In the Western Conference this year there are no guarantees, but I am going to make some. There are only eight playoff spots for 15 teams in a RIDICULOUSLY competitive Western Conference. If the Edmonton Oilers played in the Eastern Conference I would say their chances at the playoffs are significantly better. Alas, this is not the case.
Back to the West. With eight spots up for grabs and a number of elite teams at the top of the conference, there are probably only 3-4 actual spots that are up for grabs. I will make guarantees on some teams that will make the playoffs, BUT NOT WHERE THEY WILL FINISH. After that I will make my best predictions on the teams that will have to miss the playoffs (by as many as 1 point).
Vancouver is still the class of the Western Conference, if not the NHL and will run over the NW division en route to the 1st seed in the west. They did not lose many key pieces of their Finals team and they lost a headcase in Raffi Torres and did a nice job retooling, especially if Owen Nolan can cement himself in a depth role player position and provide a little offense.
San Jose might be able to give Vancouver a run for their money. I think that adding Havlat and subtracting Heatley is a significant move and Havlat will be quicker and more motivated that Heatley ever was. Also, the acquisition of Brent Burns might be the best move of the summer. San Jose did give up Charlie Coyle, and Setoguchi, two excioting young players up front, but there are only so many minutes for Thornton, Marleau, Havlat, Pavelski and Clowe to divvy up. Their weakness against Vancouver in the playoffs was defence and they made a good acquisition to help in that regard. Goaltending might still need to be addressed. Niemi will have a good season, but the playoffs are a mystery.
Detroit is a given to make the playoffs. They could, however, finish anywhere from 3rd to 6th. As the core ages and young players develop the Red Wings will always get to the dance, but with little prospect depth right now, potential injuries could drop the wings down a few spots in the conference. Lidstrom and the rest of the D will be effective in limiting damage, but Howard and Conklin might not be solid enough to maintain the dominance that the Wings once had on the conference.
Chicago might have finished 8th last year by the skin of their teeth, but they had to deal with plenty of changes after winning the Stanley Cup and still took the league's best team to the brink of elimination after dropping the first three games. Toews, Sharp and Bolland down the middle is daunting and the additions of Brunette and Montador add much needed depth to an already solid team. It will be interesting to see what Carcillo brings to the Hawks. If he can keep his head he might add another level of nasty to a sick team.
After my top 4 it gets a little more difficult to place teams. Last year, Anaheim finished 4 points and 5 spots ahead of the 9th place Dallas Stars. Sickening how tough the West is. I place Anaheim in the playoffs because of the power of one line and a potentially dangerous second line with Selanne, Cogliano and Koivu. If Visnovsky has another great year and Cam Fowler develops, they could do some damage in the regular season again. Also, if Jonas Hiller is recovered he will put the Ducks in the playoffs without a doubt.
That leaves three spots. Nashville will be in the mix with Barry Trotz coaching. They are always in a battle and have become a model of consistency. They have one a playoff series and that may drive them harder, but I do not know if the talent can keep up.
LA will be in the mix as well. They lost some goals in Ryan Smyth, but added leadership in Mike Richards. The young core will develop further and be a strong favorite for a playoff spot. I don't know how they won't make the playoffs, but I have a feeling it will be close.
St. Louis and Columbus should also be in the mix. St. Louis added a couple of strong veterans in Arnott and Langenbrunner. Their D might not be good enough and Halak will have to have an All Star season. Columbus made a big splash, but I do not think they are good enough with that group.
For the Oilers to make the playoffs, they will need a strong showing from both Khabibulin and Dubnyk with Dubnyk taking over by the All Star break as the number one goaltender. Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, RNH and Omark will need to take large steps forward AND stay healthy. The whole team needs to stay healthy including Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky. The Oilers are deep enough now with Belanger, Eager, Sutton et al to be able to continue with certain injuries, but not to all of their best players like what happened last year. Finally, Edmonton will need other teams to fail to reach expectations and for Calgary to continue their downward spiral which I think they will do, but they are in the same boat as Edmonton this year, but going in opposite directions