06 April 2007

Campbell conference review

15. Chicago Blackhawks

They had to overpay for Martin Havlat, who will give them a legitimate offensive threat – likely, their only one...this franchise is a long way from the excellent early 90s teams and is still a long way from earning respectability...
Havlat was injured early and indeed, there was no scoring depth which kept the Hawks down near the bottom virtually all year. Havlat has been quality while in the lineup, easily leading the team in every offensive stat despite playing less than 60 games. They got a little bump when Denis Savard took over the coaching reigns but need to wait on their growing stockpile of prospects to develop before they'll make any move up the standings.

14. Phoenix Coyotes

...There are good pieces here, but not a good team...
I'm not sure I even believe that first piece, it's possible I was just being nice. I find little to be excited or optimistic about for the near future of this franchise. At least they retired longtime Coyote legend Dale Hawerchuk's number this spring.

13. Columbus Blue Jackets

...So many questions – if everything goes right they have a chance to improve simply because of the weakness at the bottom of this conference...
And that kind of sums them up, doesn't it? Ending up as the best of the dregs of the West isn't much of a barometer - their offence was weak (only Rick Nash and Fred Modin potted 20 goals), Gilbert Brule (eight goals) proved he was not ready for the NHL and Sergei Fedorov would be better served as a third-line presence on a talented team, not as a shadow of a former-MVP on a struggling team.

12. St. Louis Blues

...Not all of those are great signings, but they could bring dividends later in the year in deadline deals. This is the beginning of a long rebuilding process...
I was referring to the Blues' off-season free-agent binge - and while the team started off in hideous fashion, they actually turned things around in mid-season and ended respectably in 10th place while beginning that rebuilding in grand fashion, jettisoning Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk for no less than four high draft picks over the next two drafts and also picking up talented forward Brad Boyes from Boston. NCAA stars T. J. Oshie and Erik Johnson should be playing in St. Louis next season.

11. Dallas Stars

... I don’t think the addition of Eric Lindros improves them at all, and I’m not convinced that Marty Turco is the answer anymore...with most of the Pacific teams improving I think it leaves Dallas behind...
My first (and not final) miss in the West - Lindros did nothing, Turco improved as the season progressed, but this is a team greater then the sum of their parts. From the Minnesota Wild playbook, they play a low-scoring style (only Jere Lehtinen and Mike Modano with 20 goals) and strong enough to be in the thick of the tight West. Is it enough to progress through the playoffs?

10. Vancouver Canucks

...Not sure where the goals will come from...[Roberto] Luongo will likely play close to 70 games and will need to be healthy all year for the Canucks to slip into the seventh or eighth spot. Hopefully they’ll wear their blue retro uniforms all year.
Goals? We don't need no stinkin' goals! Easily the lowest-scoring playoff team in the West, Luongo has been everything the Canucks could dream of when acquiring him from the Florida Panthers - a viable Hart Trophy candidate. On paper I may seem way off on this pick, but put even good goaltending in place of Luongo's stellar play this year and tenth place is likely exactly where they'd slot in. Their old-school uniforms are still the best in the league.

9. Minnesota Wild

...I like their top forwards: Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra, Marian Gaborik...
Wow, what a reach. Who doesn't? Gaborik's 30 goals in less than 50 games is eye-catching. What I didn't account for was the Jacques Lemaire factor - letting the top few forwards loose while otherwise clamping down on everything in the building to the tune of a Jennings-trophy season. Despite (or perhaps because of) their often stultifying sense of play, they could prove very frustrating to playoff opponents.

8. Colorado Avalanche

...A team that could drop much lower than eighth if Jose Theodore falters. He’s a great unknown right now...Joe Sakic can still bring the goods...Wojtek Wolski will be an impact rookie
Not unknown anymore: he's essentially done. Peter Budaj should have been playing far earlier and this team could have made up the fingernail-thin difference between the nine and eight slots. Wolski has impressed with 21 goals but of course fellow youngster Paul Stastny took the league by storm over the final three months, giving fans a taste of the next generation of Stastnys.

7. Los Angeles Kings

...I love where this franchise is heading...I love when teams patiently draft and don’t overreach when they’re not ready to contend...Mostly, I love Anze Kopitar...This team is still very raw and still a few years from peaking. They could easily stumble...
My biggest mistake (see also my Florida Panthers projection...) although I cleverly gave myself some wiggle room there (read: cop out) in the pick. Easily the biggest reason for them never getting out of the gates this year was the horrible play of Dan Cloutier in goal; it's hard to overstate how his worst-in-the-NHL goaltending affected the Kings early, as all replacements offered up much better numbers playing behind the same team. The Kings still have a great core of young talent both in the NHL and arriving soon, they just need to take a hard objective look between the pipes and possibly eat that awful contract given to Cloutier.

6. Edmonton Oilers

...exciting Joffrey Lupul on board. Losing Chris Pronger and Jaroslav Spacek is a big deal...
Ha! Lupul has been nothing short of awful with 16 goals and a conference-worst -28 rating. Losing their two puck-moving defenceman has hurt, but no more than any other general listlessness the team has shown most of the year. Any spirit they did show was in Captain Canada Ryan Smyth who as you know now plies his trade (at least temporarily) 2000+ miles to the east on Long Island. Since that trade that crushed centenarians everywhere, their post-deadline play is nearly historic in ineptitude, in winning once (in a shootout) in their 18 games since Smyth's departure.

5. Anaheim Ducks

the rest of the top six forwards are young and skilled – Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Dustin Penner, Andy McDonald....My concerns are that beyond the top two defence (who will each approach 25 minutes per game, granted) they’re thin...
Each of the aforementioned forwards have at least 24 goals and have helped spread out the offence. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer are each averaging over 27 minutes per game and the overwhelming majority of power-play time. When Pronger was on the injured list the Ducks became mortal. When healthy, they're a powerhouse but as advertised they can become thin quickly.

4. Detroit Red Wings

... Now they can move on [from Steve Yzerman] and focus on youth; Detroit has gradually reloaded and should be set for years...The only aged players on the team are still bringing it – the defence is anchored again by Nicklas Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider... if [Dominik Hasek] is healthy (a big if) he’s still one of the very best...
Lidstrom and Schneider are third and fourth on the team in scoring behind young guns Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Hasek has been, well, nearly classic Hasek. This team is an interesting mix of youth and age. A question is whether they are physically hardened for the playoffs...

3. Nashville Predators

...a legitimate challenger for the Cup...Nashville will make serious noise...
Leading the division for most of the year, everyone knew they'd be good. The difference this year is that they will be expected to advance deep into the playoffs, especially after getting the biggest deadline name in years in Peter Forsberg.

2. San Jose Sharks

The line of Mark Bell, Joe Thornton, and Jonathan Cheechoo could be the best in hockey...as good a combination of skill and strength as any in the league...
Starting the pick off with Mark Bell looks disastrous as he's been about as bad as any forward in the league. So the fact that the Sharks have more wins than anyone in the league save Buffalo should tell you about the depth here. Adding Bill Guerin at the deadline should make them playoff-ready.

1. Calgary Flames

Winning hockey’s toughest division last year took a toll on the offensively-challenged Flames...If [Alex] Tanguay can help Calgary have two decent scoring lines, it should be enough for them to not only win the division, but move through the playoffs...
Yes, I picked Calgary as the Cup favourites back in October. Again, on paper it doesn't look so great as they needed until the final hours to clinch the number eight spot. Tanguay suffered a slow start but picked it up to finish on a point-per-game pace, second behind a stellar season by Jarome Iginla. Calgary's problem is that they've turned into an imbalanced team, one that scores a good deal but it is isolated to a very few up front in Iginla, Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, and Matthew Lombardi - almost exclusively. Miikka Kiprusoff has been approaching immortality as the season has progressed. Still, I hold onto this pick as the Flames can play the underdog role this year.

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