We continue our playoff predictions with my take on the Western Conference. Check out my picks after the jump, and hit up the comments to let me know if you agree or disagree!
1) Vancouver Canucks - This one is a no-brainer. The Canucks are a highly skilled and deep squad. The Sedin twins are currently 2nd and 5th in league scoring, and Ryan Kesler has emerged as a lethal two-way threat. Not to mention that have one of the most mobile bluelines and arguably the best goaltender in the league. If they can add a piece at the deadline- look out.
2) Dallas Stars - The Pacific division is tough this year. All five teams are competitive, but Dallas will emerge as the top dog. The team has committed to keeping Brad Richards for the remainder of the season, and will likely be buyers at the deadline. It can all come crashing down if Kari Lehtonen gets injured, but thus far the injury-prone keeper has been healthy- and playing well.
3) Detroit Red Wings - Even though they are missing their best players due to injury, they still manage to stay atop the Western Conference. They have the pedigree to excel in the postseason. Nashville (yes, Nashville) will give them a late run for the division crown, but Detroit squeaks it out.
4) Anaheim Ducks - Count me in as one of the guys who thought Anaheim would stumble this year. They started slow out of the gate, but have been on-fire of late. Even without Ryan Getzlaf, they have managed to string together wins. Lubomir Visnovsky is quietly having a stellar year, and Jonas Hiller is tied for the league lead in wins. The team has Cup experience and will make noise in the playoffs, especially if they can bolster their blueline.
5) Nashville Predators - The Preds are doing what they always do- work their butts off and win. It's no longer a secret that Barry Trotz is a fantastic coach, guiding an average lineup to above average success. It's time for the Preds to rattle some cages in the playoffs, and if my hypothetical scenario takes place, Anaheim would be a fantastic matchup in the first round. The Preds desperately need to add a scoring forward at the deadline. Stephen Weiss would be a great fit.
6) Chicago Blackhawks - They aren't as deep as last year, but they are still skilled and experienced enough to do damage in the post-season. In my scenario, I have them matching up with division foe Detroit in the first round. This has upset written all over it.
7) Phoenix Coyotes - As I mentioned above, the Pacific division is ultra-competitive. Dave Tippett is again leading the Coyotes to success, and I think they stay in the mix until the end of the season, providing they stay healthy.
8) San Jose Sharks - While many believe they are destined to miss the playoffs, I think they are too good to not make it. They have the ability to rip off a bunch of wins between now and the end of the season, and if they get the defenseman they covet at the deadline, they could be a dangerous team to face late in the season.
9) Calgary Flames - They are on a tear right now, but unfortunately they have dug themselves too big a hole to get out of. They will fall just short, and look for the team to get blown up in the offseason.
10) Los Angeles Kings - I can't think of a more disappointing situation. The Kings were supposed to be a stud team this year, but for a multitude of reasons they have not delivered, and will be the only Pacific division squad not to make the playoffs.
11) Colorado Avalanche - This will be a good team, but this year they just don't have the horses. Last year they overachieved, and have come back down to earth. They are definitely on the upswing and will be a perennial playoff team very soon.
12) Columbus Blue Jackets - It pains me to put them so far down on the list, but at this point there is just too much ground to make up, against teams which play more consistent hockey. Notice how I didn't say "against better teams"...I think the Jackets are more skilled than the three teams ahead of them, but they don't bring it as often as they need to. The hole they put themselves in is just too deep.
13) Minnesota Wild - Another big disappointment. They loaded up on veterans but they haven't delivered. I look for this team to be busy sellers at the deadline. They have some interesting pieces that could be up for grabs.
14) St.Louis Blues - Is anybody surprised? Two seasons ago they overachieved big time. This is a young team with limited scoring and an average blueline. They will be a strong team, just not this season.
15) Edmonton Oilers - What is there to say? They are in the midst of a rebuild. Ales Hemsky would look good on a lot of playoff-bound teams. If I'm Nashville or Dallas I am pushing hard for a deal.
Finally, my Stanley Cup pick: VANCOUVER CANUCKS