Is Martin St. Louis a Hall of Famer?



Western Conference Preview
How the west will be won...

Henrik Sedin

Henrik Sedin

Sorry for the delay...crazy busy lately for the Blueshirt staff.  We'll have the Eastern preview and an all Rangers preview within the next couple days



#15 Minnesota Wild

The Skinny: The Wild struggled last season in its first year A.G. (after Gaborik).  Outside of Mikko Koivu, the team lacks offensive firepower.  Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Martin Havlat have the ability to be 60+ point scorers, but injuries have derailed their careers.  Matt Cullen and John Madden will fit like gloves, but the Wild still don’t have much room for growth.  On defense, Brent Burns is another injury waiting to happen.  Marek Zidlicky is a bit one-dimensional, but Cam Barker and Greg Zanon are good young defensemen.  The Wild will need Niklas Backstrom to handle a very heavy workload this season now that they’ve been forced to resort to Jose Theodore as a backup with Josh Harding out for the season.


Fact or Fiction: Were the 25 goals Guillaume Latendresse scored in 55 games a fluke?


Fact.  Latendresse has always had goal-scoring ability, but his previous career high was 16 goals in a season.  Somehow, he got traded from a free-wheeling offensive system in Montreal to a traditionally suffocating offensive environment and potted 25 goals in less then ¾ of a season.  Latendresse may have finally figured out how to score in the NHL, but he seems much more like a 20-25 goal scorer than a potential 35-40 guy.


#14 Columbus Blue Jackets

The Skinny: The success of the Blue Jackets rests on the shoulders of third-year goalie Steve Mason.  After a phenomenal rookie season in which he won 33 games with a .919 save percentage and 2.29 GAA, Mason struggled mightily last season and saw his numbers tumble to 20 wins, .901, and 3.05.  He’ll likely perform somewhere in the middle of those two extremes this season.  The Jackets have some talented young players who have been slow to break out at the NHL level in Derrick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, but the potential of Nikita Filatov trumps them both.  Along with the always-productive Kristian Huselius and Rick Nash, the Jackets could have a decent offense.  They’re a bit thin on D though, and would really benefit from a bounce back year from Mike Commodore.  Fedor Tyutin is always steady and Anton Stralman broke out last season, but the Jackets have obvious holes on the blue line.


Fact or Fiction: Filatov is ready to be a top six NHL forward.


Fiction.  Something just doesn’t seem right with Filatov.  His return to Russia last season was troubling and he has head-case written all over him.  He’s a bit reminiscent of another once-promising young Russian of the Blue Jackets in Nik Zherdev.  Both had oodles of skill, but couldn’t seem to grasp what it takes to succeed in the NHL.  If Filatov is re-committed, he could easily score 25 goals this year.  But he has a lot to prove. 


#13 Edmonton Oilers

Skinny: There won’t be a more fun team to track this season than the Oilers.  This year’s first-overall-pick Taylor Hall and highly regarded forward prospects Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi are all set to make the team, and it should be fascinating to watch them develop.  The Oilers will need those three to contribute offensively because Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano have regressed dramatically, Ales Hemsky can’t stay healthy, and it would be a lot to expect Dustin Penner to improve on last year.  The Oilers are one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, but their disastrous situation in goal and thin blue line mean they’ll have to win high-scoring affairs with their opponents much of the time; a lot to ask from the youngsters.  Nikolai Khabibulin is on his last legs and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jeff Deslauriers start for much of the year, but how he’ll fair is anyone’s guess.  The Oilers are prepared to move on from Sheldon Souray, a wise move, but their top three of Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Kurtis Foster will have major problems getting the puck out of their own end.


Fact or Fiction: Taylor Hall is the best of the young trio, and the favorite for Rookie of the Year.


Fiction.  Hall is making a pretty big jump this season and both Paajarvi and Eberle are better prepared for the NHL.  Hall may end up scoring the most goals, but Paajarvi will keep it close.  Eberle is the most intriguing of the three to me.  He is a playmaker with nice scoring touch and good intangibles.  In any event, the Oilers should draw a lot of attention this season.


#12 Anaheim Ducks

Skinny: The Ducks have one of the NHL’s best lines in Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan, but there are issues basically everywhere else.  Outside of the top three, the Ducks are very limited on offense and will need a resurgence from Jason Blake and one more year out of their two other ancient second liners, Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne.  The real story for the Ducks is that Scott Niedermayer and J.S. Giguere, huge parts of the team’s nearly decade-long run, are now gone.  The Ducks will be alright without Giguere as Jonas Hiller has proven to be a good No. 1 goalie. but Niedermayer is truly irreplaceable.  Not long ago the Ducks had an endless stable of elite defensemen, but now they’ll be counting on a group of journeymen.  A player like Niedermayer is a nearly impossible loss to overcome and the Ducks will really struggle without a top defense to mask their one-dimensional scoring unit.


Fact or Fiction: The Ducks got the steal of the draft in Cam Fowler.


Fact.  Somehow Fowler fell from being a consensus top five pick all the way to the Ducks at No. 12.  Scouts had Brandon Gormley, Erik Gudbranson, and Fowler ranked in different orders, but each was unanimously expected to be at the top of the first round.  That Fowler fell past both of them and even Dylan McIlrath is still shocking.  It’s not fair to compare him to Niedermayer, but Fowler has the skating ability and offensive instincts to fill a similar role.  He also has a huge chip on his shoulder now.  In a few years, Fowler will clearly be the best defender to come out of the 2010 draft.


#11 Dallas Stars

Skinny: The Stars have an above average top two lines and a couple very solid defensemen, but their situation in goal will make this a long season.  Marty Turco clearly wore out his welcome in Dallas, so the team turned to Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta, one of the most injury-plagued players in the league.  Lehtonen hasn’t played more than 50 games in a year since 2006.  His talent was evident from a young age, but he’s far more trouble than he’s worth.  Dallas made a foolish long-term investment in Lehtonen and will suffer the ramifications.  Up front, full healthy seasons from Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro will be huge for a team with three very talented young forwards in Loui Eriksson, James Neal, and Jamie Benn.  The Stars D is very average which won’t be good enough in front of Lehtonen.  Dallas allowed 254 last season and 257 two years ago.  If anything the Stars downgraded in goal and did nothing to help the defense.  There are just way too many defensive issues here.


Fact or Fiction: Brad Richards is a superstar once again.


Fact.  Richards return to his old self last year after three very disappointing seasons.  But his 91 points last season matched his previous career high in 2005 with Tampa Bay.  He has shown this ability before, and it’s impossible to forget his ridiculous 26 point postseason in 2003.  Richards seems to be up and down, and really needs to be feeling great to be at peak productivity, but there’s no doubting what he’s capable of.  It may be difficult for him to be in the top 10 NHL scorers again this season, but he is a true No. 1 center and one of the league’s more underappreciated stars.


#10 Nashville Predators

Skinny: It wouldn’t shock me if the Predators made the playoffs, as I think any of the top 11 teams in the Western Conference is capable of making the postseason.  Each is better than all but five Eastern Conference foes.  Still, for the first time in recent memory the Predators have only one legitimate goalie, and they still lack scoring punch up front.  Pekka Rinne was very good last season in 58 games, but the Predators are used to employing a balanced goalie rotation and will have trouble doing that effectively this season because of Mark Dekanich’s inexperience.  The 24-year-old has been dominant in the AHL, so the Predators may be able to keep right on rotating goalies, but for the first time in recent memory there is uncertainty in net.  There is no better team in the NHL at drafting defensemen than Nashville.  It seems like they grow on trees for Nashville, while 29 other teams are lucky to find one good young defenseman every few years.  This year Cody Franson will take on a bigger role to join Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as a fantastic trio of young defenders, and there are more on the way.  If everything goes their way, the Predators could have a halfway decent offense.  But David Legwand must improve on a miserable 38 point season and Steve Sullivan must stay healthy.  Really the Predators have a bunch of second line players.  For them to produce enough scoring, chemistry is the biggest issue.  However, the Preds do get a ton of help from their puck-moving back end.


Fact or Fiction: Matthew Lombardi will fit like a glove.


Fact.  I can’t believe there weren’t a dozen teams falling over themselves to sign Lombardi, but he certainly found the best fit in Nashville.  The Predators actually spent some money for once, and may have even overpaid a touch, but it was a prudent move simply because of how perfect Lombardi is for them.  He’s not a true No. 1 center, but Lombardi does all the little things, can skate like the wind, and is tenacious defensively.  He’ll contribute 50 points easily and add some much-needed veteran leadership.


#9 Colorado Avalanche

Skinny: The Avalanche has as much young talent as anyone, but like the Blues last season, they’re due for a bit of a regression year.  Up front the Avs are so young they need diapers.  Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny are the only two forwards with significant NHL experience.  Hejduk’s health and age are a major issue now; his effectiveness has been greatly reduced.  Stastny is crucial for this team.  He’s one of the premier playmakers in the league, and he’ll need to take on an even bigger role for the young Avs to succeed.  The Avs do have plenty of veterans in goal and on defense, which are certainly good places to have them, but there are questions there too.  Craig Anderson stood on his head last season for the Avs and it will be very tough for him to match that this year.  Colorado made it very clear in the playoffs that on many nights it really has to depend on Anderson more than is reasonable.  The D is good on paper but did get exposed at times.  Unlike up front, you get a sense the Avs could really use a shot in the arm on the back end, and Kevin Shattenkirk may provide that sooner than later.  Adam Foote and Scott Hannan may not have a whole lot left, so the Avs will be very dependent on John Michael Liles and Kyle Quincey.


Fact or Fiction: Peter Mueller is more the 20-point-in-15-games the Avs got than the 17-point-in-54 game guy the Coyotes had.


Fact.  Obviously Mueller needs to return from lingering concussion issues before he’s even a factor this season.  But he could be a real X-factor for the Avalanche down the stretch.  Mueller scored 54 points in his 2007 rookie season but he’s fallen off the course since then.  Even last year, when everyone was clicking for Phoenix, Mueller couldn’t get going.  Then, bang, he got traded to the Avs and was scoring at better than a point per game clip.  The concussion problems could slow him down for a while once gain, but Mueller has shown what he’s capable of.  He may have needed to remind himself a bit as well, but last season’s late boost in confidence could have been just what he needed.



#8 St. Louis Blues

Skinny: After a little regression last season, the Blues are ready to break into the playoffs this season.  The acquisition of Jaroslav Halak from Montreal was an absolutely huge move for a team on the cusp.  The Blues have a bevy of young forwards and an even better group of young defensemen.  The Blues will add arguably the best prospect in the league in Alex Pietrangelo to their top pair of Roman Polak and Erik Johnson to form probably the best young trio in the league.  Barret Jackman, Eric Brewer, and Carlo Colaiacovo join them for a ridiculously deep and solid blue line group.  The Blues have a lot of room for growth up front as Brad Boyes should score several more goals this season and youngsters T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund are just coming into their own in the NHL.  David Backes is possibly the team’s best player and will have a huge year.


Fact or Fiction: Halak’s phenomenal play in the postseason was a fluke.


Fiction.  Yes, Halak almost single-handedly carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final.  But there’s plenty of evidence that he’s just that good.  He thrives when facing a ton of shots and is clearly un-phased by pressure situations.  Halak will also benefit from the tremendous young Blues defense and will grow with them to form a terrific backbone of a playoff staple for years.


#7 Los Angeles Kings

Skinny: Everyone’s favorite team-on-the-rise from last season will tail off a little bit in 2010.  The Kings made a huge leap forward last season, but in the super-competitive Western Conference, they would have really done well to make a splash in the off-season by say, signing Ilya Kovalchuk.  As they stand, the Kings are very strong on defense and have two potential No. 1’s in goal.  But up front the Kings will need some luck to keep Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth healthy and to battle their ages along with Michal Handzus.  Anze Kopitar is already a star, but Dustin Brown and Wayne Simmonds are really good second or third liners and too much may be asked of them.  The Kings need one more big offensive piece to become a contender but right now they just seem a little shaky to me.  They have plenty of young talent, but almost everything went right last year and that probably won’t happen again.


Fact or Fiction: Drew Doughty is worth the hype.


Fact.  Doughty has drawn some incredible comparisons after just two NHL seasons, but he’s already scored 59 points in a year and played a key role on Canada’s Gold Medal team.  At just 21-years-old, the sky is the limit for Doughty and he is capable of winning a Norris Trophy as soon as this year.  Doughty has the full toolbox and will become as close to a household name as there is among defensemen.


#6 Calgary Flames

Skinny: Unlike the Kings, virtually everything went wrong last season for the Flames.  For all the bone-headed moves Calgary has made this year, they still have a pretty darn good roster.  They’re quite a bit older than many of the teams in the West, but their goaltending, top three lines, and top four defenders match up well with anyone.  They also still have one of the game’s great leaders in Jarome Iginla, who will be committed to righting the ship this season.  It’s clear that as Miikka Kiprusoff goes, so goes Calgary.  But he’s a gamer, and a fresh start for a still-talented group will be enough to turn things around in Calgary.  This team reeks of being underrated but their playoff success this decade is no fluke, and while they aren’t a true contender, they are good enough to keep things interesting.


Fact or Fiction: Matt Stajan is an ideal center for Jarome Iginla.


Fiction.  Stajan’s career high of 57 points last season may a sign of things to come.  I’m a huge fan of his game and think he could crack 70 points, but the reality is that Stajan isn’t on the same level of the league’s best centers.  Still, the Flames have shown that Jarome Iginla doesn’t need a prototypical No. 1 center to be successful.  The Flames have mixed and matched with Daymond Langkow and Olli Jokinen and by adding Stajan to the mix, the Flames will have all kinds of flexibility.  They’ll be able to ride the hot hand and still get production from three lines.  Stajan may not be ideal, but he is probably the best fit.


#5 Chicago Blackhawks

Skinny: Unfortunately for Chicago, winning the Stanley Cup was accompanied by a slew of financial issues forcing management to gut the roster of some crucially important players.  The Blackhawks can still beat anyone in a playoff series with their top talent alone, but the league’s deepest team last season has taken a pretty big hit.  The ‘Hawks did a nice job turning their pricey players into good assets, but not all of them are ready to step into the vacated spots.  The biggest problem of all is in goal where the Blackhawks were unable to retain Antti Niemi and replaced him with Marty Turco.  Turco’s best days are far behind him and his rollercoaster preseason will carry over into the regular season.  Last year, the Blackhawks would have been able to mask Turco with their unbelievable puck possession and talent across the board.  This year, that will be a much, much tougher task.


Fact or Fiction: The Blackhawks can repeat.


Fact.  I’m obviously skeptical of the Blackhawks chances to win a high seed in the Western Conference.  However, this team looks poised to come on late in the season when some of its replacements are fully comfortable.  The Blackhawks have one Cup under their belts, and still have the talent and leadership to go on a big run again.  Of course, it will all depend on Turco, or if he’s been unseated by the postseason, on Corey Crawford.


#4 Phoenix Coyotes

Skinny: It’d be easy to assume the Coyotes overachieved last season, but if anything, I think they’ll be even better in 2010.  The addition of Ray Whitney was a savvy move, as he’ll provide a bump for the power play and a veteran presence that can be a huge key for a young team that has just had its first taste of winning.  Phoenix can roll four very strong lines and has an excellent combination of veterans and young talent on defense.  It’s likely that one or more of the Coyotes’ youngsters will take the next step to stardom and that will propel Phoenix.  The Coyotes seem to really have a winning formula figured out, and their mix of skill, size, grit, and age could be a recipe for a deep playoff run. 


Fact or Fiction: Ilya Bryzgalov is for real.


Fact.  Bryzgalov came out of nowhere last season and emerged as one of the NHL’s best.  Everything went right for Phoenix last year, but that wouldn’t have been the case without the stability and confidence provided by an unflappable netminder.  Bryzgalov has established himself as elite, now it’s about earning a high playoff seed and taking the next step.


#3 Detroit Red Wings

Skinny: Detroit started very slowly last season and for the first time, its veteran core was exposed.  But the Red Wings got it together at the end of the season and showed they still have a bit of the old magic left.  It will be essential for Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler to take some of the burden off the veterans up front who are getting up there in age but are still so committed to both sides of the rink.  They need some support.  Led by Nicklas Lidstrom the Red Wings D, as always, will be a strength.  That group of veterans is still as solid as ever.  In goal, Jimmy Howard had a very good rookie season and is the undisputed No. 1.  Like Calgary, very little went right for Detroit at the outset of last season, but this team still has plenty of talent and veteran leadership to bring the Red Wings deep into the playoffs one more time.


Fact or Fiction: Tomas Holmstrom is the most underrated player of his generation.


Fact.  Holmstrom doesn’t get the accolades he deserves till the postseason when pundits like to talk about true warriors and guys that battle on every shift.  But that’s the reality; Holmstrom does that on every shift of every game.  He is truly invaluable to Detroit and is one of the key reasons the team has been so successful for so long.  He’s not the fastest guy in the world, not the best playmaker, and not the greatest defensive forward.  But he battles on every shift and is a handful for opponents all over the rink.


#2 San Jose Sharks

Skinny: Even though Dan Boyle scored on his own net, the Sharks were able to advance deep into the playoffs last season.  But despite all their regular season success and a couple playoff series wins, the Sharks will be considered a failure until they play for a Stanley Cup.  The team isn’t necessarily old yet, but you get the sense its window is closing.  The Sharks probably still have a few more seasons at the top of the standings left in them, but there may be more dramatic changes on the way if the Sharks don’t reach the Finals this season.  Joe Thornton is a free-agent-to-be and could move on if the Sharks don’t win it all.  That would dramatically change this organization.  Of course, the Sharks will once again be led by the league’s top line of Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau.  They’ve got some good secondary scoring now too with Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe, Devon Setoguchi, and Logan Couture.  On D, the Sharks will once again rely on their top four to play huge minutes, but that hasn’t been much of a problem in the past and shouldn’t be this season.


Fact or Fiction: Letting Evgeny Nabokov go was a wise move.


Fiction.  Understandably, the Sharks have tried anything and everything to shake things up.  Nabokov has always been a little overrated, but he was far from the team’s biggest problem.  The tandem of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki isn’t going to be bad, but Nabokov was a true work horse and was used to the expectations in San Jose.  He was more of a scapegoat than a solution, and wasn’t the right guy to take the fall.  If the goaltending becomes an issue at all this season, the Sharks will have a tough time looking back on what they had.


#1 Vancouver Canucks

Skinny: The Canucks are a popular Stanley Cup pick for good reason.  Vancouver is stacked across the board, with 20 goal-scorers all over the place, a very deep defense, a Gold Medal goalie, and a top goalie prospect to boot.  The Canucks can win any way they want, they can outscore you 8-5 or win 1-0 thanks in large part to two huge additions on the blue line in Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.  There are some questions surrounding Roberto Luongo, and he’s no longer among the league’s best, but he’s more than capable of taking the Canucks into the playoffs.  The best thing about the Canucks is that they’re so multi-talented.  They have plenty of skill, but much like the Red Wings of the last decade, most of their players are extremely versatile and defensively responsible.  To beat the Canucks, someone’s going to have to get very lucky.


Fact or Fiction: Vancouver was right to strip Roberto Luongo of the captaincy.


Fact.  Though Luongo stepped in for Martin Brodeur and steered Team Canada to a Gold Medal, his status as a netminder is currently uncertain.  Recently Luongo has been prone to off nights in which he allows a slew of bad goals.  Vancouver masks this more than most teams would, but goalie is no longer the strength of this team.  Luongo also seems to have had a crisis of confidence, and while this could make him feel less stable, it should relieve pressure.  Additionally, the likely new captain, Henrik Sedin is clearly deserving.  Last season’s Hart Trophy winner took the next step and became a true superstar.  Without brother Daniel, Henrik went on a scoring binge and became the leader he never was before.  Sedin is clearly now the face of the franchise.  

Posted by Kevin Baumer | October 7, 2010 at 08:18 pm

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