Winter break NHL picks review: Western Conference

By Ryan Pike

Predicted standings:

  1. Detroit Red Wings
  2. San Jose Sharks
  3. Calgary Flames
  4. Vancouver Canucks
  5. Chicago Blackhawks
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. St. Louis Blues
  8. Los Angeles Kings

Actual standings:

  1. San Jose Sharks
  2. Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Calgary Flames
  4. Colorado Avalanche
  5. Los Angeles Kings
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Phoenix Coyotes
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Heading into the 2009-10 National Hockey League season, there were a lot of question marks. Would the Flames rebound under a new coach? Would the Red Wings be any good? Just how bad would Colorado and Phoenix be? Over the past 25 or so games, many of these questions have been answered.

The Red Wings were not particularly good. The reigning Western Conference champions suffered from the loss of key players and generally under-performed. In particular, the less-than-stellar play of goalie Chris Osgood stole games away from Detroit that they probably deserved to win. The Vancouver Canucks, predicted to battle the Calgary Flames for Northwest Division supremacy by many, instead languished in obscurity thanks to a slew of injuries.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Colorado Avalanche surged to the top of the league thanks to their young players responding to coach Joe Sacco, along with clutch goaltending from Craig Anderson. While the team has fallen back a bit from their initial torrid pace, the Avalanche have wildly exceeded expectations. Surprisingly enough, so have the Phoenix Coyotes. Oft-criticized during the off-season for having a sub-par team that nobody ever saw play, the Coyotes have found themselves in a playoff position with a roster comprised mostly of other teams’ cast-offs. Maybe cutting Wayne Gretzky loose was a good idea after all.

Outside of the group of teams that were already expected to be good– San Jose, Chicago and Calgary– the rest of the playoff positions have been filled, somewhat surprisingly, by Los Angeles, Nashville, the aforementioned Coyotes and Columbus. Los Angeles has long been a team picked to break out due to its excellent young core, but unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, it never has. As such, some had written off the Kings as also-rans, but this year they might surprise down the stretch. Conversely, the Predators and Blue Jackets have both crept into the playoffs in recent years but been crushed by a higher seed. It’s refreshing to see new teams with new talent creep into the playoff mix, along with seeing traditionally good teams reinvent themselves in an effort to maintain competitiveness.

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