I posted my Eastern Conference predictions yesterday, now time for the West.
1. San Jose Sharks
Took a step forward in the playoffs last year and looking to build on it. Always a top team in the regular season and the goalie combo of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should have no trouble keeping this team high in the standings as Evgeni Nabokov always did.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Lots of scoring depth, and an upgraded defense. This is now the Sedins team, and it will be up to them and goalie Roberto Luongo to determine how far they get once they are in the playoffs.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
Lost a lot in the offseason, but still have a top young core with Stanley Cup experience. As long as their is no Cup hangover in Chicago they should contend for the Western conference title.
4. Detroit Red Wings
Always a reliable pick to finish high in the conference, they should battle Chicago all year for the Central Division, especially if forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk return to their top offensive form.
5. Los Angeles Kings
Its time for this team to take the next step forward. They should have strong goaltending all season with both the Jonathans, Quick and Bernier, capable to start. Drew Doughty is an absolute star and he leads the defense, while young 2 way star forward Anze Kopitar looks to take the next step forward with the rest of the team.
6. St. Louis Blues - Took a step back last year, but should rebound nicely with all their young talent at all positions. The Blues also upgraded in goal by acquiring Jaroslav Halak from the Canadiens in the off season. If everything goes as planned, they should be at the very worst challenging for a low playoff berth, if not higher.
7. Nashville Predators - Coach Barry Trotz always keeps this team on the playoff bubble and this year should be the same. Solid goaltending comes with Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber leads a young, talented blueline and their forward corps always seems to get by with their scoring-by committee approach.
8. Calgary Flames - Bringing back Alex Tanguay and especially Olli Jokinen was risky for this team, but they should at worst be able to contribute 50 points each, and if Jarome Iginla, Jay Boumeester and Robyn Regehr can rebound from poor campaigns, Miikka Kiprusoff won't quite have to single handedly carry the Flames into the playoffs.
9. Phoenix Coyotes - Had a surprisingly successful season last year, and will try to build on it but they had a couple key losses in free agency and teams that take huge leaps forward one year tend to come back to Earth a bit the next. Still, they should compete for one of the latter spots in the postseason.
10. Colorado Avalanche - Got off to a blazing start last year then cooled off and just barely ended up making the playoffs where they lost in the first round to San Jose. They are committed to their rebuilding process and as such had no big additions in the offseason. Look for the true Avs to show up this year, a team that will have to fight tooth and nail to reach the playoffs.
11. Edmonton Oilers - True, their defense is terrible, but the young enthusiasm that will no doubt be on this team should keep them competitive. Rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Maagnus Paajarvi should be a treat to watch all year and this team will be in the playoffs within a couple years for sure.
12. Anaheim Ducks - Have the star power in the form of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, etc but after their stars its a hodgepodge of journeymen talent and young, inexperienced players. Will need a few players to have big breakout seasons if they want to go anywhere this year.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets - Will they ever get Rick Nash a true #1 center? And after that they also need a top puckmoving defenseman. Missing those key pieces this team will have a tough time getting anywhere near the playoffs.
14. Minnesota Wild - They don't have a lot of current talent on their team after Mikko Koivu and their farm system is pretty bare too. Goalie star Niklas Backstrom was exposed last year and it could be a long couple years for Wild fans.
15. Dallas Stars - With team ownership in flux management is in tough to make any moves, and this team seems to be in limbo between rebuilding and contending. The ownership situation will likely have to sort itself out before this team will see any success.
San Jose over Calgary
Nashville over Vancouver
Chicago over St. Louis
Los Angeles over Detroit
San Jose over Nashville
Los Angeles over Chicago
San Jose over Los Angeles
Finals - Joe Thornton and Co. will finally rid themselves of their playoff demons, ironically beating Thornton's former team, the Boston Bruins, to do so.