|Western Conference Preview
|By Paul Noonan
Training camps have started and hockey season is right around the corner. The ‘new’ NHL had a pretty successful first year as goals were increased and small market teams were suddenly in the hunt. Now in season two of the post CBA era teams know what to expect and the NHL should be even more competitive. Here’s a look at the Western Conference.
Anaheim Ducks: After a surprise run to the Conference final last year, the Ducks made some waves this off- season in preparation for another strong run, and it’s not just the new name and uniforms. Key Adds: D Chris Pronger. The all- star defenseman gives Anaheim two Norris Trophy winners on their blue line. Key to Success: Offense. A few breakout performances last season and a return to form from Temmu Selanne were why Anaheim made their run. Those guys will have to do it again. 06-07: Their offense is the only thing that will really hold them back, but they should be a contender for the Cup.
Calgary Flames: The Flames were extinguished early in last year’s playoffs. Key Adds: Fs Jeff Friesen and Alex Tanguay. Alex Tanguay will finally give Iginla some help. Friesen will also add some scoring depth on the second line. KTS: Tony Amonte. The Flames now have a good first line, but in order to be a real threat Amonte needs to have a better year and help give the Flames two lines that can score. 06-07: Now that the Flames can score they are a strong Cup threat.
Chicago Blackhawks: After a big free agent splurge last off- season, the Hawks didn’t live up to the expectations. Key Adds: F Martin Havlat. They lost a few forwards in the process, but adding Havlat gives the Hawks a talented scorer who goes from contributor in Ottawa to go- to- guy in Chitown. KTS: Health. The Hawks didn’t have it last year. If they can keep key players on the ice it will help. 06-07: Injuries plagued last year’s squad, if they stay healthy this year the playoffs are within reach.
Colorado Avalanche: Despite losing Forsberg, the Avs returned to the playoffs and had a solid year. Key Adds: F Tyler Arnason. Will provide some scoring depth for the Avs, but likely won’t make up for losing Tanguay. KTS: Goaltending. If Theodore can return to MVP form, he can win games for the Avs. If not the Avs are in trouble. 06-07: A playoff berth for the Avs would be because of overachieving.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus is still searching for their first playoff berth. Key Adds: F Fredrik Modin. Modin gives the Jackets more scoring depth, and his booming shot should also help their abysmal power play. KTS: Defense. Aside from Adam Foote, no one on their defense is truly dependable. They’ll need to step up. 06-07: Offense helps, but defense wins. The Jackets are still too weak in their own zone to be a real threat.
Dallas Stars: The Stars cruised to a division title, but got upset in round one. Key Adds: Ds Jaroslav Modry and Darryl Sydor. Defense was their weakness last season, and these two vets should help fix that. KTS: Marty Turco. He dominates in the regular season, but he has yet to shine in the playoffs. 06-07: The playoffs should be a lock, but the Stars need to start winning when they’re there.
Detroit Red Wings: Once again the Wings finished 1st and once again they didn’t win the Cup. Key Adds: D Danny Markov and G Dominik Hasek. Markov adds blue line depth, but Hasek, well maybe he’ll be worth the gamble. KTS: Hasek. The aging netminder didn’t stay healthy for Ottawa last year, if he goes down Detroit may be in trouble. 06-07: The playoffs should happen, but a Cup win will only happen if Hasek goes back to being the ‘Dominator.’
Edmonton Oilers: They came one game away from winning the Cup as an eight seed. Key Adds: F Joffrey Lupul. Lupul dominated against the Oilers in last year’s Conference final, now they’re hoping he’ll dominate for them. KTS: Defense. Losing Pronger will hurt, but the Oilers should still have enough defense to win. 06-07: Defense is the only area of concern, but it’s no reason to count out the defending Conference champs.
LA Kings: Once again the Kings faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs. Key Adds: D Rob Blake and F Patrick O’ Sullivan. Blake returns to L.A. and gives them one of the best D- units around. O’ Sullivan could be a rookie of the year candidate. KTS: Goaltending. Last year it was a carousel as injuries and inconsistency plagued their netminders. 06-07: As long as their goalies hold up L.A. could finally do some damage.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild learned that no offense doesn’t cut it in the new NHL, so they went spending this summer. Key Adds: Fs Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish and Ds Kim Johnsson and Keith Carney. Demitra will finally give Marian Gaborik someone to play with. Parrish returns to his home state and adds depth. Carney and Johnsson give Minnesota two big puck moving defensemen. KTS: Jacques Lemaire. He’s got to let go of the trap and let his new offensive arsenal have some freedom to light the lamp. 06-07: Finally Minnesota spent money and it should pay off with a strong season.
Nashville Predators: Losing G Tomas Vokoun hurt their postseason run. Key Adds: F Jason Arnott. Arnott gives the Preds a big forward who can score. KTS: Defense. Vokoun can make the saves, so the defense just needs to make sure they help him out. 06-07: The Predators could be a sleeper for the Cup.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes struggled last season under the Great One. Key Adds: Ds Nick Boynton and Ed Jovanovski. These two new bruising defensemen give Phoenix a pretty good unit which can score and hit. KTS: Goaltending. Someone has to step up for Phoenix and provide consistency. 06-07: If the goaltending is there, the Coyotes should make the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues went into rebuilding mode last season. Key Adds: Fs Bill Guerin, Dan Hinote and Doug Weight and G Manny Legace. The three veterans give the Blues scoring and grit. KTS: Goaltending. Manny Legace helps, but if he goes down the team might too. 06-07: It will probably be another long season in Saint Louis unless a goalie stands on his head.
San Jose: The Sharks surged late, but were stopped in the second round. Key Adds: Mark Bell. Bell gives the Sharks more offensive depth. KTS: That special something. They have the scoring, the defense and the goalies, they just need to show up every night. 06-07: The Sharks should threaten for the Cup.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks sputtered down the stretch and missed the playoffs last year. Key Adds: G Roberto Luongo. The Canucks finally get a high quality goalie, and Luongo will finally stop having nightmare about rubber. KTS: Defense. Losing Ed Jovanovski will hurt, so someone needs to step up. 06-07: We’ll finally get to see if Luongo can truly make a team win. It was hopeless in Florida, but he gives Vancouver a chance.