A new season is upon us and we already have a grasp of what to expect in the “Wild” Western Conference. At least to start the campaign, that is. Let’s take a look at what’s ahead for each team.
In the Central Division a few big developments have occurred. Cristobal Huet comes out the big winner of the Chicago goalie sweepstakes and should be in line for a solid season on a young but dynamic Blackhawks team. Dustin Byfuglien is possibly the biggest fantasy loophole this season gaining both forward and defense eligibility in fantasy hockey leagues. He could pick up 50 points in one of your defense positions.
Derrick Brassard seems to have won the center sweepstakes in Columbus skating between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius, while R.J. Umberger is slated for second line duties with Jakub Voracek and Fredrik Modin. Nikita Filatov is still trying to earn the last roster spot on a suddenly deep Blue Jackets squad.
Nothing surprising is happening in Motown, but with the addition of Marian Hossa it has allowed some flexibility in splitting Henrik Zetterberg from Pavel Datsyuk. Jiri Hudler deserves a jump in value lining up with Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
In Nashville, one of Dobber’s favorites, Patric Hornqvist seems to have moved up on the depth charts to play on a much underrated Preds top-line of Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont. That should at least soften the blow of the potential loss of Alexander Radulov to the KHL.
Possibly the biggest surprise this season could be the Blues offense. The Blues top line of Andy McDonald, Lee Stempniak and Brad Boyes tallied a total of 35 points in just five pre-season games. Most fantasy owners probably bypassed a lot of Blues players during their drafts, but with this impressive pre-season these three must be owned right now.
There haven’t been a lot of big developments stemming from the Northwest Division, but there are a few noteworthy changes. Todd Bertuzzi seems to have rekindled some of the chemistry he had playing with Jarome Iginla during the Olympics. It looks like Daymond Langkow will center the two, which could leave recently acquired Mike Cammalleri with the short end of the stick.
Joe Sakic returns for another season in Colorado and should score at a point-per-game pace. Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj will battle it out all season long for the number one gig in Colorado. J.M. Liles will probably welcome Tony Granato back behind the Avs bench; Liles scored 14 goals each season he played under Granato while only picking up six goals last season under Joel Quenneville in his doghouse.
The Oilers will start the season with three goalies. Jeff Deslauriers needs to clear waivers if he is sent down to the minors, and there will be another NHL team ready to jump on his services if that happens. Mathieu Garon has played well enough to earn the starting gig, so you’ll probably see Dwayne Roloson dealt sometime during the season for a bucket of pucks. Sheldon Souray seems to be back to 2006 form where he tallied 64 points in 81 games. There will be less pressure on him now that they also added Lubomir Visnovsky on the blue line. The Oilers power play certainly looks revamped and could be one of the top units in the NHL this season.
In Canuck country, it appears that Steve Bernier has landed on the top-line with the Sedin twins as they have wreaked havoc during the whole pre-season. He is definitely worth a mid to late-round pick in any remaining fantasy drafts or alternatively if you have already drafted and if he’s still available on the waiver wire definitely pick him up asap.
The Wild are still trying to lock up Marian Gaborik long-term, but it doesn’t appear that will be likely before the season starts. Gabby deserves to be on a more offensive team as he has top 10 scoring potential on a team that is more explosive than the defense-minded Wild. Niklas Backstrom will enter the season as the Wild’s number one goalie, but Josh Harding will probably get into 25-30 games, so if you own Backstrom make sure you handcuff yourself with Harding.
There have been a few changes that have occurred down south in the Pacific Division. Bobby Ryan, the player who was drafted behind Sidney Crosby, was sent down to Iowa of the AHL due to “salary cap reasons”. I guess that’s what you get for paying a kid $1.1 million for playing in 23 NHL games in his career. Brendan Morrison might have a solid comeback season playing alongside Teemu Selanne. Selanne and Markus Naslund play a very similar brand of hockey, so having Selanne lineup beside Morrison might re-kindle some of that magic he had while playing for the Canucks six seasons ago. Jonas Hiller finished last season with one of the best numbers in the league, 2.06 GAA and .927 SP, and could get an extended look at starting a few more games to preserve J.S. Giguere’s energy for the post-season.
Experts have been negative at times towards Fabian Brunnstrom since he signed with Dallas last season, but he has earned a spot on the top-line with Brendan Morrow and Mike Ribeiro coming out of the pre-season. Daniel Alfredsson came over to the NHL as a 23-year-old and tallied 61 points in his rookie season with Ottawa. The big question on everyone’s mind is will Brunnstrom do the same? Sergei Zubov is 38, and Philippe Boucher is finally healthy, so look for Boucher to return back to 2006 form where he tallied 51 points in 76 contests.
In Hollywoodland,. the Kings have yet to re-sign Patrick O’Sullivan. There seems to be conflicting stories regarding what the two sides are arguing about, one story is over the length of the contract another is about the money. The Kings are well beneath the salary cap, so it’s most likely regarding the length. Either way Oscar Moller has taken advantage of the situation and is slated to join Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown on the Kings top-line. The Kings also had a goalie dilemma with Erik Ersberg, Jason LaBarbera and the recently cut Jon Quick all vying for the number one gig in LA, all of which are not worth owning in fantasy leagues until the dust settles.
The team with the highest expectation for improvement this season has to be the Coyotes. With the addition of Olli Jokinen in the off-season and another year of development for youngsters Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal, they certainly will be a threat to contend for the Pacific crown this season. Mueller has had a brilliant pre-season while notching a hat trick against San Jose. It also appears that he has secured the top-line spot playing alongside Shane Doan and Jokinen. Mueller should be in for a breakout year and tally around the point-per-game mark. Mikkel Boedker is also someone to keep an eye on as he has done everything right to earn a spot on the Coyotes roster during the pre-season. If Boedker sticks with the big club, he could be a solid candidate to win the Calder trophy at the end of the season, you heard it here first!
In Sharks territory, youngster Devin Setoguchi seems to have earned a top power-play unit gig alongside Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, which should increase his value dramatically. Blake looks rejuvenated and should be in line for a solid comeback season while playing for a more offensive and defensively responsible Sharks team. Look for him to get back into the 45-50 point range without the huge plus/minus hit.