NHL capsules: Western conference

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:43 PM ET

NORTHWEST DIVISION

CALGARY FLAMES

SAY HELLO TO

RW Lee Stempniak

D Chris Butler

D Scott Hannan

LW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

C Paul Byron

SAY GOODBYE TO

D Robyn Regehr

D Adam Pardy

LW Fredrik Modin

RW Ales Kotalik

C Daymond Langkow

ON THE MEND

RW Jarome Iginla (back) missed a big chunk of training camp.

C Brendan Morrison (knee) is pushing to be back in time for the season, but it’s doubtful he will.

D Cory Sarich (pelvis) should be OK to go from the start.

D Brett Carson (back) is day-to-day.

LW Raitis Ivanans (concussion) missed all of last season except for the opening game but is back practising.

INSIDER SAYS

After two consecutive seasons without playoff action, the Flames are at a tipping point. An aging core of players may be facing a heavy turnover if that trend continues. The Flames will have plenty of salary cap space after this season.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Miikka Kiprusoff

It’s expected the star netminder finally will get a reduced workload this season, however, the plan will work only if he wins more games. Kiprusoff’s goals-against average and save percentage were higher than his usual standards last season.

2010-11 RECORD: 41-29-12 Finished 10th in the conference, 2nd in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Alex Tanguay

Olli Jokinen

Rene Bourque

BURNING QUESTION

Can the Flames replicate their end-of-season run (27-11-9) for a full season, or was that just a tease to another disappointing campaign?

SOFT SPOT

By trading Robyn Regehr, there is now a big hole on the blue line. Regehr is a true shutdown defenceman who played big minutes and was critical to the penalty killing. Somebody must step up.

CAP ROOM

$3.6 million

*******

COLORADO AVALANCHE

SAY HELLO TO

G Semyon Varlamov

G Jean-Sebastien Giguere

D Jan Hejda

D Shane O’Brien

D Stefan Elliott

LW Gabriel Landeskog

RW Chuck Kobasew

LW Joakim Lindstrom

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Brian Elliott

G Peter Budaj

D John-Michael Liles

D Adam Foote

LW Tomas Fleischmann

C Philippe Dupuis

RW David Koci

ON THE MEND

D Jan Hejda (knee) is out until the end of October.

RW Brandon Yip (broken arm) is out indefinitely.

INSIDER SAYS

The sophomore jinx hit Matt Duchene, T.J. Galiardi and Ryan O’Reilly, and the goaltending wasn’t the same from the 2009-10 season which saw the Avs surprise all. This young team could be ready for a step forward.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Semyon Varlamov

Avalanche GM Greg Sherman paid a big price to the Washington Capitals for Varlamov, the first-rounder whose status kept falling as last season progressed-a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder.

2010-11 RECORD: 30-44-8 Finished 14th in the conference, 4th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Matt Duchene

Milan Hejduk

Paul Stastny

BURNING QUESTION

Did a disappointing 2010-11 season mean a big step back or provide a much-needed lesson for the young Colorado players.

SOFT SPOT

Scoring from the wings remains an issue. Milan Hejduk is the lone proven winger, although he’s now 35 years old, so the likes of Peter Mueller, David Jones, Brandon Yip and young Landeskog need to step up their games.

CAP ROOM

$15 million

*******

EDMONTON OILERS

SAY HELLO TO

D Andy Sutton

D Cam Barker

LW Ryan Smyth

C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

C Eric Belanger

RW Darcy Hordichuk

LW Ben Eager

SAY GOODBYE TO

D Kurtis Foster

LW J.F. Jacques

D Jim Vandermeer

C Andrew Cogliano

C Colin Fraser

LW Steve MacIntyre

ON THE MEND

D Ryan Whitney (foot) is questionable for the start of the season but should return soon.

INSIDER SAYS

Losing Ryan Whitney in December for the rest of the 2010-11 season exposed Edmonton’s weak defence. The Oilers took some steps forward in that area but may not score enough goals to win enough games to be a playoff contender.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

LW Taylor Hall

It’s probably unfair to put that much pressure on a second-year pro who’ll turn 20 in November, but Hall slowly will take over this team. He has a slew of young and skilled talent around him.

2010-11 RECORD: 25-45-12 Finished 15th in the conference, 5th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Ales Hemsky

Taylor Hall

Jordan Eberle

BURNING QUESTION

Will the young forward contingent be able to keep this team in contention for a playoff spot into the final couple of months?

SOFT SPOT

Sure, the forwards are young and prone to mistakes, but the real Achilles heel last season was in net and on defence. Devan Dubnyk became the main man between the pipes because Nikolai Khabibulin was dreadful.

CAP ROOM

$7 million

*******

MINNESOTA WILD

SAY HELLO TO

RW Dany Heatley

LW Devin Setoguchi

LW Darroll Powe

D Mike Lundin

LW Colton Gillies

SAY GOODBYE TO

RW Martin Havlat

D Brent Burns

LW Andrew Brunette

RW Antti Miettinen

G Jose Theodore

D Cam Barker

RW Chuck Kobasew

C Patrick O’Sullivan

ON THE MEND

None

INSIDER SAYS

The Wild placed 26th in the league in scoring last season and must address that problem, even in the weak Northwest Division. Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi will help, but it won’t be enough.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

RW Dany Heatley

After a 26-goal season, the San Jose Sharks swapped their under-producing winger for Martin Havlat. A 50-goal season may not be in the cards, but watch for Heatley to hit upwards of 40.

2010-11 RECORD: 39-35-8 Finished 12th in the conference, 4th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Mikko Koivu

Guillaume Latendresse

BURNING QUESTION

Will both former Sharks-Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi-bring enough goals and some winning touch from San Jose?

SOFT SPOT

Obviously, goals are an issue, but the loss of Brent Burns puts a big hole in the Wild attack, too. Burns was a key man on the power play and moving the puck up the ice.

CAP ROOM

$9 million

*******

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

SAY HELLO TO

LW Marco Sturm

LW Andrew Ebbett

D Alexander Sulzer

SAY GOODBYE TO

D Christian Ehrhoff

LW Raffi Torres

LW Tanner Glass

LW Jeff Tambellini

C Alex Bolduc

ON THE MEND

RW Mason Raymond (neck) is out indefinitely.

C Ryan Kesler (hip) is expected back in mid-November.

D Aaron Rome (finger) is out until at least the middle of the month.

INSIDER SAYS

Winning a fourth consecutive Northwest Division title won’t be enough. The Canucks have Stanley Cup expectations and should be in the mix.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Roberto Luongo

When the Canucks won a playoff game last spring, Luongo was very strong.

When they lost, it seemed he was blown out of the water. Those disappointing games can’t continue.

2010-11 RECORD: 54-19-9 Finished 1st in the conference, 1st in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Ryan Kesler

Alex Burrows

Mason Raymond

BURNING QUESTION

Will the Canucks rebound from losing Game 7 to the Boston Bruins or be like the Flames (2004) and Oilers (2006) who lost in the Cup final and couldn’t make it back?

SOFT SPOT

Not much. Seriously. This is a deep team up front with strong goaltending.

Losing Christian Ehrhoff was a big hit to the defence, but Alex Edler is due to receive more credit for his skills.

CAP ROOM

$2 million

*******

CENTRAL DIVISION

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

SAY HELLO TO

G Alex Salak

G Ray Emery

D Steve Montador

D Sean O’Donnell

D Sami Lepisto

LW Andrew Brunette

LW Dan Carcillo

RW Jamal Mayers

LW Rostislav Olesz

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Marty Turco

D Brian Campbell

D Chris Campoli

RW Troy Brouwer

LW Tomas Kopecky

C Jake Dowell

ON THE MEND

C Patrick Sharp (appendectomy) is pushing to be back in action for the season opener.

RW Patrick Kane (wrist) had off-season surgery but appears fine.

INSIDER SAYS

Chicago is likely the best team in the Central Division, but that partially is a case of the rest of the division being on a par. The Hawks aren’t the Cup favourites but still a very good team.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

RW Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews are the solid forwards, but Kane is the exciting sniper who can do better than the 27 goals and 73 points he had in 2010-11.

2010-11 RECORD: 44-29-9 Finished 8th in the conference, 3rd in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Jonathan Toews

Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp

BURNING QUESTION

Will defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson step up his game or struggle in the same manner of last season? Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook need more support.

SOFT SPOT

The forward depth which made the difference in the Stanley Cup season of 2009-10 is gone. In turn, the Hawks have a bunch of hard-nosed players who will put more emphasis on penalty killing.

CAP ROOM

$3 million

*******

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

SAY HELLO TO

G Mark Dekanich

G Curtis Sanford

C Jeff Carter

D James Wisniewski

D Radek Martinek

LW Vaclav Prospal

LW Alexandre Giroux

C Ryan Johansen

D Aaron Johnson

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Mathieu Garon

LW Scottie Upshall

RW Jakub Voracek

D Mike Commodore

LW Nikita Filatov

D Jan Hejda

D Sami Lepisto

D Anton Stralman

C Andrew Murray

ON THE MEND

LW Kristian Huselius (torn pectoral muscle) is eyeing a return in December or January.

G Mark Dekanich (ankle) is out a couple of weeks.

INSIDER SAYS

In Jeff Carter, the Blue Jackets have a centre who will work with Rick Nash.

It likely won’t be enough to make the Blue Jackets a playoff team, but is a big step forward.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Steve Mason

The Blue Jackets should have enough offence to be in the mix for a playoff spot. It’s up to Mason, who is coming off two sub-par seasons after being the rookie sensation, to keep enough pucks out of the net.

2010-11 RECORD: 34-35-13 Finished 13th in the conference, 5th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Rick Nash

Kristian Huselius

Jeff Carter

BURNING QUESTION

Will Jeff Carter be the top-line centre every team hopes to find or be another offensive player who crashes and burns in Columbus?

SOFT SPOT

The Blue Jackets are in a win-now spot but don’t have the depth to make it a sure thing. They have lots of good players who must become top players for big things to happen.

CAP ROOM

$4 million

*******

DETROIT RED WINGS

SAY HELLO TO

G Ty Conklin

D Mike Commodore

D Ian White

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Chris Osgood

C Kris Draper

C Mike Modano

D Ruslan Salei

D Brian Rafalski

D Derek Meech

ON THE MEND

None

INSIDER SAYS

The time has come for the next generation of Red Wings to step forward. As good as Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are, they need help from players who have been in smaller roles until now.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

D Ian White

Nobody should expect the former Maple Leaf, Flame, Hurricane and Shark to replace Brian Rafalski, but White will be counted on to fill much of the retired defenceman’s role. It’s a big opportunity for a player whose career has meandered the past two seasons.

2010-11 RECORD: 27-25-10 Finished 3rd in the conference, 1st in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Pavel Datsyuk

Jiri Hudler

Todd Bertuzzi

BURNING QUESTION

Can Nicklas Lidstrom win an eighth Norris Trophy and tie Bobby Orr for being the top defenceman that many seasons?

SOFT SPOT

The depth in the forward ranks and on the blue line isn’t there as it used to be. Goaltending isn’t as big of a question mark as it was 12 months ago, but Jimmy Howard still has plenty to prove.

CAP ROOM

$5.5 million

*******

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

SAY HELLO TO

D Ryan Ellis

LW Niclas Bergfors

D Mattias Ekholm

SAY GOODBYE TO

D Cody Franson

D Shane O’Brien

RW J.P. Dumont

C Marcel Goc

C Matthew Lombardi

LW Steve Sullivan

RW Joel Ward

ON THE MEND

C Mike Fisher (shoulder) is pushing to be ready for the start of the season.

D Francis Bouillon (concussion) is out indefinitely.

C Blake Geoffrion (wrist) should be ready for the opener.

INSIDER SAYS

The Predators have a whack of young players pegged for bigger roles in the likes of Colin Wilson, Cal O’Reilly, Blake Geoffrion, Jonathan Blum and Matt Halischuk, but we’re not sure they’ll be able to make it a playoff year.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Pekka Rinne

Rinne and cornerstone defencemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are due to become unrestricted free agents this summer. The netminder will have to state his case for a big payday and carry a low-scoring team to the playoffs. Not an easy task.

2010-11 RECORD: 44-27-11 Finished 5th in the conference, 2nd in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Martin Erat

David Legwand

Cal O’Reilly

BURNING QUESTION

How many seasons can the Predators keep making the playoffs with one of the league’s lowest payrolls?

SOFT SPOT

Have you heard the Predators have trouble scoring goals? It’s the same old song in Music City, U.S.A., where the team tries to do more with less. The lack of proven depth could make for a long season.

CAP ROOM

$14 million

*******

ST. LOUIS BLUES

SAY HELLO TO

D Kent Huskins

C Jason Arnott

RW Jamie Langenbrunner

C Scott Nichol

LW Evgeny Grachev

G Brian Elliott

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Ty Conklin

RW Cam Janssen

ON THE MEND

LW David Perron (concussion) is in no-man’s land, with no time table for a return to action.

C Scott Nichol (shoulder) is expected to be ready for the season opener.

INSIDER SAYS

Injuries were a big reason the young Blues failed to take a step forward.

Adding a veteran presence with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner will help, but the key remains the young guns.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Jaroslav Halak

His first season in St. Louis was OK, but that’s not good enough for a team to make the playoffs. Halak learned about the role of a No. 1 goalie and will be better for it.

2010-11 RECORD: 38-33-11 Finished 11th in the conference, 4th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Brad Boyes

Andy McDonald

T.J. Oshie

BURNING QUESTION

Will the improved offence after Chris Stewart was acquired continue into this season?

SOFT SPOT

The lack of scoring depth remains an issue, but more alarming is the injury history on defence. St. Louis is decent at that position when healthy.

CAP ROOM

$12 million

*******

PACIFIC DIVISION

ANAHEIM DUCKS

SAY HELLO TO

D Kurtis Foster

LW Andrew Cogliano

LW J.F. Jacques

RW Kyle Palmieri

SAY GOODBYE TO

D Andreas Lilja

D Andy Sutton

C Todd Marchant

LW Jarkko Ruutu

LW Brad Winchester

C Kyle Chipchura

ON THE MEND

D Kurtis Foster (leg) should be in action soon if he doesn’t return by the season opener.

D Toni Lydman (shoulder) is due to return in October.

LW Matt Beleskey (shoulder) is expected to return in the opening month.

INSIDER SAYS

Anaheim was probably the surprise team of the Western Conference last season. Now comes the test to do it again. The Ducks should be in the playoffs but can’t afford too many problems.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

RW Corey Perry

Last season’s Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy winner was out of this world down the stretch. Can he do it again? With the talent around him, Perry could easily replicate that season.

2010-11 RECORD: 47-30-5 Finished 4th in the conference, 2nd in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Ryan Getzlaf

Corey Perry

Bobby Ryan

BURNING QUESTION

Can Teemu Selanne be just as productive in his final season-supposedly-and provide that second-line offensive attack?

SOFT SPOT

The Ducks are simply a two-line team. They are two great lines, but it proved costly in the playoffs.

CAP ROOM

$6 million

*******

DALLAS STARS

SAY HELLO TO

D Sheldon Souray

D Adam Pardy

RW Michael Ryder

C Vernon Fiddler

RW Radek Dvorak

C Jake Dowell

RW Eric Godard

SAY GOODBYE TO

C Brad Richards

D Jeff Woywitka

RW Jamie Langenbrunner

RW Jason WIlliams

D Karlis Skrastins

ON THE MEND

None

INSIDER SAYS

The Stars, who just missed the playoffs last spring, look as if they will take a step back. The loss of Brad Richards puts a big hole in the top line.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

C Mike Ribeiro

Life in Dallas was pretty good for Ribeiro, especially without having to be the main man. That’s no longer the case with Brad Richards gone, and Ribeiro has to prove he can face the top defenders.

2010-11 Record: 37-31-14 Finished 9th in the conference, 4th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Mike Ribeiro

Jamie Benn

Loui Eriksson

BURNING QUESTION

Will the scoring by committee work in Dallas? It’s certainly being put to the test.

SOFT SPOT

Where to start? Michael Ryder and Steve Ott are among the top six forwards, the lack of depth can’t be missed and the defence is questionable in its own end.

CAP ROOM

$14 million

*******

LOS ANGELES KINGS

SAY HELLO TO

C Mike Richards

LW Simon Gagne

C Colin Fraser

LW Ethan Moreau

C Andrei Loktionov

D Slava Voynov

RW Trent Hunter

SAY GOODBYE TO

LW Ryan Smyth

RW Wayne Simmonds

LW Alexei Ponikarovsky

C Michal Handzus

D Peter Harrold

ON THE MEND

C Colin Fraser (foot) is questionable for the start of the season.

INSIDER SAYS

The Kings are an easy pick to be a breakout team, but the lack of forward depth and questions about the defence should send up some red flags. A playoff team? You bet. An elite team? Not yet.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

C Mike Richards

Along with Anze Kopitar, Richards provides the Kings with an awesome dynamic duo at centre. The Kings seem serious about wanting to reach a new level.

2010-11 RECORD: 46-30-6 Finished 7th in the conference, 4th in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Anze Kopitar

Dustin Brown

Jarret Stoll

BURNING QUESTION

How much impact with Drew Doughty’s contract squabble have on his play and the team’s fortunes?

SOFT SPOT

For such a good team, the Kings have substantial holes. Goaltending seems very good, and this is the season to prove it. The offence can be suspect and the defence doesn’t make anyone think sure-fire Cup contender.

CAP ROOM

$3 million

*******

PHOENIX COYOTES

SAY HELLO TO

G Mike Smith

C Daymond Langkow

RW Raffi Torres

C Kyle Chipchura

C Boyd Gordon

D Nathan Oystrick

C Patrick O’Sullivan

SAY GOODBYE TO

G Ilya Bryzgalov

RW Lee Stempniak

C Vernon Fiddler

C Eric Belanger

D Ed Jovanovski

C Andrew Ebbett

D Nolan Yonkman

ON THE MEND

D Kurt Sauer (concussion) hasn’t played since the 2009-10 season opener and remains out.

INSIDER SAYS

There really is only one big loss from last season, Ilya Bryzgalov, but what a loss it is. The goaltender struggled during the playoffs but was a key reason the Coyotes made the post-season each of the past two springs.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

G Mike Smith

It’ll be a tough task replacing the goalie who did so much for the Coyotes, and Smith will get first crack. Jason LaBarbera, Curtis McElhinney and Justin Pogge are also in the system.

2010-11 RECORD: 43-26-13 Finished 6th in the conference, 3rd in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Radim Vrbata

Shane Doan

Kyle Turris

BURNING QUESTION

Can Mike Smith, who couldn’t excel as the top goalie in Tampa Bay, do the job in the desert? We’re talking about a netminder whose career high for wins in a season is 14.

SOFT SPOT

Offensively, the Coyotes won’t scare anybody. After Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, there aren’t any proven producers. The goaltending is a huge question.

CAP ROOM

$13 million

*******

SAN JOSE SHARKS

SAY HELLO TO

D Brent Burns

D Jim Vandermeer

D Colin White

RW Martin Havlat

C Michal Handzus

RW Andrew Murray

LW Brad Winchester

SAY GOODBYE TO

RW Dany Heatley

RW Devin Setoguchi

C Scott Nichol

RW Jamal Mayers

LW Ben Eager

D Niclas Wallin

D Kent Huskins

ON THE MEND

RW Martin Havlat (shoulder) is expected to start the season.

INSIDER SAYS

Once again, the Sharks should be a contender for the Western Conference crown. What remains to be seen is whether they’ll ever realize their potential.

PIVOTAL PLAYER

D Brent Burns

Burns should have no trouble helping the Sharks replace the 15 power-play goals they netted from Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. Moreover, Burns gives the Sharks another excellent defenceman, capable of big things at both ends of the ice.

2010-11 RECORD: 48-25-9 Finished 2nd in the conference, 1st in the division.

IN A SHOOTOUT

Joe Pavelski

Logan Couture

Ryane Clowe

BURNING QUESTION

What will it take for this team, with all that talent, to finally win the Stanley Cup?

SOFT SPOT

Scoring depth is an issue with this team. Defensive depth is questionable, too.

CAP ROOM

$3 million

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

 

 


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