Philadelphia, PA – The Vancouver Canucks had by far the reliance of-29 opportunities strength goals in the entire seven-game series.
The Canucks will now have to deal with a shortened offseason and injuries to important offensive contributors, such as Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. Don't forget, Kesler and Christian Ehrhoff, who signed with Buffalo over the summer, were two-fifths of No. 1 power play unit, one that led the league with 72 goals and a 24.3 percentage. Look for those numbers to drop in 2011-12.
The Canucks are extremely fortunate to play in the worst division in hockey as they were 18-4-2 against the other four squads last year - the most wins by one team in its own division. Given that, they will once again finish first in the Northwest but the bigger question is: Can Vancouver repeat as conference champions?
When one looks at the injury concerns as well as the fact that not one of the last five Western Conference Stanley Cup representatives finished with a better record the following season, it's fair to say the Canucks will falter from their perch as "Best in the West."
Bold prediction - Daniel and Henrik Sedin each pick up just 82 points on the season as opposing defenses will have an easier time containing the top line.
A WHOLE NEW OFFENSE IN MINNESOTA
With the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, and hopefully injury- free seasons from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, Minnesota will surely score more than the 206 goals the club potted last season.
However, the new pressure-the-puck style of coaching from Mike Yeo could cause problems for the defense. To that end, the Wild's key question is: How will an extremely inexperienced defense handle the transition?
Minnesota's backline is not inundated with precise passers. Outside of Marek Zidlicky, there's not a single defenseman that the team can count on to start the offense in the defensive zone. In addition, half of the top six D-men have played fewer than 240 career games.
Bold prediction - Minnesota drops to fourth in the Northwest.
CAN COLORADO STAY HEALTHY THIS SEASON?
The Colorado Avalanche started the 2010-11 campaign strong with 47 points in their first 41 games. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out and the club garnered just 21 points in the second half of the season with a 5-26-2 record to end the year.
The injury bug that has affected this team dearly over the last couple of years has reared its ugly head once again. Newly acquired defenseman Jan Hejda (knee) and winger Brandon Yip (arm) are both questionable to play in the opener against Detroit.
For the Avalanche to be successful, they need healthy seasons from Semyon Varlamov, Peter Mueller, Milan Hejduk, T.J. Galiardi, David Jones, and Kyle Quincey along with the aforementioned duo. That's a lot to ask for such a young team.
Bold prediction - Erik Johnson shatters his career high in points with 49.
WILL THIS BE THE YEAR THE OILERS BREAK OUT OF THE CELLAR?
Edmonton has garnered a league-low 62 points each of the last two seasons, which has allowed the team to amass a solid core of young talent. However, the only way the Oilers can move up in the standings is if goaltender Devan Dubnyk starts the majority of the games.
Dubnyk gave the struggling squad a chance to win almost every contest he played last season allowing three goals or less in 21 of his final 27 starts. On the flip side, Nikolai Khabibulin gave up four goals or more in 11 of his last 21 starts. Not surprisingly, Edmonton was victorious in just two of those games.
As is the case with Colorado, the Oilers need to remain healthy. Both Ryan Whitney and Taylor Hall suffered ankle injuries last year with the former missing the final 47 games and the latter sitting out the last 17. Moreover, team leaders Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff played in just 47 contests. With Whitney and Hemsky still not 100%, the immediate future doesn't look as bright as the distant future, especially with a defense (minus Whitney) that lacks many puck carriers.
Bold prediction - Dubnyk doubles his win total from a year ago.
WILL CALGARY'S OFFENSE FADE AFTER A MONSTER SEASON?
Two seasons ago, the Flames finished dead last in the NHL with 204 goals. Last year, they jumped all the way up to the fifth spot with 250. Still, the rise in scoring wasn't good enough to carry them into the playoffs.
Superstar forward Jarome Iginla improved his goal total by 11, but the previous two years he increased his tallies by at least 10, his goal totals dropped by 15 and 17 the following seasons. In addition, many of his teammates had career years last year, such as Curtis Glencross, Mark Giordano, and David Moss, who scored 17 goals in only 58 games. Even Alex Tanguay had his finest campaign since 2006-07. It's doubtful all those players will continue their upward trends so don't expect a playoff run this upcoming season.
In fact, the only reason the Flames reached the postseason in 2008-09 was because the West wasn't as strong that year as it has been of late. The Flames tallied just four fewer points in 2010-11 than they did that season but finished 10th in the conference as opposed to the fifth spot three years back.
Bold prediction - Iginla tallies just 31 goals.
PREDICTED NORTHWEST DIVISION STANDINGS
1) * Vancouver 2) Calgary 3) Edmonton 4) Minnesota 5) Colorado
* - PLAYOFF TEAMS