The ever-exciting Western Conference will be no different this year with stronger teams vying for a playoff berth.
Stanley Cup finalist Detroit Red Wings should finish first in the West as their offence, lead by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, is always exceptional. The powerplay will be outstanding, with Tomas Holmstrom expected to score numerous powerplay goals. The Red Wings defence is solid every year and this year is no exception. Only minimal shots will make it through the defence to reach the goaltender.
The only unknown this season is the Red Wings back up goalie situation. Chris Osgood cant play every game and Jimmy Howard has yet to prove himself as a quality backup.
The San Jose Sharks made major changes in the off-season. They acquired Dany Heatley, who adds a boost of offence with new line mate Joe Thornton. Together, the two will have one-hundred point seasons. The Sharks have a potent offence and an outstanding defensive core with veteran Rob Blake leading the way on the back end. Evgeni Nabokov, one of the leagues top goalies, will be the goaltender for the Sharks again this year and he should lead the league in GAA.
With their well-rounded team, the Sharks should finish second right behind Detroit.
Another close race will occur in the Northwest division. The Calgary Flames will fend off the Vancouver Canucks for the division win and third seed in the West. In the off-season, they acquired highly sought-after defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who will be joined on the blue line by Dion Phaneuf, an all-star defenseman.With Miikka Kiprusoff backstopping the Flames and a great defence, they should rarely allow more than two goals in a game. The team should encounter no problems with Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen on offence. These two will be one of the best duos in the league this season and will lead the Flames to the third seed.
Another great duo will be the young guns of the Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane should provide offensive boosts throughout the season and be supported by Dustin Byfuglien on the powerplay. Newly acquired offensive superstar Marian Hossa will be another offensive threat.
On the back end, the defence proved to critics that they are one of the best in the league last season as Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook will try to help Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet keep the puck out of the net. Expect Niemi to take over the number one goalie spot by mid-season and lead the Blackhawks to the fourth seed.
The ever-reliable Roberto Luongo will be outstanding in goal for the Vancouver Canucks and bail out the mediocre defence. The offence is headed by the Sedin brothers, who are expected to have at least seventy-point seasons again and will evenly distribute offence so everyone can score on the team.
With a solid offence and Roberto Luongo on board, the Canucks will finish in fifth.
The Anaheim Ducks are a team that has young talent and veteran know-how to guide them into the playoffs. In the off-season, they obtained Saku Koivu, who not only brings clutch scoring but also a veteran presence to aid the younger players such as Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry. They have already established themselves as offensive stars, but Koivu will make them better. Another veteran who brings playoff experience is Scott Niedermayer. He and Nick Boynton will lead the Ducks defence and win the team the sixth spot in the playoffs.
The St. Louis Blues is another team with veteran leadership. The veterans add much needed leadership to their young defensive core, which consists of nineteen year-old Alex Pietrangelo and twenty-one year-old Erik Johnson. They will soon be one of the best defensive pairings in the game as they are composed and hard-hitting which will help goaltender Chris Mason. The veterans and the young stars of St. Louis should make the playoffs this year as the seventh seed.
The race for eighth seed will be a close one and will come down to the final week of the season. The Dallas Stars have solid goaltending in Marty Turco but a weak defence with only Stephane Robidas leading the way on the blue line. Offense veterans Mike Modano and Brad Richards are expected to lead in points on the team. However, they will allow more goals through than they score and will ultimately falter down the stretch.
This will leave the door wide open for the Edmonton Oilers who narrowly missed the post-season last year. New goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is sure to add a boost to the teams confidence. Their defence also looks better than last year with Sheldon Souray anticipated to tally the most minutes along with Steve Staios. On offence, the Oilers have more depth this season with the addition of Patrick OSullivan and a settled Sam Gagner. The Oilers are a well-rounded team and have no goalie controversy this season, which will help them secure the eighth spot in the West.
Out of the playoffs are the Phoenix Coyotes. The off-ice team politics will be a distraction and hindrance to their performance. The Minnesota Wild lost sniper Marian Gaborik and the Blue Jackets lack of offensive threat will cause both teams to miss the playoffs. Further, the Los Angeles Kings are still in a rebuilding stage and will not come close to the eighth spot in the West.
In the off-season, Joe Sakics retirement resulted in the Colorado Avalanche losing clutch scoring and leadership, causing them to miss the post-season. Finally, the Nashville Predators have a mediocre defence and very little scoring prowess and will miss the playoffs again this year.