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xtra xtra!
Commonwealth Cooperative Bank
Rooney Real Estate
Posted September 22, 2005
Western Conference Outlook
By Paul Noonan

     The return of the NHL is less than two weeks away, and after an eventful summer, the league and the teams will all have a new look. 

     Anaheim Might Ducks: The Ducks fell hard in the last NHL season after a runner- up run the year before. Goalie JS Giguere disappointed after a near Conn Smythe playoff performance, and the team followed suit. New Faces: The Ducks united defenseman Scott Neidermayer with brother Rob, but sadly Scott will probably be one of the Ducks biggest offensive threats. 05-06: The Ducks are too young and lack any big names or presences. A strong season from Giguere will help, but only so much. The Ducks will probably be creeping in the basement.

      Calgary Flames: The defending Western Conference champs are looking to go all the way this year, and they look even stronger than last year. New Faces: Former Thayer Academy standout Tony Amonte headlines the new faces of Calgary. Amonte will bring another scoring threat to Calgary and ease some of the pressure on all- star Jarome Iginla. Meanwhile prospect Dion Phaneuf could make a case for rookie of the year. The bruising defenseman will strengthen Calgary’s already deep defense. 05-06: No reason to believe this team can’t repeat their performance from the last season.

     Chicago Blackhawks: For the first time since the Chelios/Roenick era there is hope in Chicagoland. New Faces: The normally penny pinching Blackhawks finally opened their wallets this summer. Their biggest move was adding all- star G Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks also strengthened their D adding minute muncher Adrian Aucoin. A good crop of young forwards and defensemen gives Chicago more hope for the present and future. 05-06: The revamped Hawks look strong for now and the future.  They have a very good shot at winning the division for this season and many to come.

     Columbus Blue Jackets: A fluke injury a week ago almost hampered the Jackets for the season, but luckily Rick Nash will be playing this season. New Faces: The Blue Jackets shocked the league by adding D Adam Foote, but that was about the only action they took. Having F Nikolai Zherdev for a full season will lead to more scoring. 05-06: The Jackets are hinging their success on everyone performing up to par. They have a solid crop of players, but many are inconsistent. How well their goalies hold up will also determine their success. But a playoff spot is reasonable.

     Colorado Avalanche: For the first time since leaving Quebec, the Avs look like they’ll be out of the playoff picture. New Faces: The Avs couldn’t add much this off- season because they had to unload a lot of paychecks. Veterans Patrice Breisbois, Pierre Turgeon and Andrew Brunnette seek to replace the likes of Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote. At their ages, it’s unlikely. 05-06: Barring some outstanding coaching, the Avs division winning streak and playoff streak looks over.

     Dallas Stars: Keeping Mike Modano probably saved a playoff spot. New Faces: The Stars stayed put, keeping Mike Modano headlined the summer. 05-06: The Stars will not be a dominating presence anymore, but they still have enough talent to make the playoffs. Goalie Marty Turco gives them a chance every night.

     Detroit Red Wings: Another deteriorating empire, the Wings days on top also look numbered. New Faces: The cap forced the Wings to part ways with fan favorites Pavel Datsyuk and Darren McCarty. Rookie Niklas Kronwall gives hope for the future, but the present looks bleak. 05-06: Goaltending and age are a concern for Detroit. There is still a chance at a playoff spot, but time is slowly catching up to them.

     Edmonton Oilers: The talk of the summer, the Oilers look to go from playoff participators to Cup contenders. New Faces: The Oilers trade for Chris Pronger got many hockey experts’ vote of deal of the summer, but many have forgotten they added Michael Peca as well. 05-06: Having to deal with Calgary and Vancouver 16 times a year will hurt a little, but the Oilers will likely earn a solid playoff spot. Goaltending is the only area of some concern.

     LA Kings: Injuries notoriously plague the Kings, but this year looks different, and that could be a good thing. New Faces: Jeremy Roenick in Hollywood, the biggest hockey name since Gretzky. Joining him will be Pavol Demitra and a strong core of prospects who are strong offensive forces. 05-06: G Mathieu Garon has never been an NHL starter, but he did well leading his AHL team to the league’s best record last year. If the Kings can avoid the usual injury wagon they can be a sleeper in the West.

     Minnesota Wild: This team is young and quick, but are they tough enough? New Faces: Brian Rolston is the only recognizable name, but a crop of rookies is looking to give the Wild a strong product for years to come. 05-06: This team will thrive in high scoring games. However, their D is a question mark. While their offense is talented, they are mostly a finesse group.

     Nashville Predators: They finally made the playoffs in the last season. Now the Preds are looking to do more. New Faces: Paul Kariya is not the dominant player he once was, but this move could reinvigorate him. Rookie Ryan Suter is looking to start what could be a very successful career. 05-06: Kariya gives the Preds their first true scoring threat. With Vokoun in net, the Preds have a strong shot at winning their division and possibly could make a surprise Cup run.

     Phoenix Coyotes: Gretzky looks to have as much success behind the bench as he did on the ice. If he does, look out. New Faces: Many were added two summers ago, but the Coyotes have a new look. Denis Gauthier, Sean O’ Donnell, Brett Hull and Peter Nedved are among the big names relocated to the desert. 05-06: The new additions add a nice mix of veteran presence and depth. If Brian Boucher can hold things down in goal, the Coyotes will make the playoffs.

     St. Louis Blues: 25 straight trips to the postseason is coming to an end. New Faces: The Blues added Eric Brewer and some prospects via the Pronger trade, but that won’t be enough. Losing Pronger, Al MacInnis and Demitra will cripple the Blues. 05-06: The Blues had many a chance to win a Cup, but blew it continuously. Now they are forced to rebuild and it might take a while.

     San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are looking to improve for yet another year. New Faces: None really, there are a few spots up for grabs for prospects, but the Sharks will mostly stay put. 05-06: For the past five years, the Sharks got better every year. Now they must take another big step, and that will be making it to the Finals. It’s possible, but only time will tell.

     Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have been dwelling in mediocrity. They must step it up soon. New Faces: Another team that stood pact. Brent Johnson brings goaltending depth, and Todd Bertuzzi’s suspension has been lifted. 05-06: Again it comes down to what they get between the pipes. Alex Auld, Dan Cloutier and Brent Johnson will each be out to prove they’re the guy to get it done.

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