Monday, January 30, 2012

How will the NHL Western Conference end up? PREDICTIONS

Alright folks! The second half of the season is about to get underway and we are one step closer to the playoffs. The Western Conference has seen a lot of movement in the past month which makes things interesting as the end of the regular season draws near. Here are my predictions on how the Western Conference standings will look at seasons end.
Playoff Teams

1. Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have been a model franchise for years with excellent development and talented veteran players. Detroit's stars have withstood the test of time with the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom(41), Pavel Datsyuk(33), Henrik Zetterberg(31) and Johan Franzen(32) all leading the way, the Red Wings look poised for another long playoff run.


2. Los Angeles Kings: This pick is a bit of a reach but hear me out. Los Angeles has a very young team hungry to get back in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, and on the back of strong goaltending they should make a significant push up the standings. Currently in 7th place with 58 points LA has a very easy February schedule that should help them pile on points before the final month of the season. The last two games they play of the season are against current division leader San Jose Sharks which may prove to be very pivotal games to end the regular season.

3. Vancouver Canucks: If Vancouver had been in any other division I would not have ranked them this high, however with teams such as Colorado, Minnesota and Calgary in the same division Vancouver does not have much of a threat to challenge them for the division lead. I feel the Canucks will need to get tougher before the deadline if they have much of a chance in the playoffs but for the regular season they should have no problem closing out the season on top of the Northwest division.


4. Chicago Blackhawks: After winning the Stanley Cup in the 2009-10 season Chicago finished just short of making it back to the Finals last season when they were bested by the Vancouver Canucks in 7 games. Still a very young and talented team with tremendous scoring threats in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp along with a strong defensive core Chicago is the real deal.


5. San Jose Sharks: For years San Jose has always been at the top of the standings but always come up short in the playoffs. Now with aging veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau not getting any younger, it may be now or never for the Sharks. Although they lead the Pacific division as is, I do not feel they will sustain this pace and will be surpassed by the Los Angeles Kings in February.


6. Nashville Predators: Nashville has always some how some way made it into the playoffs which is a testament to the coaching staff of the Predators and most notably Barry Trotz who should be top 3 every single season in Jack Adams voting. The trade deadline will have an enormous impact on Nashvilles success, most importantly the fate of Ryan Suter, will he stay a Pred? Or will Nashville trade him before the deadline rather than risk him walking for nothing in the offseason? Only time will tell!


7. St. Louis Blues: A big surprise in the West has been the incredible home-ice play of the Blues who are 21-3-4 at home, first in the NHL. Having said that, St. Louis will not sustain this high level of play. Not to say they will completely drop off and fall out of a playoff spot, but I find it unlikely they will finish at the top of the standings by years end.


8. Dallas Stars: Finally the Dallas Stars. After a red-hot start out of the gate to start the season winning 16 of their first 20 games the Stars have fallen from grace and find themselves in 10th in the West. This is due in large part to an injury that saw Kari Lehtonen miss considerable playing time.

Non Playoff Teams

9. Colorado Avalanche: Improving year by year, Colorado is still missing a few pieces that will make them a playoff bound team. They have high hopes on youngster Matt Duchene, but he still has some seasoning before Colorado can really hitch their wagon to him and ride him to the playoffs.


10. Anaheim Ducks: I hate to say it, but Anaheim will come up short despite what I feel will be a very strong second half push in the standings. It pains me to watch a team with such high-end talent finish well below where they should in the standings.


11. Calgary Flames: Jay Feaster has been adamant the Flames will not be sellers but buyers at the trade deadline. I just don't think it will get them to the playoffs this year.


12. Phoenix Coyotes: After several very successful seasons in front of a single digit home crowd, Phoenix just hasn't had the magic this year. It looks like another top 10 pick is in their sights.


13. Minnesota Wild: After a stellar start to the regular season Minnesota has plummeted in the standings, I think it's only a matter of time until they hit rock bottom.


14. Edmonton Oilers: Although they have been better and are still improving, it appears to me the Oilers will finish near the bottom with yet another lottery pick. They are thin on the backend and a young mobile defenseman like Ryan Murphy(Everett, WHL) would be a welcome pickup for this franchise long removed from the glory days of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri.


15. Columbus Blue Jackets: They need help, and they need it bad! Finishing last with a shot at OHL standout Nail Yakupov(Sarnia Sting) will do some good for this franchise who are very used to losing.

Well, there you have it!  My picks for the Western Conference final standings at the end of the regular season. Remember to follow us on twitter @leafsdinosbirds.

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