January 19, 2013

NHL Preview, Western Style

And away we go!

Western Conference Preview


Biggest hello: Sheldon Souray.  He still has a hammer of a shot, and is more than happy to defend his teammates.
Biggest goodbye: Lubomir Visnovsky.  Good speed, and one year removed from a 68-point season.
Watch for: Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are on their last rounds, and will be playing like it for the shortened season.
Watch out: There's a reason why those two are on their last rounds.  Selanne is 42 years old and Koivu 38, and they are expected to be the secondary scoring for the Ducks.
Note: Using one of the smartest players to play the game (Scott Neidermeyer) as a coach can't be a bad thing.  A more important question is how to keep Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan happy.


Biggest hello: Sven Baetrschi.  Strong Calder candidate
Biggest goodbye: Oli Jokinen. 
Watch for: Dennis Wideman is a good addition to a blue line that needs scoring.
Watch out: Michael Backlund has been pitched as a future star for a few years now, and the Flames need him to come through NOW, or they will be relying on NHL rookie/KHL veteran Roman Cervenka as their top line guy.*
Note:  Whoever Wideman gets paired with will get more points, but that won't matter much in hockey pools because it will be someone known for their defense.

*Here's to hoping he comes back from blood complications!  Man, these guys are snakebit!


Biggest hello: Brandon Saad.  The Blackhawks don't absolutely need to call up a rookie winger, and Brandon Pirri might come up first; but I say their wings will need more help than their centres.
Biggest goodbye: Andrew Brunette.  Veteran presence on either wing, good in tight, but probably not a 20-goal man any more.
Watch for: Marian Hossa has had time to recover from last year's playoff concussion, so he's once again a 35-goal threat...
Watch out: ...but it's a concussion.  Using his body to gain position is a big part of his game, so the risk is always there.
Note: Special teams were a nightmate last season, which is a surprise with the high end talend Chicago enjoys.


Biggest hello: P.A. Parenteau.  A late bloomer who can get into penalty trouble, very good with the puck and a skilled passer.
Biggest goodbye: Peter Mueller.  Loads of injury trouble, but when he is on the ice he's dangerous.
Watch for: The defense is slowly improving and another year under Erik Johnson's belt will help.
Watch out: Naming Gabriel Landeskog captain after one year in the NHL is a risky move.  He plays a simple, straight forward game, but also must keep an even temper to be effective.  I don't think adding the pressure of captaincy will help his sophmore year.
Note: Expect four or five assists on every goal these guys score.  Loads of great playmakers, not a whole lot of natural scorers, though.


Biggest hello: Artem Anisimov.  Brandon Dubinski could fit in here just as well, but Anisomov is going to be handed the first line centre's job due to a lack of options.
Biggest goodbye: Oh, you know.  Some guy.
Watch for: This is a very solid defense, even without the excellent Ryan Murray joining them this year because of injury trouble.
Watch out: Behind them, however, are question marks.  When Sergei Bobrivski is brought in to "solidify" your goaltending, you could have some trouble.
Note: We all knew Rick Nash was getting moved, but did it HAVE to be to the Rangers?


Biggest hello: Derek Roy.  Yes, they got Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr too, but Roy is a decade younger than either and is looking to rebound from a timid 2011-2012 season.
Biggest goodbye: Steve Ott. Pest supreme, but given the Stars were shorthanded more than 300 times last year, his loss may not be a bad thing.
Watch for: The leage-worst power play is only going to improve with the new acquisitions.
Watch out: GM Joe Nieuwendyk has been in town for four years, and Dallas has missed the playoffs in all of them.  How patient will the new owner be?
Note: Dallas gained scoring threats, but they lost some defensive stalwarts.


Biggest hello: Jordin Tootoo.  Tough as nails and a HUGE hitter.  How huge?  He'll occasionally take penalties on clean hits because his victim needs a couple minutes to get back to his feet.
Biggest goodbye: A 42-year old defenseman who led the team in ice time last year...
Watch for: Rookie Brendan Smith is ready to step in on the third pairing.
Watch out: Niklas Kronwall is now the number one defenseman with both Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart heading to greener pastures (or teal, in Stewart's case).
Note: Finally, some instability in Detroit!  They even picked up Toronto cast off Jonas Gustavsson to back up Jimmy Howard!  Still expecting they'll make the playoffs, though.


Biggest hello: Justin Schultz.  Getting a full(ish) season out of Ryan Whitney is no longer the necessity it was the last few years
Biggest goodbye: Can Barker.  Inconsistent, but can clear the crease and has an accurate, if underused, shot.
Watch for: Devan Dubnyk is going to get his shot this year.  He has improved steadily, if slowly, but has an improved defense in front of him and a bit more experience to handle the pressure.  Nikolai Khabibulin as a back up isn't a bad option, either.
Watch out: A new coach and shortened season with no practice games makes for a high risk of miscommunication.
Note: Having several of your starters playing together in the minors should get them off to a good start, which may be enough to get them into the top eight this year.


Biggest hello: The Cup.
Biggest goodbye: Being labeled as everyone's favourite "dark horse in the playoffs".
Watch for: A full year of Darryl Sutter and the confidence gained from (finally!) winning it all.
Watch out: ...but that's what Carolina said.
Note: Why change what works?  No real moves, but the sooner Anze Kopitar returns from injury the better.*

*Aaaand they made a move, getting underperforming power forward Anthony Stewart for brawler Kevin Westgarth.  Amazingly, Carolina threw in draft picks, too.


Biggest hello: Ryan Suter's 7 goals last year was more than the top two Wild defencemen combined.
Biggest goodbye: Guillaume Latendresse.  Concussion problems, but when healthy a reliable scorer.
Watch for: It's not just the new arrivals coming in (Suter and Zach Parise), but a healthy Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard that will increase the scoring from a league-worst 166 goals.
Watch out: After Suter, it's still a bit of a "Who's that?" defence.  Of course, since Suter will be playing 25+ minutes a game, that's not much of a worry.
Note: Koivu drives the team, but he's starting to break, and Bouchard is in the realm of concussion question marks.


Biggest hello: The return of goalie Chris Mason.  Hope he's good with playing five games this season - if he can fight off Jeremy Smith in camp.
Biggest goodbye: Got to go with the obvious: Ryan Suter.  Kevin Klein is going to be getting a lot more ice time.
Watch for: Having ten players with 14 or more goals makes the Predators a team full of "unsung heroes" that's nearly impossible to check.
Watch out: The league's best power play is now missing a guy who got 25 points there.
Note: After an influx of rookies last year, everyone's going to get a chance to settle in this season.


Biggest hello: Steve Sullivan.  Small for a winger - heck, small for a hockey player - he compensates with skill and smarts.  A wily veteran, but aren't they all?
Biggest goodbye: Ray Whitney.  Any team losing its highest scorer is going to suffer, but Whitney's smart play and surprising durability of late hit hard.
Watch for: The Coyotes underrated defence has gotten better, adding Zbynek Michalek and possibly bringing Mike Stone up for a full time job.
Watch out: Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker each had a strong playoffs, but neither has had strong regular season numbers.  Vrbata finally had his breakthrough year, but where's the rest of the scoring going to come from?
Note: To make the playoffs Phoenix is going to have to stick to coach Dave Tippett's game plan - except perhaps on the power play which was 29th last year.


Biggest hello: Vladimir Tarasenko.  He was fantastic in the KHL last year, including in the playoffs, and is ready for the NHL game.
Biggest goodbye: Jason Arnott.  Strong, veteran forward stepped up for a young team, and was also a big power play presence.
Watch for: This is a young and exciting team that will happily play coach Ken Hitchcock's aggressive puck persuit game all night long.
Watch out: Alex Steen, David Perron, Matt D'Agostini, and Andy McDonald all missed substantial time with injuries last season, and three of those were with concussions.
Note: Even before the hiring of Hitchcock, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were proving to be shockingly effective in net behind a fantastic defense.  Call them the new "dark horse" if you want, but these guys are suddenly one of the best in the league.


Biggest hello: Brad Stuart.  He and Adam Burish make San Jose a less pleasant team to play against right away.
Biggest goodbye: Some depth, with Daniel Winnik, Dominic Moore, Ben Ferriero, and Torrey Mitchell all headed elsewhere.
Watch for: Martin Havlat being in the lineup for the full season should be enough to keep them comfortably in the playoffs.
Watch out: The league's second-worst penalty kill has to improve.
Note: San Jose has slipped from "automatically penciled into the playoffs" to "might not make it" for the first time in a decade, and they have to use that as a wake up call.  Last year they coasted, expecting to turn it on in the second season.


Biggest hello: Jason Garrison.  Sami Salo's shot in a far healthier body.
Biggest goodbye: Sami Salo.  Booming shot and effective net clearer, if not an aggressive one.  And, hey!  He only missed 13 games last year!
Watch for: Cory Schneider is ready for the lead role in the Canucks' ongoing goalie soap opera.
Watch out: With "Mr. Everything" Ryan Kesler out to start the season, there's an opening on the first two lines, but who can take it?
Note: Vancouver needs both David Booth and Mason Raymond to have bounce back seasons, or they run the risk of being a one-line team; at least until Kesler's return.


posted by Thursday at 3:17 pm


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