Western Conference Preview

Here’s the thing: I probably won’t do an Eastern Conference Preview this season. I just don’t follow all the teams there well enough to have informed opinions about them. And frankly, who cares. I follow The Avs and the West.

I’m looking at possesion numbers from last season, so I’ll post the link to goaltenders Corsi with the score close (+/-1) here. I reference them a lot below.

So here’s my Western Conference Preview:

15) Minnesota Wild - I said a little bit about the Wild yesterday, but to underscore the point, Niklas Backstrom had the 2nd worst Corsi w/ the score close of anyone but Khabibulin last season. And the Wild got worse. I had a twitter discussion with Hockey Wilderness (whom I think is Nathan Eide over there) and he’s trying to tell me the loss of Burns will help their possesion numbers. I think he’s completely off his rocker. After further looks, Burns was the Wild’s best defenseman last season. He had the best Corsi with the score close and he wasn’t exactly protected with the 4th worst Ozone start% and 2nd hardest QUALCOMP last season. Setoguchi, meanwhile, was completely protected by the Sharks.

Wild fans are not going to like this, and probably react defensively, but the Wild are going to be a pretty bad team this season. Scratch that, I think the Wild are going to be the worst team in the league this season. I actually think this is the best thing that could happen to them. If any franchise could

14) Edmonton Oilers -
The good news: The Oilers got better. The Bad news: they are still bad. They have terrible goaltending, even though Dubnyk is a little better than given credit for. They have a really good young core that is a few years away. Their real problem is management, which is easily the worst in the league. Little signs, like the feud with Souray, trading and injured Brule to the Kings, then they traded Fraser there and didn’t disclose the injury. The Ryan Smyth fiasco a few years ago when they traded him away.Edmonton management is a comedy of errors. I wouldn’t be surprised if they force the coach to play Khabibulin over Dubnyk just because of his ridiculous contract (which they are also

13) Phoenix Coyotes - The Coyotes quietly got a lot worse this season. Everyone focused on Bryzgolov going to Philly, and replacing him with Mike Smith was a pretty big downgrade. They also quietly lost Vernon Fiddler, Eric Belanger, Andrew Ebbet, Lee Stempniak, Scottie Upshall, & Ed Jovanowski. They really didn’t replace any of those very useful players with anyone of importance. Essentially, this team is a shell of the team that went to the playoffs the last two seasons.

12) Anaheim Ducks - A bizarre team to figure out. Some top flight players (Getzlaf, Perry,Ryan, Selanne, Visnovsky and Hiller) and then garbage. Also, the Ducks were really bad last season, and Hiller bailed them out big time in the first half. Then they got better after Hiller went down. Hiller is coming off of vertigo. Ask Lucille 2 how that goes.

11) Dallas Stars -
The Stars were a pretty average team last season, but one with a good goalie. Then went and lost Brad Richards. Also with Sean Avery getting sent down by the Rangers, they might actually be below the Salary Floor, so congrats, they’ve managed to out-Av the Avs. Also, the Goligowksi for Neal AND Niskanen deal is going to go down as a really really bad one. They added Souray, Fiddler and Burish, but lost Skrastins (RIP) & Langenbrunner (who never quite fit in). I think they took a slight step back, but Lehtonen is one of the more underrated goalies in the game today… if he can stay healthy (which he did last season but had trouble with in Atlanta, then again, injuries are  really more random than person being hurt too much.).

10) Colorado Avalanche - The trendy choice for 15th in the West, but I just don’t see it. And upgraded defense and vastly upgraded goaltending should improve the team by quite a bit alone. Serious Question marks at LW, and the defense, while being improved, still has some questions. But the team that played form mid-January to the end of the seaosn last year is not going to return.

I hate looking like a homer rationalizing numbers away, but the Avs possession numbers were vastly better before New Years than afterwards. Look at Andy and Budaj’s Fenwick/Corsi from before the New Year (.488/.470) and afterwards (.434/.436). Now .488/.470 is as good as the Stars last season. They were an entirely different team after New Years. Something happened, and who knows what, but that team just stopped playing down the stretch last season. Besides the Avs also were second in the league in injuries, something that’s still possible but not likely.Even if they are the team has a lot more depth, at least in the back, than they had last season. The Avs biggest problem was goal tending, and that has been addressed. The Avs should be a lot better. Playoffs? possible, especially playing the Wild, Flames and Oil 18 games, but I think they are going to fall short. That said, they shouldn’t be as bad as the experts are saying. 

9) Columbus Blue Jackets - Look at their Corsi numbers (Garon & Mason), they actually weren’t that bad a team last season. Not great, but not terrible. And they finally got someone to help out Rick Nash this season, with Jeff Carter. They should be good, but Mason is still a huge question mark. Plus losing a solid defender like Hejda is going to hurt more than I think anyone realizes. I think they are on the right direction, but I think the goaltending is the difference here. As much as I like this team, they need a major upgrade in net.

8)Calgary Flames - </strong>The thing about the Flames is thatthey are stuck in perpetual mediocrity, and one big reason is theirloyalty to an aging well past his prime former superstar. Not Iginla.Mikka Kiprusoff. Calgary, specifically when Kiprusoff was on ice,had decent possesion numbers with the score tied last year, butKiprusoff was awful. Yet his very pedestrian .906 Save % probably costthe Flames a few wins. The Flames did what they always do in theoffseason, overpay mediocre players and guarantee themselves a mediocrefinish. I think they upgraded slightly and will make the playoffs with an assist toa  weak NW division. That said,at near maxed to the cap, they aren’t getting bang for their buck.

7) Nashville Predators
- They still have Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne. They have a very good coach. They still need to find a way to get the budget to add scorers, but they have a balanced enough offense that they should get the job done. Losing Joel Ward and Cody Fransen is going to hurt a lot though. They are wafer thin at forward, and an injury there could de-rail their season. Their biggest question mark is that they are going to be playing the hardest schedule in the league, against the central. Any other division and they are easily in the playoffs. Now, it’s a dogfight.

6) St. Louis Blues - Above I point out Garon and Mason’s Corsi (while the score is close), but look at Halak, Mason and Rinne’s. Really the difference is nil. Those three teams are about as even as you get. Nashville got worse, Columbus got better, and St. Louis got a year more experience. I think adding Langenbrunner and Arnott is really going to help this team. I still love Chris Stewart, even if we Avs fans probably overrated him a bit.

The Contenders

5) Detroit Red Wings presented by Amway -  As obnoxious as it is, the Red Wings still have a really really good team, with a really good coach. Someday Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom will slow down, but I’m not picking against them this season.There really were only 3 teams in the contenders section, but contractually the Wings had to get 2 more teams to buy in.

4) LA Kings: This is the year the Kings take a step in the playoffs. They were outmatched against the Sharks in the playoffs last season, but adding aplayer like Richards, and getting Kopitar back healthy, goes a log ways to evening things out.

3) Chicago Blackhawks - I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the Blackhawks were possibly the unluckiest team in the league last season. Seventh in relative Corsi in the league yet they only take 8th in the Western conference. Looks at those Corsi, only a few had poor Corsi And all of those guys who had poor Corsi had very very low OZone start%, meaning they were sent out as defensice specialists in their own zone a ton. Incredibly unlucky team that should be better this season.

2) San Jose Sharks - In my last post I mentioned how the Wild got worse, well the flip side is that the Sharks got better. Handzus was one of the best players for the Wild last season, and I think is a better compliment to Thornton and Marleau than Heatley. Setoguchi was expendable, and really had to be protected a lot by the Sharks coaching staff. Burns fills a role they desperately needed on defense. The Sharks weakness has been a 3rd line center, and they haven’t been able to fill that role since Manny Malhotra left

1) Vancouver Canucks - There are 4 teams who, IMO, are the class of the west. Vancouver is one, but they’ll get the nod in the one spot because the NW is truly awful. The Sedins are still really good. They have a really good defense, and one of the best goaltenders in the game. Even if Luongo faulters (he won’t) Schneider is a really good goalie waiting in the wings. This is a really good team.</strong>