|NHL 2007-08: Western Conference team-by-team preview capsules|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 27 September 2007 18:43|
DETROIT RED WINGS
LAST SEASON: 50-19-13, 113 points. Lost to Anaheim 4-2 in conference finals.
COACH: Mike Babcock, 3rd season 108-35-21; 4th overall, 177-111-40.
ADDED: C Carl Corazzini, C Mark Cullen, LW Dallas Drake, C Mark Hartigan, D Brian Rafalski.
LOST: RW Todd Bertuzzi, RW Darryl Bootland, LW Kyle Calder, C Matt Hussey, C Robert Lang, D Danny Markov, D Brad Norton, D Mathieu Schneider, D Dan Smith.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Dominik Hasek finally avoided the groin injuries that have plagued him in recent seasons and posted solid numbers in only 56 games (38-11-6, 2.05 GAA). He turns 43 in January.
ICING: The Red Wings didn't miss a beat after Steve Yzerman's retirement and Brendan Shanahan's defection, tying Buffalo for the most points in the league last season while moving within two games of the Stanley Cup finals. The slow transition to the younger players will continue, but there are still enough battle-tested veterans in the mix to keep Detroit a top contender in the West. ... The Wings boast one of the top forward lines in the league in LW Henrik Zetterberg, C Pavel Datsyuk and RW Tomas Holmstrom, who combined for 90 goals and 207 points last season while carrying that production into the playoffs (19-38). ... D Chris Chelios is back for his 24th NHL season and ninth with Detroit. Chelios, who turns 46 in January, needs to appear in just two more playoff contests to surpass Patrick Roy for the most career postseason games in the NHL. ... LW Igor Grigorenko is attempting a comeback after his near-fatal car accident four years ago.
LAST SEASON: 51-23-8, 110 points. Lost to San Jose 4-1 in first round.
COACH: Barry Trotz, 9th season, 283-297-76.
ADDED: C Radek Bonk, D Greg de Vries, G Dan Ellis, LW Martin Gelinas, RW Josh Langfeld, RW Jed Ortmeyer, RW Shane Willis.
LOST: C Peter Forsberg, LW Scott Hartnell, LW Paul Kariya, D Kimmo Timonen, D Vitali Vishnevski, G Tomas Vokoun.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Chris Mason inherits his first No. 1 goalie job after Vokoun was traded to Florida. Mason filled in during the 2006 playoffs and appeared in 40 games last season, recording 24 wins and a .925 save percentage.
ICING: The euphoria of the team's best season was marred by the uncertainty of the franchise's future and a fire sale that jettisoned several key members of the team. The Predators were close to moving to Hamilton, Ontario, but on Aug. 31, a local group that put down a $10 million nonrefundable deposit to buy the team for $193 million signed a deal that includes the purchase agreement with current owner Craig Leipold. ... Five of the top six defensemen are back from last season, with the gritty de Vries replacing the offensive-minded Timonen. ... The Predators scored a Western Conference-leading 272 goals last season. ... Nashville has lost to San Jose in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
LAST SEASON: 34-35-13, 81 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Andy Murray, 2nd season, 27-18-9; 9th overall, 242-220-72.
ADDED: LW Paul Kariya, RW Keith Tkachuk, G Hannu Toivonen.
LOST: RW Dallas Drake, RW Radek Dvorak, C Glen Metropolit, RW Vladimir Orzagh, D Jamie Rivers, G Curtis Sanford.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, will make his much-anticipated debut and is an early season Calder Trophy contender for top rookie. The 19-year-old Johnson decided to go pro after his freshman season at Minnesota, where he totaled four goals and 20 assists in 41 games.
ICING: The Blues were 7-17-4 when Mike Kitchen was fired and replaced by Murray, and they responded by climbing to third in the Central Division, one season after finishing last overall with 57 points. There is even more optimism with the signings of Kariya and Tkachuk, who is back after a brief stint with Atlanta. ... The defensive corps could be a solid group if it could stay healthy. Of the returning blue liners, only Eric Brewer appeared in more than 70 games. ... Special teams were a problem for St. Louis last season. It had the second worst power play at 12.1 percent and the fifth worst penalty-killing unit at 80 percent. ... G Manny Legace missed the last 21 games of the 2006-07 season with an injured right knee. The No. 1 job is still his, with former Bruin Toivonen and Jason Bacashihua battling for the backup spot.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
LAST SEASON: 33-42-7, 73 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Ken Hitchcock, 2nd season, 28-29-5; 13th overall, 436-278-105.
ADDED: D Sheldon Brookbank, C Jiri Novotny, C Michael Peca,
LOST: G Brian Boucher, D Bryan Berard, D Anders Eriksson, D Aaron Johnson, C Alexander Svitov,
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nikolai Zherdev continues to be an enigma after dropping from 27 goals in 2005-06 to 10 last season. Hitchcock is trying him as a first-line center between LW Rick Nash RW David Vyborny.
ICING: Scott Howson was hired as general manager in June, but his only major signing came in late August in Peca, who had four goals and had 11 assists in 35 games with the Maple Leafs before breaking his right leg in a collision last December. ... Svitov signed a two-year, $2.25 million contract with the Blue Jackets in early July, but has since remained in Russia to play for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League. ... Goaltending continues to be a question mark. Pascal Leclaire was limited to 24 games last season because of a knee injury and finished 6-12-2, but Frederik Norrena was a competent replacement with a 24-23-3 mark. ... The Blue Jackets are the only one of the 30 NHL teams to never play in the playoffs. ... C Sergei Fedorov and D Adam Foote may both be playing in their final seasons in 2007-08.
LAST SEASON: 31-42-9, 71 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Denis Savard, 2nd season, 24-30-7 .
ADDED: D Jim Fahey, G Wade Flaherty, C Robert Lang, C Yanic Perreault, LW Sergei Samsonov, D Andrei Zyuzin.
LOST: RW Nikita Alexeev, C Denis Arkhipov, D Adrian Aucoin, RW Peter Bondra, D Jassen Cullimore, C Jeff Hamilton, C Michal Handzus, RW Mikael Holmqvist, LW Tony Salmelainen.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LW Sergei Samsonov disappointed during his one-year stint in Montreal and was a healthy scratch in the last 13 games after he questioned whether signing with the Canadiens was the right move. The Blackhawks need him to return to the form he showed early in his career with Boston and Edmonton.
ICING: The Blackhawks have missed the playoffs in eight of nine years, but the future continues to look bright with the arrival of C Jonathan Toews, the third overall pick in the 2006 draft, and possibly RW Jack Skille, the team's top selection in 2005. The 19-year-old Toews had 18 goals and 28 assists in 34 games at North Dakota and followed that with a two-goal, five-assist performance for Canada at this year's world junior championships. ... RW Martin Havlat missed 26 games with various injuries, but still led the team with 25 goals and 57 points. The lack of scoring depth caused the Hawks to plummet to 29th in the NHL at 2.38 goals per game. ... G Nikolai Khabibulin is 42-52-11 with a 3.06 GAA and .895 save percentage in his first two years with the Blackhawks. ... William Wirtz, the longtime owner of the Blackhawks, died on Sept. 26 at age 77.
LAST SEASON: 49-26-7, 105 points. Lost to Anaheim 4-1 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Alain Vigneault, 2nd season; 6th overall, 158-148-42.
ADDED: RW Brad Isbister, D Aaron Miller, C Byron Ritchie, G Curtis Sanford, RW Ryan Shannon.
LOST: LW Jan Bulis, C Marc Chouinard, D Rory Fitzpatrick, C Josh Green, G Dany Sabourin, C Tommi Santala, C Bryan Smolinski, D Brent Sopel, D Yannick Tremblay.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Roberto Luongo was more than advertised in his first season with Vancouver, smashing the team record with 47 wins and finishing as the runner-up to the Hart and Vezina Trophies. The Canucks' success this season will hinge on his performance.
ICING: The Canucks set team records with 49 wins and 105 points and helped Vigneault win the Jack Adams Trophy as top coach. Expectations in the Pacific Northwest are now high, but can the Canucks continue keep pace in the competitive Western Conference and challenge Anaheim, San Jose and Detroit for a spot in the Stanley Cup finals? ... Who will be on the line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin this season? Taylor Pyatt replaced Anson Carter on the right side last year and finished with 23 goals, but only 37 points. Pyatt could remain with the twins, or could be replaced by either newcomer Isbister, Matt Cooke or even 18-year veteran Trevor Linden. Daniel led the team in scoring with 84 points last season, three better than Henrik. ... The defensive corps is already banged up. Miller had abdominal surgery the day before training camp started, Sami Salo fractured his wrist in an intrasquad game, and Willie Mitchell has been resting a sore groin. The team is hoping Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler can continue their growth. ... Longtime captain Markus Naslund slumped to 60 points last season, his lowest since 1997-98, and is in the final year of his contract.
LAST SEASON: 48-26-8, 104 points. Lost to Anaheim 4-1 in first round.
COACH: Jacques Lemaire, 8th season, 209-212-71; 14th overall, 456-371-140.
ADDED: C Eric Belanger, D Sean Hill, RW Petr Kalus, C Steve Kelly.
LOST: G Manny Fernandez, RW Adam Hall, C Wyatt Smith, C Todd White.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RW Marian Gaborik has yet to play a full NHL season, missing 34 more games with a groin injury, but changed his offseason training habits. When Gaborik played, the Wild went 33-8-6.
ICING: Minnesota set franchise records in wins and points last season and led the league with 191 goals against, but were outmuscled against a more physical Anaheim team that went on to win the Cup. The Wild got only two goals in 27 man-advantage opportunities against the Ducks after finishing with the sixth best unit during the regular season (19 percent). ... G Niklas Backstrom dominated in goal last season (23-8-6, 1.97 GAA), enabling the team to trade Fernandez to Boston over the summer. Backstrom gave up three goals or fewer in 38 of 41 appearances. ... Hill will miss the first 19 games of the regular season to finish his suspension for violating the league's drug policy during last season's playoffs. The 37-year-old Duluth native had 25 points in 81 games for the Islanders last season, while ranking third in the NHL in hits and sixth in blocked shots. ... Minnesota had six 20-goal scorers last season, paced by Brian Rolston's 31. Gaborik has 30 in four of five seasons.
LAST SEASON: 43-29-10, 96 points. Lost to Detroit 4-2 in first round.
COACH: Mike Keenan, 1st season; 19th overall 584-491-147.
ADDED: D Adrian Aucoin, D Anders Eriksson, RW Owen Nolan, D Cory Sarich, C Grant Stevenson.
LOST: RW Tony Amonte, LW Jeff Friesen, D Roman Hamrlik, RW Darren McCarty, G Jamie McLennan, D Richie Regher, C Byron Ritchie, D Brad Stuart, D Andrei Zuyzin.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Miikka Kiprusoff has won at least 40 games in each of his last two seasons, but his GAA rose to 2.46 in 2006-07 from 2.07 the previous campaign. The Flames do not have a proven backup among Brett Krahn and Curtis McElhinney, so the Flames could go as far as Kiprusoff takes them.
ICING: Keenan was brought in to light a fire under a team that appeared to tune out previous coach Jim Playfair, who remains on the coaching staff. But Keenan has a history of infighting with past team officials so his relationship with GM Darryl Sutter could bear watching. ... Four players reached the 70-point mark, with RW Jarome Iginla leading the way for the sixth straight season with 94. The club ranked seventh in the league last season with 3.11 goals per game. ... Nolan, 35, had 16 goals and 40 points during his comeback season with Phoenix in 2006-07. He hadn't played since injuring his right knee with Toronto in 2004.
LAST SEASON: 44-31-7, 95 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Joel Quenneville, 2nd season, 87-61-16; 10th overall 393-269-95.
ADDED: D Scott Hannan, C Matt Hussey, D Jeff Jillson, D Dale Purinton, LW Ryan Smyth.
LOST: D Patrice Brisebois, D Ken Klee, LW Brett McLean, RW Mark Rycroft, C Pierre Turgeon, D Ossi Vaananen.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Petr Budaj outplayed the enigmatic Jose Theodore to be the No. 1 goalie last season, but he has no playoff experience and has a tendency to give up bad goals.
ICING: The Avalanche, who missed the playoffs by a point last year, made a huge splash in the free agent market by adding Smyth to the third-best offense in the NHL in 2006-07, and the gritty Hannan to an offensive-minded defense. They will also help a penalty-killing unit that ranked tied for 23rd last season (80.2 percent). ... C Paul Stastny (28-50-78) was the runner-up for the Calder Trophy as top rookie last season. LW Wojtek Wolski (22-28-50) also impressed in his first year, giving the Avs another building block for the future. ... Last season, 37-year-old C Joe Sakic became the second-oldest player in NHL history to reach 100 points, joining Gordie Howe, who had 103 at age 40 in 1968-69.
LAST SEASON: 32-43-7, 71 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Craig MacTavish, 7th season, 222-203-67.
ADDED: G Mathieu Caron, D Denis Grebeshkov, LW Dustin Penner, D Joni Pitkanen, D Allan Rourke, LW Geoff Sanderson, D Sheldon Souray, D Dick Tarnstrom
LOST: D Jan Hejda, RW Joffrey Lupul, G Jussi Markkanen, C Toby Petersen, D Jason Smith, RW Petr Sykora, D Daniel Tjarnqvist, LW Brad Winchester.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Anaheim declined to match Edmonton's five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet to Penner, who had 29 goals but only 16 assists last season.
ICING: GM Kevin Lowe had a tough offseason trying to rebuild a team that missed the playoffs one year after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. He had a handshake deal with Michael Nylander before he signed with Washington days later and came under fire later in the summer for signing Buffalo's Thomas Vanek and Penner to expensive offer sheets. He eventually landed Souray, who reached career highs of 26 goals and 64 points last season, including 19 tallies on the power play, but also had a minus-28 rating. ... Tarnstrom returns after playing last season in Switzerland.
LAST SEASON: 48-20-24, 110 points. Won Stanley Cup 4-1 over Ottawa.
COACH: Randy Carlyle, 3rd season, 91-47-36.
ADDED: RW Todd Bertuzzi, D Shane Hnidy, RW Jason King, LW Dan LaCouture, C Mark Mowers, D Mathieu Schneider.
LOST: C Tim Brent, G Sebastien Caron, C Mark Hartigan, D Richard Jackman, RW Joe Motzko, LW Dustin Penner, C Ryan Shannon, RW Shawn Thornton.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Bertuzzi is on his third team in a little more than a year after injuries limited him to 15 regular-season games last season. The Ducks are hoping he can come close to the 46-goal scorer he was in 2002-03 to help offset the possible loss of RW Teemu Selanne.
ICING: Captain Scott Niedermayer and Selanne have yet to decide whether to return to the defending champs or retire. The Ducks signed Schneider to replace Niedermayer, but he will miss the start of the regular season after breaking a bone in the left ankle during his first preseason game. ... G Jean-Sebastien Giguere signed a 4-year, $24 million contract two weeks after the Cup clincher, leaving backup Ilya Bryzgalov (10-8-6, 2.47 GAA) as possible trade bait to fill other needs. ... There hasn't been a repeat Cup champion since Detroit in 1998. Carolina won it in 2006, but failed to make the playoffs the following season.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
LAST SEASON: 51-26-5, 107 points. Lost to Detroit 4-2 in conference semifinals.
COACH: Ron Wilson, 4th season, 157-111-35; 14th overall, 469-423-117.
ADDED: D Brad Norton, LW Jeremy Roenick, D Alexei Semenov.
LOST: LW Mark Bell, LW Bill Guerin, D Scott Hannan, G Vesa Toskala.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LW Jonathan Cheechoo went from a team-record 56 goals in 2005-06 to 37 with 69 points last season. Can Joe Thornton get him back to his form of two years ago?
ICING: For San Jose to be a serious contender in the West, it has to halt the current trend of strong regular seasons and second-round playoff disappointments. It surrendered a 2-1 series lead to the Red Wings last year after blowing a two games to none lead in a 2006 semifinal loss to Edmonton. ... G Evgeni Nabokov no longer has to look over his shoulder after Toskala was traded to Toronto during the offseason. But an injury to the former Calder Trophy winner could be disastrous with rookies Thomas Greiss and Dimitri Patzold as the only fallback options. ... The roster is set except for a sixth defenseman to replace Scott Hannan, who departed for Colorado over the summer. Some of the candidates include former Shark Sandis Ozolinsh, who is in camp on a tryout basis, free agents Norton and Semenov, and holdovers Doug Murray and Rob Davison.
LAST SEASON: 50-25-7, 107 points. Lost to Vancouver 4-3 in first round.
COACH: Dave Tippett, 5th season, 190-97-41.
ADDED: LW Todd Fedoruk, LW Brad Winchester.
LOST: RW Matthew Barnaby, D Jon Klemm, C Eric Lindros, LW Ladislav Nagy, C Patrick Stefan, D Darryl Sydor.
PLAYER TO WATCH: C Mike Modano turned 37 in June and is showing signs of breaking down after missing 23 games with hip and groin injuries. His minutes may have to be reduced, but he's still the heart and soul of the team.
ICING: The Stars failed to land the premier scorer they needed to improve the league's 21st-ranked offense (2.65 GPG) from a year ago, so the team will again rely on their greatest strengths, defense and the goaltending of Marty Turco to get them back into the playoffs. But a fourth straight first-round exit or worse could finally cost Tippett and GM Doug Armstrong their jobs. ... Turco was stellar in last season's playoffs with a 1.30 GAA and .952 save percentage against the Canucks. But can he be a one-man show again if the team can't give him any offensive support? ... The Stars are 21-5 in shootouts over the past two seasons.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
LAST SEASON: 27-41-14, 68 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Marc Crawford, 2nd season, 69-76-17; 13th overall 438-342-125.
ADDED: LW Kyle Calder, C Michal Handzus, LW Ladislav Nagy, D Tom Preissing, D Brad Stuart.
LOST: G Mathieu Garon, D Jamie Heward, RW Tom Kostopolous, RW Jamie Lundmark, D Aaron Miller, D Mike Weaver.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Jack Johnson, the third overall pick in the 2005 draft, will begin his first full NHL season and should benefit from a veteran-laden defense, including possible partner Rob Blake. Johnson was acquired from Carolina just before last season and had a five-game stint with the Kings.
ICING: Despite bolstering their scoring lines and defensive corps, the Kings could again have trouble making the playoffs because of their goaltending. Injury-prone Dan Cloutier was sent to the minors, Jason LaBarbera has yet to carry over his solid play from the AHL to the next level, and Jean-Sebastien Aubin is coming off a tough 20-game stint in Toronto. ... Los Angeles has a good young scoring nucleus in LW Michael Cammalleri (34-46-80), RW Alexander Frolov (35-36-71) and C Anze Kopitar (20-41-61). Cammalleri was rewarded with a two-year contract through arbitration.
LAST SEASON: 31-46-5, 67 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Wayne Gretzky, 2nd season, 69-85-10.
ADDED: G David Aebischer, G Alex Auld, RW Matt Murley, LW Tomas Surovy, LW Mike York,
LOST: G Curtis Joseph, RW Owen Nolan, C Mike Ricci, C Jeremy Roenick, C Dave Scatchard.
PLAYER TO WATCH: For Phoenix to be at least respectable, G David Aebischer has to regain the form he showed as a 32-game winner with Colorado in 2003-04.
ICING: The growing pains will likely continue for the Coyotes as they turn toward a youth movement rather than fill holes with veteran free agents like last season. Phoenix, coming off its worst season since moving from Winnipeg in 1996, has a new GM in Don Maloney, who helped transform the New York Rangers from a free-spending team to a grow-from-within bunch that has made the playoffs the past two seasons. ... Phoenix had the second-worst defense in the league last season, averaging 3.40 goals against. ... RW Shane Doan, C Steven Reinprecht and York are the only forwards on the roster to have 50-point seasons.