So while I have several controversial choices, my picks for the West are likely to be less "out there". I believe this is because the West is always so strong that if an underdog makes the playoffs, its still not THAT big of a surprise. So here are my picks for how the 15 Western teams will finish.
1. Vancouver Canucks
This is a team that I believe really has what it takes to put it all together and win it all this season. They're solid in net with Luongo, they're a force on D with Bieksa, Edler, Ballard, and Humhuis, while the top line of Sedin, Sedin and Burrows (once healthy) is comparable to any top line in the league. The Canucks should have no problem winning the Northwest and will have every opportunity to be the top team in the conference.
2. Detroit Red Wings
I expect the Wings to bounce back from last season's mediocre result. With Hudler back in the fold, and an almost guarentee of less injuries than last year, the Wings shouldn't have a problem improving on 2009-10. That, paired with Chicago getting weaker in every area, and the Central should belong to Detroit.
3. San Jose Sharks
I don't necessarily like the moves this team made, resigning Marleau is a risk while their goaltending is weaker without Nabokov, but the Sharks are a very strong regular season team. I expect big things from Joe Thornton in a contract year and I think Pavelski, Clowe and the young defense will continue to develop and get better. The Sharks may struggle in the post season, but they're always a force in the first 82.
4. LA Kings
As the Kings core gets older, they will get better. I think this will be the first year you really notice how good the Kings are. With guys like Brown, Johnson and Brown still reaching their potential, this team will be scary and soon. If Steve Bernier can take the leap this season to be a number one or one(a) goalie, the Kings could be a force and give San Jose a run for the Pacific.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
They're not as good as last season, especially up front and in net, but the Blackhawks can't be counted out as long as they have Toews and Kane. This team is still young, fast and explosive. Thats good enough for them to be a serious threat in a very deep western conference.
6. Calgary Flames
I think the Flames will bounce back this season, despite their questionable off-season moves. I see bounce back seasons from Tanguay and Bouwmeester, while Kiprusoff should be better as well. I still don't understand the Jokinen signing, as it didnt work the first time, but if the Flames falter, I'll be shocked if longtime GM Sutter can hold onto his job.
7. Nashville Predators
This is a team that no matter where you put them in your preseason standings, 9th or 15th, they squeek into the playoffs. The Preds didnt make any massive additions, but they filled some holes and have a great young goalie in Pekke Rinne.
8. St. Louis Blues
Like LA, this team will only get better with time. Adding Halak will be huge for this club and I strongly believe it's time for the Blues to return to meaningful hockey in the spring.
9. Phoenix Coyotes
While this team overachieved last year, I think they'll fall back to earth a little this season. Losing Lombardi will hurt, while Ray Whitney, in my opinion, wasn't the right move for the desert dogs. With that said, this team has a great young core with an unbelievable goalie, so anything is possible.
10. Anaheim Ducks
Gone are the days where the Ducks had a stacked defense. Instead, the Ducks will be relying on youth like Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. Up front, the Ducks are strong with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Parry, but if the defense struggles, Jonas Hiller could be in for a rough season.
11. Colorado Avalanche
Another team that I believe overachieved last season, the Avs will be on the playoff border all season long. I'm not sold on their goaltending, while some of their playings, like Hejduk, are only getting older. Matt Duchene will need to bring his game a long way for the Avs to be a strong competitor this season.
12. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are injecting a lot of youth into their lineup this season, which will make them an incredible team to watch. Unfortunately, this team has too many question marks to be taken seriously. How many games will Khabibulin miss for legal matters and injury woes? What will happen with Sheldon Souray? The Oilers are still two to three years away from being VERY good, but some improvement will be noticed this season.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
This is another team that has too many questions to be considered a contender. Can the team find a centre to take Rick Nash to another level? Can Steve Mason rebound? How will Filatov play now that he's back in north america?
14. Minnesota Wild
With both Backstrom and Theodore another year older, my biggest concern for the Wild is their goaltending. Thats saying something when I believe their offense is one of the weakest in the league.
15. Dallas Stars
Kari Lehtonen backed up by Andrew Raycroft. I really have nothing else to say about the Dallas Stars...