long.