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WESTERN CONFERENCE – Central Division
September 11, 2011Posted by on
Coach Babcock has a roster full of premier players again this year to play with. Lidstroms decision to return, Datsyk, Zetterberg, and Franzen, makes these teams a top Cup pick. The addition of Commodore, Exelby and White on the back end will help with the goals against ranked 23rd in the league last year. A great pick up that has gone mostly unnoticed is Ty Conklin as a back up to Jimmy Howard in net, and if Howard struggles Conklin is more than capeable of carrying this team as a number one. They also have some nice talent coming in with prospects Branden Smith and Jan Mursak. Whew…I’m tired and they are good !
2nd – Chicago Blackhawks
Coach Quenneville was saddled with an average team last year when the salary cap robbed them of key role players after their Stanley Cup season.
They snuck into the playoffs and were booted first round….that will make them hungry this year. The cap issues are back under control and the additions of Montador, Brunette, Mayers and O’Donnell fill those roles nicely. Marcus Krugar is a Swedish league star and Mark Mcneill this year’s draft pick are solid prospects and one of them should make the jump. Hossa, Toews, Kand and Sharp up front and Keith and Seabrook on the blue line are a coaching dream. If Crawford can play the way he’s shown for a full season, they will challenge for the division and the West.
3rd – St. Louis Blues
Coach Payne returns for his 2nd full season behind the bench, unfortunately for him they’re trying to sell the bench…and the players as the team is up for sale. Fortunately GM Doug Armstrong has given Payne one of the best young forward group in the business. Evengy Grachev is looking for a fresh start coming over from the Rangers and is poised to be as dominant as he was in the O. Alex Pietrangelo is a legit top d man in the league and along with Shattenkirk lead the blue line staff…but they’ll need some help on depth there to move up in the standings as they were 2nd in shots against last year. We’re not sold on Halak although he had a great playoff run, but Elliott is a potential starter if given the opportunity. If things come together for Payne they will move up very quickly, if not he may be gone very quickly.
4th – Nashville Predators
Coach Barry Trotz has lead this team since inception in 1998, that’s the benefit of playing in a city where a showing in the Western Conference semifinals for the first time ever only makes the third page of the sports section….when the press is not after your head, you have a little job security. With Rinne in net and all stars Weber and Suter on the blue line, they can compete. Trotz is a master at instilling work ethic to make up for lack of talent, but he needs more to work with to move up to the next level. No player had more than 23 goals last year and they were 28th in PP goals….and after the top 2 on D the dropoff is significant.
5th – Columbus Blue Jackets
Coach Scott Arniel motivated his out of playoff team to play hard last year, no easy feat. The additions of Jeff Carter at center and over paid James Wisniewski on defence are a big time help, but it’s not enough to help Nash and Umberger. 24th in goals for, 29th in PP goals for and 26th in goals against last season say they need help all over. Goalie Steve Mason was average at best last year and needs to prove his rookie showing wasn’t a fluke…which we think it was. They have a few young kids looking to get involved with Moore, Savard and Johansen but they’ll stay in the division basement.