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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

2013 NHL Western Conference Preview

Wild on Sports
2013-14 NHL Preview
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

Ah, can you smell it in the air? The leaves are changing, the air is cool and crisp. This can only mean one thing -- hockey season is just around the corner! And to do it one better -- the season is starting on time this year! It is time to dust off those jerseys and buckle up as we take you on a team by team look around a newly re-alined NHL. We start this week with a look and projection for the Western Conference.
**** - Stanley Cup Contender
*** - Playoff Bound
** - On the Cusp
* - There's always next year
Western Conference
Pacific Division

Los Angeles Kings
2013 record: 27-16-5, 5th in West, lost to Blackhawks in conference finals
Notable adds: F Matt Frattin (Maple Leafs), G Ben Scrivens (Maple Leafs), F Dan Carcillo (Blackhawks)
Notable losses: D Rob Scuderi (Penguins), G Jonathan Bernier (Maple Leafs), F Dustin Penner (Ducks) 
Overview: The Kings return largely intact from last year's team that lost to eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago in the Conference Finals. The one notable move of the off-seasonsaw the team send back-up goaltender Jonathan Bernier to Toronto for Leafs back-up Ben Scrivens and forward Matt Frattin. Scrivens jumps right into Bernier's role, while Frattin should provide some third line depth. Offensively, the Kings are as dangerous as anyone in the West and they very well may have the best goaltenter in the West as well. There is no reason to believe that the Kings won't be in contention for a Cup run once again.
Projection: ****

San Jose Sharks:
2013 record: 25-16-7, 6th in West, lost to Kings in conference semi-final
Notable adds: LW Tyler Kennedy (Penguins), RW Anthony Stewart (Kings)
Notable losses: C Scott Gomez (Panthers), F T.J. Galiardi (Flames)
Overview: The transition of Brent Burns from defense to forward appears to be permanent as he has flank Joe Thornton all pre-season. That should only strengthen what appears to be a young but formidable offensive attack. The Sharks are one of those teams that has been on the cusp of being a Stanley Cup contender for years. The clock is ticking on vets like Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If they are going to make a run this may be the final year they have the horses to do so. Should Anti Niemi hold up in net, expect the Sharks to make some noise this spring.
Projection: ***
Vancouver Canucks
2013 record: 26-15-7, 3rd in West, lost to Sharks in first round
Notable adds: C Brad Richardson (Kings), C Mike Santorelli (Jets), D Yannick Weber (Canadiens)
Notable losses: RW Mason Raymond (Toronto), C Max Lapierre (St. Louis), D Keith Ballard (Wild), G Cory Schneider (Devils)
Overview: The Canucks were very notable this off-season for a couple of reasons. First, they fired their long time coach and replaced him with his polar opposite in John Tortorello. How his fiery defense first accountability will jell with a squad led by the Sedin twins who have been largely criticized in the past for their soft play will be something to watch. Secondly, they made the decision to move forward with Roberto Lulongo in net, shipping last years starter Corey Schneider to New Jersey. Long term, both of these moves could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Short term however, team tend to respond to Torts in his first year or two -- see Tampa Bay (Cup), New York (playoff turnaround). His style should produce more shots from the outside which should only help build back Lulongo's confidence. All in all, a playoff team but nothing more.
Projection: ***

Edmonton Oilers
2013 record: 19-22-7, 12th in West
Notable adds: C Boyd Gordon (Coyotes), LW David Perron (Blues), LW Jesse Joensuu (Islanders), D Andrew Ference (Bruins)
Notable losses: LW Magnus Paajarvi (Blues), D Ryan Whitney (Panthers), C Shawn Horcoff (Stars), D Mark Fistric (Ducks), G Nikolai Khabibulin (Blackhawks)
Overview: For the amount of terrific young talent that Edmonton has on the roster 2013 was a terrible underachieving performance. They sought out some veteran leadership on the back end via free agency and have found it in the form of newly appointed captain Andrew Ference. Ference is a hard nose player who won a cup with Boston and brings a lot of accountability to the room. That should go along way in grooming the maturity of guys like Hall and Eberle who need to be more accountable, particularly in their own ends. Edmonton could be the surprise team of the league in 2013-14.
Projection: ***

Anaheim Ducks
2013 record: 30-12-6, 2nd in West, lost to Red Wings in first round
Notable adds: LW Dustin Penner (Kings), D Mark Fistric (Oilers), RW Jakob Silfverberg (Senators)
Notable losses: C Matthew Lombardi (Swiss league), LW Bobby Ryan (Senators), D Toni Lydman, C Dave Steckel (PTO)
Overview: The Ducks really came out of nowhere to have a terrific 2013 season. Despite that, they shipped star wing Bobby Ryan to Ottawa in the off-season netting young forward Jakob Silfverberg in return. Silfverberg is a nice young player but he is sure no Bobby Ryan. For a team that overachieved in 2013 a bounce back to reality may be in store this season. They could sneak into the playoffs as a 7/8 seed but are very much on the bubble with this new playoff formatting.
Projection: **

Phoenix Coyotes
2013 record: 21-18-9, 10th in West
Notable adds: C Mike Ribeiro (Capitals), RW Brandon Yip (Predators)
Notable losses: C Boyd Gordon (Oilers), C Matthew Lombardi (Ducks/Swiss league), G Jason LaBarbera (Oilers)
Overview: The addition of center Mike Riberio should really boost the Coyotes power play. The combination of Riberio and captain Shane Doan should be a good one. Beyond that first line there is a lot to be desired. They have some nice young defensemen in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The jury is still out on goaltender Miek Smith. All in all too many question marks to really see them as playoff contenders.
Projection: **

Calgary Flames
2013 record: 19-25-4, 13th in West
Notable adds: LW T.J. Galiardi (Sharks), RW David Jones (Avalanche), D Shane O'Brien (Avalanche), C Joe Colborne (Maple Leafs)
Notable losses: G Miikka Kiprusoff (retired), LW Alex Tanguay (Avalanche), D Cory Sarich (Avalanche), C Roman Cervenka (KHL)
Overview: The only thing Calgary will be fighting for this season will be the #1 pick in next years draft. OK, a little harsh, but this team is bad -- really, really bad.
Projection: *

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks
2013 record: 36-7-5
Notable adds: G Nikolai Khabibulin (OIlers)
Notable losses: C Dave Bolland (Maple Leafs), LW Viktor Stalberg (Predators), G Ray Emery (Flyers)
Overview: The defending Stanley Cup Champions return largely in tack and are poised for another deep run.  Jonnathan Toews and Patrick Kane are as good a one two punch as you can find in the Western Conference. As long as they stay healthy and Corey Crawford continues to improve between the pipes, expect the Blackhawks to be among the 2 or 3 teams vying for the Cup once again.
Projection: ****

St. Louis Blues
2013 record: 29-17-2
Notable adds: LW Brenden Morrow (Penguins), LW Magnus Paajarvi (Oilers), C Derek Roy (Stars), C Maxim Lapierre (Canucks)
Notable losses: LW David Perron (Oilers), RW Jamie Langenbrunner (UFA), C Andy McDonald (retired)
Overview: The Blues made some really nice off-season moves in the additions of veterans Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy. They should fit in well with the type of team Ken Hitchcock is trying to build in St. Louis. The Blues also boast on the best young offensive bluelines in the league led by Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. Expect a nice little season out of St. Louis and a return trip to the playoffs.
Projection: ***

Nashville Predators
2013 record: 16-23-9
Notable adds: C Matt Cullen (Wild), C Matt Hendricks (Capitals), LW Eric Nystrom (Stars), LW Viktor Stalberg (Blackhawks), D Seth Jones (draft)
Notable losses: LW Sergei Kostitsyn (KHL), RW Matt Halischuk (Jets), D Hal Gill (PTO), G Chris Mason (Italy-A)
Overview: It was a down year for Barry Trotz's squad in 2013. Thanks to some quality drafting and savvy depth additions that turnaround should take just one year. First round pick Seth Jones is going to open the season playing along side Shea Weber. That could prove to be one of the better tandems in the league for years to come. The additions of Viktor Stalberg and Matt Hendricks should not go overlooked as well. Stalberg won a pair of Cups with the Blackhawks and should really bring a nice presence to that lineup.
Projection: ***

Minnesota Wild
2013 record: 26-19-3
Notable adds: LW Matt Cooke (Penguins), RW Nino Niederreiter (Islanders), D Keith Ballard (Canucks)
Notable losses: C Matt Cullen (Predators), RW Devin Setoguchi (Jets), RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Islanders), D Tom Gilbert (Panthers), RW Cal Clutterbuck (Islanders), D Justin Falk (Rangers)
Overview: A lot of turnover in Minnesota this season but the top talent remains in place in the form of Parise-Heatley-Koivu and on the d-side in Sutter. Thanks a little weaker division the Wild should make it into the playoffs this season. That said, with all their inconsistencies and turnover they are a little harder to project.
Projection: **

Winnipeg Jets
2013 record: 24-21-3
Notable adds: RW Michael Frolik (Blackhawks), RW Matt Halischuk (Predators), RW Devin Setoguchi (Wild)
Notable losses: C Nik Antropov (KHL), C Kyle Wellwood (Swiss league), D Ron Hainsey (Hurricanes)
Overview: The fans in Winnipeg want so badly to have a Cup contender in town. They sell the place out and make for one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play in all of hockey. Unfortunitely, the team on the ice is still not quite on the fans level. They have some terrific young players led by Evander Kane but question marks in depth and the back end should cause them to just miss again this season.
Projection: **

Dallas Stars
2013 record: 22-22-4
Notable adds: C Shawn Horcoff (Oilers), C Rich Peverley (Bruins), C Tyler Seguin (Bruins), D Sergei Gonchar (Senators)
Notable losses: RW Loui Eriksson (Bruins), C Derek Roy (Blues), LW Eric Nystrom (Predators), D Philip Larsen (Oilers)
Overview: Long term I really like the Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson trade. The additions of Seguin, Rich Peverley and Sergi Gonchar should add a nice scoring boost to the team. Overall however, they are still very young and have a lot of question marks in terms of health and maturity. If Seguin and Jamie Benn can gel they could pose a pretty potent 1-2 punch. Outside of that it just won't be enough.
Projection: **

Colorado Avalanche
2013 record: 16-25-7
Notable adds: C Nathan MacKinnon (draft), LW Alex Tanguay (Flames), D Cory Sarich (Flames)
Notable losses: RW Milan Hejduk (UFA), RW David Jones (Flames), RW Chuck Kobasew (PTO), D Shane O'Brien (Flames) 
Overview: Patrick Roy makes his return to Colorado to begin his career as an NHL coach. He takes over a very young but potentially talented Avalanche squad. There should be no shortage of scoring in Colorado. Much to the chagrin of Roy, a lot of those pucks will be finding the back of the Aves net on a slightly more regular basis. Until they find a goalie and a defense this team is still at least a year or two away.
Projection: *


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