Colin Dambrauskas: The 2014-15 Western Conference – Thoughts & Predictions!

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As the preseason progresses and roster sizes begin to diminish while teams prepare for their 2014-15 regular season campaign, I felt that it would be a good idea to open the discussion with respect to predictions for each conference!

With that being said (and as I write this while wearing my new skates which I’m trying to break in before my next men’s league game), today’s blog will offer some thoughts and comments towards Western Conference teams who I feel will do well during this upcoming season, but also speak toward those who I feel may regress.

The 2014 summer saw many transactions league wide and with that, I feel there will be a greater shuffle than viewed during previous years in terms of teams who made the playoffs most recently, with those who were not as fortunate.

Rather than getting out of hand and possibly relying too heavily on my crystal ball, I will break down the predictions in terms of each division, rather than the conference as a whole. Trying to predict complete standings this early in the year is, well, a little too asinine for this writer. So without further ramble, here’s what I have to offer. Anaheim – A high powered offense has become even more potent for 2014-2015. The story for this team won’t be a lack of scoring, but there are definite questions on the defensive side of the equation.

In many ways this team reminds me of the Washington Capitals teams of the past where free-wheeling offense simply overwhelmed teams in the regular season. While Anaheim will be relying on some combination of Andersen/Gibson/Who knows who else in between the pipes this year, I’m confident that whoever tends net will receive ample run support. Look for Anaheim to win the division. Vancouver – Ryan Miller isn’t better than Roberto Luongo. Radim Vrbata is a downgrade from Ryan Kesler (although he might be less injury prone, so it could even out). I don’t see the Canucks being significantly better than they were last year. Come playoff time, don’t expect to see any of the Canadian teams in this division suiting up for anything more than colourful golfing attire. San Jose – The Sharks’ offseason decisions have been a complete dumpster fire. I honestly don’t know what’s going on in Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan’s brains, but stripping the captaincy from your best player and counting on a collection of goons and meatheads to get you to the Stanley Cup really doesn’t seem like a winning recipe to me.

That said, this team’s too talented to tank completely… unless Doug Wilson completely loses what’s left of his mind and sells Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for jellybeans and Tim Erixon rookie cards. Arizona – The Coyotes have one star player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and one of the best coaches in hockey in Dave Tippett. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all they have. Mike Smith is an average NHL goaltender who had one stellar season, and the rest of the roster is full of depth players who have bought into a system that allows them to be competitive despite their inadequacies as a group.

Look for Sam Gagner to lead this offense, although that’s not really anything to get too excited about. Pacific Division Standings Predictions:

Anaheim

L.A.

San Jose

Edmonton

Vancouver

Phoenix

Calgary

Central Division Colorado – The Avalanche won the division last year on the back of Semyon Varlamov. He single-handedly allowed this team to win games they had no business winning by standing tall time and time again when the advanced stats guys would tell you the Avalanche were outplayed in the contest. It is likely that the Avalanche may regress, but do not by any means count them out the playoff picture.

This team is one that I will be keeping a close eye on, as the overall talent and depth could very well yield more success than they’ve realized to date. That being said, by the end of this season Patrick Roy could be singing a different tune in regards to the value of advanced statistics. Winnipeg – The Jets need a goaltender desperately, but unfortunately for the Winnipeg faithful GM Kevin Cheveldayoff seems to be either unwilling or unable to address the biggest area of weakness for this team. This is the season where the wheels fall off completely and drastic changes are made. The first of which could very well be a new GM. Dallas – Jim Nill is on the hunt for the NHL’s most improved award. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are legitimate superstars in the making, and Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky will both provide significant secondary scoring as they will play relatively sheltered minutes for the first time in each of their respective careers.

Look for this offense to eat teams alive as the Stars challenge the Blackhawks for the division title this season. Blues – I’m getting real sick of saying this year after year, but like Edmonton, this team is due. I can’t say that the two teams have much in common other than falling below expectations, but I strongly feel that both St Louis and Edmonton will have greater success this upcoming season than what previous seasons yielded. And of course, of the two that is most likely to fall flat on their faces again, Edmonton fans might not be able to endure another failed attempt at improvement.

Expect St Louis to compete with the best of them, and Edmonton to surprise the masses…one way or the other. Nashville – A healthy Pekka Rinne could single-handedly boost the Predators in the standings this year, but I’m personally not convinced that Peter Laviolette will be able to get more out of this group than Barry Trotz was able to. I’m also concerned about a team built around 3 reclamation projects at center ice as Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, and Mike Ribeiro are all looking for a fresh start with the Preds this year.

Realistically, I could see one of these guys having a bounce-back kind of year, but counting on all 3 at the same time just doesn’t bode well. Central Division Predictions

Chicago

Dallas

St. Louis

Colorado

Minnesota

Nashville

Winnipeg

That wraps it up for the Western Conference thoughts and predictions. I will also throw together a blog to cover my thoughts on the Eastern Conference at some point tomorrow.

In closing, I would like to hear from you!

Are there any teams listed above who you disagree with in terms of where they were ranked?

Were there comments and or predictions you disagreed with? Chime in!

Thanks for reading!

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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