New Year’s Outlook: Predicting the Western Conference

Updated: January 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm by Trevor Bosma

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks

After being forced to move a few key players in the off season the Hawks are still in the hunt for a top four spot in the West. Patrick Sharp leads this team in goals and points. Sharp has cooled off from his torrid place to start the season. Still he is a must play every night and with LW and C eligibility he is a great attribute to any fantasy team. Toews is right behind Sharp in team scoring and, like always, is a great two-way player. Look for Toews and Sharp to continue on this point-a-game pace for the remainder of the season. Kopecky has shown well when placed on one of the top two lines. He seemed to be building chemistry with Hossa before Hossa’s injury. Look for Hossa and Kane to pick up where they both left off before their injuries. Hossa came off the IR today and Kane took his place on IR but the Hawks have said Kane is skating and may play Tuesday. Look for the Hawks to be a top four team in the West once Kane and Hossa return, as this will be a huge boost to the team. On defense Keith is looking better after a slow start to the year. Look for Keith to be a major offensive contributor in the second half of the season, if he is available from another owner now would be the time to try and trade for him. In the net is a nice surprise for the Hawks. Everyone thought that Turco would be the number one netminder but he has lost that spot to Corey Crawford. Remind you of last year? Is Crawford the Niemi of 2010-2011? Crawford is very solid in goal and looks to hold his number one job as long as he can keep playing his game. He is also still available in a few leagues so snap him up if you can. Turco will need to turn his game around if he wants to even challenge for that number one job but it looks as though he has lost the confidence of the coaching staff. Chicago should finish as one of the top four teams in the Western Conference.

Columbus Blue Jackets

We all know that Columbus has needed a number one center to help out Rick Nash for the past few seasons. This year is no different. It started out nice with Brassard stepping up but the kid has fallen off the face of the earth. First 6 games and 1 point, the next 16 games he gets 16 points and the last 12 games he has produced 3 points. Look for Brassard to finish the season with 40-45 points but only if he plays with Nash. Umberger has also been inconsistent so far this year. He will finish with close to 50 points, his usual season output. Nash is the only real standout on this team. Like Eric Staal, of the Hurricanes, it would be scary if this guy actually had someone on his team who could set him up. Look for Nash to finish around his usual 70-75 points. In goal, the Jackets are much worse than they should be. Mason has been horrid all season long. I don’t understand this, Mason has so much potential. Garon looks to have the starting job now but this can change at any point during any game. My advice is to stay away from this teams goaltending duo. Look for Columbus to finish in the bottom four of the Western Conference.

Detroit Red Wings

Every single year this team sits near the top of the Conference standings. Losing Datsyuk is a big blow to this team but still they will produce and continue to sit in the top four of the West. Zetterberg has looked great all season and maybe it’s because he is back beside Datsyuk but even with Datsyuk out look for Zetterberg to continue to roll. Franzen is still a solid power forward and seems to have brushed away that injury bug that was stuck to him the past few seasons. Cleary and Bertuzzi have been nice surprises for the team. Neither player will score you 65-70 points this season but they are a solid pair of 50-55 point players who play hard night in and night out. Holmstrom has been a disappointment this year and looks to be struggling more and more each game. It’s a tough job taking all that abuse in front of the net every season. On the blue line Rafalski has been incredible and scoring at nearly a point-a-game pace (23 points in 25 games, all assists though). Lidstrom has also had another great season with 28 points in 35 games. Look for him to get close to 70 points for the first time since 07-08. Roll both Lidstrom and Raflaski with confidence. In goal, Jimmy Howard is having another solid season. It definitely helps to have one of the leagues best defensive teams in front of you. Howard is a must play every night he starts. Of course, the Wings will finish in the top four in the West but may will have a battle on their hands with the Blackhawks right behind them.

Nashville Predators

A team that really struggles to score, even more so than the Jackets. I think this team is filled with third liners just like the Leafs. Erat, Weber, Sullivan, Hornqvist and Kostitsyn have all been a huge disappointment for the Preds. Look for Weber to put up better numbers in the second half of the season compared to his disastrous first half. In net the Preds are pretty solid. Rinne has been a solid goalie in the NHL since he started his career in 08-09. Look for him to continue putting up solid stats, just not in the win column. Lindback played well in covering the crease for the Preds while Rinne was out but don’t think he is the number one. While Rinne is healthy he is the guy for the Preds.
Nashville will not make the playoffs but if they do sneak in it will be because of Weber and Rinne.

St.Louis Blues

Losing Andy McDonald was a huge blow to this team. But Steen has stepped up and looked great since the injury to McDonald. Steen is worth a look in deeper leagues. In all reality though, this team is young, if you’re in a keeper league then the Blues have a few players you need to keep a close eye on. Obviously, Oshie is a great young talent and will be a solid player for many years to come. At nearly a point a game before his injury, look for him to continue that for the remainder of his career. Backes, Perron and Berglund are three other solid young players that will be great players in the future, but not this year. Pietrangelo and Colaiacovo are two young but very solid future NHL defensemen. If Colaiacovo can get rid of his injury bug, that has affected him pretty much his entire career, he could be a solid 40-45 point defensemen. Lastly, what a great signing Halak was for this team. After a stellar playoff run last year Halak has barely skipped a beat. Look for this team to make a good run for the playoffs and if they do make it in it will be due to the play of Halak.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks

This is a team I thought for sure would be in the top eight in the West but has struggled mightily at times. With one of the top lines in the NHL, Getzlaf –Perry- Ryan, they have one of the most lethal power plays in the league. Perry leads this team with 41 points and is not only a goal scorer but also a huge asset in pims. Perry was ranked in the top 10 players in 09-10 and took a huge fall coming into this season. Perry is a must play each time he hits the ice and will be a huge reason why the Ducks WILL make the playoffs. Getzlaf is also a must play each night. Getz has been much more disciplined this season compared to past years (94, 121 and 79 in the past three seasons). Still he is on pace for a decent 66 pims this year. Getzlaf is a great leader and solid point producer and will be for many years to come. Ryan has been a ghost the past month. He has recently been called out by his coach and told to produce points. He will! The kid has scored 30+ goals in both of his first two seasons. This rocky month will be a thing of the past in the second half of the season. Look for Bobby Ryan to produce nearly 35 goals and 30 assists for a respectable 65 points at years end. If he is available by a desperate manager you need to make your move now before Ryan gets back on track. With the return of Selanne in the lineup this team will get on a roll and walk into the playoffs pretty comfortably, I hope. Selanne is a power play specialist but also has amazing speed to take on any defenseman in the league. Look for him to boost Koivu’s production as well. Selanne should finish off with nearly 65-70 points and Koivu about 45-50. On defense Visnovsky has been a huge surprise. The trade between the Oilers and Ducks last season at the deadline has seemed to work for both teams. Lubo has been a monster on the blue line for the Ducks. Lubo will finish the season with over 60 points for the first time since 05-06 when he played with the Kings. Fowler, like Ryan, Perry and Getz, should be on every keeper league owner’s wish list. This kid is special and will be an NHL all-star very soon. If you are in a keeper league and can some how get your hands on this kid do it! Finally, there is Hiller. This kid was on my wish list to start the year and in all my mock drafts I picked him up nice and late. Too bad no one in my league got that memo. Hiller was picked as one of the top eight goalies and my heart was broken. If you are one of the lucky ones to get him, good for you. On pace to play 70 games and posting a 2.65 GAA and .921 save percentage, he is a stud! Look for Hiller to get a break if the Ducks can get into a playoff spot and create some space between them and the playoff hopefuls. Anaheim WILL make the playoffs but as the 7th or 8th seed.

Dallas Stars

This team is practically the same as last year but upgraded in goal. So lets start there. Lehtonen has been everything the Stars could wish for. Posting 2.47 GAA and .920 save percentage he has been outstanding. Averaging 30.72 shots against a game this guy is one of my fantasy studs. Play Lehtonen with confidence and hope that his back problems are a thing of the past (he scared us all last month with back stiffness but looks good to roll again). Up front the Stars have some solid young players that keeper league owners should keep an eye on. Eriksson, Benn and Neal will all be solid point producers in this league for years to come. Eriksson plays on a line with Richards and both are a must start each night. Both are producing over a point per game and should continue to do so for the remainder of the year. Ribero and Neal, both at 29 points in 36 games, are solid players and should finish off the year with 60-65 points. On the blue line Robidas is still not showing the effects of his age. He is on pace for another solid year and another 40+ point season. His shots per game is way down from last year but look for that to pick it up in the second half of the season. Play him with confidence.

Los Angeles Kings

What a team! Young, fast, hard hitting and extremely talented. This team is a cup contender and should have every keeper league owner trying to obtain a few of these players. Kopitar leads the team with 38 points and is on pace to surpass his season high of 81 points which he produced last year. Look for Kopitar to continue his production and get close to 90 points this year. Dustin Brown is a player I have always looked at and said, “ How does this guy only produce about 50 points a year?” Brown is finally playing to his potential and should destroy his top point production of 60 points, which he got in 07-08. Look for Brown to produce even more points in the second half of the season and finish near 80 points at seasons end. Williams finally seems to have kicked his injury bug, which has followed him around for the past 3 seasons. Williams is a very talented player and should continue to produce close to a point per game for the remainder of the year. Sturm who was recently acquired from the cap stricken Bruins has found himself along side Kopitar and Brown. This is a huge boost not only to Sturm but to the Kings. Sturm has proven that he can produce and with Kopitar and Brown getting a bit of extra talent on their line, each player will surpass expectations. On the blue line Jack Johnson leads the way with 24 points in 35 games and is making a push as the Kings best defenseman. He is in tough with Doughty though. Both of these defenders should be played with extreme confidence and if you’re a keeper league owner of one or both of these two players, congrats! In goal the Kings have a great young goalie and an up-and-comer. Quick is the goalie that will take this team to a long playoff run but could Bernier steal that spot in a year or two? Either way in a couple years the Kings will not be able to afford both. Still this article is about this season and Mr.Quick is one of this season’s best goalies and should never be sat if he is in goal. The Kings are a team, I believe, can win the cup and will finish as one of the top four teams in the West.

Phoenix Coyotes

As one of last years best teams, 107 points for third best in the West and fourth place, this team is no where near what they were . The main reason being, they cannot score. With their top scorer, Hanzal, only having nine goals they need to find some production if they want any chance of making a playoff run. Keith Yandle is really the only bright spot offensively for this Coyotes team. Yandle should be played with confidence but all other Coyotes players are a risky play. Bryzgalov is also a solid start but don’t expect a ton of wins unless this team can get its forwards scoring. I do not see Phoenix making the playoffs but we all know anything can happen, I just wouldn’t count on it.

San Jose Sharks

Joe who? Thorton or Pavelski? Lets start with Big Joe. These were his points the last 5 seasons – 125, 114, 96, 86 and 89. This year he is on pace for 76. WHY? I, personally, thought the arrival of Heatley would spark Big Joe and he would be right back on track for another 100+ points season. WRONG! Again, this year, I thought, he would turn it around and put up some huge points, well I sure am glad I picked Kane and Datsyuk over Big Joe. I still think he will turn it around (funny he has 32 points in 34 games yet he is a disappointment) before seasons end. I really hope he can put up around 80+ points and I think he will. Look for Big Joe to put up closer to 90 points by season’s end, just a guess of course. Now for Lil Joe. A great young talent who would have finished with nearly 65 points last year, if he would have been healthy, was thought to be a for sure 70 point player this season. He is on pace for 61 points but this is another disappointing year for him. Last year was disappointing because of his injury at the season’s start. This year it looks as though he just has other things on his mind, maybe it’s the birth of his new born baby? I don’t know but Lil Joe does one thing consistently, game in and game out, he shoots! On pace for a career high 309 shots this season Lil Joe is a must play. He will put up more than his projected 61 points. When you put nearly four shots on goal a game you should post close to one goal a game and I think the second half of the season Lil Joe will post an average close to a goal per game. With only nine goals in the first part of the year, look for Lil Joe to post 30-35 in the last 46 games this year. When Heatley got signed, like I said earlier, I thought for sure he would be playing with Thorton. I predicted big things. I picked Heatley third overall last year, over Crosby. This season he went second round and has not played very well. There have been flashes of brilliance in his game but Heater is better than this. 32 points in 36 games is not to Heater potential, look for him to put up nearly 60 points in the last 46 games. Clowe has been a bright spot for this team and a great surprise for fantasy owners who got him late in the draft, I got him in the third to last round. With 31 points in 36 games it’s hard to picture Clowe continuing this torrid pace (for a third liner that is). Clowe will NOT continue to score at this pace and if you have him you should sell high cause someone will bite, trust me! Marleau has struggled so far this season as well as the other top skilled players on this team. With a career high 44 goals last year he is on pace for only 29 this season. He will not get only 29 goals. Like the other top players on this team he will turn it around and pick it up in the last 46 games. Look for Marleau to post around 35 goals at seasons end and nearly 75 points. Lastly, on offense is Couture. Making a strong bid for rookie of the year, Couture has been on fire. At times even playing first line minutes with Heatley and Thorton. Couture is on pace for 56 points at seasons end and the way this kid is playing I don’t see why he would not get 56 points. In the back Boyle is as solid as ever. With 55+ point seasons in the last two years Boyle will pass 55 points again this year. Boyle is a must play every night the Sharks are on the ice. In goal it’s a toss up. Niemi and Niittymaki have both been pretty equal. Niemi was brought in to be the number one guy but has not lived up to his playoff run of last year. Nitty has actually been the better goalie but yet the Sharks continue to rotate keepers. My personal opinion is to stay away from either goalie as it doesn’t look like the sharks plan on playing one guy over the other. The Sharks will need to pick a starter going into the playoffs and yes, they will make the playoffs I’m just not sure which spot they will be in. Every team in this division has a shot at finishing as the top team in the Pacific but who it will be is anyone’s guess. My guess is the Sharks will finish close with Dallas and LA but who will not finish as the number one seed from the Pacific. I think LA will top this division with Dallas as number two, San Jose as three, Anaheim at four and Phoenix at five.

Northwest Division

Calgary Flames

Probably the second biggest disappointment of the season, only behind New Jersey. The Flames have only 1.7 million dollars of cap space and on paper a very impressive roster. Yet the Flames are only six points out of last place in the West and the Oilers have two games in hand. The Flames have been better as of late and that is mainly due to Kipper. Miikka Kiprusoff has been solid for quite a few seasons now and this season shouldn’t change. Kipper is a solid start every night but don’t count on a ton of wins this year. Iginla leads the way with 35 points in 38 games. After an absolutely terrible start, Iggy has turned it around and is playing very well. Behind him is Tanguay with 30 points. He has been Calgary’s most solid forward all season, along side Iginla. Tanguay is on pace for 64 points this year, this would be his largest output since he put up 58 points in 07-08. I don’t see Tanguay putting up more than 60 but anything can happen. For now he should be a solid start most nights. For keeper leagues Rene Bourque is a great, young player with a very bright future. On pace for 58 points this season Bourque should surpass that. If Bourque is available in deep leagues he is a solid pickup and in keeper leagues he is a must! On defense this team is a big disappointment. Calgary has invested over 17 million into their back end and their best offensive d-man is on pace for 40 points. That’s just not good enough. Other than Giordano, stay far away from this blueline. Calgary will not make the playoffs and is in big trouble with the future of this team. Time for a rebuild!

Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have a bright future. With stars like Statsny, Hejduk, Anderson and future stars like Liles, Duchene, Stewart, Jones and Shattenkirk this team has a great shot at a cup run. Anderson has not played as well as his previous seasons but we all know what this guy can do. Look for his numbers to improve throughout the second half of the year. Anderson may even be available in your league from an owner who is not impressed with Anderson right now. He is worth taking a shot at obtaining. Statsny and Duchene lead this team with nearly a point per game. Ride them with confidence. Hejduk is putting up more than a point per game right now and looks to continue that pace. Look for Hejduk to hit the 70 point mark this year and for the first time since 06-07. When Stewart is healthy look for him to join Hejduk in the point per game performances. Stewart is a solid player and will be a starter in the NHL for many years to come. After last years ripping of Liles by the head coach it looks as though Liles found the coaches confidence this year. On pace to shatter his career highs, Liles is a must play every night the Avs hit the ice. Shattenkirk started off his NHL career with a bang but has since slowed down. He is young, fast and very talented. Look for him to put up decent numbers for the remainder of the year and next season be even better. Colorado is a solid team and could be a surprise for any team they meet in the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers

As one of the youngest teams in the league with a ton of young talent the Oilers have a bright future. But this season is going to hurt. Lets call them growing pains for now. Still the Oilers have some very solid fantasy players. Hemsky has always shown he is close to a point-per-game player and this year he should exceed that. On pace for 63 points in 69 games, look for Hemmer to exceed that. He is a solid play every night. Penner leads the forwards in points but is not firing like he was last season. Look for Penner to shoot just shy of his 63 points last year. Gagner, Eberle and Hall all sit just behind Penner and with this newly formed line clicking they are the Oilers number one unit. Hall and Eberle are going to be stars in the league and they may have just rejuvenated Gagner. Gagner has a ton of potential but has always waited until the last 20 games of the season to show it. Look for Gagner to surpass all his career highs this year. Whitney has been a great acquisition and is leading the team in points. With Whitney out, the Oilers will struggle moving the puck up the ice. The Bulin Wall has at times been spectacular but at others he has been horrid. The Oilers goalies are a risky play every night until this team develops. Stay away from the Oiler goalies for the remainder of this season. Oilers will not make a run for the playoffs and may finish with another top five pick at seasons end.

Minnesota Wild

Havlat leads the Wild in points and after a disappointing season last year. He may hit 70 points for the first time since leaving the hawks. Look for Havlat to cool down a bit but get close to the 70 point mark. Koivu is second in scoring and is the Wild’s best player. Following his best season yet he has a lot of expectations to fulfill. Look for Koivu to hit over 70 points for the second straight year. On the back end Burns is on fire. He finally seems to be over his last two years of injuries and is a great value on any fantasy team. If Burns is available he is definitely worth a look. In the net Backstrom has had his ups and his downs. In 08-09 Backstrom was one of the top goalies in the league. He has the potential to be a top goaltender in this league but he has struggled this year. Look for Backstrom to improve his play over the second half of the season. The Wild will not make the playoffs but with a few more healthy seasons and some young players developing they could be a tough teams in the next few years.

Vancouver Canucks

Last team on the list and one of the best in the West, the Canucks are a serious cup contender. With Luongo in goal, Edler, Erhoff and Bieksa on the back end and the Sedin twins, Kesler, Samuelsson, Burrows and Raymond up front this is a solid roster. Everyone listed above is a solid start. The Canucks are a team that will be trouble for anyone in their path to the cup but if they meet up with the Hawks (we all know how that turned out the past two seasons) they may be out quicker than we all think. I see the Canucks being one of the top three teams in the West and they should make a solid run in the playoffs.

Good luck all and Happy New Year.

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