Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fantasy Hockey Preview - Western Conference

In part 2 of my fantasy preview, I will go through the teams of the West and give an overview of how the offseason impacted these teams and also suggest a few guys to keep an eye on that could be a good pick up in those later rounds.

The Western Conference doesn't get as much attention as the East because of the marquee young stars like Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin. But for the fantasy owners out there, the West is where you will find most of your elite goaltenders. Now here is the Western Conference preview.

Anaheim Ducks:
The Ducks made a major move this offseason with the trade of Chris Pronger to the Flyers. With the departure of Pronger, this allows for Ryan Whitney, who was traded to the Ducks from the Penguins right before the trade deadline last year, to step up and take a much larger role on the blue line for the ducks. Ryan Getzlaf, who is still recovering from offseason surgery, hopes to be ready for the start of the season. The Ducks do have a question in net, as past #1 goaltender J.S Giguere lost the job late last year to Jonas Hiller. Will Hiller remain at this spot? And does the recent acquisition of Justin Pogge also foreshadow a future without the former Conn Smythe winner? Regardless, the Ducks have talent from top to bottom, so look for them to make a strong push for the cup this year. Recent acquisition Saku Koivu may be someone to keep an eye on late to provide some offensive numbers and also former Tampa Bay forward Evgeny Artyukhin could provide some PIM help.

Calgary Flames:
The Flames are a team that has their fair share of big name players and the acquisition Jay Bouwmeester at last years’ trade deadline was a move that improved what was a struggling defense. If Dion Phaneuf can overcome a dismal year and play like he had been in the past, the Flames could have a blue line to be reckoned with. With all this big time talent and strong goaltending, the Flames do lack depth in their lineup and must stay healthy or have their 2nd tier guys pick up some slack in order to be successful, if this happens, then the Flames could be a sleeper in the West. Some guys to keep an eye on and may be available in the later rounds are Rene Bourque and Daymond Langkow who always put up consistent offensive numbers.

Chicago Blackhawks:
The Chicago Blackhawks, not only made the playoffs last year for the first time in 7 years, but advanced all the way to the Conference Finals last year, before losing to the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks have a lot of young talent in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and with the addition of John Madden and Marian Hossa, the Hawks have the chance to yet again make another great run at the Cup this year. However with Marian Hossa recovering from surgery and possibly missing a month or more at the beginning of the season, the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin, and the off-ice distractions of Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks may have a bit of a struggle coming out of the gate this year. Dustin Byfuglien is someone you may want to pick up in the later rounds. His ability to play both forward and defense will allow you a lot of versatility in your lineup. Also defenseman Brian Campbell would be a good guy to have on your blue line and should be available to pick up late.

Colorado Avalanche:
The Colorado Avalanche were one of the worst teams in the NHL last year and with the retirement of Joe Sakic and the trading of Ryan Smith, the Avalanche lost a few top line players. Bringing in goaltender Craig Anderson will give them a chance every night, but without much else on the ice, they will have a hard time coming away with any wins consistently. The Avalanche will definitely have to start rebuilding and may be at the bottom for quite some time. Paul Stastny will look to be their first line center and should be available late and could be someone to pick up. Also 1st round choice Matt Duchene might be a good pick up as he has a good chance to make the team and also get a lot of playing time with the potential to put up some decent numbers.

Columbus Blue Jackets:
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, the big story last year was Calder Cup winner goaltender Steve Mason, who after stepping in for Pascal Leclaire, let the league on fire with his unbelievable goaltending play and led the Blue Jackets to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Blue Jackets hope that Mason will not be a one hit wonder and be able to enjoy more continued success in the future. The Blue Jackets have a lot of depth up front led by Rick Nash but are quite thin on the blue line. They should make the playoffs yet again this year but without the depth on the blue line, may make an early exit once again. Forwards RJ Umberger and Kristian Huselius are players you may want to pick up late to provide some decent scoring in your lineup.

Dallas Stars:
The Dallas Stars hope to rebound from a disappointing freefall last season after a good start. In order to do so, the Stars need to remain healthy and establish consistent goaltending. Marty Turco, struggled much of last season and the stars need him to be all-star goalie of the past, otherwise recent acquisition Alex Auld may need to step in to take over. If more of the same happen this year, the Stars will again experience the same results. Some players to keep in mind are Loui Erikkson and sophomore player James Neal, these players can provide offensive punch.

Detroit Red Wings:
The Detroit Red Wings came within 1 game of a Stanley Cup repeat last year. The Red Wings consistently play deep into the playoffs every year, and in the past 2 years played just about as many games a team can play in a season. With many of the guys being on the other end of the spectrum age wise, this may begin to take a toll on them. In the off season, Detroit lost Marian Hossa to the Blackhawks and signed yet another veteran, Todd Bertuzzi to the squad this offseason. Detroit is one of the few teams in the league that have enough offensive depth, that they can roll 4 lines without losing a beat. The Wings lost a few of their skill guys but once again will be a strong contender for the Cup this year. Some players to keep an eye on in the late rounds are Ville Leino and also Justin Abdelkader is someone to keep an eye on in training camp, he had a strong rookie campaign last year and has great potential depending on what his role with the team is.

Edmonton Oilers:
The Edmonton Oilers, with Pat Quinn at the helm, newly acquired Nikolai Khabibulin in net, and all the young talent on their team, finally seem poised to make a shot at the playoffs this year. With the Dany Heatly saga behind them, the Oilers can begin developing and utilizing all the young talent on their roster. They need these young players to start producing in order to have any shot this year, but with everything in place, the time may be right for the Oilers. Some players that may be available late are defenseman Ladislav Smid and forwards Ales Hemsky and Patrick O’Sullivan. All three players struggled last year, but have the potential to have a breakout season this year.

Los Angeles Kings:
The Los Angeles Kings are another team that is filled with potential up front and on the blue line. The Kings hope that recent acquisition Rob Scuderi will be another piece they can add to their defense that already hosts the likes of Jack Johnson and Sean O’Donnell. After another poor season, the Kings hope that Ryan Smyth will be able to have a breakthrough season that will hopefully filter through to Alexander Frolov, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams, all of which have the potential of being big time goal scorers. The Kings do lack in the goaltending department and will need either Jon Quick or Erik Ersberg to step up or the Kings will be on the outside looking in yet again this year. Both Alexander Frolov and Anze Kopitar both have the potential of scoring 30 goals and should be kept in mind in the later rounds.

Minnesota Wild:
The Minnesota Wild with new GM Chuck Fletcher and new coach Todd Richards, hope that their prior experiences and success with the Pittsburgh Penguins can carry over to the Wild. Richards boasts a more offensive system, rather than the defensive system of Lemaire. With the talent that the Wild possess, Richards’ more upbeat tempo may be what the Wild need to bounce back from a disappointing season last year. With the departure of Marian Gaborik, the Wild acquired Martin Havlat to fill the void. If Havlat can stay healthy this season, then he would have done better than Gaborik did last year. A guy to keep in mind is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, year after year he has consistently put up a lot of assists and is most certainly someone if available in the later rounds is someone to think about taking.

Nashville Predators:
The Nashville Predators, despite having the other standout rookie goaltender from last year in Pekka Rinne, was unable to make the playoffs last year. The Predators lack offensive talent and without any major moves in the off season, will need their current roster of players such as Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan to begin playing up to their potential. Until the Predators as a whole start producing more, they will once again fail to make the playoffs. Both Martin Erat and Steve Sullivan should have breakout seasons this year and could be some good pickups in the late rounds.

Phoenix Coyotes:
The Phoenix Coyotes are again dealing with uncertainty this upcoming season with the ownership up in the air in addition with the virtual non-existence of coach Wayne Gretzky ; the Phoenix Coyotes may not even be the Phoenix Coyotes by mid-season. With all the off-ice distractions, it’s no wonder the Coyotes are also struggling on the ice. The Coyotes have enough talent on the ice and in net to be a contender in the West, but it’s hard to focus when there is no stability at the top. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski is a solid offensive defenseman that could be available in the later rounds and also forward Peter Mueller is poised to step out of his slump to put up some big numbers this year.

San Jose Sharks:
The San Jose Sharks, after gaining the #1 seed in the West last season, had yet another disappointing showing in the playoffs by losing to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. With superb goaltending in Evgeni Nabokov, and big time stars in Joe Thornton up front and Rob Blake on the blue line, there is no reason why the Sharks shouldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. Now with the addition of former Ottawa Senator Dany Heatly, the Sharks have definitely added some goal scoring power to their lineup. The big stars must produce consistently not only throughout the year, but also in the playoffs in order to prevent an exit in the first round for the 3rd straight year this year. Forward Devin Setoguchi is someone that may be available late and in recent years has put up some big time offensive numbers.

St. Louis Blues:
The St. Louis Blues, even with both Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson out with injuries, were able to make the playoffs last year. With both of them ready to return this season they will add to an already talented team and could make a nice run into the playoffs this year. The Blues are packed with talent and some guys you may want to keep an eye on in the later rounds are forwards David Backes who will provide some good numbers and defenseman Erik Johnson who has the potential to put up some good offense from the blue line.

Vancouver Canucks:
The Vancouver Canucks, after losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2nd round last year, resigned their ‘Captain’ goalie Roberto Luongo to a 12 year extension. In addition to re-signing the Sedin twins Henrik and Daniel, their offseason acquisitions of forward Mikael Samuelsson and defensemen Christian Ehroff and Mathieu Schneider have added both offense and depth to not only up front but also their blue line. The Canucks are poised to make a legitimate run at the Cup this year and need Luongo to play up to his potential in the playoffs to ensure the Canucks success this year. A few guys to keep an eye on would be forward Mikael Samuelsson, who while playing for the Red Wings was able to put up some good numbers and also defenseman Kevin Bieksa who can put up some good offensive numbers from the blue line.

Hopefully some of the guys I mentioned will be available for you to pick up in the later rounds and be able to provide some good numbers for you. Remember to keep an eye on the line combos and PP units as the pre-season progresses. That gives you an indication of what the opening night line combinations will be.

Until next time: I'll keep you posted... Between the Pipes.

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