With the NHL finally starting up, it's time to preview the wild, wild west. How will the west be won? Despite this being an impossible question, it's safe to say Canadian teams will be strong as always.
On the west coast, the Vancouver Canucks made some possibly deadly, under-the-radar moves during the offseason, picking up some quality players like Keith Ballard. Also joining the Canucks defensive core are Ryan Parent and Dan Hamhuis. These additions, plus Roberto Luongo looking like he's already in mid season form and a stronger defense, will make the Canucks very hard to score on. Not much change happened or was needed on the offensive side of things, thanks to the scoring power of the Sedin twins. Raffi Torres is the only notable new face in the group of forwards, as he earned himself a top six spot out of training camp.
Look for the Canucks to make a big Stanley Cup push this season. They are Canada's best chance at a cup this year (sorry, Flames fans) and will likely take the northwest, finishing second overall in the west.
In the city of once champions, now unfortunate losers, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to have a bounce back year. The Oilers could be good after adding Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and naming Tom Renney as head coach. The team could easily come off as unintimidating and inexperienced, but have enormous skill on the ice and will only improve with experience. Although they are showing both veteran skill and attitude, the longer and tougher travel season of the NHL could prove hard for the core of rookies in the long run. As far as season end position, they will be much, much better than last year but still won't make the playoffs. A ninth to 11th place finish is likely for the Oilers, who look to do better in the future after they rebuild.
The Flames had a bitter taste in their mouths after not making the playoffs last year. Adding Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay to the group, the Flames should improve on their 2.2 goals per game average. The top line struggled early in the season, so the Flames moved Matt Stajan up to centre the top line and Jokinen was pushed back to the second line.
As for end of the season results, if the Flames can play like they did against the Kings and the Oilers they will almost guarantee themselves a post-season ticket. If not it could be a long season for Calgary. The Flames could finish seventh in the conference.
The American teams in the west all have a great chance at the playoffs and even the cup. Look for Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis to battle for spots. Some dark horses could be the Dallas Stars, who have come out of nowhere and now sit at the top of the pacific division. The Colorado Avalanche are looking to repeat the surprising, come-out-of-nowhere season they had last year and hope to lock up a higher playoff spot than eighth.
At regular season end, the Canucks could be in second, the Oilers in ninth and the Flames in seventh. The team atop the west will be none other than the Chicago Blackhawks. In the Western Conference Final, it will be the Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings. The Canucks will finally beat the Hawks in the playoffs and advance to the conference finals. The series will be a good, hard-played and filled with big hits.