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2011-2012 Season Preview Part 2


So now we look to the West, and to the second half of the NHL. Last season’s Western Conference champions, the Vancouver Canucks, went all the way to the final, and narrowly missed out on the triple of Eastern Conference Champions, Eastern Conference Playoff  final Winners, and Stanley Cup winners.

Since it seems that there are many changes afoot in the East, and we’ll now take a look at the alterations to the Western Conference since last season:

Chicago Blackhawks

No fewer than 7 players have been collected by the Hawks in the off-season. Notably, Dan Carcillo (Flyers) Sean O’Donnell (Flyers), and Andrew Brunette (Wild). Carcillo is a player everyone loves to hate, and his antics on the ice are more talked about than his scoring records. However, at 26, the Hawks have collected a winger at the right age to be a quality acquisition, and with plenty of time to build his ability. O’Donnell has missed just 8 games since the 2005-06 season, which not only shows how reliable he is, but how much his previous teams, the Ducks, Kings and Flyers, appreciated his ability. Being fit is one thing, but being good enough to solidify your spot on the roster is another. O’Donnell looks again, to be a solid signing, despite his 39 years.

KEY PLAYER: Duncan Keith – The 28yr-old D-man is the backbone of the Blackhawks defence. His toughness and shutdown play were really tested last year as the Hawks found themselves decimated by salary cap alterations. However, thanks to the solid defensive play of skaters like Keith, the Hawks still made the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

As part of the Philadelphia Flyers clearout, the Jackets received in return for Voracek and a couple of top-end draft picks, Jeff Carter. The much discussed trade took many views. Was it a high price to pay for Carter? Probably, but when you look at the numbers it’s hard to argue. Carter has 343pts in 461 games, and that’s really not to be sniffed at. However, the Jackets have since come under critisicm for the contract if signed with D-man James Wisniewski. At 6yrs and $33million, many believe that it’s too expensive. Equally, the only other signings of the close-season were 35yr-old Martinek from the Islanders, and 36yr-old Prospal from the Rangers. Are the Jackets banking on a couple of players pulling the rest through?

KEY PLAYER: Jeff Carter – Without doubt, Carter is a class player. He showed when playing for the Flyers that he can be a frightening prospect when in full flight, especially when he has a winger that feeds him the puck correctly. I think Carter’s linemates will make a huge difference to his points tally.

Detroit Red Wings

A quiet summer for the Wings, and the only signings they made were to replace retirees. Rafalski retired due to knee issues, and was replaced by San Jose defenceman Ian White, but questions still persist as to if he will slot in next to Nick Lidstrom on the first pairing. Probably not. Chris Osgood finally hung up his glove this year, meaning a welcome return of perpetual backup goalie, Ty Conklin. And finally Mike Commodore joins the Wings from Columbus, and it is expected he’ll be a 3rd pair player, as he replaces the sadly deceased Ruslan Salei.

KEY PLAYER: Henrik Zetterberg – The 30yr-old Swede has two huge parts to his game. He can play as a neutraliser for other team’s star players, most notably against Crosby and Ovechkin, who often struggle to play under Zetterberg’s stranglehold, as well as being able to switch to a strong offensive threat when required. He managed to carry much of the Detroit offense last season when the team was struggling with injuries.

Nashville Predators

The Predators finished last season in the playoffs and were disposed of by the Canucks. They obviously aren’t doing too much wrong to be in the post-season for four out of the last five seasons. Goalie Pekka Rinne put up his best stats since entering the NHL last season, and the Predators certainly seem to have a good mix of a few veteran players, and a large number of younger, faster skaters. 17 of their roster are 26yrs old, or younger.

KEY PLAYER: Jack Hillen – The former Islanders Defenceman is often overlooked, but his ability to intercept passes and block passing/shooting lanes is what made him force his way into the New York lineup earlier than many people really give him credit for. This signing in itself indicates that Nashville have no intention of giving up their youthful style of play.

St Louis Blues

Despite some pretty intense chopping and changing in the last 9 months, the Blues look like a pretty competitive outfit. Their acquisitions, despite being a little older, are all pure class. Jamie Langenbrunner (Stars), Scott Nichol, Kent Huskins (both Sharks), Jason Arnott (Capitals) are all veterans, but all have decent ability to go with their experience. All but Scott Nichol have won a Stanley Cup. The only area I think the Blues need to worry is in goal, where Halak seems to be their only hope, since summer signing Brian Elliott is backup, and his record is very poor.

KEY PLAYER: David Backes – The 27yr old newly-appointed captain had his most successful season last year, posting 62pts off 82 games (31 goals and 31 assists). Backes’ hard-hitting play will definitely work well with Langenbrunner and Arnott, so hopefully the Blues forward will continue to flourish.

Calgary Flames

Most Calgary fans will be pleased to see the disappointing 10/11 season over, as it was the second on the bounce that the Flames missed the Playoffs. However, a car-crash summer saw Calgary dumping salary in huge trades for very little return. Only Lee Stempniak and Scott Hannan are quality additions, but with the loss of so many other decent players, I can’t see it evening up. I think this will have to be a rebuild year for Calgary, and Flames fans will likely spend another summer wondering if Jarome Iginla will get to shine in the post-season again.

KEY PLAYER: Jarome Iginla – Iggy has played 1106 games, and scored 1006pts. The way to look at it, is that he only fails to score a point in 1 out of 10 games. Iginla has struggled to keep the Flames competitive on his own, and many criticisms of his linemates have meant an almost constant shuffling. However, Iginla showed during the Winter Olympics how deadly he can be when he has teammates that play at the same level as he does.

Colorado Avalanche

A monster 55-man NHL roster gives the Avs the 2nd largest selection in the league (Edmonton carry 64 contracted players). The double goalie signings of Giguere and Varlamov give them a new look at the back, but it is yet to be decided who will be the started and who will be backup. The Defence has been given a bit of an overhaul too, with O’Brien (Predators), Kobasew (Wild), and Hejda (Blue Jackets) all joining Colorado’s revolution. It seems the franchise has actually seem the same failings in the Avs that the fans did last season, and in a move rare with NHL GMs, Greg Sherman has acquired the kind of players to fill the needs of the team. I still think they’re a little way off the Playoffs though.

KEY PLAYER: Paul Stastny – When hitting nearly a point-per-game at just 25, and with 5 years NHL play under Stastny’s belt, it’s clear that the abilities of his father Peter have come through strong in Paul. If his previous form is anything to go by, he will definitely be a much-relied upon player for the Avalanche this year.

Edmonton Oilers

As mentioned above, the Oilers carry a 64-man roster, many are prospects and there are a couple of recognisable names, but nothing to frighten the rest of the Western Conference. Long time Oiler Ryan Smyth returns to Edmonton. His previous stint of 11-years was ended in 07 when he was traded to the Islanders. Veteran Defenceman Andy Sutton signed during the summer, along with Hordichuk (Panthers), Green (Ducks), Eager (Sharks), Bélanger (Coyotes), and younger players Cam Barker (Wild), and goalie prospect Danis (Devils). Despite the selection, they’re not a lot of strength in depth here, and although the first line might be pretty solid, it doesn’t look like there’s much else to back it up with.

KEY PLAYER: Nikolai Khabibulin – Although long-past his heyday as the Stanley Cup winning goalie for Tampa Bay, Khabibulin is still considered an strong netminder. At 38, it’s looking like his best days are behind him, but don’t let that fool you too much. Kabby can pull out a 37-save shutout with the best of them, when in the zone.

Minnesota Wild

A pretty solid summer for the Wild. They picked up some quality players, trading for Danny Heatley and Devin Setoguchi from the Sharks, as well as younger players Mike Lundin (Tampa Bay) and the impressive Darroll Powe from Philadelphia. Part of the off-season moves involved the trading away of the more offensive threat in the Wild’s arsenal. Havlat was swapped to the San Jose Sharks, so Heatley certainly has some pressure on him to deliver similar, if not better numbers.

KEY PLAYER: Danny Heatley – As the replacement for the main attacking threat, Heatley definitely needs to start putting up the goals. He’ll be slightly buoyed knowing he has Setoguchi with him, but no matter who is on the line with him, Heatley must start fast, and start scoring.

Vancouver Canucks

Not too much to shout about in Western Canada, but it must be said, that if your team gets you to the Stanley Cup Finals, then there’s not much that really needs tweaking. Incoming players are Marco Sturm (Capitals), Alex Sulzer (Panthers), Mancari (Sabres), Ebbett (Coyotes) and the wonderfully named Byron Bitz (Bruins).  The resilience of the Canucks last season was exceptional, as they overcame a catalogue of defensive injuries to win the Western Conference. More will be expected of Vancouver this year, as fans will hope they can go just one step further.

KEY PLAYER: Ryan KeslerKesler’s Selke trophy win was no fluke. In recent years his play has altered drastically from being a pest and agitator, to becoming a quality two-way forward. The Canucks have benefitted greatly from this change, giving the out-and-out goalscorers better positioning, as Kesler is often found digging the puck off the boards and covering responsible defence.

Anaheim Ducks

Despite Edmonton finishing bottom of the Western Conference, the Ducks saw fit to sign up 4 of their players from last season. Only Andrew Cogliano seems to be a good deal, as Deslauriers, Jacques, and Foster just don’t seem to have been able to cope with the NHL at Edmonton. Small numbers from Jacques and Foster won’t help the Anaheim cause, whilst goalie Deslauriers didn’t play in the NHL last year. The Lightning’s Matt Smaby was the final signing, and so there won’t be a huge deal of difference in the Ducks lineups this year.

KEY PLAYER: Teemu Selänne – The 41-year old just doesn’t stop. With a scoring record slightly better than a goal every other game, and a points total far in advance of his games played, it’s say to say that Anaheim would like to keep playing Selänne, as long as he can hold a stick. Many Ducks fans would like to see Teemu make the playoffs one last time.

Dallas Stars

Since most of the attention on the Stars revolves around off-the-ice changes, they could be forgiven for saying that distractions have meant a rather quiet summer except the UFA status of Brad Richards. However, in Jake Dowell, Dallas have signed one of the most promising forwards in his age range. A full season with the Blackhawks last year will have done him no harm, and the Stars can sit comfortably in the glow of a good move. Radek Dvořák joins from Atlanta as a veteran head, as do Fiddler (Coyotes) and Souray (Oilers). Other acquisitions look to be fair value, with Calgary defenceman Adam Pardy, Pittsburgh winger Eric Godard, and Bruins forward Michael Ryder all joining Dallas, despite their ownership turmoil.

KEY PLAYER: Jamie Benn – His first season in the NHL consisted of a full 81 games, and 41 points. Last season, Benn played 69 games, but racked up 56 points. Dallas really do have a impressive younger player in their lines, and the more ice-time they can give this young forward, the better.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have brought in a stack of prospect this year, including the fantastically names C.J. Stretch, and none other than Michael Schumacher. They’ve also brought in some pretty decent names. Mike Richards joined from the Flyers, having put up around 70pts for the last 4 seasons, whilst long-time Oiler Ethan Moreau joins the West coast, alongside Islanders winger Trent Hunter. Young centre Colin Fraser joins from Edmonton, but perhaps the most intriguing signing in LA, is that of Simon Gagne. He and Kopitar would make a frightening combo on a line together.

KEY PLAYER: Simon Gagne - At $7million over 2 years, the Kings are banking a fair amount on Gagne refinding his 70-80pt seasons of 05-07. However, it’s clear that Gagne is a hard-working and team-orientated player, making him worth taking a risk on. He’s certainly still much-loved in Philadelphia due to his efforts there.

Phoenix Coyotes

Despite rumblings of a franchise move, the Coyotes are still with us for the 11-12 season. However, their saving grace for much of the last two seasons has now departed. Bryzgalov’s move to Philadelphia has left Phoenix with a gaping hole to fill. Unfortunately, their replacements just don’t seem good enough. McElhinney and Mike Smith have come in, and joined LaBarbera as a three-way goalie setup. I just don’t see them being as strong as Bryzgalov was. Bolduc has joined from the Canucks, but to me will always be the guy who had his head nearly taken off by John Scott. Kyle Chipchura (Ducks), Boyd Gordon (Capitals), Langkow (Flames), O’Sullivan (Wild), Oystrick (Blues), Pouliot (Lightning) and Torres (Canucks) all seem to be either on their way out, or struggled to make the grade at other teams. I can’t see the Coyotes being a playoff team this year.

KEY PLAYER: Keith Yandle - Yandle has been a superb offensive player in his five seasons with Phoenix, scoring 32 goals with 112 assists in 283 games. At just 25, the blue-liner has managed to be rewarded with a massive 5-year contract extension, worth around $26million. Phoenix must see the potential franchise player here, as Shane Doan starts to wind down his career.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks obviously decided they needed some experience., as they signed 6 players this summer, 5 of which were over 30 years old. Some decent names are amongst them though, with Michal Handzuš joining from LA, Martin Havlát from Minnesota, and Colin White from New Jersey. Jim Vandermeer makes San Jose his 4th team in 4 seasons, and James Sheppard is hoping to fulfill a lot of the potential is touted to have, moving out West. San Jose should be there or thereabouts for the playoffs again this season.

KEY PLAYER: Patrick Marleau – Having played his entire career in San Jose, Marleau is part of the furniture. However, he has been able to rack up nearly a point-per-game for the last three seasons. With numbers like those, then he’s going to be an influential part of the Sharks season. However, with new linemate Havlat, Marleau will have to change his style to a little to adjust.

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One comment for “2011-2012 Season Preview Part 2”

  1. You forgot to mention the San Jose Sharks’ acquisition of Brent Burns. We’re all very excited to see just what this guy can bring!

    Posted by sharksfanNo Gravatar | September 20, 2011, 9:12 am

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