Western Conference

Hockey: NHL Preview

October 08, 2003|By Los Angeles Times

(Teams listed in predicted order of finish)

1. Vancouver Canucks

Coach: Marc Crawford, sixth season.

2002-03 record: 45-23-13-1, 104 points, second in Northwest, fourth in conference.

Player to watch: Actually two - twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. They showed glimpses of their vaunted skills last season but must be consistent.

Outlook: Tightening up on defense might start the Canucks on a long playoff run. Free-agent winger Magnus Arvedson, a fine two-way player, was a good addition to a prolific offense that includes Todd Bertuzzi (46 goals, 97 points) and scoring race runner-up Markus Naslund (48 goals, 104 points). Ed Jovanovski has revived his career and become a force on defense. General manager Brian Burke created competition by acquiring goalie Johan Hedberg from Pittsburgh to back up Dan Cloutier, who yielded too many bad goals during last spring's second-round loss to Minnesota.

2. Detroit Red Wings

Coach: Dave Lewis, second season.

2002-03 record: 48-20-10-4, 110 points, first in Central, second in conference.

Player to watch: Can Dominik Hasek regain his dominating form after a year of retirement? The Red Wings want to trade Curtis Joseph and the $16 million he is owed the next two seasons but will have to pay a portion of the money to get him off their hands.

Outlook: They lost Sergei Fedorov and Igor Larionov as free agents, but the Red Wings - who led the NHL last season with 269 goals - say they will focus on defense. Henrik Zetterberg, last season's top-scoring rookie with 22 goals and 44 points, and Pavel Datsyuk will play bigger roles. Rookie center Jiri Hudler is promising, too. Derian Hatcher, signed as a free agent, is the mean, hard-hitting defenseman they have lacked since Vladimir Konstantinov's tragic car accident.

3. Anaheim Mighty Ducks

Coach: Mike Babcock, second season.

2002-03 record: 40-27-9-6, 95 points, second in Pacific, seventh in conference.

Player to watch: Sergei Fedorov left Detroit to play a bigger role in Anaheim, not merely for more minutes. Here's his chance to be the go-to guy offensively and overall leader.

Outlook: General manager Bryan Murray wasn't idle after his team won the West title. He lost Paul Kariya by not making a $10 million qualifying offer but likely improved the team by signing Fedorov (36 goals, 83 points) and winger Vaclav Prospal (22 goals, 79 points). Playoff MVP Jean-Sebastien Giguere signed a four-year, $19.5 million deal on the eve of training camp. The solid defense is led by Keith Carney, Ruslan Salei and young Kurt Sauer. Another experienced forward to replace Adam Oates and Steve Thomas might help, but Murray has depth to deal.

4. Colorado Avalanche

Coach: Tony Granato, second season.

2002-03 record: 42-19-13-8, 105 points, first in Northwest, third in conference.

Player to watch: In this case, players, as in free-agent signees Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. They wanted to play together and have free rein offensively, but defense rules in the NHL these days.

Outlook: Few teams could lose a future Hall of Fame goalie and contend. Patrick Roy's retirement left a void that for now will be filled by David Aebischer and Philippe Sauve, but general manager Pierre Lacroix isn't afraid to make big, bold trades. Colorado had the NHL's top scorer (Peter Forsberg, 29 goals and 106 points) and goal-scorer (Milan Hejduk, 50) but lost to Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. Forsberg, Joe Sakic and Co. should have learned not to let frustration lead to mistakes and bad penalties.

5. Dallas Stars

Coach: Dave Tippett, second season.

2002-03 record: 46-17-15-4, 111 points, first in Pacific, first in conference.

Player to watch: Marty Turco. He had a breakout season with a 1.72 goals-against average in his first season as the No. 1 goalie, but expectations will be higher and the defense in front of him appears weaker.

Outlook: They'll miss Derian Hatcher's physical play and the solid defense of Darryl Sydor, gone in a three-way deal that brought them Teppo Numminen. They're still solid up front; Mike Modano (28 goals, 85 points) is a leader and Jere Lehtinen (31 goals, 48 points) is a superb two-way winger. Power-play quarterbacks don't come better than defenseman Sergei Zubov (11 goals, 55 points). Bill Guerin (25 goals, 50 points in 64 games) had a thigh injury that cost them in the playoffs; he must be at full strength for them to go far.

6. St. Louis Blues

Coach: Joel Quenneville, eighth season.

2002-03 record: 41-24-11-6, 99 points, second in Central, fifth in conference.

Player to watch: Chris Pronger. He missed all but five games last season because of wrist problems but looked good in the playoffs. He relinquished his captaincy to Al MacInnis, which might help him concentrate on regaining his MVP form.

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.