Here are my predictions for the upcoming 2013 shortened season for the Western Conference.
1. Los Angelas Kings
Forward - Great blend of speed and physicality. Found a way to score goals in the playoffs when the well was dry for most of the regular season. Not deep but skilled at the top end. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown took their games to another level in the playoffs.
Defense - Nice blend of grizzled defensive defensemen and young offensive minded defensemen. Drew Doughty leads this cast that could be the strength of their team. Doughty is the only player they cannot replace.
Goaltending - Jonathan Quick emerged as a bonafide star last season. Quick should continue to post miniscule number this season.
2. St. Louis Blues
Forward - Blues already had a pretty good forwrda group but that gets enhanced by the additions of super rookies Vladmir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. David Backes and Patrik Berglund are the keys at center for the Blues.
Defense - Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk emerged as the leaders of the defense last season for the Blues which helped them ascent up the standings. Barret Jackman plays the role of the grizzled veteran.
Goaltending - Jaroslav Halak gives the stable goaltending. Brian Elliott gave them ridiculously low numbers last season if Halak falters.
3. Vancouver Canucks
Forward - The Sedins could be the best tandem in the NHL. Depth at forward may be a concern especially with the uncertainty of the availability of Ryan Kesler. Depth will be tested early on this season.
Defense - No household names but a very deep group all the same. Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa lead the group at both ends of the ice. Jason Garrison is the replacement cannon for the departed Sami Salo.
Goaltending - Essentially they have two #1s. Cory Schneider figures to get the bulk of the games while the Canucks figure out what to do with Roberto Luongo
4. Phoenix Coyotes
Forward - Big, honest, hard-working players all over their lineup. Shane Doan leads this motley crew into this season. Not overly skilled, but just finds ways to score more than they give up. Makes them very difficult to beat on most nights.
Defense - Keith Yandle and the emerging Oliver Ekman-Larsson bring the offense from the defense. They have a few solid vets to round their defensive unit.
Goaltending - Mike Smith is latest goaltender to emerge under the tutelege of the Phoenix Coyotes. It will be interesting to see if he can duplicate the season he had last year.
5. Chicago Black Hawks
Forward - High end talent on the front end but little depth throughout the forward spots. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead the high end group which includes Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Trying out some rookies and sophomores on the third and fourth lines.
Defense - Duncan Keith's offense has been on steady decline bt his plus/minus returned to the stratosphere where we are accustomed to seeing it. Ditto for Brett Seabrook. Defense is a little deeper than it was last season with the addition of Michal Roszival.
Goaltending - Corey Crawford is coming off a tough season statistically. Was it the lack of depth on defense or was it Crawford?
6. Minnesota Wild
Forward - The additions of Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund give the Wild depth at forward like they have never had before. Additions of Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka give them depth at the bottom end.
Defense - Ryan Suter, along with Parise were two of the bigger off season signings. Gives the Wild a legit #1 Dman. After that, not a lot of depth, so Suter will need to stay healthy.
Goaltending - The good ol' somewhat reliable tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding gives them formidable goaltending. Backstrom has been consistant through the Wild lean years, while Harding has had an injury plagued career and is now recovering from MS.
7. San Jose Sharks
Forward - Another once high end team that is watching its depth being slowly eroded away. Still have a very formidable top 6 being led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Bottom end of the lineup has a lot of fresh faces to it.
Defense - Defense is in good shape with Brad Stuart coming back into the fold. A good blend of offensive puck-moving Dmen and rugged defensive Dmen.
Goaltending - Antti Niemi has emerged as the workhorse for the Sharks after posting 60+ games in each of the last two season with solid numbers.
8. Detroit Red Wings
Forward - Much like the Sharks, the Wings are watching their talent slowly slip away. Still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as the core of the team. Last years 4th liners are moving up to the 3rd line.
Defense - It was time, but the loss of Niklas Lidstrom is something that cannot be easily overcome. Red Wings brought in Carlo Colaiacovo and will bring in Brendan Smith up from their farm club to offset the loss.
Goaltending - This is the year we will find out exactly how good Jimmy Howard is. Likely will see an inflation in the numbers due to the losses of Lidstrom and Stuart.
9. Nashville Predators
Forward - Nashville has never been particularily deep at forward. Same style as before. Hard-working, defensive conscious types fill their roster. Question is will they score enough to matter?
Defense - Managed to keep Shea Weber but lost Ryan Suter to free agency. Youngster Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis will get chance to make an impact. Will they?
Goaltending - Pekka Rinne has been one of the most consistent goaltenders over the last 4 seasons. No reason to see him having any kind of a setback.
10. Dallas Stars
Forward - Forwards are filled with aging vets in newcomers Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. Much better depth and blend than in years past. Jamie Benn has emerged as the #1 C of the Stars.
Defense - Defense is thin and the chances of playing some unprovens is likely. Defense is far from spectacular but also far from weak.
Goaltending - Kari Lehtonen has given the Stars spectacular goaltending over the last two seasons. Will have to see how the defense holds up to see if Lehtonen's skills will matter.
11. Edmonton Oilers
Forward - Oilers have a unique blend of high octane youngsters and underachieving vets. It will be interesting to see which overcomes the other. Nail Yakupov is latest high pick to make his debut. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle all being a year older will only help this club.
Defense - A blend of underachieving vets and players looking to emerge. If things fall into place, it will look great, if not, it could be ugly. Justin Schultz will make his NHL debut after impressing at the AHL level.
Goaltending - Devan Dubnyk figures to get the bulk of the work this season. If Dubnyk falters Nikolai Khabibulin, likely his last season, will be looked upon for veteran relief.
12. Colorado Avalanche
Forward - Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene highlight the offense. Veterans Milan Hejduk and P.A. Parenteau figure to bring in secondary scoring. Nice blend of skill and ruggedness.
Defense - Tough but not enough offense from the backend unless one of their rookies emerge. Eric Johnson figures to put up the majority of the points from the backend but he has yet to emerge consistantly.
Goaltending - Once again they will go with the tandem of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere which is middling at best.
13. Anaheim Ducks
Forward - Veterans Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne will provide the bulk of the offense. Booby Ryan will chip in as well. After that the team is not very deep. It will be interesting to see what happens if this team starts slow.
Defense - Cam Fowler will need to emerge as a legit top pairing Dman for this team to have a chance of thinking about playoffs. Rest of the D consists of past their prime defenders.
Goaltending - Jonas Hiller is an above average goaltender that won't get a chance to look the part. He figures to see a lot of rubber this season.
14. Calgary Flames
Forwards - Center structure is weak. Have solid forwards but they are all wingers. Even Mike Cammelleri, who has been a winger for most of his career, might get a chance at center. Jerome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Cammelleri and newcomer Sven Baertschi will give the team some offensive punch.
Defense - The defense is middling. Mark Giordano has emerged as a decent top pairing Dman. The world is tired of waiting for Jay Bouwmeester to emerge. Spent a lot of money on Dennis Wideman. Defending could be an issue for this team overall.
Goaltending - Like Jonas Hiller, Miikka Kiprusoff figures to see a lot of rubber this season. 7 years in a row of 70+ games. The guy is a workhorse.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets
Forward - Team is in full rebuild mode. Team is filled with youngsters and castoffs. Bulk of goals figure to come from R.J. Umberger and Derrick Brassard. No more Rick Nash but instead have Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky.
Defense - L.A. castoff Jack Johnson leads this motley group. Have a nice blend of offensive and defenisve defensmen but its largely unproven.
Goaltending - Sergei Bobrovsky comes in to push incumbant Steve Mason to see who gets the bulk of the work. It probably won't matter in the end.