So how will the West be won? Well, here's my predictions for the upcoming season ... and go easy on them.
1- Vancouver Canucks : Simply put their division is pitiful and should provide many easy points. Add to that, management has finally realized that having their goaltender be the captain is NOT a good idea and relieved him of that burden so that he can focus on not handing out rebounds like candy on Halloween. The Sedins, if healthy, could both hit 100-points with Raymond and Kesler building off career years the Canucks are poised to become this year's President's Trophy victors.
2- Chicago Blackhawks : They're winning this division. End of discussion. Turco will be more than solid with likes of Bolland, Hossa, and Sharp rebounding after injury-plagued sub par regular seasons. Kane should finally top the 100-plateau with Jonathan "Mr. I Win At Everything" Toews having a breakout regular season which will see him take home the Hart and Ted Lindsay Trophies. Duncan Keith will win the Norris again, with Hossa taking home the Selke.
3- Los Angeles Kings: Hello Jonathan Bernier! The much anticipated arrival of this star netminder will finally take place as the Kings found out the hard way that Quick means "quick-hook" come playoff time. Add to the mix, Willie Mitchell on an already deep defence corps the Kings look to win their first division title since 1991. Kopitar will once again show why he is one of the best kept secrets in the league with Drew Doughty leading all rearguards in points.
4- San Jose Sharks: Finnish invasion? The Niemi and Nittymaki experiment could be genius, but could fail miserably. In case it does the Sharks do boast the most potent line in the league led by Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau. Add to the mix the emergence of Joe Pavelski all should be well for San Jose to crack the 100 + point season again.
5- Nashville Predators: What? That's right the Predators who may have the best defence corps in the game led by Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber and his defence partner Ryan Suter. Jonathan Blum could be this year's Tyler Myers and should fit right in perfectly within Barry Trotz's system. Also, the Predators may have the best goaltender in the game right now in Pekka Rinne who will finally be recognized with the Vezina Trophy at year's end.
6- Detroit Red Wings: How much gas is left in the tank? Well, we'll all find out. Lidstrom has seen better days as well as Osgood and if both are counted on to be and do more than be accessories at this point the Wings may miss the postseason for the first time since 1990. Datsyuk and Zetterburg should both have bounce back seasons offensively while Johan Franzen will look to stay healthy for the first time in his career. If Jimmy Howard falters like Jim Carey and Andrew Raycroft it could get messy in Motown.
7- St. Louis Blues: This team will rebound after a dismal season at home. Brad Boyes should rebound with likes of Oshie, Perron, and Johnson improving their overall play. The addition of Jaroslav Halak should not only make this defence corps better but give the team a much needed boost of confidence throughout the season as the Blues haven't had much between the pipes since Grant Fuhr in the early 2000's ... and even then. And, who wouldn't want a St. Louis-Chicago match-up in the 1st round?
8- Calgary Flames: And we bring the band back together. Now that nobody expects Alex Tanguay and Ollie Jokinen to do anything they'll flourish ... isn't that the way? Jarome Iginla still has enough left in the bag to carry this team onto his shoulders and plop them into the playoffs. Miikka Kiprusoff is still one of the game's best in goal and will be counted on and will be just that again with Jay Boumeester recovering after a horrendous debut with the Flames.
9- Minnesota Wild: Can Havlat stay healthy and will be contribute? The answer to both will be yes with Mikko Koivu help leading the Wild within striking distance of the playoffs ... but alas won't due to the lack of goal-scoring throughout the line-up. Brent Burns will continue to be Brent Burns - overrated in all aspects. The goaltending duo of Backstrom and Harding will both improve, just not enough.
10- Anaheim Ducks: Outside of Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan the Ducks don't have much in terms of offensive firepower and with Scott Neidermayer gone due to retirement the Ducks should be a quagmire defensively that will force Jonas Hiller to become nothing short of Batman on most nights. Unfortunately, he won't be all the time thus the Ducks will be on the outside looking in.
11- Colorado Avalanche: Well that was fun wasn't it? Take away the first 2 months of last season the Avalanche were merely a .500 team and will be just that next season. I find it hard to believe that Craig Anderson can continue his dominant ways of being successful when facing 40+ shots a game. On the flip side, Duchene and O'Reilly should build upon very successful rookie campaigns.
12- Columbus Blue Jackets: This could be a really exciting young team to watch led by Rick Nash, however, that's really Columbus' problem isn't it? Too much unproven youth that really has never matured with the exception being Rick Nash. Derrick Brassard should remain healthy and that could jump Nash back to the 40+ goal plateau with Derrick Russell adding more offence to his game. Steve Mason should rebound after suffering the sophomore slump ... just not enough to help Columbus.
13- Dallas Stars: Who's going to stop the puck for the Stars this season once Kari Lehtonen goes back to the IR like he does every season? Andrew Raycroft? Matt Climie? It's going to be a long season in Big D as there is only so much the likes of Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribiero, and James Neal (providing the Stars get him under contract) can do. With Robidas being their best option on D, well, Dallas should be near the bottom in the league in GA.
14- Phoenix Coyotes: And the chariot turns into a pumpkin. The Coyotes last season had one of the most remarkable campaigns ever with the whole Balsille saga and everything that surrounded the team off the ice. Unfortunately, that won't happen again this season as Bryzgalov will once again suffer from the "good season, bad season" flu with others like Radim Vrbata turning back to who they once were. Make no mistake the loss of Zybynek Michalek on defence is irreplaceable and leaves a huge hole in the defence. There will also be no 14 wins in the shootout competition either.
15- Edmonton Oilers: Good news Ales Hemsky is back and has 2 young and exciting prospects to play with in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. After that it's all up to Dustin Penner and if you're thinking what I'm thinking - there is no way he can duplicate what he did last season. Khabibulin is still in jail so that means Jeff Deslauriers-Drouin is back starting unless Tom Renney decides to go with Martin Gerber. Souray isn't welcome back so that means no powerful shot on the PP and a void on defence which isn't good to begin with. Gilbert? Whitney? Good news another top notch pick is coming Edmonton's way in 2011.