Questions for the Western Conference.

With the NHL pre-season now well underway and the start of the 2011-12 season fast approaching, here’s a look at what I consider the main questions dogging each team in the Western Conference.

Anaheim Ducks: Will goalie Jonas Hiller overcome the vertigo symptoms which prematurely ended 2010-11 season? Can Cam Fowler overcome the dreaded “sophomore jinx”? Can Corey Perry repeat as the league’s leading scorer and MVP?

Calgary Flames: Will anyone sufficiently fill their first-line center role? Do they have enough confidence in backup Henrik Karlsson to avoid over-playing starter Miikka Kiprusoff? Who will step up to fill in for departed blueline stalwart Robyn Regehr?

Chicago Blackhawks: Will Ray Emery make it as the Blackhawks backup? Will they feel the absence of Brian Campbell? Have they added sufficient depth to regain their former position as Cup contenders?

Colorado Avalanche: Can Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere provide the Avs with solid goaltending? Are Jan Hejda, Ryan O’Byrne and Shane O’Brien enough to improve their blueline? Will Paul Stastny finally silence his critics?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Can goaltender Steve Mason finally regain his once-promising form? How well will Jeff Carter gel on the first line with Rick Nash? Can James Wisniewski fill the role of top puck-moving defenseman?

Dallas Stars: Will Jamie Benn be an adequate replacement for departed first line center Brad Richards? Can Loui Eriksson continue his high-scoring ways without Richards? Can Sheldon Souray regain his form with the Stars?

Detroit Red Wings: Can Johan Franzen stay healthy for the entire season? Does Nicklas Lidstrom have enough left in the tank for one more strong season? Can Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula finally play up to expectations?

Edmonton Oilers: Are Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk really capable of backstopping the Oilers to the playoffs? Can Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle avoid the sophomore jinx? Can Ryan Whitney and Shawn Horcoff stay reasonably healthy over the course of the season?

Los Angeles Kings: Will Drew Doughty’s contract holdout adversely affect his play when he returns? Will Jonathan Bernier challenge Jon Quick for the starting goalie job? Will Mike Richards and Simon Gagne improve the Kings offensive punch?

Minnesota Wild: Is Matt Cullen really the answer as their second line center? How much will they miss puck-moving defenseman Brent Burns? Can Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi sufficiently bolster their anaemic offensive game?

Nashville Predators: Could this be the final seasons for Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne in Nashville ? Can they get more offense out of their current corps of forwards? How will the team as a whole respond to heightened fan expectations?

Phoenix Coyotes: Will they finally find new ownership willing to keep the team in their current location? What will be the outcome of Kyle Turris’ holdout? If he returns, will he and fellow youngster Mikkel Boedker finally play up to expectations?

St. Louis Blues: Will last season’s late additions Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk become key factors throughout this season? Can this club avoid another rash of injuries which scuttled their post-season hopes last year? Are their young players finally poised to turn the Blues into a playoff contender?

San Jose Sharks: Will Brent Burns be a good addition to their defense corps? Can Martin Havlat stay healthy enough this season to make a difference with his new team? Can Logan Couture top his rookie performance of last season?

Vancouver Canucks: Can they avoid the dreaded “Stanley Cup Final hangover”? Do they have sufficent second line scoring depth? Are they capable of returning to the Final?

So, what do you think, folks? I’d be delighted to read your comments on these questions. Let me know what you think. On Sunday, I’ll have a look at what I consider the main questions dogging the Eastern Conference teams.

7 Comments

  1. My two cents on the Canadian teams:

    I think the Canucks’ second-line depth is good – filled with borderline second-line players. Kesler is the only sure bet. Sturm, Raymond, Samuelsson, Higgins, and Hansen can all fill the role. Unfortunately, they lack a go-to winger. While this shouldn’t be a problem for making the playoffs, I have my doubts they’ll make the finals again. They need another Ehrhoff-type player on D, but it’s not going to happen this season.

    As for Edmonton, look out for this team this year. Goaltending may be a bit of a question mark, and the defense corp has some slow spots, but looking up and down the forwards, there’s no reason the Oil shouldn’t make the playoffs this year. That being said, I’m guessing it to be an 8th place kind of thing. Now, when Nugent-Hopkins joins the rush next year, and Andy Sutton’s contract is up (and he is replaced by a better defenseman), look for them to be good contenders, especially if they manage to get a goalie upgrade.

    Calgary is, well, Calgary. It all depends on whether we see the good version of the team (from the second half of last season), or the miserable version of the team (from the first half of last season). I’m guessing we see the better version (especially if a healthy Morrison keeps up the good chemistry with Iginla), but who knows?

    All in all, we should see some better hockey from Canada’s western teams this year (and a little worse from the Canucks, but still as a playoff team). But that’s just me…

    • Fixed.

  2. I’ll chime in on the Preds burning questions.

    First, I’m of the opinion that the biggest factor in getting Weber signed long term is whether or not David Poile makes the necessary improvement(s) to the team to make them more than just a tough team to play against. Weber will get his money from either the Preds or someone else, it’s the ability to play for Stanley Cups that will likely be the deciding factor on whether he stays in Nashville or not. Rinne I think will be the easiest of the big 3 to re-sign. Suter won’t cost as much as Weber to re-sign, but again, it’s the ability to play for a perennial Cup contender that may well be the deciding factor for him as well. There will be no shortage of teams lining up to make offers to both Weber and Suter once they become UFA’s, that’s for sure.

    Second, they may be able to cobble together just enough offense to make the playoffs once again, but they clearly didn’t do anything that addressed what happened to them in the Canucks series. Their inability to even get the puck into the Canucks Dzone for more than a few seconds before it was taken away from them is why they were unable to score against the Nucks. They need a forward or two who has the ability to weave their way into the offensive zone and set things up. Nick Bergfors was a nice, cheap pickup, but he ain’t that guy.

    Thirdly, Trotz will make sure his team doesn’t falter under increased expectations, but he can only do so much with what he’s given to work with. The burden is with the front office as to whether they give Trotz the missing piece or two that he needs to get his team over the hump.

  3. Grizz,
    As a Preds fan, do you think there is any chance that Trotz leaves? If they don’t re-sign Weber they are pretty much throwing in the towel as far as being a serious contender. I don’t know anything about Trotz’s contract but as a professional you know he wants to win. I know he has a huge history with the team but if they aren’t going to give him a team that is capable of winning…

  4. I can’t see the Oilers being a playoff team yet. The pre-season that I saw showed that they are still a very young team and don’t have the maturity yet. I think Ryan Smyth will help enough to get them out ot dead last but not into the playoffs. Plus, their defence is questionable at best. I can see Tambellini picking up a solid “dressing room guy” to help them mature and I see them finishing 11th or 12th in the west.

    The Flames can pencil in Iginla for 40+ goals but who else? The game plan for playing against the Flames is the same as it has always been. Put your best shut-down line against Iginla and take your chances with the rest of their team. Until they get some secondary scoring then the Flames will not make the playoffs and I don’t see anyone on that team the is capable of putting in 35+ goals on the second line. They will battle for a playoff spot until the bitter end but won’t make it. 9th/10th in the west. Same team as last year = same result as last year.

    With the injuries and the hangover I can see the Canucks coming out to a REALLY slow start. I would not be suprised if they only win 4-5 games in October. By Xmas they will be .500 and will probably go on a tear in the new year. I can see less games played for most of the regulars as Gillis will not let anyone play through an injury. The Canucks were injured and burnt-out in the finals so look to see Gillis prevent that from happening again. They will win the division but not the conference.

  5. In the Western Conference, I think the Blues have alot more depth this year with Lagenbrenner, Arnott, Nichol and David Perron returning. The Blues should be a much improved team. The big question mark is Halak in goal after being very inconsistent last year.