Big changes in West with Gretzky, Sakic and Pronger out and Heatley in
Big changes in West with Gretzky, Sakic and Pronger out and Heatley in
Wayne Gretzky quit, Joe Sakic retired, Chris Pronger exited east, and six teams changed head coaches.
Whew, the pot sure has been stirred in the NHL's Western Conference.
The new coaches: Pat Quinn in Edmonton, Brent Sutter in Calgary, Marc Crawford in Dallas, Todd Richards in Minnesota, Joe Sacco in Colorado, and Dave Tippett in Phoenix after Gretzky's resignation from the bankrupt Coyotes.
Dany Heatley arrived, too, as San Jose shuffled its deck in preparing to defend the regular-season conference championship and maybe, for a change, go somewhere in the playoffs.
Chris Chelios has wanted to go somewhere since Detroit declined to re-sign him. The oldest player in the NHL still wants to play but can't land a deal, so, the 47-year-old defenceman might have to join Sakic in retirement. Sakic, a class act all the way, will be missed not just in Colorado but around the hockey world.
As for Pronger, forwards in the West should be sending Anaheim execs flowers for shipping the punishing defenceman to Philadelphia.
Here's a look at the West in predicted order of finish:
Detroit Red Wings
Last season: 51-21-10, second in West, lost to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup final.
Coach: Mike Babcock.
Key additions: Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, Patrick Eaves.
Key losses: Marian Hossa, Chris Chelios, Mikhael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler.
Player to watch: Goaltender Chris Osgood, who had a so-so regular season before coming on strong in the playoffs, will have to be better through 82 games this winter if Detroit is to come out on top.
The skinny: The Wings always have capable players coming out of their system - Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino this year - to provide a fresh jolt of energy. If team defence can be strengthened after slipping last season, the high-scoring Red Wings should enjoy another strong campaign.
Last season: 46-30-6, fifth in West, lost in first round to Chicago.
Coach: Brent Sutter.
Key additions: Jay Bouwmeester, Fredrik Sjostrom, Nigel Dawes.
Key losses: Mike Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Adrian Aucoin.
Player to watch: Jarome Iginla should return to 40-goal plateau now that he doesn't have to be playmaker for Cammalleri.
The skinny: Calgary slipped to 23rd in the league in goals against last season and acquiring highly prized free agent Bouwmeester is a good start at a remedy. Now, with Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Cory Sarich, the Flames might have the best top-four defence in the league, and the new coach is a stickler for defensive diligence who can get the most out of the entire group.
San Jose Sharks
Last season: 53-18-11, first in West, lost to Anaheim in first round.
Coach: Todd McLellan.
Key additions: Dany Heatley, Manny Malhotra.
Key losses: Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, Jeremy Roenick, Travis Moen.
Player to watch: Heatley's reputation after his ugly exit from Ottawa is of placing his interests above those of his team so how he blends in - or not - will be intriguing to watch.
The skinny: The Sharks lost only five games in regulation time in the first half last season on their way to finishing first overall. It's hard to imagine a team doing that two years in a row but, with Joe Thornton feeding Heatley, it's possible. Exceptional special teams play can help them retain the Pacific title.
Last season: 46-24-12, fourth in West, lost to Detroit in third round.
Coach: Joel Quenneville.
Key additions: Marian Hossa, John Madden.
Key losses: Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Havlat, Sammy Pahlsson.
Player to watch: Let's see if Cristobal Huet can endure the challenge of being a No. 1 NHL goalie again.
The skinny: Hossa will be out till late November rehabbing from shoulder surgery, and checking-line forward Adam Burish is out six months after recent surgery to repair a torn knee ligament. The Blackhawks create a big buzz for what they'll do in the future but summer setbacks create serious doubt they'll overtake Detroit in the Central.
St. Louis Blues
Last season: 41-31-10, sixth in West, lost to Vancouver in first round.
Coach: Andy Murray.
Key additions: Darryl Sydor, Barry Tallackson.
Key losses: Jay McKee, Jeff Woywitka.
Player to watch: Paul Kariya, healthy after hip surgeries ruined last season, looks to return to prominence.
The skinny: The Blues had more wins, 25, than any other team in the conference in the second half of last season. The return of Kariya and Erik Johnson, who didn't play at all last season after blowing out a knee in a golf cart accident, provides invigorating reinforcements for this up-and-coming team.
Last season: 45-27-10, third in West, lost to Chicago in second round.
Coach: Alain Vigneault.
Key additions: Mikhail Samuelson, Christian Ehrhoff, Mathieu Schneider.
Key losses: Mattias Ohlund, Mats Sundin, Taylor Pyatt.
Player to watch: Roberto Luongo. The Canucks won only nine of 23 games during their goalie's rehab from a groin injury last season. He's bound to come back strong with an eye on playing for Canada in the Olympics in his home arena.
The skinny: Pavol Demitra will miss the season's start rehabbing from shoulder surgery. The Canucks edged Calgary for first place in the Northwest by only two points last spring and the Flames might surge ahead now that they've got Bouwmeester.
Last season: 36-35-11, 12th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Marc Crawford.
Key additions: Karlis Skrastins, Jeff Woywitka.
Key losses: Brendan Morrison, Darryl Sydor, Sergei Zubov, Steve Begin.
Player to watch: Mike Modano, the 39-year-old centre who has spent his entire career in the organization, will play out the last year on his contract so this might be goodbye.
The skinny: New coach Crawford's up-tempo style is a breath of fresh air for Stars fans. Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Jere Lehtinen, who between them missed 124 games last season, are ready to roll and will give the unleashed offence a big boost.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season: 41-31-10, seventh in West, lost to Detroit in first round.
Coach: Ken Hitchcock.
Key addition: Sammy Pahlsson.
Key losses: Jason Williams, Mike Peca, Manny Malhotra.
Player to watch: Goaltender Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy last spring and looks to repeat his outstanding rookie season.
The skinny: Fredrik Modin will miss the first month with a sprained right knee. First playoff appearance was no fluke and Jackets will again be in the thick of the battle for post-season berths, but only if Mason is as good as he was last winter.
Last season: 38-35-9, 11th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Pat Quinn.
Key additions: Nikolai Khabibulin, Mike Comrie.
Key losses: Ales Kotalik, Dwayne Roloson.
Player to watch: Khabibulin came on strong in recapturing the No. 1 job in Chicago last winter with a .919 save percentage and he'll have to be just as good with the Oilers if they are to move up.
The skinny: The players are going to love playing Quinn's attacking style and, if speedy forwards Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner can each contribute at least 25 goals, Edmonton will challenge for a playoff spot. But the small Oilers' forwards are going to look like lightweights against the division heavyweights.
Last season: 42-33-7, eighth in West, lost to Detroit in second round.
Coach: Randy Carlyle.
Key additions: Saku Koivu, Nick Boynton, Joffrey Lupul.
Key losses: Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, Rob Niedermayer.
Player to watch: Teemu Selanne will be lacing 'em up for his last season and it could be a memorable one with Koivu setting up the 39-year-old right-winger.
The skinny: Only nine players remain from the 2007 championship lineup and, with the loss of the two workhorses on the back end, the Ducks, who barely scraped into the playoffs last spring, might not make it this time.
Last season: 40-34-8, 10th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Barry Trotz.
Key additions: Francis Bouillon, Colin Wilson.
Key losses: Radek Bonk, Vern Fiddler, Greg de Vries.
Player to watch: Goaltender Pikka Rinne had an outstanding rookie season and if the agile Finn is as good this winter the Preds will be battling for a playoff berth.
The skinny: Not enough offence. Preds don't have the cash to lure big-name free agents so give Trotz and GM Dave Poile credit for keeping them competitive year after year.
Los Angeles Kings
Last season: 34-37-11, 14th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Terry Murray.
Key additions: Ryan Smyth, Rob Scuderi.
Key losses: Kyle Quincey, Tom Preissing.
Player to watch: If Anzi Kopitar can score as many as 35 goals - he had 27 last season - the Kings will have the game-breaking shooter they need to move up.
The skinny: Kings will definitely be better, but still not good enough for a playoff berth.
Last season: 40-33-9, ninth in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Todd Richards.
Key additions: Petr Sykora, Martin Havlat, Shane Hnidy.
Key losses: Marian Gaborik, Kurtis Foster.
Player to watch: Brent Burns should bounce back after a shoulder injury and post-concussion syndrome ended last season early.
The skinny: Derek Boogaard is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion last week. With defence-first coach Jacques Lemaire gone to the Devils, Wild fans will enjoy watching a more attack-oriented style of play, but there'll be no automatic move up with what is a fragile flock of forwards.
Last season: 36-39-7, 13th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Dave Tippett.
Key additions: Vern Fiddler, Adrian Aucoin, Taylor Pyatt.
Key losses: Ken Klee, Dmitri Kalinin, Steve Reinprecht.
Player to watch: 21-year-old forward Peter Mueller looks to regain form after slip in production and February concussion.
The skinny: The organization has been shaken by bankruptcy proceedings and now Gretzky's resignation. The Coyotes have a promising nucleus of young talent but not much of a future in Phoenix. Somebody give captain Shane Doan a medal for sticking it out.
Last season: 32-45-5, 15th in West, missed playoffs.
Coach: Joe Sacco.
Key additions: Craig Anderson, Matt Duchene, Kyle Quincey.
Key losses: Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth, Ian Laperriere.
Player to watch: First-line centre Paul Stastny looks to rebound after being limited to 45 games last season.
The skinny: Sakic-less Avs seek new identity as Anderson tries for the first time in his career to be a No. 1 goalie in NHL. Rebuilding club has little firepower - 199 goals were fewest scored in the league last season - and no chance of qualifying for the playoffs. Adam Foote gets Sakic's C.