Saturday, 8 January 2011

Prediction Reviews-Western Conference

Last year the Flyers and Rangers played what was essentially a two game playoff to determine who would secure the final playoff spot available. Expect to see that scenario more than once in the Western Conference this year as only eight points separate fourth and fourteenth place. Compare that to the Eastern Conference where eight points separate eighth and tenth and you can tell that, with the exception of the Edmonton Oilers, each team has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. Right now, Phoenix is in tenth, but with a win they move all the way to fourth; the last weeks of the season are going to be very intense as each win will move a team up several spots and each loss will be devastating. Any extended winning or losing streak will mean the difference between hosting the first round of the playoffs and having a high draft pick this summer.

Once again, here are the teams by division along with how I predicted they would finish.

Central Division
1. Detroit Red Wings (1)
2. Nashville Predators (4)
3. Chicago Blackhawks (2)
4. St. Louis Blues (3)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (5)

Northeast Division
1. Vancouver Canucks (1)
2. Colorado Avalanche (2)
3. Minnesota Wild (4)
4. Calgary Flames (3)
5. Edmonton Oilers (5)

Pacific Division
1. Dallas Stars (5)
2. Anaheim Ducks (4)
3. San Jose Sharks (1)
4. Phoenix Coyotes (3)
5. Los Angeles Kings (2)

Here are the conference standings along with their point totals and my predicted rank.

1. Vancouver Canucks 59 (1)
2. Detroit Red Wings 57 (2)
3. Dallas Stars 53 (13)
4. Nashville Predators 48 (11)
5. Colorado Avalanche 48 (7)
6. Anaheim Ducks 48 (9)
7. San Jose Sharks 47 (3)
8. Chicago Blackhawks 47 (4)
9. St. Louis Blues 46 (8)
10. Phoenix Coyotes 46 (6)
11. Minnesota Wild 45 (14)
12. Los Angeles Kings 45 (5)
13. Columbus Blue Jackets 43 (12)
14. Calgary Flames 40 (10)
15. Edmonton Oilers 33 (15)

Biggest Surprises
Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz needs to win the Jack Adams award for best coach one of these seasons. Every year, the Predators lose key veterans and scoring support and every year they remain competitive. Only two teams in the conference have scored fewer goals and yet they are currently 4th. The predators have been the best team at developing goalies over the past decade and they never have a shortage of quality puck stoppers. Since the 2002-03 season, they have had a new starting goalie seemingly every other year, including Mike Dunham, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, Dan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, and Anders Lindback. Trotz is able to get each player to buy into his system, leading to few individual accolades, though Shea Weber may once again be a Norris Trophy candidate by season's end, but plenty of team success.

Dallas Stars: Before the season started, I said the Stars needed to find their identity. Apparently that identity comes in the form of Brad Richards, who is on pace for a career year, possibly including his first 30 goal season. Kari Lehtonen has managed to stay healthy and Andrew Raycroft has performed well in his backup role, giving them an upgrade in goal over the departed Marty Turco who has yet to find his groove in Chicago. Loui Eriksson has turned into one of the top two-way forwards in the game and they get solid secondary scoring from Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, and James Neal. GM Joe Nieuwendyk had put this team together on a tight budget and he has performed his duties admirably.

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