Western Conference preview capsules

 

Just how much can the 34-year-old Bertuzzi add to the Red Wings’ offence?

 
 
 
 
 

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CENTRAL DIVISION

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 51-21-10 - 112 points, second in Western Conference, lost to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup final.

Behind the bench: Mike Babcock, fifth year.

Additions: LW Todd Bertuzzi, LW Kris Newbury, LW Jeremy Williams, RW Patrick Eaves, C Jason Williams, D Doug Janik.

Subtractions: RW Marian Hossa, RW Mikael Samuelsson, RW Tomas Kopecky, LW Jiri Hudler, D Chris Chelios, G Ty Conklin.

Newcomer to watch: Just how much can the 34-year-old Bertuzzi add to the Red Wings’ offence? In 66 games a year ago with the Calgary Flames, he contributed 15 goals and 29 assists. Can he return to the form he demonstrated as a high-scoring Vancouver Canucks power forward in the first half of the decade?

Between the pipes: Chris Osgood split time with Ty Conklin last year, but the latter shipped off to St. Louis as a free agent in the off-season. Jimmy Howard is expected to assume the role as backup.

Fantasy studs: So much talent to choose from. Take your pick between left-winger Pavel Datsyuk or centre Henrik Zetterberg up front or Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on defence.

Bet you didn’t know: Despite its recent star-studded cast, Gordie Howe still holds the team record for points in a season by a right-winger. Howe, who finally hung up the blades at age 52 in 1980, scored 44 goals and added 59 assists for 103 points during the 1968-69 season.

Outlook: The Red Wings appeared poised to take another run at the Stanley Cup.

— Barry Horeczy, Canwest News Service

Chicago Blackhawks

Last season: 46-24-12 - 104 points, fourth in conference, lost to Detroit in Western Conference final.

Behind the bench: Joel Quenneville, second year.

Additions: RW Marian Hossa, C John Madden, RW Tomas Kopecky, D Richard Petiot.

Subtractions: RW Martin Havlat, C Samuel Pahlsson, G Nikolai Khabibulin, D Matt Walker.

Newcomer to watch: Hossa, a 40-goal scorer a year ago, was signed to a 12-year contract on July 1, largely because the Blackhawks were concerned about departed forward Martin Havlat’s durability. Ironically, Hossa had shoulder surgery and is out until late November/early December.

Between the pipes: With Khabibulin now plying is trade in Edmonton, Cristobal Huet knows the No. 1 job is finally his. Corey Crawford is expected to become a full-time backup, with Antti Niemi lurking in the wings.

Fantasy studs: Talented youngsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are expected to pace the offence again this year. Throw in Patrick Sharp, who has become a sniper since donning Blackhawk red.

Bet you didn’t know: The Chicago Blackhawks, who have just one Stanley Cup victory in the past 71 years — 1961 — were champions twice within a dozen years of joining the NHL in 1926-27. The Hawks’ first two titles came in 1934 and ’38.

Outlook: It’s looking like now-or-never time for the Blackhawks, who went as far as the conference final a year ago. A year from now, general manager Stan Bowman will be pulling his hair out trying to figure out how to re-sign the likes of Toews, Kane and defenceman Duncan Keith.

— Barry Horeczy, Canwest News Service

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 41-31-10 - 92 points, sixth in conference, lost to Vancouver in Western Conference quarter-finals.

Behind the bench: Andy Murray, fourth year.

Additions: D Brendan Bell, G Ty Conklin.

Subtractions: G Manny Legace, RW Dan Hinote, D Jay McKee.

Newcomer to watch: The Blues can only hope goalie Conklin brings the Detroit Red Wings’ winning ways with him.

Between the pipes: Chris Mason took over as No. 1 goalie last season, with Legace heading off to Atlanta in order to find work. Conklin moves in as a reliable backup.

Fantasy studs: Brad Boyes, who had 39 goals and 33 assists a year ago, looks to be the only sure thing. Paul Kariya, who turns 35 on Oct. 16, played in only 11 games a year ago before undergoing hip surgery. He’s a question mark. David Backes did have 31 goals, though.

Bet you didn’t know: In each of the three seasons upon entering the NHL as an expansion team in 1967-68, the Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup final, but were unceremoniously dumped four straight — twice by the Montreal Canadiens and once by the Boston Bruins.

Outlook: The Blues caught fire in the last half of the season a year ago to earn a playoff berth. They’ll likely be on the playoff bubble again this year.

— Barry Horeczy, Canwest News Service

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 41-31-10 - 92 points, seventh in conference, lost to Detroit in Western Conference quarter-finals.

Behind the bench: Ken Hitchcock, fourth year.

Additions: C Sami Pahlsson, G Mathieu Garon, D Anton Stralman.

Subtractions: D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, D Christian Backman, C Jiri Novotny, C Michael Peca, C Manny Malhotra, RW Jason Williams, G Wade Dubielewicz.

Newcomer to watch: Rookie left-winger Nikita Filatov scored four goals in eight games a year ago — including a hat trick in his sixth game. Can his six-foot, 172-pound frame stand up to an entire NHL season?

Between the pipes: Calder Trophy-winner Steve Mason will have veteran Mathieu Garon as a capable backup this season.

Fantasy studs: Rick Nash (40 goals and 39 assists last season) and linemates Kristian Huselius and Derick Brassard.

Bet you didn’t know: Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson is a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Outlook: The play of Mason and Nash helps make a playoff recurrence likely.

— Barry Horeczy, Canwest News Service

Nashville Predators

Last season: 40-34-8 - 88 points, 10th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Barry Trotz, 12th year.

Additions: C Marcel Goc, RW Ben Guite, RW Peter Olvecky.

Subtractions: C Radek Bonk, C Vern Fiddler, C Scott Nichol, D Greg de Vries, D Ville Koistinen, D Greg Zanon.

Newcomer to watch: Defenceman Alexander Sulzer, a native of Kaufbeuren, Germany, might get a decent shot at making the big squad thanks to the departures of de Vries, Koistinen and Zanon.

Between the pipes: Pekka Rinne will attempt to hold onto the No. 1 job he wrested from Dan Ellis a year ago.

Fantasy studs: Defenceman Shea Weber was the third-highest Preds’ scorer with 53 points, which included 10 power-play goals. Soon-to-be 35-year-old Jason Arnott led the way last year. Steve Sullivan, when healthy, can put up impressive numbers and joins J.P. Dumont and Arnott on the No. 1 line.

Bet you didn’t know: Nashville, which entered the NHL in time for the 1998-99 season, still has its original coach and general manager — Barry Trotz and David Poile.

Outlook: Nashville lost out to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the sweepstakes for sniper Phil Kessel. Too bad. The added offence might have put them in the hunt for a playoff spot.

— Barry Horeczy, Canwest News Service

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 45-27-10 - 100 points, third in conference, lost 4-2 to Chicago in Western Conference semifinals.

Behind the bench: Alain Vigneault, fourth year.

Additions: RW Mikael Samuelsson, RW Tanner Glass, RW Sergei Shirokov, G Andrew Raycroft, D Aaron Rome, D Mathieu Schneider, D Mike Funk, D Christian Ehrhoff, D Brad Lukowich.

Subtractions: D Mattias Ohlund, D Rob Davison, D Ossi Vaananen, G Jason LaBarbera, LW Taylor Pyatt, C Mats Sundin.

Newcomer to watch: A late bloomer, Samuelsson excelled the past four seasons in Detroit. But the Swedish winger will be expected to contribute more than the 19 goals and 21 assists he had last season.

Between the pipes: With Roberto Luongo in net, the Canucks are the team to beat in the division. But should the captain get injured and the duties fall to either Andrew Raycroft or Cory Schneider, all bets are off.

Fantasy studs: If you’re lucky enough to pick at the beginning or end of a round and have two picks in succession in your draft, why not nab both Sedin twins. Winger Alex Burrows had a breakout year, but can he repeat?

Bet you didn’t know: The Canucks first-ever draft pick was Dale Tallon, now an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Outlook: The Canucks won the Northwest Division last season and are favoured to do so again this time around. The real challenge will come in the spring when they try to get out of the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1994.

— Peter James, Canwest News Service

Calgary Flames

Last season: 46-30-6 - 98 points, fifth in conference, lost 4-2 to Chicago in Western Conference quarter-finals.

Behind the bench: Brent Sutter, first year.

Additions: D Jay Bouwmeester, D Staffan Kronwall, LW Nigel Dawes, RW Brian McGrattan, RW Fredrik Sjostrom, RW Brandon Prust.

Subtractions: LW Mike Cammalleri, LW Todd Bertuzzi, LW Andre Roy, C Wayne Primeau, D Rhett Warrener, D Jordan Leopold, D Jim Vandermeer.

Newcomer to watch: Landing Bouwmeester on the eve of free agency and then getting him to sign on the dotted line was a coup for general manager Darryl Sutter, but will the big blue-liner be able to cope with the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad market?

Between the pipes: Miikka Kiprusoff’s numbers have been on a steady decline since he backstopped the Flames to the Stanley Cup final in 2003-04. If the trend doesn’t reverse itself, the Flames won’t get another sniff at a championship any time soon.

Fantasy studs: Jarome Iginla, Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf are obvious selections, but if Rene Bourque can find the form he had before injuring his ankle last season, he can be a valuable mid- or late-round fantasy selection.

Bet you didn’t know: The Flames now have five members of the Sutter family in their employ. General manager Darryl, head coach Brent, director of player personnel Duane, scout Ron and player Brett.

Outlook: Since the lockout, the Flames have made the playoffs every season, but exited in the first round each time. New head coach Brent Sutter is being counted on to get them to the next level in the post-season.

— Peter James, Canwest News Service

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 40-33-9 - 89 points, ninth in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Todd Richards, first year.

Additions: RW Martin Havlat, RW Petr Sykora, C Kyle Brodziak, D Greg Zanon, D Shane Hnidy, D Jaime Sifers.

Subtractions: RW Marian Gaborik, LW Stephane Veilleux, LW Peter Olvecky, C Dan Fritsche, C Krys Kolanos, D Martin Skoula, D Marc-Andre Bergeron, D Kurtis Foster.

Newcomer to watch: The Wild let one injury-prone right-winger walk when Marian Gaborik signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, but they replaced him with another winger with injury problems, plucking Martin Havlat from the free-agent pool. Historically, the Wild isn’t known as a goal-scoring team, so Havlat will be expected to replicate the 29 goals and 48 assists he had in Chicago last season.

Between the pipes: The Wild always seems to have an embarrassment of riches in net and this year is no different. Niklas Backstrom is the clear No. 1, but Josh Harding will challenge for more playing time.

Fantasy studs: If you can trust he’ll stay healthy, Havlat is a solid pick in any pool. But there are a few hidden gems on the Wild roster including centre James Sheppard and defenceman Marek Zidlicky.

Bet you didn’t know: New bench boss Todd Richards is only the second head coach in franchise history, after taking over from Jacques Lemaire.

Outlook: The Wild was a bubble team last year in the Western Conference playoff race and figures to be one again this season.

— Peter James, Canwest News Service

Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 38-35-9 - 85 points, 11th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Pat Quinn, first year.

Additions: G Nikolai Khabibulin, C Mike Comrie.

Subtractions: G Dwayne Roloson, LW Ales Kotalik.

Newcomer to watch: The Edmonton Oilers did not want to give aging goaltender Dwayne Roloson a multi-year contract (he ended up inking a two-year pack with the New York Islanders), instead they brought in aging goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on a four-year deal.

Between the pipes: The pressure is on Khabibulin who is known to preform well in contract years, but has had sub-par seasons in between. Without an experienced backup behind him, Khabibulin will get plenty of chances to shake that reputation.

Fantasy studs: The consummate playmaker, Ales Hemsky always seems to make his linemates better. The problem for poolies is the Oilers have yet to decide who will play on the wing along with Hemsky and centre Shawn Horcoff.

Bet you didn’t know: The Oilers also own the Edmonton Capitals, a baseball team in the independent Golden Baseball League.

Outlook: The Oilers have not made the playoffs since their run to the Stanley Cup final in 2005-06. They will be hard pressed to break that streak this season.

— Peter James, Canwest News Service

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 32-45-5 - 69 points, 15th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Joe Sacco, first year.

Additions: LW David Koci, C Matt Duchene, D Kyle Quincey, D Tom Preissing, G Craig Anderson.

Subtractions: C Joe Sakic, LW Ryan Smyth, D Brian Fahey, G Andrew Raycroft.

Newcomer to watch: Sacco was a surprise hire by first-year general manager Greg Sherman. The new head coach has no experience as a bench boss at the NHL level and spent just two years as the head man in Lowell of the American Hockey League.

Between the pipes: Craig Anderson showed signs of competence as the backup to Tomas Vokoun in Florida last season. Now he’ll get the chance to prove if he’s starter material.

Fantasy studs: Alternate captains Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny are the best bets, but both suffered down years last season. Winger Wojtek Wolski is a solid late-round pickup.

Bet you didn’t know: Games at the Pepsi Center used to be one of the hardest tickets to get in hockey, now the Avalanche are offering $20 US tickets to help fill the joint.

Outlook: The Avalanche is in full-on rebuilding mode. Another high draft pick is more important to the franchise than a playoff berth this season.

— Peter James, Canwest News Service

PACIFIC DIVISION

San Jose Sharks

Last season: 53-18-11 - 117 points, first in conference, lost in Western Conference quarter-finals to Anaheim.

Behind the bench: Todd McLellan, second year.

Additions: LW, Dany Heatley, C Dwight Helminen, C Scott Nichol, RW Jed Ortmeyer, D Daniel Rahimi, C Patrick White.

Subtractions: LW Milan Michalek, RW Jonathan Cheechoo, LW Travis Moen, G Brian Boucher, RW Mike Grier, D Kyle McLaren, D Christian Ehrhoff, D Brad Lukowich, C Jeremy Roenick, C Marcel Goc, D Alexei Semenov, C Tomas Plihal, LW Claude Lemieux, D Christian Ehrhoff; D Brad Lukowich.

Newcomer to watch: All eyes this season will be on sniper Dany Heatley. The veteran forward could easily win over Sharks fans if he can continue to put the puck in the net.

Between the pipes: The Sharks will only go as far as Evgeni Nabokov will take them. He won 40 games for the second straight season last year, but his goals-against average climbed from 2.14 in 2007-08 to 2.44 last campaign. With youngster Thomas Greiss pencilled in as a backup, there could be trouble if Nabokov gets injured.

Fantasy studs: The playoffs don’t count, so Joe Thornton will always be worth 80 to 90 points. And of course, Heatley will see plenty of power-play time and will be the benefactor of some great Thornton passes.

Bet you didn’t know: Carolina winger Ray Whitney is the only player still playing in the NHL that suited up with the Sharks during their inaugural 1991-92 season.

Outlook: Sharks general manager Doug Wilson promised change, but the only substantial impact player brought in was Heatley. The Sharks are considered early season favourites to take top spot in the Western Conference.

— Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 42-33-7 - 91 points, eighth in conference, lost to Detroit in Western Conference semifinal.

Behind the bench: Randy Carlyle, fifth year.

Additions: C Saku Koivu, LW Joffrey Lupul, RW Evgeny Artyukin, D Nick Boynton, D Luca Sbisa, D Steve Eminger.

Subtractions: D Chris Pronger, D Brett Hedican, D Francois Beauchemin, RW Rob Niedermayer.

Newcomer to watch: Koivu will centre the second line and be reunited with Teemu Selanne. The pair topped the scoring parade at the 2006 Olympic Games, with 11 points each. Koivu hopes to rekindle the same magic.

Between the pipes: Jean-Sebastien Giguere wants, and needs, to put last season’s disappointment behind him. Backup Jonas Hiller was solid in the playoffs and both are vying for the starting role. Giguere’s contract (two years left at $6 million per season) could give him the edge.

Fantasy studs: The Ducks have a first line of young talented players who can put up big numbers in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Getzlaf, one of the game’s best power forwards, has improved his point total each of his three seasons.

Bet you didn’t know: Giguere has appeared three times on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show. Wayne Gretzky is the only other NHLer to have at least two sit-down chats with Leno.

Outlook: The Ducks appear headed for the post-season again. Carlyle’s top two lines are as good as anyone’s in the league, but will need the goaltending to be superb if they hope to stay in the hunt.

— Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Dallas Stars

Last season: 36-35-11 - 83 points, 12th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Marc Crawford, first season.

Additions: G Alex Auld, D Karlis Skrastins, D Jeff Woywitka, C Warren Peters.

Subtractions: D Sergei Zubov, D Darryl Sydor, C Brendan Morrison, C Joel Lundqvist, C Steve Begin, RW Chris Conner, G Tobias Stephan, RW Mark Parrish, RW Landon Wilson.

Newcomer to watch: Crawford provides a fiery voice behind the Dallas bench, which is the opposite of Dave Tippett’s more subtle approach.

Between the pipes: Veteran Marty Turco’s 2.81 goals-against average last season was the worst of his career. Newly acquired backup Alex Auld will only see spot duty.

Fantasy studs: Brad Richards is nearly a point-a-game player, but was limited to just 56 games last season. If he stays healthy, he should be among the top Stars’ scorers. Brenden Morrow was limited to 18 games last season, but should be good for 20 to 25 goals this season.

Bet you didn’t know: Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk holds the Calgary Flames record for most goals in a game, with five.

Outlook: The Stars will once again be on the bubble of making the playoffs. Nieuwendyk is trying to change the culture in Dallas, but the team may still be in the market for a puck-moving defenceman to replace the departed Sergei Zubov.

— Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Phoenix Coyotes

Last season: 36-39-7 - 79 points, 13th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Dave Tippett, first year.

Additions: C Vernon Fiddler, RW Radim Vrbata, LW Lauri Korpikoski, LW Taylor Pyatt, D Jim Vandermeer, D Adrian Aucoin, F Robert Lang

Subtractions: C Steven Reinprecht, LW Todd Fedoruk, D Ken Klee, RW Brandon Prust, LW Joakim Lindstrom, D Dimitri Kalinin, RW Enver Lisin, LW Nigel Dawes, D David Hale, RW Brian McGrattan.

Newcomer to watch: Vrbata returns after playing last season in Tampa and the Czech Republic. His 2007-08 stint in the desert produced solid numbers, with 27 goals and 29 assists.

Between the pipes: Ilya Bryzgalov struggled at times last season in his first full year with the Coyotes. He’ll be looking to improve on his 26-31-9 record and 2.98 goals-against average. Free-agent signing Jason LaBarbera will be sitting in the backup role.

Fantasy studs: Shane Doan may be getting older, but he remains consistent in averaging around the 70-point mark. Scott Upshall, a consistent scorer in junior, scored eight goals in 19 games with Phoenix after coming over in a trade with Philadelphia. He’s expected to see plenty of ice time on the top line and on the power play.

Bet you didn’t know: Ed Jovanovski’s father, Kostadin, played professional soccer in the former Yugoslavia.

Outlook: In what could be a lame-duck season in Phoenix, the Coyotes are expected to miss out on the post-season dance, and could be fighting for last place overall.

— Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 34-37-11 - 79 points, 14th in Western Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Terry Murray, second year.

Additions: LW Ryan Smyth, D Rob Scuderi.

Subtractions: D Kyle Quincey, D Tom Preissing, LW Kyle Calder.

Newcomer to watch: With so few off-season additions, this one is easy — Smyth. While he isn’t the same Smyth he was in Edmonton, he provides some depth and potential scoring for the Kings.

Between the pipes: Jonathan Quick had a solid rookie campaign in 2008-09 with a 21-18-2 record. He’ll need to keep improving, otherwise he’ll be pushed by third-year player Erik Ersberg.

Fantasy studs: Anze Kopitar scored 27 goals last season and the Kings would like to see more. Alexander Frolov may improve on last year’s 32 goals if for no other reason than he’s in the final year of his contract. Drew Doughty, on the blue-line, is worth a look.

Bet you didn’t know: Jarret Stoll wears No. 28 because his grandfather selected it. Stoll was born in 1982, while his grandfather was born in 1928.

Outlook: The Kings are continuing to build on their youth and seem more than willing to put up with some short-term pain for some long-term gain. In this case, landing a playoff spot is unlikely.

— Dale Oviatt, Canwest News Service
 
 
 
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