Tag Archives: Western Conference

How West Coast Hockey has Won

Beach leagues and desert dreams have put the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes in a Western Conference final worth the wait. Making deals and trades to acquire players who are now showing their worth creates a must series to watch whether a west coast fan or not. Goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith have dazzled and proven that the goaltender isn’t out of style in the playoffs.

Vezina finalist, Jonathan Quick, has been the backbone of the Kings all season. With the addition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the chemistry of the duo have raised hope in raising the Stanley Cup in LaLa Land. The Kings are stacked with Stanley Cup winners and playoff veterans.

The Kings arrived at the final with huge upsets the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No.-2 seeded St. Louis Blues. Only captain Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty hadn’t won a playoff series. Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene lost in the Cup final with Edmonton in 2006 and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter lost with Philadelphia in 2010. Dustin Penner also won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Justin Williams has emerged as a scoring threat in the playoff run, as he did with the Carolina Hurricanes in defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Cup finals. Oilers at the time, Stoll and Greene are happy to be on his side of the fence for this run. Expect Williams to be a factor in the win.

Rob Scuderi was a “piece” of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2009 triumph. He got the nickname “piece” after he misspoke while intending to say he was just “one piece” of the team. Colin Fraser played three games of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup run, but what a run to be in.

The Kings have creativity and confidence on their side.

The Phoenix Coyotes have Mike Smith, a Vezina snub, to tackle the goals that the Kings will be tossing his way. Phoenix has battled ownership issues, dismal fan attendance, and a captain who didn’t have the best few seasons, until now. Forwards Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and veteran Ray Whitney are solid, but the defensive talents of Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are holding the ‘Yotes together. The Coyotes beat Nashville and Chicago to move on, but they didn’t sweep like the Kings.

Finally, better-than-good hockey has arrived in the west. The Western Conference has been plagued with underachievement for years and not being taken seriously. Kudos to those players who stuck with their teams, and congrats to the fans who have supported the beach and desert teams.

This will be an exciting series, but the Kings will win in 5.

Follow me on The Hockey Writers for analysis, predictions and commentary on the  Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

On the Road to the Stanley Cup

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s a little for everyone. From traditional old-school matchups like the Pens and Flyers, to irksome bumps a team must get over like the pressure Nashville faces with Detroit. An interesting pairing in the West puts the Kings and Canucks in a must-see series.

The season starts here and now with a clean slate heading towards the coveted Stanley Cup. Whatever the ranking,the odds, the previous wins, teams have this chance once no matter what happened a few days ago. It’s now or never. The honor of making it to the playoffs can change the course of any team’s season.

East:

(4)Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5)Philadelphia Flyers– One of the best series to follow. The battle of Pennsylvania is always a regular season blowout. The Flyers have the talent in Claude Giroux and the moxy of Scott Hartnell to take on the challenge. With Sidney Crosby back for the Pens, Pittsburgh has the extra power-forward to take the points. Goaltending seems balanced in both nets. Pittsburgh can’t lose with Crosby. Pens win in 5.

(6)New Jersey Devils vs. (3)Florida Panthers The Devils have done a tremendous job this season rounding out their talent and finding ways to win. Though Brodeur was shaky in net early on, goaltending looks fixed for now. The Panthers have the momentum and the spirit to clinch this series. Panthers in 4.

(8)Ottawa Senators vs. (1)New York Rangers– New York clinched the East, so that would make this an easy series win…..not so fast. The Senators have had an upswing that could have them be the upset team. The Rangers may have some concerns and could take this for granted. Henrik Lundqvist wants this and has the tools to finish it. Rangers in 5.

(7)Washington Capitals vs. (2)Boston Bruins– Ovechkin and crew made it by an inch. Boston knows the path and with the depth, even top players for the Caps can’t get it done. Bruins in 4.

West:

(4)Nashville Predators vs. (5)Detroit Red Wings– Nashville always comes to face the Wings in the playoffs at some point. Detroit is the Preds’ brick wall. This year, with home-ice advantage, Nashville have the opportunity to swing it their way. Don’t underestimate the Wings performance this season. Hockeytown finds a way to win. Wings in 7.

(8)Los Angeles Kings vs. (1)Vancouver Canucks- Winner of the President’s Trophy, Vancouver is on a journey to win their destiny. Last season, the Canucks  lost in game 7 releasing chaos into the streets of Vancouver. Canucks can’t afford to lose again. The Kings have made an impressive run and will be formidable opponents. Quick can beat Luongo. Carter, Richards and Kopitar can beat Kesler, Burrows and at least one Sedin. The Canucks will take the series, but not without a fight in 6.

(7)San Jose Sharks vs. (2)St. Louis Blues– St. Louis will win. That’s all I can say. The Sharks have been a disappointment in many areas. The Blues have been an amazing team this season. Blues sweep.

(6)Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Phoenix Coyotes– Tight fight. The Coyotes just seem to find a way to win, but mostly goaltender Mike Smith has found a way to win and a nod for the Vezina. Chicago may not have it. The momentum going in to the series will determine the outcome. Coyotes in 7.

With the Western Conference team surge, the competition is fierce. The Eastern Conference has been the victim of sharp criticism for the sagging efforts of the traditionally winning side. New York serves as a good measurement of the talents of the Eastern teams. The West is growing in strength and the race was tight. The East brings the skill and sharpshooters,  while the West brings the intensity and passion play. What a great season it has been! Good luck to your playoff team and enjoy the games.

March Madness- Western Conference

The Western Conference has been building strength for years, so it’s no surprise that the race is tight. Los Angeles, Dallas and Phoenix all could get a bid for the postseason party. The Colorado Avalanche, The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers bid adieu to the postseason and will be booking tee times later this week. Finally, the West can bring in new blood to represent emerging talent.

The biggest success story is The Los Angeles Kings.  A few weeks ago, the Kings looked lost and doomed down the stretch. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was not quick, but has his game back and could be the weapon of choice for the Kings.  Anze Kopitar will get an opportunity to prove his worth as a top forward.

St. Louis Blues-
Success comes from patience and persistence. St. Louis deserves to be the leading team in the West and should win the President’s Trophy. With top talent in Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk on defense, and Captain David Backes at the helm, the Blues could win this whole shebang. With Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott making a dynamic goaltending duo, the odds are in The Blues favor.

Vancouver Canucks-
Hockey fans know Vancouver can deliver, but can drop at a moment’s notice. Consistency is the key for The Canucks and with Daniel Sedin out, and Kevin Bieksa,  the remaining mates must muster more points. Kesler and Burrows have not produced much, so these two gotta get a groove going. Goaltending is world-class with Luongo and Schneider, but can’t carry the team. Or can they?

Los Angeles Kings-
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter reunion equals Stanley Cup bid. This was their goal in Philadelphia, so maybe the chemistry and drive is propelling the energy in the locker room. Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll have been Kings and would like this season to be the one. Chances are good for Los Angeles. They really spiked up the standings, and likely will make it to semifinals.

Nashville Predators-
Every hockey fan can get behind the program Barry Trotz has put together. Trotz is truly a hockey pioneer. The Predators have an awesome netminder in Pekka Rinne, who is Vezina worthy. Expect Nashville to do well, because the players have turned on the heat and are cohesive. Best chance this year for a conference final showdown.

Detroit Red Wings-
They’re fighters. No matter where Detroit is in the playoffs, they find a way to win. With a healthy crew, the Wings will fight until the end. Goaltending has been spotty. Offense has gone up against tough opposing goaltenders. Scoring must increase and Howard must be at the top of his game if Detroit wants to move on.

Chicago Blackhawks-
The Chicago boys just hang in there. While they have a seemingly secure spot as the No. 5 seed, teams are chasing them. Chicago may be bumped. They play in a tough Central Division this season and sit just ahead of Columbus in the fourth slot.

The Dallas Stars and The Phoenix Coyotes will fight to the death to get in. Dallas has done an outstanding job staying in the hunt. Dallas forward Michael Ryder has been a force to reckon with. The Coyotes have a solid goalie in Mike Smith. The outcome is boosting hockey in the Southwest for certain. The Pacific Division at this point is a 3-way tie. Expect some tenacious play in the next week for a guaranteed spot.

NHL realignment winners and losers

The NHL Board of Governors will meet in Pebble Beach next week to discuss realigning the NHL to better serve the long hours of travel teams must face. Since the Atlanta Thrashers folded giving birth to the second resurrection of the Winnipeg Jets, the League has  been  bouncing around a few scenarios they hope to decide upon while taking in a few rounds of golf. Is this really that big of an issue? It is for the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

There has been some grumbling from the Nashville Predators who would like a piece of something in all this meandering, and then there is the Dallas Stars who for some reason think they should be the helm of a new division.

But it gets better like a hint of juicy gossip that really isn’t that great as much as the  anticipation. Supposedly, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised the Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch that the Red Wings would join the Eastern Conference among the modern-day dynasties like the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers, and even the New York Islanders. Detroit would fit right in.

Football and hockey are united in the Michigan/Ohio battle. As anyone raised in Michigan knows, at some point Ohio sticks its nose into Michigan’s business, just as the Columbus Blue Jackets are making a case for their own Eastern Conference  bid. Worried Red Wings fans? Teams like the Rangers and Bruins would prefer the ailing Jackets because they are easy prey. Detroit is serious competition.

Border Wars

The complicated plan of realignment represent this type of promising and not delivering; the easy plan swaps the Wings for the Jets. Steve Yzerman would than face his former team and who wouldn’t want to see that in Hockeytown?

Then there are the Western Conference teams who don’t want to see the Red Wings leave due to revenue stream. Hey, how about pumping up the Vancouver Canucks or the Colorado Avalanche for some money-making ventures.  The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks feed the celebrity machine which should be raising some type of cash flow or call on the Edmonton Oilers with their dynamic duo of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.

That's a goal!

Both Conferences see Detroit as the excellence in the League like fighting over the driving a hot car: it would be cool to drive, but the dangers of that much power could get you pulled over.

How hot is it in Hockeytown?

It’s officially summer,  yet I’m writing hockey. I remember reading former Islanders PR guy Chris Nichols’ blog last summer and he was scolding readers about not being on the beach. He wasn’t sifting sand between his toes either. Plenty of time for beach and hockey since the NHL truly cranks year-round. You may get lucky and find some lag in the league in late July and August to enjoy ice in your drink, not on the rink.

The Canucks didn’t bring the cup home to Canada due to the scrappy Bruins outsmarting Vanouver in Game 7 of a phonemonal Stanley Cup series. Kudos to the Bruins for fighting through some tough obstacles to hoist the most prized award in all of sports. Still not as much on a Sedin bandwagon, but Ryan Kesler beating out Pavel Datsyuk for the Selke was an impressive feat. The unfavorable light of the reaction of the fans to the loss was sad. The Vancouver Canucks deserved a better reception than that for making the 2011 finals one of the highest ranking in years. Detroit has won championships but don’t burn the town down and we’re known for that in the Motor City.

Red Wings fans are aware that when Datsyuk is in tip-top form, the Wings will always be in contention. My focus of summer is how Detroit will rebound from Brian Rafalski’s retirement and rally for the inspired perserverace of Nicklas Lidstrom, who returns to Joe Louis Arena for a 20th season. The blueline will mantain strong leadership with Lidstrom and should be able to attract top talent if needed. The upcoming draft will also tell the future of the franchise. Detroit picks the starts only after the maturation period has peaked and the skill is ripe for the picking. Look for future Wings updates on the draft, signings and sightings as the summer dwindles.

I’ll say a few words about the Colorado Avalanche who got lucky with the No. 2 and No. 11 slot in the first round entry draft. Swedish winger Garbriel Landeskog will become a power forward the likes of what Chris Stewart brought to the team. Defenseman Duncan Siemens went as the No. 11 pick of the Avs. The Avalanche will be an interesting team to watch in a few years with Stefan Elliott, Ryan Stoa and Joey Hishon coming up through the ranks.

Joe Sakic has joined the front office and an Avs alumni group will be present for the Avs opener Oct. 8 when the Red Wings swoop in. The nice guy image of the Avalanche will prevail with Sakic as the vetern helmsman that Patrick Roy didn’t want to be. I’m ready for a team that isn’t so nice on the ice. C’mon, the Avs most feared fighter is Cody McLeod-a nice guy at heart who could double for Raggedy Andy. Blueliner, J-M Liles moves to Toronoto for a 2012 draft pick. My time writing about the Avs has been fun but will be tapering with this post as I prepare to move across the country to Rangers and Devils territory.

Great things are happening in New Jersey with prospects Jon Merrill from Michigan and the 2011 most NHL- ready draftee, Adam Larsson. The Flyers will hold interest for DU’s Matt Carle, and their spunk. I’ve been a Western Conference hockey fan most of my life so the Eastern Conference will be exciting. I’ll be near the city that never sleeps, and I will be losing sleep staying up for the Kings games.

Canucks’ luck or Bruins’s ruin?

The Vancouver Canucks’s Kevin Bieksa took a lucky shot and won a trip to the Stanley Cup final. Some say they were lucky and not deserving of the win. Hello, the Canucks won the President’s Trophy. Another view hoisted the Canucks as ruining the NHL market in the US….Americans have a long way to go before they are “in love” with hockey like the Canadians.

So do the Canucks just have luck or are they really all that talented? This hockey freak picked them to win it all. Vancouver will win in 5. Game 6 tops if Boston gets lucky with a skilled driller by Horton or Krecji.

Vancouver’s ability to close the deal has gelled. The Canucks top line, Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, have combined for more points in the playoffs than any other line. Throw in Ryan Kesler and it’s the cherry on top. The newbies, Chris Higgins and Cody Hodgson are call-ups who have stood up to the task. Defense from Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff , Dan Hamhuis and Aaron Rome will give the Bruins a run.

But really it’s about the goaltending between two Vezina Trophy finalist- Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. Luongo has won an Olympic gold medal on home ice and has the feel for Rogers Arena. He has hit some slumps, but is usually consistent. Thomas flailed a bit early in the year but convalesced into the oompa loompa he is in net. I give this battle to Luongo. And the Vezina.

Vancouver has fluidity, while Boston can look clunky. Boston’s dangerous weapons are to be feared and revered by the Canucks if they want to win. David Krecji is one of those quiet underrated players who shouldn’t be considered in that manner. Nathan Horton has been a remarkable gift from the Florida Panthers. Not only does Horton score, but he strategizes with pizzazz carrying seven points in the series with Tampa Bay along with Krecji.

You can’t talk about the Bruins without mentioning their captain, the road block that is Zdeno Chara. He’s received some heat this season for not playing like a top defenseman and the embroiled Paciorety incident, yet he still has been nominated for the Norris. Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference have made a difference on the blue line to the net for Boston’s defense. Ference gets in there like a ferret.

The Stanley Cup this year will return to the Western Conference and to Canada.

Let the playoffs begin…

Congratulations to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who won the Frozen Four Saturday. It’s the first national championship in men’s hockey for the Bulldogs beating Michigan in overtime, 3-2.

Despite Michigan’s loss, Michiganders still have hope as the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs as the third seed in the West. Let’s look at the playoff pairings in the Western Conference:

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago
The Blackhawks eked in from a Dallas loss and will face the winner of the Presidents’ Trophy. Goaltending in Vancouver will be difficult to diffuse as Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider took home the Jennings Trophy for goaltending tandem. Beyond that, the Hawks have their work cut out with Daniel Sedin securing the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer with 104 pts.  The Canucks have an opportunity to win big in the first-round edging closer to the Cup. Chicago has tough talent but has not been as steady through injuries and malaise. The Hawks could make it tough for the Canucks, but Chicago has lost their Mojo. Canucks should wrap up the series, 4-2.

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles-
One of the best matchups in the playoffs. A must watch, especially for California viewers. Three teams from the Golden State have made it in illustrating the shift in power from the East to the West. The Sharks are at it again and seem more relaxed as they enter yet another playoff fun. The Kings are a tough crew with some awesome talent who are fun to watch. San Jose players who have upped their game include Ryan Clowe and Logan Couture who have given the Sharks some needed energy. The Sharks look poised this year. The Kings could be a spoiler, but still have some maturing to do. And without Anze Kopitar, the rest of the gang will surely fire back. Sharks could surprise the Kings with a sweep. The question is can Kings goalie Quick maintain his namesake in the series?

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix-
So many Coyotes fans are from Detroit. The Yotes have something to prove and could be a nasty pest for the Wings. Phoenix fans are pumped for the playoffs. Wings fans are confident, but without Zetterberg in the first game fans are concerned. Depth is key here- the Coyotes have played very well this year, while Detroit has had their ups and downs. Wings will take the series but Phoenix will fight and make it tight. Goaltending is a factor. Bryzgalov and Howard must play the best games of their lives to move on and both are capable. Tight race but Wings move on.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville-
It’s the Nashville curse- they get in and lose. Anaheim has struggled but have dynamic players in Cory Perry, the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer with his 50 goals. The Ducks are fighters and are scrappy. With home-field advantage, the Ducks could easily wipe out the Preds. Perry, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler and Ryan Getzlaf will score. Energetic play will keep this series one to watch. Too close to call, but Anaheim has more oomph to take control.

The Eastern Conference is looking extremely tough:

#1 Washington vs. #8 New York Rangers
A must watch for anyone. Ovechkin meets Lundqvist is a slice of heaven for any hockey fan. Washington has not done well in past Stanley Cup runs, but then New York wiped out last year against the Caps despite leading the series. This series will go down to the wire.

#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo-
Philly rocked last year and could be heading to the Cup finals if they can hold on. Buffalo has fought to stay in the hunt. Goaltender Ryan Miller has to be top-notch to get past the Flyers. Flyers’ goaltending has been a revolving door. Great playoff history between these two teams will give this series some bite. The Flyers can win if the goaltending is stable and can beat Miller.

#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal-
Can’t even begin to describe the fierceness of this rivalry, plus the animosity with the Chara-Pacioretty incident. A healing game on some level, but anyone’s game at this point. Price and Thomas are excellent in net, so grab a beer and pop some popcorn for this double-feature. This one will go to the end. Fighting is likely.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Tampa Bay-
Without Crosby and Malkin, the Pens have really shown the depth of their bench and that usually wins games. Staal, Talbot and Kennedy will continue the play that has kept them in the hunt. Tampa Bay lacks some playoff experience; however, with Martin St. Louis and Steve Yzerman as elder statesmen the Lightning will make the series tight. Yet, another good exhibition of players and punch and will come down to the wire if the Pens can keep it tight. Tampa Bay can do it if they shut down the Pens momentum.  Fleury is experienced and Roloson pulls out the stops.

Great games ahead and refreshing teams that have made it into the rotation make this year’s Stanley Cup run a must see.  Complete disappointment in Denver though. The Colorado Avalanche tanked this year after a good start. Recently, I saw Kevin Porter and Kyle Quincey on the day of Adam Foote’s retirement and they looked like someone had died. The loss of their captain in a losing year is a bummer. Better luck next year to all the teams who are heading to the golf course.

NHL All-Snub Game

Hey, NHL All Star Game– are you kidding me? His name is Jimmy Howard and you forgot to send his invitation.

Every year some player, who deserves to go, gets the snub generating drama to hike ratings. Red Wings fans are clambering for some justice. Right behind the Canucks in the Western Conference standings, the under staffing seems odd, yet the Canucks are sending three. With talent on both teams, it is strange that Detroit only has Lidstrom making the trip.  The NHL is bending backwards not to make this a Red Wings show, because they’ve slipped somehow and the injuries cannot look good for Detroit’s case. There is no doubt Howard has done his job and then some (22-7-3).

King Henry deserves a trip to Raleigh to showcase his tremendous skill for the promising New York Rangers but he’s propped up the Rangers for years. Fans of the Los Angeles Kings question the dismissal of goalie Quick, who has lived up to his name but not on the roster of All-Stars. Off to a great start, Quick has softened recently and reflects in his numbers (19-12-1).

The Western Conference rolls out Sharp, Kane, Keith and Toews in the Hawks section, who have the obligatory pass. Can’t snub the Stanley Cup champs. Patrick Sharp has had an outstanding year with 44 points. Vancouver gets a big nod with the Sedin brothers and Ryan Kesler. The Redemption for the NHL All-Star game this year is Dustin Byfuglien gracing the roster after last year’s snub.

The Staal brothers are well represented minus Jordan. Matt Duchene and rookie Kevin Shattenkirk will be there for the Mile High club. No Stastny listed either. With the absence of Chris Stewart in the line-up, Duchene has become a stronger leader on the ice. Stewart will be there next year or this article will be about that snub.

The NHL All-Star game really isn’t a game, rather a showcase light on the PIMs. Kesler and Backes could throw down for a few and I’d enjoy seeing that. Regards to the rookies who made it including Taylor Hall (EDM), Tyler Seguin (BOS), Cam Fowler (ANA) and Carolina Hurricanes own Jeff Skinner. San Jose’s rookie Logan Couture also made the cut, as he has become quite a catch in fantasy leagues.

Despite the snubs, someone is always forgotten. Semin, Zetterberg and Tavares are the hyped snubs this year. Western teams have excelled in play and popularity. Eastern players sell more jerseys. Since the NHL is based in New York, no stun in how this has been spun. Heading down south, the NHL is placing the southeastern pack in the forefront. Look what that division holds in Ovechkin, Stamkos, and Yzerman as the Bolts GM. Right time, right place. Load up on the BBQ and grits and take a gander at the skills competition, which really is the best part.

The coast with the boast

What’s with the love affair with the Western Conference? Los Angeles seems to be a hot bed for hockey now that Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Justin Williams is the supporting cast for Anze Kopitar- the depth of the bench holds great value. The youth movement hit teams like the Kings, the Avs and the Sharks. Couture is in, and the Blues are singing happy tunes.

The lowest team in the East lags behind the wins in the West by seven. Toronto’s fall from grace was heard around the league, yet the struggling Rangers pulled their team up with their groomed talent in Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. The West takes bigger chances. The East sticks to tradition. There is more pressure in the East to win, not so in the West. Ebb and flow. Los Angeles chose to rebuild and invest in marketing and public relations with the other Heidi. Colorado got lucky with some smart picks who were willing to take a salary reduction. Numerous reasons have put the West into high gear for now. The population influx in western cities is evident, but few are relocating eastward. Old school hockey fans live in the West now and expect a higher level of play from their NHL franchise. That’s how it goes in Denver, where you will meet people from the cold northeast looking for 360 sunny days a year in the Mile High City, and a hockey team. It’s the people who influence, the demand for the product. It’s pure demographics and market research before investing in the product. If the population pressures the management, more will be spent on building.

The Western Conference used to stop in Detroit. Since Chicago stole the show and grabbed the Cup last season, the westward migration continues. Vancouver, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix speak to the newest generation of hockey fans. Don’t get me wrong- the East is not dead by any means, but the trend shifts west for now. A generation has turned more aware of hockey, growing up with Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman as the superstars in the West. Gretzy in Edmonton, Los Angeles, and St. Louis brought more attention past the Mississippi.

Montreal, Philadelphia and New York have emerged recently to wow fans. Washington and Pittsburgh are no slouches, neither are Overchkin and Crosby, who still dictate hockey stats. Stamkos has become the new face of NHL hockey, and he’s in the East, and a beach league to boot. The expectations in the Eastern Conference are fierce and that has caused the stern look at the differences. The Western Conference has been under rated for so long, that the shock of their revival emphasizes the weakening of the East. Right now in the standings, in the West, Vancouver has 31 pts. and sits in the No. 2 slot, while Tampa Bay also has 31 pts. but sits in the No. 6 slot in the East. The consistency in the West allows an evening of the race in standings almost weekly. The hold on the top spot is tighter in the West, thus more competitive match-ups regularly. More attention to detail and fewer mistakes is a must if your team is facing stiff competitors.

The West has stayed competitive to keep up with the Red Wings over the years. Yes, I said it. Every team wants to keep up with the Wings, now and in the past. But for teams truly in the west, it seems ironic as the West touts the lone gunslinger mantra, yet the team concept translates well. Teams work well in an ambush. The East develops individual talent, so the team concept has dropped in significance, some have suggested. The Flyers seem pretty tight, as does the Rangers. Benchwarmers in the East aren’t as NHL ready as they seem to be in the West. The Tampa Bay Lightning is an eastern team benefiting from the knowledge through Steve Yzerman’s leadership. Stevie Y. learned from the best franchise team both on and off the ice.

Best bets for the Stanley Cup have pitted the Detroit Red Wings against the Washington Capitals. Another speculation could be Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. Some exciting possibilities have been created in this fluctuating season sending fantasy teams into clunkers and numerous hat-tricks. Great games are great gifts for any hockey fan, so may the season be magical!

Is hockey here yet?

September 1 signifies the beginning of legitimate hockey talk. Yes, over the summer I was strategizing for my fantasy teams. Every year, the roster changes must be studied and I’m quite excited to spread my teams into new territory. This year, The Hockey News, cautiously gave a possible scenario for both the Western and Eastern Conferences standings. I couldn’t resist commenting on the picks:

Eastern:
1.    Washington Capitals- It’s now or never boys.
2.    Pittsburgh Penguins-I’m surprised they keep hanging on.
3.    Boston Bruins-Light some fire under these guys! So much potential, so little scoring.
4.    Philadelphia Flyers-Underdogs with some talent. Have gained some respect being ranked this high.
5.    New Jersey Devils-My new future home team better get a move on!
6.    Buffalo Sabres- Love them despite what others may feel. Ryan Miller.
7.    Tampa Bay Lightning-Steve Yzerman.
8.    Montreal Canadiens-Let’s get the Habs back in playoff mode.
9.    Carolina Hurricanes-Re-building to be better than ever. Solid base.
10.    Ottawa Senators-Will Carrie Underwood attend every game?
11.    Atlanta Thrashers-Big Buff moves in. Exciting season to watch.
12.    Toronto Maple Leafs- Ughh.
13.    New York Rangers-The fans are growing restless.
14.    New York Islanders- Stuck on the Island
15.    Florida Panthers-Remember the Luongo days?

Western:
1.    Vancouver Canucks-Awesome bunch.
2.    San Jose Sharks-Really, not quite ranked No.1 but close.
3.    Detroit Red Wings-They never suck and don’t forget that!
4.    Chicago BlackHawks-Top stars but not top rank.
5.    Los Angeles Kings-Up and coming group of talent who have arrived.
6.    St. Louis Blues-Watch Halak and Steen.
7.    Phoenix Coyotes-Wow! I’d rank the talent in the desert higher.
8.    Calgary Flames-Not too sure about this one.
9.    Colorado Avalanche-No respect at all. Young guns will prevail.
10.    Nashville Predators-Always a fan of Barry Trotz. Good depth.
11.    Anaheim Ducks-Isn’t this Brett Michaels’ team?
12.    Dallas Stars-Life without Turco and Modano. Benn move in.
13.    Minnesota Wild-Some of the best hockey country needs NHL boost.
14.    Columbus Bluejackets- Oh, we have a saying in Michigan about Ohio.
15.    Edmonton Oilers- Are you really going to take this Taylor Hall? Prove them wrong.