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NHL Western Conference preview
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/8/2008 3:39 PM

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There's bad news for teams in the NHL's Western Conference. The defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings look to be even better than last season.

Here's the predicted order of finish:

1. Detroit: No team has won back-to-back Cups since 1997-98, when the Red Wings did it, but the addition of high scoring winger Marian Hossa to support Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk gives coach Mike Babcock's team a great chance.

2. San Jose: A new coach (Todd McLellan) could be what the Sharks need to end their playoff futility. That, and Joe Thornton to rise up in the playoffs. Defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake were nice additions.

3. Edmonton: The Oilers play fast and furious, which will make them one of the more dangerous teams in the West. The Hawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but the Oilers have a good young 1-2 punch themselves in Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano.

4. Anaheim: With no Stanley Cup hangover to deal with, the Ducks will be back to being themselves led by Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger on defense and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry up front.

5. Dallas: Not much separates the Stars from San Jose and Anaheim in the Pacific Division. The defense is sound in front of goalie Marty Turco, while Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards make quite a 1-2 punch at forward.

6. Blackhawks: The Hawks could even finish higher if things go right, such as good health for Martin Havlat and the addition of another center. The key is on defense, where Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook must dominate.

7. Calgary: The Flames will find a way to get in the playoffs behind their trio of superstars: goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, winger Jarome Iginla and defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who could win his first Norris Trophy.

8. Minnesota: The Wild lost Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra, which hurts on offense, but coach Jacques Lemaire is a special teams master and will lead his team into the postseason again somehow.

9. Vancouver: Goaltender Roberto Luongo might be the best in either conference, but a lack of offense after the Sedin twins and Demitra will keep the Canucks out of the playoffs unless they deal for more scoring.

10. Colorado: The Avs have a nice collection of forwards, but sooner or later questionable goaltending (Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft) will catch up to them. This figures to be Joe Sakic's last season, so catch him while you can.

11. Phoenix: The Coyotes are close to breaking through under coach Wayne Gretzky. Olli Jokinen was a nice pickup and Peter Mueller will be a star. With Brian McGrattan and Daniel Carcillo, think this team will be fighting a lot?

12. Columbus: The Blue Jackets' strength is their coach, Ken Hitchcock. This is a team that made a lot of changes in the off-season but remains slim at center and without a true No. 1 or even No. 2 defenseman.

13. Nashville: Is this the year the Predators take a big tumble? It looks that way, although Barry Trotz is a top-notch coach the defense is young and talented with Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Sutter.

14. St. Louis: The Blues suffered a huge loss when defenseman Erik Johnson blew out a knee in a mishap with a golf cart. He's out for the year and will be missed. A poor start could cost coach Andy Murray his job quickly.

15. Los Angeles: The Kings have two terrific forwards in Anze Kopitar and Alexander Frolov, but there are a lot of holes here. Goaltending figures to be an issue with Jason LaBarbara and Erik Ersberg battling to be No. 1.