MICHAEL RUSSO’S WESTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
1. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
2013: 36-7-5, 1st in NHL (77 points)
• No Stanley Cup hangover for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, the NHL’s deepest blue line and the league’s most disrespected stingy goalie, Corey Crawford.
2. LOS ANGELES KINGS
2013: 27-16-5, 5th in West (59 points)
• 2012 Cup champs still are stacked with experience up front … and Jonathan Quick in net. Enough said.
3. ST. LOUIS BLUES
2013: 29-17-2, 4th in West (60 points)
• Blues are the sum of their parts. No explosive point-getters, but tons of balance and size and a defensive structure.
4. SAN JOSE SHARKS
2013: 25-16-7, 6th in West (57 points)
• Made the playoffs in 14 of the past 15 years, and Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are poised to lead a team that went 12-5-1 down the stretch and nearly upset the Kings.
5. ANAHEIM DUCKS
2013: 30-12-6, 2nd in West (66 points)
• Maybe the NHL’s most shocking team last season, the Ducks will be relying on young Jakob Silfverberg and Emerson Etem to aid top-liners Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
6. MINNESOTA WILD
2013: 26-19-3, 8th in West (55 points)
• Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will get support. Look for a breakout season from Charlie Coyle and impacts from Jason Pominville and young Nino Niederreiter.
7. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
2013: 26-15-7, 3rd in West (59 points)
• Goalie controversy theoretically has disappeared with Roberto Luongo the last man standing, but it’ll be fun watching John Tortorella make the Sedin twins block shots.
8. DALLAS STARS
2013: 22-22-4, 11th in West (48 points)
• Tyler Seguin has a lot to prove after being banished from Boston under much scrutiny, and look for big, talented Alex Chiasson to be given an important role.
9. EDMONTON OILERS
2013: 19-22-7, 12th in West (45 points)
• Lots of potential offense with Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and newbie David Perron, but this is a tiny team.
10. COLORADO AVALANCHE
2013: 16-25-7, 15th in West (39 points)
• Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs’ other cast of forwards should pile up goals, but the blue line is lousy.
11. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
2013: 16-23-9, 14th in West (41 points)
• Can a healthy Pekka Rinne return to form behind a new cast including Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks and future stud defenseman Seth Jones?
12. WINNIPEG JETS
2013: 24-21-3, 9th in East (51 points)
• The talent on the ice beyond just Evander Kane is starting to become clearer, but it could be a tough transition to the Western Conference.
13. PHOENIX COYOTES
2013: 21-18-9, 10th in West (51 points)
• The team finally is owned by a person — not, uh, a league — but even with Mike Ribeiro and a star-in-the-making blue-liner in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it’s hard to see much to fear.
14. CALGARY FLAMES
2013: 19-25-4, 13th in West (42 points)
• Flames are in complete rebuilding mode, which isn’t a bad thing for what was a blah team that lacked prospects. They’re coming off a great draft, but that won’t help this season.