With the NHL season about to begin, The Boston Globe examines the teams in the Western Conference.
COACH: Mike Babcock (Seventh season with Red Wings).
RECORD: 47-25-10, 104 points, 3d in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to San Jose in Round 2.
NOTABLE: Rare to see Hockeytown in hibernation by early May, especially two years in a row. Winged Wheels remain a powerhouse, though they’re in transition due to aging parts: Nicklas Lidstrom (41), Tomas Holmstrom (38), and Todd Bertuzzi (36). Host of injuries, including in playoffs (Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen) hobbled them throughout. Ex-UMaine man Jimmy Howard delivered big in net. In need of kids such as forward Justin Abdelkader to become anchors.
COACH: Alain Vigneault (Sixth season with Canucks).
RECORD: 54-19-9, 117 points, 1st in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Boston in Cup Final.
NOTABLE: Won Presidents’ Trophy for most points in regular season, then blew a tire or two against Bruins in Cup Final, where inseparable twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin were Brothers Invisible and a banged-up Ryan Kesler not his top-shelf self. Only minor roster turnover, save for D Christian Ehrhoff bolting for Buffalo. They need to be a little tougher (hence: Todd Fedoruk invited to training camp) and more focused, especially goalie Roberto Luongo. Beware the Cup runner-up’s hangover.
3. SAN JOSE
COACH: Todd McLellan (Fourth season with Sharks).
RECORD: 48-25-9, 105 points, 2d in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Vancouver in Round 3.
NOTABLE: It’s even more about Jumbo Joe Thornton now that Dany Heatley has been dished to the Wild, along with Devin Setoguchi. For the second year in row, Sharks fell in the conference final, in large part because top forwards couldn’t deliver against the Canucks in vital moments. Task would seem harder now with Thornton and Patrick Marleau both 32 years old. Key additions: Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat up front, along with Brent Burns in back.
4. LOS ANGELES
COACH: Terry Murray (Fourth season with Kings).
RECORD: 46-30-6, 98 points, 7th in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to San Jose in Round 1.
NOTABLE: Impressive offseason footwork by GM Dean Lombardi, adding ex-Flyer Mike Richards and still productive Simon Gagne from the Bolts. Both forwards should bring needed scoring pop (Kings were held to paltry 219 goals last season). Provided defenseman Drew Doughty is in place (contract issues), it’s time for these guys to fly. Two forwards in Anze Kopitar and Richards, with Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick, ex- of UMass, to form a fortress in back end.
COACH: Joel Quenneville (Fourth season with Blackhawks).
RECORD: 44-22-9, 97 points, 8th in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Vancouver in Round 1.
NOTABLE: Won Cup in 2010, then cap issues forced Hawks to cashier much of the support staff, leading to drop in the standings and first-round KO. Still an elite club, led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane up front, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in back. More maturity among depth players should make for steadier easier entry into playoffs. Lots of questions prior to last season about Corey Crawford’s ability to be a No. 1 goaltender, but he responded with impressive 33-18-6 season.
COACH: Randy Carlyle (Seventh season with Ducks).
RECORD: 47-30-5, 99 points, 4th in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Nashville in Round 1.
NOTABLE: Little change in the cast after a decent season, which had rookie defenseman Cam Fowler logging impressive minutes and putting up a respectable 40 points. It remains a Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan club, all three young forwards capable of pushing 100 points. Midseason issues with vertigo-like symptoms caused woes for No. 1 stopper Jonas Hiller. Provided he’s OK, it’s a club that can challenge for a top-four spot in the West.
COACH: Brent Sutter (Third season with Flames).
RECORD: 41-29-12, 94 points, 10th in West.
NOTABLE: Need to keep building on last season’s strong second half, which left them only a couple of wins short of making the playoffs. Likes of Jay Bouwmeester, speedy Mark Giordano, and Cory Sarich have to pace effort to shave, say, 8-10 percent off goals-against. Otherwise, leaders F Jarome Iginla (34) and G Miikka Kiprusoff (35) are showing age and wear. Pricey, guaranteed contracts inherited by GM Jay Feaster don’t allow many changes.
COACH: Barry Trotz (13th season with Predators).
RECORD: 44-27-11, 99 points, 5th in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Vancouver in Round 2.
NOTABLE: Cost-conscious Predators needed to pony up $7.5 million in arbitration, largest award in league history, to keep franchise cornerstone Shea Weber on the backline. Trotz will keep this budget group relevant, but it will be hard to push for 100 points again, especially with so little pop among forwards (helped some by Mike Fisher deadline acquisition). It’s all about grinding two-way play, front-to-back defense, and Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne in net.
COACH: Mike Yeo (rookie NHL season).
RECORD: 39-35-8, 86 points, 12th in West.
NOTABLE: In need of a certain something, GM Chuck Fletcher picked ex-San Jose forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, along with Yeo as coach, to provide it. Impressive splash factor, but the key will be whether well-traveled Heatley rekindles desire and scoring touch at age 30. If it’s Dany Lite for the three years left on deal, then bang won’t match bucks ($7.5 million cap hit). First NHL coaching shot for Yeo after he turned around the AHL Houston franchise.
COACH: Dave Tippett (Third season with Coyotes).
RECORD: 43-26-13, 99 points, 6th in West.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Detroit in Round 1.
NOTABLE: With Atlanta shifted to Winnipeg, the Coyotes return as NHL’s next likely club to head for the mother country (keep a light on, Quebec City, please). Finally back in playoffs the last two seasons, but dinged in Round 1 both times, simply because their low-budget roster can’t contend with the league iron. Now they must try to do more, despite departure of franchise goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to Philly. Shane Doan led scoring with 60 points.
COACH: Scott Arniel (Second season with Blue Jackets).
RECORD: 34-35-13, 81 points, 13th in West
NOTABLE: One playoff visit in 10 seasons had GM Scott Howson in need of making an offseason splash and he delivered with acquisition of Flyer forward Jeff Carter. Key here remains franchise centerpiece Rick Nash, but with Carter aboard Nash doesn’t have to be the Buckeye with the bull’s-eye on his back every night. Addition of free agent James Wisniewski will add some pop to backline. Steve Mason was Rookie of the Year in ’09, but has been a tepid 44-47-16 since.
12. ST. LOUIS
COACH: Davis Payne (Third season with Blues).
RECORD: 38-33-11, 87 points, 11th in West
NOTABLE: Added some veteran leadership with free agent forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. But the Blues will still struggle to avoid a sixth DNQ in seven seasons. Team remains in sale process and will enter the season some $8 million below salary cap. It’s Show-Me time for Sons of Golden Brett (last seen: May 1998). Key will be performances of ex-Avs Chris Stewart (F) and Kevin Shattenkirk (D), obtained in last season’s Erik Johnson swap, and goalie Jaroslav Halak.
COACH: Tom Renney (Second season with Oilers).
RECORD: 25-45-12, 62 points, 15th in West.
NOTABLE: A pair of No. 1 picks (Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) leave the Oil with two dream forwards, though the latter might not be ready to stop in like Hall (42 points in 65 games last season). Lots of kids, front to back, backed by aging Nikolai Khabibulin in net. Franchise hasn’t returned to playoffs since falling to Carolina in the ’06 Cup Final. Even with returning Ryan Smyth to provide leadership, high end here is not more than an 80- or 85-point season. Oilers in real need of dividends. Now.
COACH: Joe Sacco (Third season with Avs).
RECORD: 30-44-8, 68 points, 14th in West.
NOTABLE: Joe Sakic joined the front office in the offseason in Cam Neely-face-of-franchise role. Now we’ll see if Cap’n Joe can help stop worrisome slide. Biggest roster change came in net: out with Peter Budaj and Craig Anderson and in with ex-Cap Semyon Varlamov and veteran J.S. Giguere. Need Erik Johnson, acquired in second half from the Blues, to embrace role of franchise defenseman and for Paul Stastny (57 points last year) to fulfill point-per-game potential.
COACH: Glen Gulutzan (rookie NHL season).
RECORD: 42-29-11, 95 points, 9th in West.
NOTABLE: Brad Richards, gone (see: Broadway). Coach Marc Crawford, gone (see: various broadcast jobs). And maybe the owner gone, too, if a bona fide buyer steps up with intentions to keep franchise in Big D. Gulutzan, promoted from the AHL, inherits a group pegged to drift lower in standings. Ex-Bruin Michael Ryder was hired to help fill the Richards scoring void. He’s likely to have fellow ex-Hab Mike Ribeiro tossing him puck, maybe more, if Ryder is his oft-inconsistent self.