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Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 NHL Season Preview: Western Conference

Wild on Sports

It's back! The puck drops Friday night officially starting the 2013 NHL season. After missing nearly half the season due to lockout the short season will be about as exciting as it gets with each having playoff implications. Time to take a look at the players and teams to watch and our picks for Each Division and Stanley Cup Finals. Lets take a look at the Western Conference and what you can expect from each team for 2013.

 Western Conference

Central Division:
The Central Division from the West is the competition for the Atlantic Division of the East for the deepest division in the NHL. After firing their coach in mid November, Ken Hitchcock took over the reins for St. Louis completely turning the team around and leading St. Louis to the division title. The Blue boast the NHL's best statistical goaltending tandem in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. If they can continue their second half form right from the get go, they will once again be in contention for the Central crown. One player who will certainly be missed this season in the Central is Detroit defensemen Nicklas Lindstrom who hung up the skates after 20 NHL seasons. His leadership and seemingly ageless skill set will be missed on the Red Wings blue line but with the depth upfront and all-star caliber goaltender Jimmy Howard holding down the fort, Detroit will once again be in position to contend. The Chicago Blackhawks are an interesting team to watch in 2013. They still have a strong young core in Jonnathan Towes and Patrick Kane and a very strong defense led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. That type of youth and defensive prowess should serve them well in a short season. If they can develop some secondary scoring behind Kane and Towes they will contend for the division title again this season. Lost in the shuffle are the Nashville Predators. Every year we wonder if this will be he season they kick the playoff bug-a-boo and make a run at the cup. This year is no different. They ponied up to retain defensemen Shea Weber but lost his counterpart Ryan Suter. They will need another strong season from goaltender Pekka Rinne to help cover up some of the holes with Suter's departure. They are still a team to keep an eye one. The ugly duckling in this group is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus shipped superstar Rick Nash to New York in the off-season and actually did fairly well for themselves in return adding 3 NHL caliber players and a 1st round pick. The added depth along with developing young players like Cam Atkinson will keep them in some games and surprise a few teams. That said, they are so far behind the other four teams in this division that they will inevitably be picking at the top of the draft again in June.
Projected Finish:
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Nashville Predators
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. St. Louis Blues
5. Columbus Blue Jackets

Players to Watch:
Cam Atkinson, F CLB
Sergi Bobrovski, G CLB
Jonnathan Towes, F CHI
Gustav Nyquist, F DET
Brendan Smith, D DET
Ryan Ellis, D NSH

Pacific Division:
The Pacific Division is home of the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings. "If it aight broke, don't fix it!" That seems to be the moto in LA as the team returns the same roster full of promising young talent and strong goaltending. That combo makes the Kings a favorite to make a strong run at the cup once again. Chasing the Kings will be 2012 surprise breakout team the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix returns a strong core led by goaltender Mike Smith. Smith, who is entering the final year of his contract, is poised for another strong campaign. While the Kings and Coyotes return a good mix of young legs the San Jose Sharks return in tact but with a team largely comprised of greybeards. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, and Dan Boyle are all good veteran players but will they have the legs for 3 and 4 game weeks? The Dallas Stars made some nice off-season additions in Derick Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. They join a solid core of Brenden Morrow, Loui Erickson and Jamie Benn to form a very strong offensive attack. If they can get consistent performances on the back end, particularly in net, they could be a darkhorse candidate to keep an eye on. The Anaheim Ducks have one of the best lines in the NHL with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry but beyond that have very little to be excited about.

Projected Finish:
1. LA Kings
2. Phoenix Coyotes
3. Dallas Stars
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Anaheim Ducks

Players to Watch:
Jonas Hiller, G ANH
Jaromir Jagr, F DAL
Slava Voynov, D LA
Tanner Pearson, F LA
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D PHO
Mikkel Boedker, F PHO

Northwest Division:
The Minnesota Wild were the talk of the summer signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge contracts that will be under review with the new CBA. Those additions along with holdovers Danny Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu and others make for a team that is bound to be much improved. The Vancouver Canucks have been in the headlines since the lockout with a good problem to have: two #1 goaltenders. They both want to start. Cory Schneider will be the starter. Roberto Luongo thinks he should be, and will be somewhere this season, just not in Vancouver baring an injury or a slump. Outside of the goaltending, Vancouver has terrific depth up front and should be considered one of the favorites again this season. Edmonton is the "sexy pick" of the Western Conference. They are loaded with young talent that got a chance to build some chemistry during the lockout in the AHL. If they get out fast out of the gates they could really turn some heads this season. If not, they will likely be right there in 2013/14. The Calgary Flames will be without the services of captian Jerome Iginla to start the season as he rest a nagging leg injury. They have some nice new pieces in Juri Hudler, Dennis Wideman and Mike Cammalleri. They won't be enough to be a Stanley Cup contender but they could sneak into the playoffs with strong goaltending. Colorado is another team with a strong young core. Gabriel Landeskog had a huge breakout season in 2012 and will be back with young studs Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. They have a chance to be dangerous if they can get some consistency in their defensive zone. The Northwest is one of the few Divisions without a team that is significantly below the rest.
Projected Finish:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Edmonton Oilers
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Calgary Flames

Players to Watch:
Sven Baertschi, F CAL
Gabriel Landeskog, F COL
Hall/Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins, F EDM
Mikael Granlund, F MIN
Cory Schneider, G VAN
David Booth, F VAN

Click for Eastern Conference Preview


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