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Snipe City: And now for a Western Conference preview

Posted by on November 9, 2015

snipecitySnipe City is a weekly hockey column by 36 Crazyfists vocalist Brock Lindow and PUCKHCKY founder Matt Marini.

Got back from the East coast last week after “Operation RV Retrieval Debacle ” unfolded and settled in just in time for my band and our best brothers in All Hail The Yeti to descend on Anchorage and unleash one of the strongest Whiskey Tornadoes the world has ever seen. Halloween in Anchortown is pretty special and our shows at this time of the year have always been festive! Fast forward to the first night of two shows and the World Famous Chilkoot Charlie’s was buzzin hard from the launch of my good friends at Mig Fuel, who popped the bottles and twisted the caps off several bottles and got everyone to #go_vertical and ready to pit haaaaard! We hit the stage and in typical 36/Koots fashion it’s all out mayhem with three fights breaking out in the first song! All in all the shows were f’n crazy and we all had a blast. Thanks to all of Alaska for making the shows up here so damn incredible as well as Tony at Bills Distributing, Showdown Prod, Anchorage Community Works, Chilkoot Charlie’s, Family Tree Presents, Mig Fuel & Black Diamond Brewing Co!

This weeks Snipe City Matt and I will attempt to break down the West and possibly attempt our hand at predictions as well.
Let’s drop the puck on this mofo!

DALLAS STARS

Brock: Jaime Benn is a bad brother and the likes of Tyler Sequin, Patrick Sharp they have a lethal scoring trio but the biggest question mark will be goaltending from Kari Lehtonen who was absolute Shite last year, if Lehtonen gets his game on and solid backing from Antti Niemi these guys could look to push deep into the playoffs.

The strength of the Stars will be their offense, the 2015 Art Ross winner Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin—who might have won the award if not for a late-season knee injury —Dallas has a cast of snipers. Patrick Sharp will add grit and tenacity along with his veteran presence to the top six. Although he is coming off a down campaign, Sharp had scored at least 30 goals in each of the previous three full seasons. A new home could provide the spark to get him back on track.

Matt: Wow can this team light up the scoreboard! The Stars have amassed quite a stockpile of offensive talent with the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Sequin, Jason Spezza,and Patrick Sharp leading the way while up-and-comers Valeri Nichushkin, Cody Eakin and Mattias Janmark add secondary scoring depth. The defense is also vastly improved with Johnny Oduya, Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg (who came from out of nowhere last season to put up 40 points!) and Jordie Benn (yes..Jamie’s bro) manning the blueline. In goal, Antti Niemi has been brought in to provide some stability, as Kari Lehtonen (a.k.a. Lets-them-in ha-ha) had a terrible year last season and cannot be counted on as the starting goalie any longer. Bottom line, this is a fast, high-scoring team and if they can keep their goals against under 3 per game, they have a shot at winning. Yes, they will make the playoffs….but defense often rules in the playoffs, so not sure this team is a true Cup contender.

 

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Brock:The Blues have been building a beast of a team for the past few seasons and this year they look like the pieces are in place to be a real cup contender. Off season trades found shoot out specialist TJ Oshie packing his bags for Troy Brouwer and headed to Washington. Blues’ top line is expected to consist of left wing Alexander Steen, who set NHL career-highs in points (64) and assists (40) last season; center Paul Stastny, who had 46 points in 74 games in his first season with Blues; and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who led the Blues in goals (37) and points (73) last season. The Blues signed Tarasenko to an eight-year, $60 million contract July 7. My hometown hero Scott Gomez was offered a try out and made the best of it landing a roster spot, through injuries ‘Gomer’ has been getting some ice time and being productive getting points in every game he has played so far.

Matt: Ok Ok….is THIS gonna be the year for the Blues? The poor fans in St. Louis have been through the same scenario for what seems like a million years. Huge pre-season hype, then a solid season…only to get knocked out of the playoffs far too soon. So far, the signs are pointing to this season being different as injuries have already hit them hard, but they are still winning and some of the young talent they have is actually developing nicely. While of course Vlad Tarasenko is the marquee star, there are plenty of others with star power, especially on the blueline. One guy to keep a close eye on is Colton Parayko (who played at the University of Alaska..ahem Brock!!!) who is a 6’5″ 225lb rookie defenseman that can rip a slap-shot through a brick wall. Parayko already has 10 points in just 14 games…if he keeps this up, he will certainly be mentioned in the rookie-of-the-year voting. I predict the Blues will certainly make the playoffs….but do they have what it takes to knock off the Hawks or Ducks ?

 

MINNESOTA WILD

Brock: The Wild will have nearly the same squad as last season. The Wild’s biggest off-season acquisition was a college free agent, defenseman Mike Reilly, who played at the University of Minnesota, was highly sought after and opted to sign with the Wild over the Blackhawks and other teams. He was a former Columbus Blue Jackets’ draft pick, but he never signed with them. He’s coming off a season in which he had six goals and 36 assists in 39 games in college. He is expected to start the season in the NHL . Ryan Suter and Zach Parise still steer the ship in every way for the Wild: Parise scored 30-plus goals for the sixth time in his career and Suter produced two goals, 36 assists. Along with those two beauties, the Wild have a deep bench. Thomas Vanek was a stud in his first season with the team and scored 21 goals. Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter also scored 20-plus goals. Defensively, the Wild also are stacked with a lot of young players in Jonas Brodin(22), Matt Dumba (21), Marco Scandella (25), Jared Spurgeon (25).

Matt: Hmmmm the Wild. This team seems like its ready to take the next step toward Cup contention….right? While they appear to be on the right track, a recent knee injury to Zach Parise may derail those plans depending on how serious it is. They do have some decent offensive depth beyond Parise, with Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek leading the charge. It would be nice if Jason Pominville felt like scoring a goal this season (zero in 13 games thus far) too!! The defense is tight with Ryan Suter and Matt Dumba, but is anyone convinced that Devin Dubnyk is the ultimate answer in goal? Only time will tell! I do think the Wild will make the playoffs again, but getting past the usual suspects (Chi, LA, Ana, SJ, etc) is going to prove to be tough again this year.

 

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Brock: After giving the defending Stanley Cup Champs Chicago Blackhawks everything they could handle in the first round of the playoffs last year the Preds come back with experience and great coaching from former Flyers bench boss Peter Laviolette.The Predators will be at it again with nearly the same personnel. If Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber can continue at their elite level and the younger up-and-coming stars Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Seth Jones can further progress, the Predators have a real shot at maintaining that success over the course of an entire season.

Matt: For our friends in Nashville, it all starts and ends in goal with Pekka Rinne, and the fabulous defensive corp they have which is lead by Shea Weber and Roman Josi. While it is indeed tough to score against the Preds, they really need to hope they have enough offensive firepower…make that consistent offensive firepower to overtake the other contenders in the West. So far the only guy providing any consistent offense has been James Neal. Guys like Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribiero, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson need to provide depth scoring or this team has no shot at the Cup. While the Predators may have the top defensive group in the NHL, they may want to consider a trade or two that will yield some offensive snipers. This team will fight for a playoff spot, but they really need more scoring to challenge for the Cup.

 

WINNIPEG JETS

Brock: Winnipeg reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007, blasting a franchise record with 99 points and tying a franchise record with 43 wins. Even a four-game sweep by the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round did not dampen the enthusiasm of coach Paul Maurice and his players. The overall plan for the jets is to build a young team that in the years to come they can compete day in and day out. Dependable forward Andrew Ladd and Blake wheeler will provide Scoring and getting a full season from ex Buffalo Sabre Drew Stafford and the Jets will be a team that can beat you on any given night! Overall, I’d say this team will need production from its young core along with solid goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec to continue to be a season spoiler if they make the playoffs.

Matt: Now this a team to worry about in the West. They are big, fast and mean. They have great talent up front led by Blake Wheeler (17 points already!), Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and fantastic rookie Nikolaj Ehlers who seems dangerous every game. On defense they are also stacked! The Jets are at least 5 or 6 top guys deep on the blueline…big Dustin Byfuglien leads the way, but Tyler Myers is actually taller (ha-ha) in height at least, not by weight though….but wait, that’s not all. Toby Enstrom, Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba all add significant depth to the defense, which is impressive to say the least. The only question is if the goaltending is good enough to sustain a long playoff run. Playoffs for sure for the Jets….beyond that its gonna depend on the goaltending.

 

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Brock: Having new faces filling some key roles after yet another off-season of significant roster upheaval , but most of the core group that has won the Cup three times in the past six seasons will return to the United Center.The Blackhawks no longer have Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg, but they do have a group of forwards led by captain Jonathan Toews, right wing Patrick Kane, right wing Marian Hossa and center Artem Anisimov to combine for lethal damage to any team.

Matt: Yeesh…boy does this team change their lineup year after year, yet they win the Cup year after year ! Will this year be any different? Its really tough to say the Hawks wont be there in the end simply because they are blessed with three number 1 defensemen. Having Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith (who will be returning from injury soon) on the back-end virtually guarantees another playoff run, while having the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa (shameless plug time…check out the Hossa signature series only at www.puckhcky.com) and Andrew Shaw upfront also make the playoffs a virtual lock for the Hawks. Corey Crawford and Scott Darling man the nets, and have obviously proven they can win it all, so until someone knocks the Hawks out of the playoffs, consider them a threat to win it all again.

 

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Brock: After a seriously disappointing last season, the new hope is that Colorado’s core learned some painful lessons that will help the hungry Avs motor their way back into playoff contention. They took some heavy losses when they traded center Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo, specifically on special teams (Colorado’s power play ranked 29th last season). Carl Soderberg is the hope to be his replacement and the former Boston Bruin has some sweet playmaking skills but not nearly the force that O’Reilly’s two-way game can be. Winger Jarome Iginla (29 goals) is 38 years old, can he still produce at a high level? If Sabres export Mikhail Grigorenko, 21, fully taps his offensive potential and 6′ 4″ rookie steam roller Mikko Rantanen turns out to be as good as hoped then you could witness a serious turn around for this hockey club. Nathan MacKinnon, who suffered through a sophomore slump packed on with a fractured foot, and if Matt Duchene can enjoy bounce-back seasons you can’t count this team out of a playoff hunt. Colorado still faces a tough climb in the tough Central, where every team finished with 90 or more points last season.

Matt: Not so sure this is the year the Avalanche make it back to the playoffs, but if it isn’t, it may not be too long until they do. This team is pretty deep with young talent, but it just may take a bit of time to all come together. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Matt Duchene, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, Brandon Gormley and Mikko Rantanen is a pretty impressive list of talent for sure..but will they make the playoffs this year? It may all come down to the goaltending of duo Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra. I predict no playoffs this year..but look out moving forward.

 

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Brock: The Kings added steam rollin maniac Milan Lucic, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth. In Lucic, the Kings add a formidable presence on the top line who can give Anze Kopitar the space he could really shine with. The training camp line of Lucic, Kopitar and Marian Gaborik seemed to really click and the new-found energy the team returns with could provide for another deep run come playoff time!

Matt: Hmmmm, after getting off to a slow start the Kings are now getting back to the form we are used to seeing. Jeff Carter seems like he has re-energized himself, while Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are the real-deal at forward. When you also have the luxury of having Drew Doughty (who may be the top defensive player in the league) and Jonathan Quick in goal, well…the playoffs should be well within their grasp. It also doesn’t hurt that the Kings picked up monster forward Milan Lucic in the off-season to add some serious snarl upfront. I think the Kings will make the playoffs, and just like the Hawks until some team knocks them out, they need to be considered contenders for the Cup.

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Brock: The top-line twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin continue to be a lethal combo for the Canucks who now are relying on a more balanced approach under new coach Willie Desjardins and regularly rolling four lines at even strength. With young forwards the Canucks should be deep enough up front to keep pushing the pace in Desjardins’ system even after letting veteran point getters such as Shawn Matthias, who scored 17 of his 18 goals at even strength last season, and Brad Richardson leave as free agents. The question is will the Canucks ever put together a team with grit and grinding abilities. On paper this team looks savvy enough to go deep but the softness of this team will likely fold under some heavy hits once the playoffs kick off. Can the Canucks find the right mix among the current group, something they were still trying to find while mixing and matching the top three lines midway through the preseason. Solid goaltending from Ryan Miller will be something this squad can rely on.

Matt: While I totally dig the kids the Canucks are developing, I don’t see them making the playoffs this year. Pay close attention to guys like Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, Ben Hutton and Bo Horvat as they represent the future for the ‘Nucks for sure. Getting Brandon Prust from Montreal was a great move to add a banger upfront, unfortunately Prust got injured and may out for an extended period of time which definitely hurts. The addition of Brandon Sutter from Pittsburgh adds some good depth at center, while the tried-and-true group of the Sedin twins, Alex Burrows and Radim Vrbata should provide a decent level of consistent offense on a nightly basis. In goal Ryan Miller should provide some semblance of quality goaltending for sure…but will it be enough?

 

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Brock: The Sharks have solid top-six talent in Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Despite having a down season last year, Marleau will should return to form and with Pavelski coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons it’s hard to imagine the top line taking a step back. While it seems Pavelski centering the third line is a dead and distant dream, playing the two Joes together will do wonders for the numbers of that top line. Still waiting on this team to reach their full playoff potential but this roster looks damn solid in my opinion and if Martin Jones can provide solid net minding ya never never know!

Matt: OK…the Sharks really remind me of the Blues sometimes! What I mean is this team is always expected to put up a serious challenge for the Cup, yet they always seem to come up short in the clutch. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have had what seems like decades to win in San Jose, but havent delivered yet. This season I really like the addition of Joel Ward upfront, and he has already bagged 7 goals thus far. Martin Jones seems like a good answer in goal, and I really like the kids such as Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels and Matt Tennyson that continue to develop. To me the Sharks seem like a team that’s in a bit of transition period, so while I do expect them to make the playoffs, I do not expect them to seriously contend for the Cup this year.

 

ARIZONA COYOTES

Brock: Max Domi is all that the rumors said about his transition into the NHL. What a stud and I look forward to watching what should be a special NHL career. The Coyotes selected Dylan Strome third in the draft this past June, and he’ll be a sniper when he’s able to hit the big sheet. Toss in Henrik Samuelsson (21) and Brendan Perlini (19), two other former first-round picks, among other prospects, and you understand what’s coming for Arizona. Mike Smith is the question mark on this club, if he can rewind his game to a couple seasons ago this team will be a threat in the west.

Matt: While this year is not gonna be the year for the Coyotes, teams in the West need to take note of whats coming in the next few years. This team is loaded with high level young talent thats only going to get better and better. Watching Max Domi and Anthony Duclair show off their blistering speed and overall offensive talent is real joy to see, and having a pure stud on defense in Oliver Ekman-Larsson bodes well for the future in Arizona. The farm system for the Coyotes is absolutely loaded, so again teams in the West will have to start taking this team seriously in the near future.

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS 

Brock: Carl Hagelin is the most high-profile of the trade acquisitions the Ducks received while beefing up their offense, with his speed and penalty-killing he will be a major contributor to this squads success. Hagelin can play left wing and has been playing well with center Ryan Kesler and right wing Jakob Silfverberg . Suffering a huge scoring drought in the beginning so far but this team is too good for that to last long and when Alaskan stud Nate Thompson gets back from injury this team will look to contend once again for Lord Stanley’s Cup!

Matt: Wow…after a truly nightmare of a start to the season, the Ducks are rounding into form in a big way. Ryan Getzlaf has returned from having his appendix removed, and Corey Perry looks like himself again. Freddie Andersen (shameless plug #2..check out the awesome Freddie signature series only at www.puckhcky.com) is proving to be one of the top netminders in the entire league, as his play has been stellar night after night. The Ducks are loaded on the blueline with Cam Fowler, Kevin Bieksa and Hampus Lindholm (shameless plug #3….the Hampus signature series is debuting soon at www.puckhcky.com!) leading the way. Once Simon Depres returns from injury, that defensive depth gets even more impressive. It may be in the cards for the Ducks to swing a trade at somepoint to add more offense, but I would be very hesitant to deal any of these guys…unless the return is outstanding! They do actually have Shea Theodore waiting in the wings (ha-ha) on defense, so anything could happen as he seems ready to make the jump to the NHL. Look for the Ducks to challenge the Hawks for the right to play for the Cup !!!

 

CALGARY FLAMES

Brock: The additions of forward Michael Frolik and defenseman Dougie Hamilton bolster a roster returning relatively intact. The expectations are high in Calgary, that includes the top three of Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, who collectively led the Flames in scoring in 2014-15. The first line will again be counted on to provide the stock of the scoring. Hudler (76) and Monahan (62) each established an NHL career high in points. No rookie had more points than 22-year-old Gaudreau (64), who was a Calder Trophy finalist.

Matt: After a tremendous season in 2014-15, the expectations are running high in Calgary for a serious Cup run. The Flames do have a bunch of younger high-end talent in Johnny Gaudreau (17 points already!), Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, TJ Brodie and Josh Jooris to go along with veterans like Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, so talent isnt really an issue. The issue so far has been the sad level of goaltending the Flames have been getting. Between Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio, they are collectively yielding over 3.5 goals per game, and each of them is sporting a save percentage that is sub-.900 (which is terrible). Unless the goaltending improves dramatically, this is going to be a very disapointing year in Calgary.

 

EDMONTON OILERS

Brock: Connor McDavid…. Before his broken collarbone he was the only player in a long time that made me religiously watch a team other than my beloved Flyers. This guy is the real deal and all those conversations about him being the next in line for the Gretzky throne are very accurate! I almost see him more like a Lemieux style player with his big frame and strong skating ability. Unfortunately for the Oilers he will be sidelined for a couple months with that broken collarbone and Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are gonna need solid play in their game to keep the boys afloat. Another beauty acquisition is goaltender Cam Talbot who filled in for injured Ranger brick wall Henrik Lundqvuist last season and the Rangers didn’t miss a beat. It’s a great time to be an Oilers fan as the past five years of circling the drain should be ending this season!

Matt: Bummer!!! While no one saw the brutal injury to Connor McDavid coming, hockey fans were treated to a glimpse of the brilliance this kid is going to provide for years to come. He is every bit the “generational” talent he has labeled as. Not sure how long he will be out (broken clavicle), but he should return at some point this season. In the meantime (great Helmet song by the way!!!) the Oilers are just going to have to make due with the other thousand uber-talented guys they have stockpiled over the years. Taylor Hall is off to a great start, Nail Yakupov looks like he has turned the corner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is producing points, and Leon Draisaitl has “only” contributed 7 points in 5 games since being called-up to the NHL. Jordan Eberle has also just returned from injury, so he adds yet another top-level talent to the roster. Whew…while this season may not turn into the year the Oil make the playoffs, I predict next season for sure. Get ready Edmonton…things are about to get fun for next decade or so !!!!

Ok….that rounds out the big, bad Western Conference. Next week we will be getting back to our regular format of reporting on anything interesting that happens in the world of hockey…so stay tuned. Make sure you keep an eye on 36 Crazyfists & PUCK HCKY social media as we will be dropping some SICK new designs to the 36CF x PUCK HCKY signature series collaboration!!! Trust us when we tell you these new designs are smokin’ hot.

Thanks for reading!!

Brock & Matt

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Categorised in: Columns, Snipe City