NHL Regular Season Predictions: Western Conference

Predictions, predictions… some will seem crazy to you but here we go for the Western Conference:

Pacific Division:

  1. Anaheim Ducks – The Orange County quackers were only one game away from reaching the Stanley Cup final last spring, so not surprisingly I have them seeded high again this year. Anaheim did make some notable moves this offseason that they hope will bring them to round 4 of the playoffs – a place they haven’t been since 2007. Adding to the core of Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler and the many young defensemen on the blueline, guys like Bieksa, Horcoff and Stewart bring experience, leadership and much needed grit. Carl Hagelin for Emerson Etem was an interesting deal, as both players play a similar style game but Hagelin plays a better 200-foot game and was a valuable part of the Rangers penalty kill. Anton Khudobin was also acquired to battle for the backup job behind Freddy Andersen, however John Gibson and Khudobin are equally just as good, if not better than Andersen from what I’ve seen so far. It will be interesting to see who coach Boudreau rides as his number 1; Bruce has never had a true bona fide starter before as a coach, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see all 3 goalies get time early on. Also Jiri Sekac looks even faster and more confident than he was last season; he’s primed to have a big year. The Ducks are flocked full of grit, speed and skill – a nasty combination. I would predict these Ducks to steamroll their division, even more so than last year, tallying a minimum of 110 points. Rookie to watch – Shea Theodore. This guy is an offensive dynamo who already has 3 Gold medals for Canada in International play. He’s 6’2″ and 190lbs, moves the puck well and is a very smart hockey player. As for the log-jam on the Ducks blueline, don’t count on Shea making the opening night roster, but he should receive the first call up from the minors if one or more of the Ducks’ defenders should go down.
  2. Calgary Flames – Dougie Hamilton. I for one am completely appalled when people write off the Flames, like hello, they made it to the second round WITHOUT Mark Giordano. I’m just not quite sure how you can professionally blog, talk or think hockey if you leave the Flames out of the playoffs in the West. Is their goaltending excellent? Are Calgary winters’ warm? No and no. Sorry but how many cups do Price, Lundqvist and Rinne have? “Calgary defied all odds and had terrible fancy stats” ……. Shut the heck up. I’ve never see a team play as hard as the Flames did last season, and if there is one player who exemplifies what it means to be a Flame, it’s Michael Ferland. I would take a whole team of Ferlands. Not to mention the stellar offensive weapons in Gaudreau, Hudler, and Monahan; the Flames are a solid team. Michael Frolik also joins the fold as a serviceable 2nd line winger. I like the Flames a lot, and in a relatively weak division, I see them notching north of 100 points. Rookie to watch – Sam Bennett. An easy pick here, but if he’s anything like the guy who scored 3 huge goals for Calgary in the playoffs then I’m not sure how you keep him out of your line up this fall. It seems like forever ago when this kid couldn’t even do a pull-up at the draft combine. Speed and tenacity are two of Sam’s best qualities and it just so happens, those two things are what coach Bob Hartley like most.
  3. Los Angeles Kings – Bigger, badder, and safer I’d say. LA said goodbye to Martin Jones, Slava Voynov, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards (hopefully) for good this off season. The biggest addition of the summer, for any team, was Milan Lucic coming over from Boston. The hulking 6’3″ 235lbs left-winger from Vancouver BC comes to LA with a Stanley Cup ring to his name, and the type of skills the Kings are desperate for. Christian Ehrhoff was brought in on a cheap contract to shore up things on defense. The looming hole in the Kings line up though is depth at centre. After Kopitar and Carter, Andy Andreoff and Nick Shore have a combined 52 games of NHL experience (18 and 34 respectively). It’s not like the Kings will struggle much in goal with Quick and Enroth backing up but the question remains to be seen, how will they score goals? A full summer of rest was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Kings. I think they’re good enough for 90 points, if not more. Rookie to watch – Derek Forbort is a strong and steady defender with  big 6’4″ 212lbs frame. He’s no Subban or Doughty with the puck but he’s one solid defender with good skating ability. After winning the Calder Cup last spring, the 23-year old looks like the perfect future partner for Doughty.

Central Division

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – On top of this list, as they should be. Anyone for a scary story? The 2015-16 Blackhawks. Over the course of the summer, Bowman sent some dudes packing on the Daley. Saadly some fan favorites left the windy city, but Panarin on a line with Anisimov and Kane looks Sharp to me, Oduya or dontya agree? The worst part of the team is the salary cap Garbutt (garbage?). Alright… I digress. But seriously, I think the Hawks are scary good. I really like the addition of Artem Anisimov because the Hawks haven’t had a massive centre for any of their recent championships and now they boast a 6’4″ 220lbs 2-way middle man. It’s hard to ignore the names who were shipped out of town but the bodies who were brought in will suffice and look to guys like Teravainen, Panarin and van Riemsdyk to step up and be more involved than they were last season. Some big news came out of Chicago the other day as 2-time Stanley Cup Champion Bickell was placed on waivers after the Hawks failed to trade him, and rookie standout Marko Dano was also sent down to the minors. And it looks as though Patrick Kane will be deemed innocent or at least get off the hook, so I would anticipate the Hawks to be eclipsing north of 110 points. Rookie to watch – Kyle Baun is the guy who seems to be making the biggest impression on the Hawks brass. Easily noticeable at 6’2″ and 210lbs, this guy is a well-rounded right winger who has a quick shot and plays tough in the corners. I can easily see Kyle making the team out of camp. Watch for the Toronto, Ontario native to have a breakout season for Chicago.
  2. Colorado Avalanche – I am a firm believer in the Avs this year. Like the Flames, Colorado also has bad fancy stats, but unlike the Flames, Colorado has a lethal offense that can strike from anywhere at anytime. I love the haul they got for Ryan O’Reilly. Roy once again gets to coach Mikhail Grigorenko as he did in the QMJHL. Young guys Nikita Zadorov, Brandon Gormley push for roster spots while Francois Beauchemin brings veteran leadership to a relatively unstable blueline. Semyon Varlamov is back once again fresh and focused to bring forth another stellar season. I believe in Patrick Roy and now with 2 years under his belt, he’s ready to return to the playoffs. Adding Soderberg is going to prove to be a great addition, and I would bet on Iginla to get back in the 30-goal club. Expect the Avs to be ready to go on opening night. Keep your eyes on Duchene and MacKinnon to both hit north of 70 points. Can you believe I’m about to tell you that the Avs are my pick to win the Stanley Cup? Likely not, but watch them hit 100 points first. Rookie to watch – Still a rookie according the NHL at 21 years old, Grigorenko is due to burst onto the NHL scene sooner or later and I believe Patrick Roy knows exactly how to push his buttons. Mikhail has all the tools to become a number 1 centre in this league but his consistency has lacked since the day he was drafted. Coming in as a 3rd line centre on a stacked Avalanche team might just be exactly what the doctor ordered. I’m expecting big things from the Russian. At 6’3″ 210lbs, I predict Grigorenko hitting 15 goals and 25 assists.
  3. Dallas Stars – I’m just going to go ahead and declare the Stars to lead the league in goals. Seguin coming a few shy of hitting 50 and Benn scoring 100-plus points. Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya are huge additions to a young and inexperienced Stars team. Antti Niemi is also an interesting addition giving the Stars a solid 1-2 punch in goal with Kari Lehtonen. Perhaps the biggest addition Dallas can boast of is a healthy Valeri Nichushkin. After a hip injury limited the young Russian to just 8 games last year, Valeri is eager to be a force for the new-look Dallas Stars this season. A great coach in Lindy Ruff and an organization just oozing with depth, all point to a return to the post-season. I see the Stars hitting the high 90’s in points. Rookie to watch – Brett Ritchie is a hulking right winger weighing in at 6’3″ and 220lbs. This 22 year-old from Orangeville, Ontario is the prototypical Milan Lucic. Although battling an injury right now, this kid should see time in Dallas this season and when I say he will have an impact, I don’t mean that term lightly.

Wild Card:

  1. Edmonton Oilers – As wiseman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell- The Campaign) once said, “Welcome to the f*****g show!”. I didn’t even stutter when selecting the Oilers to make the playoffs. This isn’t all about that kid that they drafted a few months ago, I mean just look at the rest of the roster! Lauri Korpikoski was acquired in a trade that sent Boyd Gordon to Arizona. Nail Yakupov will have a bounce-back year. Do the Oilers make the playoffs without McDavid? Not likely, but this team without Connor does not finish in the NHL basement either. So many quality NHLers are on this roster. They finally have decent goaltending and the additions on defense make this team a whole lot more sound in their own end. It’s not like the Oilers struggled to score goals, it was more so terrible defense and bad goals against at the worst of times. The team had a lingering cancer. Dust off the old and bring in the new. Peter Chiarelli now runs the show and he brought in a coach who is perfect for this team. Todd McClellan brings in some fire and passion, along with an understanding and teachable side to cultivate young talent into NHL calibre skill. I like this team a lot, the kids aren’t kids anymore, they’re veterans now which will take a very heavy load off of Connor McDavid’s shoulders and allow him to just stick to playing hockey the way he can. I think their offense is the reason I can seem them in the post season. Is 90 points doable for the Oilers? I believe it is. Rookie to watch – I’m going to stay away from McDavid on this one because I don’t have to tell you to keeps your eyes on him. However, I do want to direct your eyes to Leon Draisaitl. With the injury to Jordan Eberle for the next 4-6 weeks, this is the perfect opportunity for the Cologne, Germany native to show what he can do. He’s big and strong and has a nose for the net, keep your eyes on him to hit 40 points.
  2. Winnipeg Jets – Don’t count out the Jets. Last season seemed a lot like the Toronto Blue Jays of this year with the trade that sent Evander Kane to Buffalo for Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, and then acquiring Jiri Tlusty at the deadline. In the first round of the playoffs, their inexperience clearly got exposed but it’s not like the Ducks man-handled Winnipeg. It was a bruising series that took overtime in game 3, and in each of the games in that series, the Jets held a lead. Head coach Paul Maurice has his group playing a high-tempo and heavy fore-check since he took over from Claude Noel and it brought them to the playoffs. The losing experience was good for this group to learn from. In goal, I would expect the crease to be shared in a 60-40 percent with a nod to Pavelec over Hutchinson, which ensures steady goaltending. The return of Alex Burmistrov really excites me, I just wonder if he will be able to stay in Maurice’s good books. I also expect Tyler Myers to have a monster year and creep his way into the Norris Trophy discussion. Don’t be surprised to see Winnipeg eclipsing 95 points. Rookie(s) to watch – Nic Petan & Nikolaj Ehlers are two fascinating prospects with elite skill and raw talent to go along with high hockey IQ. Both players have made the roster for opening night. Petan comes in at 5’9″ 175lbs while Ehlers slightly taller at 5’11” 176lbs. Neither are very big players and could both use some grooming in the AHL before becoming full-time NHLers but it looks like both will get a shot for now.

Golfing:

  1. St. Louis – Tarasenko and company is pretty much how you should address this team from now on. The rest of this club is a complete disappointment. In the past 4 seasons, no team has collected more points than the St. Louis Blues, but they have less playoff wins than the Edmonton Oilers do since 2006 when they came one game shy of winning the Stanley Cup. I cannot believe that Doug Armstrong still has his job. I mean it’s not like his team misses the playoffs, but on the other hand, his team hasn’t won a playoff series since he’s been the GM. Also bringing back Ken Hitchcock seems like wrong thing to do in my opinion. We all were expecting a blow-up of sorts, but then TJ Oshie is sent to Washington for Troy Brouwer? TJ OSHIE IS THE GUY YOU SHOULD BE BUILDING AROUND. However, adding Brouwer makes this team very big and tough, I just don’t think they have the offense outside of Tarasenko and their goaltending is still shaky. The Blues to me are a bubble team that just can’t hang with the Oilers – yes, the Oilers. A couple points below 90. Rookie to watch – Ty Rattie is just what the doctor ordered for the Blues. A right hand shot with speed and skill is not something of abundance in St. Louis. The Blues are a lot like the Red Wings in that aspect; too many lefties. At 22 years old, Ty has been a pro in the AHL for 2 years already, and hit 40 points in both years. Rattie is 6′, 178lbs and ready to be a full time NHLer.
  2. Nashville – I really like the Preds but I think they made two moves that will prove to be costly. Not to say their entire season is doomed because they signed Barret Jackman and Cody Hodgson as both will be great depth players for them. David Poille basically acquired Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli for picks and a very good Brandon Leipsic, then let both walk and instead singed Barret Jackman and Cody Hodgson to replace them. I cannot follow that logic at all. Jackman is a hard-nosed stay at home defender who is not only slow but is 34 years old and can’t make a good first pass. Hodgson got bought out by the Buffalo Sabres, and sure he’s a low-risk high-reward player but he just may not be able to turn it around and hit his potential. Pekka Rinne is a stud in goal and this year shouldn’t be any different. I love the defense in Nashville but I don’t believe the offense will be nearly as good as it was last season. I think the Predators system is old news and I think you’ll see Filip Forsberg regress just a touch in his sophomore year; it happens to the best of them, why should he be exempt? Ribeiro and Fisher are both 35 years old, can they continue to produce? Watch for Nashville to get high 80’s in points. Rookie to watch – Viktor Arvidsson is an offensive juggernaut and has already been turning heads in pre-season. The 5’9″ 180lbs Swede is ready for the big leagues after a huge season in the AHL last year where he scored 22 goals and 55 points in 70 games. Don’t be surprised if he takes a roster spot away from Cody Hodgson.
  3. Arizona – Dear people who believe the Coyotes will suck again, you’re wrong. Arizona is a big, fast and skilled team with a good goalie who’s going to rebound from his tough season last year. Mike Smith struggled in the first half of last season but his team didn’t give him much help at all. And if you look at how Mike closed out his season while winning Gold at the world championships for Canada, I believe he will be back to 30 wins, 2.50GAA AND .920SV%. The defensive depth improved with the additions of Stefan Elliot and Nicklas Grossman. Down the middle, the Coyotes welcomed back Boyd Gordon, Brad Richardson and Stanley Cup Champion Antoine Vermette. Rookie sensations Max Domi and Anthony Duclair come into the season looking to rekindle that incredible chemistry they created at the World Juniors for Canada last Christmas. As for the rest of the team, a healthy Boedker and Hanzal; who only played a combined 82 games last season, will be counted on huge if the Coyotes plan to be anything close to competitive. I really like the Steve Downie addition. He to me is exactly what the Coyotes hope to be, quick, tough and skilled. Arizona will likely stay at .500 this season and finish with about 82 points. Rookie(s) to watch – Domi and Duclair are the only reason I have the Coyotes this high in my rankings, they are that good. These guys dominated in the CHL and in the World Juniors, but they have NHL calibre talent. Duclair showed it with the Rangers last season, and Max almost made the Coyotes as well. If I had to pick one to make a bigger impact, I would go with Duclair because he is a natural winger where Domi is not.
  4. Minnesota – No team over achieved as much as the Wild did last year. And then Ryan Suter said this week that the Wild are close to becoming a cup contender. In completely unrelated news, Ryan Suter is about as smart as a puck. If there ever was a Debbie downer, that’s me on the Wild. And please get off of Devan Dubnyk’s bandwagon. So what he had a good year? Do any of you remember his 5 years of being a sieve in Edmonton? Minnesota did nothing this offseason besides signing college free-agent Mike Reilly, so I’m not sure how you can declare your own team a cup contender when you got swept in the second round. Sorry Ryan but your team isn’t a contender, you’re a pretender. Minnesota has got to be the most boring team in the NHL, and with no new changes this season, they will still struggle offensively. I see the Wild barely hitting 80 points. Rookie to watch – Mike Reilly will not begin the season as a regular in Minnesota’s top 6 on the blueline. The Chicago, IL native stands 6’2″, 186lbs, has a great set of wheels and has terrific vision needed for tape-to-tape passes. I doubt he will spend much time in the AHL.
  5. San Jose Sharks – One of the oldest teams in the NHL this year averaging 27 years old age. What’s even worse is Doug Wilson made his team even older this offseason by signing free agent veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin to 3 and 4 year contracts respectively. These contracts add to the already ancient Thornton and Marleau deals (even though they are still very good players). San Jose did turn the page on Antti Niemi however and acquired young netminder Martin Jones from the Boston Bruins in a 3-way deal with the Kings and Bruins. I like Martin Jones but he’s going to be in for a rude awakening this season. I think both him and Alex Stalock will struggle. The good thing is that the Sharks do have some very talented young players coming up in their system that will ease the pain of this difficult season. Joe Pavelski has become the newest captain of the Sharks; what seems to be a captain carousel in that organization. In a division that got a whole lot better, the Sharks got a lot worse. San Jose will be lucky to collect 80 points. Rookie to watch – Joonas Donskoi is likely the best chance of the Sharks rookies to contribute this season. He’s got some special stick skills and terrific vision, however he has yet to play a game in North America. Coach Pete DeBoer might send Donskoi down to the minors to begin the season but don’t be surprised if he’s called up again shortly.
  6. Vancouver Canucks – What a mess. IF The Sedin twins and Vrbata can continue to defy age and produce then the Canucks might be able to climb out of the Western basement; talk about a big if. Nobody else on this roster can score. Last season, the Sedins and Vrbata scored 212 points of the entire team’s 642, that’s 33% of the offense by one 34 and two 35 year olds. Vancouver then sent Nick Bonino (their 4th leading scorer) to Pittsburgh for Brandon Sutter and signed him to a 5-year extension. I’m not sure if Canucks GM Jim Benning is better or worse than the Bruins GM Don Sweeney. Kevin Bieksa who was basically the emotional leader for the Canucks was also dealt to the Ducks for draft picks. So Brandon Prust was acquired for some team toughness but this whole team is lacking in that department. The goaltending isn’t exactly strong, and I wouldn’t call the defense strong either. Ryan Miller struggled last season while battling some minor injuries, and although Markstrom had a stellar year in the AHL, he still has yet to prove himself in the NHL. Their strong goalie from last year is now in Carolina. For the Canucks to even come close to making the playoffs, Bo Horvat has to score a lot of goals. Sven Baertschi has to become that first-round pick that he was selected to be. Vrbata and the Sedins need to play like it’s game seven of the cup final. The defense has to become the new legion of boom. And Ryan Miller has to find his game that won him a vezina trophy in 2010. I highly doubt all of those things happen. This is a year for the Canucks to plan on tanking. Their point total should be somewhere between 70-75. Rookie to watch – Jake Virtanen. This kid scores goals with his face, and hits like a Mack truck! Drafted 6th overall in 2014, the 6’1″, 208lbs New Westminster, BC native is all jam. The definition of a Canadian beauty, Vancouver has a gem here. He’s not getting sent down.
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