<Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings aren’t the best team in the Western Conference but they’ll put up big points thanks to their favourable division. The perennial conference champions were fairly quiet during the off-season, only notably adding offensive defenceman Brian Rafalski and role-player Dallas Drake. Still, the combination of skilled players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, gritty role-players like Chris Draper, the Wings’ typical home dominance and the fact that they get to play a combined 32 games against weak division rivals Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Columbus should be more than enough for them to conquer the West yet again.
The off-season wasn’t particularly kind to the current Stanley Cup Champions. They lost promising forward Dustin Penner and were held hostage by the Scott Niedermeyer and Teemu Selanne’s indecision concerning retirement. Should those two decide to pack it in, new Ducks Matthiew Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi are adequate, if less high-end, replacements, but it will be the talented crop of young, skilled forwards and the Ducks’ absurdly good defence that should give them the edge on the San Jose Sharks in a tight race for the Pacific Division crown.
The Colorado Avalanche have long been considered one of the best teams in the league, so it was somewhat surprising they missed the playoffs last year. In an effort to right the ship, the team went out and signed highly coveted free agents Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. These additions, combined with another year of maturity for the teams’ skilled youngsters, should be enough to return the Avalanche to league heavyweight. If either Jose Theodore or Peter Budaj can emerge as a consistent starting goaltender, the Avalanche will have all the tools to emerge victorious over the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks didn’t do much in the off-season, but they didn’t have to. The team’s core–featuring the likes of Joe Thorton, Patrick Marleau, Craig Rivet and Evgeni Nabokov–is as good as any in the league and will only be better now that youngsters Milan Michalek and Matt Carle have another year under their belts. Expect the Sharks to make a big push for the Pacific Division title.
Even with questionable off-season moves like hiring the Mike Keenan as coach and signing the injury-prone Owen Nolan, the Flames shouldn’t have any problem making the playoffs in 2007-08. Providing they improve their road record and that Keenan doesn’t ride Kristian Huselius out of town like he did in Florida, the Flames are strong contenders that could make a serious run at winning the Northwest.
The Roberto Luongos, err, Vancouver Canucks made a bunch of minor moves this off-season but didn’t do anything to address their lack of scoring power. Without Luongo in goal, the ‘Nucks probably aren’t a playoff team–with him they won the Northwest last year–but expect something in between winning and losing in 2007-08.
With the exception of Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, the Wild aren’t flashy, but they get the job done with a stingy defensive game so tight it can even lull opponents to sleep. Finally having a bonafide number on goaltender in Niklas Backstrom, the Wild are poised to start climbing the Western Conference standings.
Only the Buffalo Sabres saw more talent depart this off-season than Nashville. Waving bye bye to the likes of Paul Kariya, Peter Foresberg, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timmonen and Tomas Vokoun, the Preds should still have just enough talent to squeak out a playoff spot in the weak Central Division.
9. St. Louis Blues
10. Dallas Stars
11. Edmonton Oilers
12. Los Angeles Kings
13. Chicago Blackhawks
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
15. Phoenix Coyotes
<Detroit Red Wings