Here’s the second half of Adam‘s western conference preview:
Colorado Avalanche – This once proud franchise is struggling to find it’s way and will have to do so without superstar Joe Sakic, who retired during the summer. The Avs also are without Ryan Smyth. They have a rookie head coach and a questionable goalie and it should be a very long season in Colorado. The Avs do not sniff the playoffs.
Minnesota Wild – Jacques Lemaire is out as the head coach and a new offensive style should start to take place. The Wild were a boring team to watch last season. Martin Havlat replaces the departed Marian Gaborik as the scoring threat, can Havlat stay healthy? This team was 9th in the conference last year and they will again be in the pack for the last playoff spot come April.
Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers cleaned house behind the bench but have not made many changes on the ice, except for in goal. Dwayne Roloson is out and Nikolai Khabibulin is in with a new 4-year contract. The Oilers were very small last year and they are still small this season. A big time winger to play with Hemsky and Horcoff on the 1st line remains on the wish list for this team.
Calgary Flames – The Flames snagged one of the biggest free agent prizes on the market with defenceman Jay Bowmeester to give the team one of the best defensive groups in the league. New coach Brent Sutter will have this team playing better in their own end but the success will hinge on goalie Mikka Kiprusoff and Jerome Iginla. Iginla needs to be dominant again.
Vancouver Canucks -The Canucks have added offensive help on the blueline in Christian Ehrhoff and Mathieu Schneider but they have more pressure on their 1st line with Mats Sundin retiring. The real backbone to this team is goalie Roberto Luongo and the question is whether or not he a) stays healthy and b) can win in the playoffs. Luongo got the huge contract, can he live up to it?
Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks had a very tumultuous off season with the firing of their GM and the Patrick Kane legal issues. They will have the burden of living up to high expectations. Chris Huet will be the starting goalie this season and Marian Hossa and Adam Burish are going to miss the start of the season with injuries. Can they get back to the conference finals? It depends on how they handle the spotlight.
St. Louis Blues – The Blues were a very hot team near the end of the season and it ended with a surprising playoff spot. Paul Kariya is healthy and Erik Johnson will return after missing all of last season. They had 25 wins in the 2nd half of last season. That pace might be too much to sustain.
Nashville Predators – The Predators will be thin on offense this season but Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan should give them enough to stay close if goaltender Pekka Rinne plays as well this season.
Detroit Red Wings – This team is still loaded and the favorite in the west. The Wings lost Marian Hossa to free agency and picked up troubled winger Todd Bertuzzi. Datsyuk and Zetterberg still give this team a strong core. Can Chris Osgood be a starter for the entire season? That might be their weak link.
Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets surprised everyone last year with a playoff spot. Can they improve now that they know what it takes? The Jackets are very well coached and have a star goalie in Steve Mason. This team will go as far as Mason can take them.
Anaheim Ducks – This team is a shell of the team that won the cup in 2007. They lose two huge workman on the back end in Pronger and Francois Beauchemin. They added more firepower in Saku Koivu (on a line with Teemu Selane) and they still have the young studs in Getzlaf and Ryan. They have the offense but it all depends on their defense.
Dallas Stars – The Stars have a new coach in Marc Crawford and their season should not be as circus-like at the start of this season as it was last year (see Sean Avery). The old guard is out (Brendan Morrison, Darryl Sydor, Sergei Zubov) and if the injury bug stays away, this could be an exciting team with Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Jere Lehtinen. If Marty Turco rebounds from a bad year, this team will be on the bubble.
San Jose Sharks – The Sharks relieved their captains/assistants of their duties in the summer in an effort to try and start over. The Sharks added sniper Dany Heatley who will form a very dangerous line with Joe Thornton. The regular season is not where this team will be expected to shine, all eyes are waiting for the playoffs.
Phoenix Coyotes – What a season in the desert with the bankruptcy hearings. Wayne Gretzky resigned and Dave Tippett was hired. This is a good move as he is well known as a very good teacher. I don’t think this team has a prayer of making the post-season as all eyes are already on next season and re-location.
Los Angeles Kings – This team is very young and can be exciting at times. Ryan Smyth is the newcomer and while he is not as good as today, he will provide leadership and grit to this team. Their young goalie Jonathan Quick will need to be very strong. This team is not ready for the playoffs yet.
That’s the questions concerning the Western Conference teams, how will they overcome/answer?