Western Conference NHL PREVIEW

October 09, 1998

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks

Coach: Dirk Graham (new)

Outlook: The league's second-worst offensive team missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 29 years, ending the NHL's longest active streak. C Alexei Zhamnov (21 goals, 28 assists) continued to disappoint. The promising young line of Ethan Moreau, Chad Kilger and Eric Daze must improve. The team finally made a big move in the free-agent market, signing C Doug Gilmour from New Jersey.

Detroit Red Wings

Coach: Scotty Bowman

Outlook: The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are primed for a third straight run at the trophy. All of the Red Wings' key pieces remain in place and, if anything, the roster may actually be deeper now than at this time last season. Detroit will have superstar C Sergei Fedorov for a full season after Fedorov held out for more than half of 1997-98. The Red Wings signed free-agent D Uwe Krupp away from rival Colorado to bolster an aging defense. So intent were the Red Wings on keeping together a winning team that they reacquired RW Doug Brown after the Predators claimed him in the expansion draft. G Chris Osgood (six shutouts, 2.21 goals-against average) silenced critics.

Nashville Predators

Coach: Barry Trotz (new)

Outlook: The expansion team was aggressive in stocking up on NHL veterans. C Greg Johnson, D Bob Boughner and RW Blair Atcheynum came from the expansion draft. C Darren Turcotte and speedy RW Sergei Krivokrasov arrived through trades. The best pickup could be G Mike Dunham.

St. Louis Blues

Coach: Joel Quenneville

Outlook: The Blues no longer have Brett Hull, who signed a free-agent contract with Dallas in the off-season. The team made good moves in re-signing D Al MacInnis (19 goals, 49 points) and LW Geoff Courtnall (31 goals, 62 points). C Pierre Turgeon (22 goals, 68 points) will also be counted on to score more.

Northwest Division

Calgary Flames

Coach: Brian Sutter

Outlook: Calgary's 67 points were the second-lowest total in franchise history. The Flames' hopes will once again rest on their young players. F Jarome Iginla, 21, seemed to take a step back after an impressive rookie season. The focus of Calgary's season probably will be RW Theo Fleury (78 points), who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Colorado Avalanche

Coach: Bob Hartley (new)

Outlook: The Avalanche has the top center combination in the NHL in Peter Forsberg (25 goals, 66 assists), already one of the league's top players at age 25, and captain Joe Sakic (27 goals, 63 points). Wingers Valeri Kamensky (66 points) and Claude Lemieux (26 goals) had solid seasons, but Colorado is hoping for a rebound from F Adam Deadmarsh, who had 22 goals, down from 30 in 1996-97.

Edmonton Oilers

Coach: Ron Low

Outlook: The Oilers, who upset Colorado in the first round of the playoffs, will look to build on that effort. C Doug Weight (26 goals, 70 points), C Dean McAmmond (19 goals, 50 points) and C Todd Marchant (14 goals) are developing stars. Losing G Curtis Joseph to free agency was a blow.

Vancouver Canucks

Coach: Mike Keenan

Outlook: Mark Messier failed to have much of an impact on his new team, which finished seventh, but with Messier reunited with Keenan, his coach on the 1994 Stanley Cup-champion New York Rangers, for a full season, the pair could begin to assert their will to win on the rest of the roster. Winger Todd Bertuzzi has established himself as a physical presence, and 23-year-old Brian McCabe is a player Keenan can build a once-soft defense around.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

Coach: Craig Hartsburg (new)

Outlook: The Mighty Ducks are cautiously optimistic, mainly because of the return of superstar LW Paul Kariya from post-concussion syndrome. Kariya held out for the season's first 32 games, but returned to score 17 goals in 22 games, then missed the final 28 games after being cross-checked by Chicago's Gary Suter. Kariya will again team with RW Teemu Selanne (52 goals).

Dallas Stars

Coach: Ken Hitchcock

Outlook: If there's a team in the NHL that threatens the Red Wings' dominance, it's Dallas. The Stars won the President's Trophy with 109 points, their second straight 100-point season, despite enduring a nightmarish season of injuries. It finally caught up to Dallas in the conference finals against Detroit, when the loss of C Joe Nieuwendyk left Dallas unable to generate clutch scoring. G Ed Belfour (nine shutouts, 1.88 GAA) had a terrific regular season, but struggled somewhat in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings

Coach: Larry Robinson

Outlook: GM Dave Taylor's best move was the acquisition of C Jozef Stumpel (21 goals, 79 points) from Boston. D Rob Blake (23 goals, 50 points), finally healthy after four straight seasons of injury problems, won the Norris Trophy.

Phoenix Coyotes

Coach: Jim Schoenfeld

Outlook: F Keith Tkachuk (40 goals), the Coyotes' captain, was suspended by the team for the second straight season after once again holding out to force a renegotiation of his contract. Late last month, Tkachuk finally agreed to a one-year, $8.3 million extension through 2000-01. C Jeremy Roenick (24 goals, 56 points), who showed a strong leadership presence when playing for the Blackhawks, hasn't had the same influence in his two seasons with Phoenix.

San Jose Sharks

Coach: Darryl Sutter

Outlook: The biggest factor in the team's improvement is good drafting. C Jeff Friesen (31 goals, 63 points) is a former first-round pick. C Patrick Marleau (13 goals, 32 points) was the second overall pick in 1997, and at age 18, also looks like a cornerstone for the future.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.