Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Wish List 2: The West

Ok, so here's what's on the Christmas Wish List for the Western Conference

Minnesota - Is there a bigger surprise than the West leading Wild?  Their meteoric rise under Mike Yeo and his revamped roster is the story of the year, all respect to the Panthers.  But they too have a wish list.  A little more O from the D is in need, and I don't think there's an in house answer.  Aside from that maybe the new, slimmer Guillaume Latendresse could just start playing like the fat, old one and score some goals.

Chicago - Some consistency would go a long way. The Blackhawks have looked like Cup Favourites this season before falling in to innexplicable losing slumps.  The back-end is solid with the growing talents of Nick Leddy and Nick Hjalmarsson and the return to form of Duncan Keith.  Andrew Brunette hasn't been a total flop, but this team could use one more proven scorer - they've got toughness in spades.

Phoenix - Goaltender Mike Smith has all but carried this team.  Radim Vrbata has set the pace offensively, and Ray Whitney is steady as ever, but the offense drops off sharply after that.  Kyle Turris is pointless in five games since ending his holdout.  It might be time to parlay him in to a veteran scorer with some term left on his contract.  One might not be enough though.

Detroit - Pavel Datsyuk is injured and Henrik Zetterberg has shown flashes of his old self, but it's the Mule and Val Filpula who have been carrying the torch offensively for Detroit.  They're heavily rumored in the Alex Semin sweepstakes and they need to be - this team is showing its age and needs to get younger and more explosive ASAP.

St.Louis - three of the top five teams are from the Central, and I stand by the Blues as my pick to eventually lead the division.  Jaro Halak is rounding in to form and Bryan Elliot continues to impress.  This team needs to score more, but won't.  They made the big change to take Ken Hitchcock off Columbus' hands early in the season and he was well suited to a deep blues team. They're incredibly deep down the middle and veteran laden, and they've just welcomed David Perron back in to the fold, so what do they need? A puck moving d-man, which is apparently not Kris Russel - yet.  The young blueliner was also acquired from Columbus and has yet to establish himself as the elite puck-mover we all thought he might one day be.  He probably won't ever so it might be time for St.Lou to shop around.

Vancouver - Cursed?  Nah.  Just unlucky for the entire 41 year history of the franchise is all.  Salo has been in and out of the line-up, and has pretty well been the best defender when he's healthy; when he's not it starts a domino effect for lack of defensive depth.  In a routing of Colorado the Canucks lost David Booth, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo. Lou and Bieksa are back but the top-six forward the Canucks finally landed is out four to six weeks.  Mason Raymond is back and playing well and Cody Hodgson has really stepped up of late, playing his best game ever on the road in Montreal last night.  All this team needs is some health.

San Jose - The Sharks are in seventh and have played three fewer games than most of the clubs ahead of them. They haven't been great at home and though their top-six forwards are among the best in the league collectively they haven't hit the after burners yet. They have allowed a conference low 60 goals this year, fueled largely by the signign of Brent Burns and revitalization of Marc-Edward Vlasic; along with Dan Boyle, Jason Demers, Douglas Murray and Justin Braun this is one of the best groups in the league and they're playing in front of a great goaltending tandem. They will need to add some scoring depth is they want a chance to make the third consecutive run at the West Finals a charm.

Dallas - The Stars are falling fast without Kari Lehtonen.  Brenden Morrow has helped buoy the ship but unfortunately he doesn't play goal.  If this team wants to continue the feel-good story they need to find a goalie fast.  Lehtonen isn't the answer long term anyway, and for this very reason, he's a bandaid, and Andrew Raycroft is not a good enough stop-gap.

Nashville - The Rinne signing was brilliant.  He's the best goalie in the league, period.  This shows a commitment to success that will help land the two stud d-men, UFA Ryan Suter and RFA and team Captain Shea Weber.  Unfortunately Suters stock has never been higher as he is on pace for a career year with near identical stats to the usually more dominant Weber.  They need to lock these two up ASAP and move forward.  Oh ya, they need scoring, what else is new?

Los Angeles - If the Wild are the biggest success story thus far in the West then the Kings are the biggest flop.  Who would've thought they'd be out of a playoff spot this far in to the season? They're awful at home and have lost three straight. A number of players have been slumping of late. They may need a shake-up to their top six to get things right again.  They still have a number of good young D prospects to waste on, I mean trade for top six talent.

Edmonton - The Oilers have lost two straigth and have slowly fallen off the pace they ran to start the season, and they've taken a big hit as Taylor Hall is out with a shoulder injury for an extended period of time.  This team can still make the playoffs this season and the Hall injury may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Magnus Paajarvi has points in two of his last three games.  This team is missing a puck-mover (is there an echo in here?) and hopefully Ryan Whitney can stay healthy long enough to be that guy. Edmonton's D-Corps is underrated but they need a punch in the arm from the back end that they're currently missing.

Calgary - The Flames don't need to blow it up.  They've got a lot of pieces they need to find a way to bring together.  I really don't think Brent Sutter is the coach to turn things around; they may benefit from making a change behind the bench.  Leyland Irving finally got the call after Henrik Karlsson got injured. Kipper has been OK in net this year but Irving's youth might be rejuvinating.  They of course as always need a true number-one centre and should try to acquire one before dumping Jarome Iginla as part of a major rebuild.  They owe it to him.

Colorado - The Avs need scoring help.  David Jones, Brandon Yip and TJ Galiardi have so much potential it's frustrating to watch them underachieve this year...ditto for Paul Stastny. This team is young, and 2011s first round pick Gabriel Landeskog is performing well in this youthful environment but they need scoring help and better D.  Goaltending has been hit and miss but the duo of Giggy and Varlamov are not to blame for the Avs recent slump.

Anaheim - The Ducks aren't who we thought they were.  This team has one good line and one great old Finn upfront but their youth won't develop fast enough to fill this void.  They are basically an AHL team after the top line, and when the top line isn't performing it becomes obvious.  They continue to squander leads under Bruce Boudreau.  Jonas Hiller is spectacular some nights...awful others.  If they can find a taker for Hiller they should unload him; it doesn't look like he'll ever be a true number one and they need the money to shore up the top six.  They also need to start begging Teemu Selanne to come back for another year now.  For all intents and purposes the season is over for the Ducks so they need to start rebuilding.

Columbus - What a mess! Carter wants out already and he's barely played. Derrick Brassard is at odds with the team, and rightfully so.  This teams needs a lot of everything.

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