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Predictions sure to go wrong: 2009-10 Western Conference preview

With the new season right around the corner, everyone's got outlooks for you.  I decided to make a quick and dirty look at teams, their key star player and a young gun.  Here's the order of expected finish, which from my past with the Western Conference usually means I'll peg 6 of the 8 playoff teams correctly but the order will be butchere.

15. Phoenix/Hamilton/Saskatoon/Kansas City/Winnipeg Coyotes

Outlook: What a mess this whole thing is. While Penguins fans can empathize with the status of an uncertain franchise this is a whole new degree of craziness. On the ice the team has a decent young core, but so much is up in the air and unsettled it's hard to imagine anything gelling.  Of course all of these ownership questions and problems are not the fault of the players, but they're the ones that are going to have to deal with it.

How they could make this prediction wrong: By somehow blocking out the myriad of distractions and unique problems of the mess they're surrounded by and rallying amongst themselves. The arena figures to be about empty this year, it'll almost literally be that group of young players against the world.  Not much in the way of fans, not much of a budget, who knows who owns them....Yep welcome to the NHL.

Player to watch: Shane Doan [82 games, 31 goals, 42 assists last season]
Young gun: Kyle Turris [62 gp, 13g, 23a]


The rest for you after the jump...

14. Colorado Avalanche

Outlook: Rebuilding in Colorado is well under way and another season of struggles is expected for an organization trying out a 1st year general manager and a 1st year head coach. The Avs are a team in transition, they shed Ryan Smyth but still (momentarily at least) have vets like Milan Hejduk and Adam Foote around.

How they could make this prediction wrong: Matt Duchene turns out to be the real deal, right from jump street and Craig Anderson shows he can be a true #1 goalie.

Player to watch: Paul Stastny [45 games, 11 goals, 25 assists last season]
Young gun: Duchene [rookie]

13. Nashville Predators

Outlook: Working on a tight budget, Nashville hasn't been able to bring in many outside free agents, though they did well to retain the oft-injured Steve Sullivan. Scoring depth up front worries me, in addition to Sullivan, as top forwards like Jason Arnott, David Legwand and Martin Erat all missed time with injury and aren't considered ironmen. If a couple of them go down, so will Nashville in the standings.

How they could make this prediction wrong: Goalie Pekka Rinne proves last year was no fluke and has enough help from a good blueline to overcome what figures to be not much in the way of offensive support.

Player to watch: Shea Weber [81 games, 23 goals, 30 assists last season]
Young gun: Colin Wilson [rookie]

12. Edmonton Oilers

Outlook:  One old goalie (Dwayne Roloson) out, one old goalie (Nikolai Khabibulin) in for Edmonton.  There's always a big group clumped up, so even though I have them 12th, they could have a strong season and just miss the playoffs by a point or two.  Edmonton has a talented but still relatively unproven group of young players who could put them over the top or could let them down.

How they could make this prediction wrong:  Dustin Penner earns his millions and that young core players like Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagne, Gilbert Brule and Rob Schremp all make a big push this season.

Player to watch: Ales Hemsky [72 games, 23 goals, 43 assists last season]
Young gun: Gagne [76 gp, 16g, 25a]

11. Dallas Stars

Outlook: Dallas imploded last year with Sean Avery and Brett Hull fiascos, but they look to quietly build from within now. Defensively the Stars don't seem that impressive, but the loss of Sergei Zubov might not sting so bad considering he missed almost the entire year last season.

How they could make this prediction wrong: If Marty Turco and Brad Richards (now said to be finally healthy) both revert to form, it's not a stretch imagining Dallas playing into May. Keeping Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen in the lineup is going to be crucial as well.

Player to watch: Mike Ribeiro [82 games, 22 goals, 56 assists last season]
Young gun: James Neal [77 gp, 24g, 13a]

10. Columbus Blue Jackets

Outlook: Columbus made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season, now they look to get back with mainly the same cast of characters.

How they could make this prediction wrong: Steve Mason avoids a sophomore slump and has another Vezina-worthy season, there's no doubt the BJ's are back in the playoffs.

Player to watch: Rick Nash [78 games, 40 goals, 39 assists last season]
Young gun: Nikita Filatov [8gp, 4g, 0a]

9. Minnesota Wild

Outlook: Long last, the days of trap hockey are done in Minnesota. With Chuck Fletcher and Todd Richards about to take what they learned in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre and San Jose, expect the Wild to start playing a more aggressive brand of hockey. Through free agency they swapped high-profile European oft-injured skill wingers welcoming Martin Havlat and bidding farewell to Marian Gaborik.

How they could make this prediction wrong: First time head coach Richards gets the most out of his team in a Bylsma-esque setting. Veterans Owen Nolan and Petr Sykora are going to need to have a little more left in the tank than most believe as well.

Player to watch: Havlat [81 games, 29 goals, 48 assists last season in Chicago]
Young gun: Benoit Pouliot [37 gp, 5g, 6a]


Later today....The order of the playoff teams in the West...