Friday, January 27, 2012

An All-Star Weekend Look Back: Western Conference

Yesterday, we looked back at our preseason predictions for the Eastern Conference and today we head to the Western Conference where we should have been able to do a better job due to familiarity with the Predators' opponents.

This has been an odd year in the West, where no one would have predicted that four of the top five records in the West and four of the top seven in the NHL at the break would come out of the Central Division. The potential was there but the reality is still hard to digest.

1.Detroit Red Wings (6) In spite of our lowly preseason predictions no one could doubt the Wings chances to win the Western Conference. The Wings' 20-2-1 record at home is phenomenal but will not be repeated down the stretch. It is still anyone's guess as to who will win the Central and the West.

2. Vancouver Canucks (1) As it turns out, the Nucks have little competition in the Northwest and the Wild are dropping like a rock. Unless Colorado makes a run, it is possible that Vancouver is the only playoff team out of the division.

3. San Jose Sharks (4) I expected great things out of the Kings that have not happened (yet) but also felt that the Sharks would push for the top spot in the Pacific Division. San Jose has the best road records in the league and could win the division if they improve their play on home ice, where they have excelled in the past.

4. St. Louis Blues (8) The Blues were not bad under Davis Payne but have been unbelievable under Ken Hitchcock. It is one of the biggest turn-rounds in the NHL in recent history.  The team had all the pieces in place at the start of the year but Hitchcock has been masterful in making the team click.

5. Nashville Predators (3) Anything that I would say at this point would raise allegations of bias but I predicted that the Preds would win the division and I will stand by that. Pekka Rinne is hitting his (career) stride, going 18-2-0 in his last 20 decisions. The team has balanced scoring with nine players with ten or more goals. David Poile promised a better second half so the Western Conference title and the President's Trophy is not out of reach. Ryan Suter will stay with the team and more assets will be added before the trade deadline.

6. Chicago Blackhawks (5) The Hawks have a fantastic team and have rebounded from their Stanley Cup hangover season. They have all the pieces in place to go deep in the playoffs. They currently are experiencing the injury bug but will be back to full strength in the near future.

7. Los Angeles Kings (2) The Kings are my most disappointing team in the West for the second year in a row. I have been predicting greatness for this team that is yet to occur. They are only two points behind the Sharks and have played well on the road. I maintain that they will win the Pacific ang grab the third seed.

8. Minnesota Wild (12) The Wild were an early season sensation but are 3-6-1 in their last ten and are suffering from the injury bug. I maintain that my preseason slot is close to where they will end up. The next couple of weeks will determine if they are buyers or sellers at the deadline.

9. Colorado Avalanche (15) The Avs have exceeded expectations but are still a ways away from a playoff berth. They have plenty of young talent and will not finish last in the West as I predicted but will not make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see what they do at the deadline as far as acquiring additional talent to build for the future. I hope they send Shane O'Brien back to the Predators.

10. Dallas Stars (11) In spite of a great run early in the year, the Stars are headed for a position more in line with the talent that they have. In the long run, they are a team that should improve in the future but it will not be in the second half of this season.

11. Calgary Flames (9) Of all the teams currently on the outside looking in, the Flames may be the one team that makes a move late in the year for a playoff position. Playing in the Northwest, I would put them as the second team in if they can finish in front of Dallas and Phoenix. Much will depend on what moves they make at the deadline.

12. Phoenix Coyotes (10) I felt that the Yotes would miss the playoffs for the first time in three years and still do but for different reasons. The long-time ordeal of ownership in the desert may finally be starting to take it's toll on the players since it appears that they will be on the move to Seattle, Las Vegas, or who knows where. The fans in Phoenix are the real losers but credit Gary Bettman for doing everything possible to keep the team in Glendale.

13. Anaheim Ducks (7) The mystery team in the West has to be the Ducks. After finishing fourth last season, they finished flat on their face coming out of the gates and managed to pick up Bruce Boudreau as the new skipper after Randy Carlilse was fired. The team is finally playing well and should finish strong. They are 12 points out of a playoff spot so it would take an incredible run to get in but my bet is that they will come close but not make it in.

14. Edmonton Oilers (14) The Oil are where they we expected them to be in spite of a strong start and a good early run by Nikolai Khabibulin. They have plenty of young talent but appear destined for another high draft pick.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (13) The BJ's have proven to be the doormat of the NHL and despite spending up to the cap in the offseason they have less to show for it than any of the other 29 teams. The Jacket fans are planning a rally on Saturday to protest and they should.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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