The offseason Blues continue! It’s about that time for Bleedin’ Blues’ list of Western Conference favorites.
The Los Angeles Kings
Hazah! Our first candidate for the winner of the Western Conference is none other than the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. For starters, the Kings locked up their stud goalie Jonathan Quick for 10 years. Quick was extremely stingy and was a huge part of the Kings great success on defense – they had the second best goals against average in the league at 2.1 goals against per game. Though the Kings have a fantastic defense, the Kings had the 29th overall offense at 2.3 goals a game. Even so, the Kings are headed by the absolute monster Center, Anze Kopitar. Kopitar tallied a whopping 76 points last season with 25 goals and 51 assists. Wingers Justin Williams and captain Dustin Brown are also forces to be reckoned with, and scored 59 and 54 points respectively. The Kings didn’t lose any key pieces, and in addition to signing Quick, they also signed playoff hero Dwight King to a two-year deal. With a whole lot of confidence, I expect the Kings to start off this season better and end up with an improved record from last year’s 40-27-15. Their brutally physical play is punishing for opponents. Should the Kings improve upon their scoring even slightly they should be able to handle most teams, and blow through their competition just as they blew through the playoffs last season. The Kings lost only four games in their insane playoff run as the 8th seed. Not to say that they weren’t taken seriously last year, but teams will be expecting more from the Kings this year. It will be interesting to see how Los Angeles handles the pressure as defending champs, with everyone giving them all they have.
Without seeing the “new and improved” Minnesota Wild play even a preseason game, is it too much to be naming them preseason favorites for the Western Conference? Probably. Regardless, the expectations for this team hardly need to be spoken of, and the Wild seem to be the Miami Heat of the NHL. That being said, expectations are not enough to win a cup, or even make the playoffs, a fact the Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” of last year knows all too well. However, the potential for greatness truly is present in Minnesota. The Wild were the apparent surprise of the NHL last season, and were the best team in the league with a 20-7-3 record by week 11. As the story goes, the Wild’s fall from grace began in week 12, and the Wild ended their season with a dismal 35-36-11 record. The Wild had middle of the pack goalkeeping and defense, but unfortunately had a horrible offense that averaged only 2 goals per game and was ranked 30th in the NHL. The Wild instantly got huge upgrades to both their offense and defense with their gargantuan signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Suter and Parise will join a decent enough core of Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, and Kyle Brodziak. I think that the presence of Suter and Parise will elevate the rest of the talent around them. This will be the key to the Wild’s season, though I believe that it is totally possible that they could miss the mark and not realize their potential for at least a season. Regardless, the Wild should be a top team this season, though it may be a bit of a stretch to label them Western Conference favorites this early. I do think that the Wild will need an upgrade at goaltender before they can truly realize their potential.
The Vancouver Canucks
Ah, the Vancouver Canucks. After the last few seasons it seems like the most common word associated with the Canucks is “disappointment.” The most recent image of the Canucks we have is a 4-1 loss in the first round of the playoffs courtesy of the eventual champion LA Kings. The Canucks are top of the class in nearly every category, and top of the class at most positions. Last year they ranked 5th in goals per game (2.9), 4th in goals against average (2.3), 4th in power play percentage (19.8%), and 6th in penalty kill percentage (86%). The Canucks will still have the extremely talented Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel combined for 148 points) and a great supporting cast of players like Alex Burrows, Ryan Kessler, and Alexander Edler. These are only a few names, as the Canucks go quite deep, with 13 players scoring over 20 points for the season. The Canucks still have Roberto Luongo for now, despite all sorts of rumors of him moving on to a new team this season (one rumored team is the Chicago Blackhawks-yikes!) Luongo was not too long ago considered the best goaltender in the league, though he has been a bit of a disappointment in Vancouver. Things still look promising in net for the Canucks, however, because backup Cory Schneider seems to have star potential. In 33 games last season, Schneider went 20-8-1, with a 1.96 goals against average. Not bad it all. Whether Luongo leaves or stays it seems the Canucks will be sound due to Schneider’s presence. Also, the 26 year old Schneider signed to a three-year extension this off-season. The Canucks are truly one of the scariest teams in the whole NHL…on paper at least. There’s no reason why the Canucks shouldn’t be considered an offseason Stanley Cup favorite, aside from the fact they they haven’t been able to pull it together in the past few years. Also, the Canucks would greatly benefit from the addition of some more physicality on offense. Though they have a surplus of skill, the LA Kings physical play brutalized the Canucks in the first round last season. I expect nothing less than a stellar regular season from the Canucks, but let’s see if they can can do it when it counts and come up with a Western Conference Championship.
Check out the Western Conference Dark Horses on Bleedin’Blue!
Who do YOU think the Western Conference favorites are?