NHL 2011-2012 Western Standings Prediction
The Sharks will rule the rink!
The Western Conference is, in my opinion, the stronger of the two. If not stronger then it is at least more competitive when it comes to getting the last spot for the post-season. Last year only five points separated a 4th place ducks team from the 10th place Calgary Flames. The Flames finished with a whopping 94 points and were still sent golfing in the spring. My point is that anything can happen when you think about it. For example had Los Angeles lost to Dallas last year on April 2nd, the two teams would have switched places in the standings, L.A missing the playoffs in 9th while Dallas took 7th spot.
It’s a funny sport so don’t count anyone out. There are always a few games that could change a team’s fortune in the end. That being said here are my thoughts on where the Western teams should lie come playoff time.
1. San Jose – Havlat and Burns will make a great fit in San Jose. Havlat being a RW should see plenty of ice time with superstars like Thornton and Marleau. Last year Niemi started slow in a sophomore slump but brought it in the end, as did the rest of the team. Still no cup in my books but I predict a great regular season from the Sharks.
2. Vancouver – Kesler being injured to start the year and the loss of Christian Ehrhoff cause me to believe the Canucks lose out to the Sharks this year. Edler missed 31 games lat year and Vancouver will need him healthy without Ehrhoff in the lineup. I expect that Kevin Bieksa will also pick up some of the extra minutes.
3. Detroit – Of course I have my Red Wings winning the very competitive central division. Brian Rafalski will be sorely missed but Ian White should prove a competent replacement. Jimmy Howard experienced a below par season and should improve his stats this year for the Wings
4. Chicago – When I say competitive I mean it. The Blackhawks, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville may all place within 7-8 points of each other leaving little room for error in divisional games. Chicago still looks solid adding plenty of physical toughness over the last few months and I believe goaltender Corey Crawford is the real deal.
5. Los Angeles – I know a few people who think the Kings could win it all this year. I’m not so sure but Mike Richards and Simon Gagne will definitely improve L.A.’s chances. Couple that with their blooming defence and goaltending and the Kings could get a little deeper in the post-season in this campaign.
6. St. Louis – Lookout for the Blues. This is my most improved team for sure (up from11th in the conference). Halak is way better than the way he played last year. They also added Arnott and Langenbrunner to an already deep offence for some extra leadership. St. Louis has a long list of young up and coming stars, making three solid lines with a great keeper.
7. Nashville – What can I say really? The Predators got Shea Weber to stick around for another year and their goalie is one of the best. Pekka Rinne should stun his opponents yet again. They don’t really have much else to brag about but keeping the puck out of the net is something that Nashville has always done well.
8. Anaheim – Hello Bobby Ryan. Hello Getzlaf and Perry, Visnovsky and Hiller. There are Plenty of exciting players to watch if you’re a ducks fan, and don’t forget sophomore Cam Fowler. The addition of Kurtis Foster will help on the blue line as well, but the Ducks are hanging onto 8th by a thread.
9. Columbus – Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets the central division will steal some of the thunder from them. Signing James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter is a huge boost for the team but that doesn’t make up for a lack of good goaltending. Close but no cigar in Columbus.
10. Dallas – Mike Ribeiro will once again step into a 1st line center role for Dallas in Brad Richards absence. Jamie Benn should improve yet again. Picking up Sheldon Souray may or may not help the Stars but they certainly aren’t a deep enough team to live up to the name, especially when the brightest “star” is in the big apple now.
11. Colorado – Things went terrible for the Avalanche last season. A huge decrease in scoring and some shaky goaltending translated into an off year. Peter Mueller is returning to the team but J. M. Liles was sent packing to Toronto. We’ll see if Gabriel Landeskog gets a shot on the shallow LW in Colorado.
12. Edmonton – Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle should be dynamite, improving on their rookie totals. I like the signing of Ryan Smyth and Cam Barker as well as others, so I think the Oilers will improve. There is just one big problem in Edmonton now and for down the road…. Who will stop the pucks?
13. Calgary – The Flames are pretty much the same team they were last season. It’s hard to believe that Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff can keep doing it year in and year out. Iginla is coming off an amazing season that will be hard to duplicate. Calgary is just another Canadian team (6 out of 7) that I think needs more depth to reach playoff status.
14. Phoenix – My pick for the biggest loser is Phoenix, dropping them from 6th to 14th in the conference. Why you ask? Well I guess it tells you how I feel about Ilya Bryzgalov. Phoenix’s goals +\- was only +5 last year. Now without Ilya to steal the one goal games Phoenix is doomed.
15. Minnesota – I know they picked up Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi but it’s what they lost that cripples the Wild. Minnesota’s biggest problem is that the teams they beat last year (Columbus, Edmonton, Colorado) improved while the Wild lost depth from an already shallow team. At least the Senators will be there with them.