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Greetings to all buzzers. Thanks for clicking on my maiden web log. If brevity is the soul of wit, I either have no wit or no soul. Thus, my season preview will be posted in two hefty installments.

With the trans-Atlantic set of games aside (and it was nice to see those Easterners learn what real travel is like), I’m looking towards Thursday when the true fantasy season starts. It’s at this point that a judicious scrutiny of match-ups becomes critical. To that end, I’ll share my takes on each division, not just in terms of standings, but also how your fantasy roster may benefit (or not) in match-ups against those teams.

And since I’m a native Californian and almost-native Sharks fan, we’ll buck mainstream media trends and start in the West!

CENTRAL DIVISION
I’m guessing all the hype for the Blackhawks is coming from the Windy City’s perpetually frustrated baseball fans. (Is it considered progress when both of your teams choke in the postseason?) I am not a believer. The Hawks may be in the mix for the very last playoff spot, but their power play will struggle. Campbell scores more at even-strength, and don’t be surprised if he challenges for the team lead in points by year’s end. Never a good sign.

Central teams will be very stingy defensively, playing tight games that don’t make for good fantasy match-ups. However, the Hawks and Jackets will cough up mucho power plays, and while the Red Wings should dominate, they may have the worst goaltending. See St. Louis circa 2003. The curtains of Oz may yet again open to reveal something far from magical. Nashville should grab a middle seed.

Swing a deal for: Cristobal Huet. He’ll do well, especially as the blueline improves.
Plan on disappointment from: Marian Hossa. It’s not hard to see him on the second PP unit if Holmstrom or Franzen keeps their game up.

NORTHWEST DIVISION
Colorado will be a clear division champ, and a clear #3 seed, because they boast the strongest offense and weakest goaltending in this division, both by a mile. With Jacques Lemaire, Mikka Kiprusoff, and Roberto Luongo, conventional wisdom says the forwards in this division will be on lock-down. But if you saw what happened in the Pepsi Center and the Xcel Center around Labor Day, you know: conventions have no wisdom.

All of these teams will yield close to 30 shots per game, and you can also expect lots of power plays, especially when you play the Canucks or Flames. Goaltending will keep the Wild and Flames on the bubble, but don’t plan on many wins for Luongo.

Swing a deal for: Mikko Koivu. He’ll lead Minnesota with a breakout 80 points.
Plan on disappointment from: Pavol Demitra. Goal-scoring has gone downhill since the lockout, and he’ll probably miss 10-15 games.

PACIFIC DIVISION

By the end of this paragraph, we’ll have a third division winner that won’t be seriously challenged, a total of three middle-tier teams, and three bubble teams. Is this what an ultra-competitive conference looks like?

I see the Sharks devouring another title and challenging Detroit for top conference honors. Last year, Dallas and Anaheim kept the suspense up mainly because Cheechoo, Marleau, and Michalek all had off-years in a planetary alignment that would make Voldemort proud. I expect all three to rebound, and the team in teal will separate themselves, leaving hearty middle seeds for the Stars and Ducks.

There isn’t a weak goaltender in this group (I even think LaBarbera will be OK), so you really have to pick your spots in a fantasy match-up. Anaheim will give you power plays; LA and Phoenix will give you shots on goal, but the Kings are surprisingly disciplined. Overall, a high-quality but low-predictability division.

Swing a deal for: Ilya Bryzgalov. He won’t rack up wins, but other numbers will do well, and he’ll see lots of rubber on most nights.
Plan on disappointment from: Chris Kunitz. PP time took a big hit last year, and winning back those minutes gets harder with Selanne’s return.

PS – A word about the Flash. The only thing keeping Selanne from pulling the exact same stunt as last year was Mats Sundin. Captain Ambiguous is stealing the “defecate or vacate” thunder, and no All-Star Finn can risk looking as foolish as an All-Star Swede.

Eastern outlook will follow in…about three hours.
Filed Under:   Sharks   Fantasy   Western Conference  
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