Which western teams are buys, and which are like stocks due for a fall? Let's take a tour around the conference...
This week instead of doing my usual Western Conference standings piece, I thought it would be a bit more fun for you, our loyal readers, to play a game. Imagine every Western Conference team has a set stock value at $100. Instead of just doing a simple ranking, I am going to "invest" in the teams I believe will make the playoffs at this point in the season and give a short explanation why. The hope is you will play along and make a "stock" chart of your own. Everyone starts with an imaginary $1500. You can invest that money any way you choose so long as every team has at least $5 worth of value.
Chicago Blackhawks $200 (200%)
The Blackhawks continue to be unbeaten in regulation. Marian Hossa did not miss a beat after he suffered a blow to the head which is great news for Chicago fans. This team is getting timely goal scoring and great goaltending. Hard to lose games with those two x-factors on your side. Law of averages says what goes up, must come down, and it will for the Blackhawks at some point, but for right now, that doesn't seem possible for this high flying hockey club.
Anaheim Ducks $175 (75%)
Without a doubt, the comeback team of the year. The Ducks are getting solid goaltending from their rookie Viktor Fasth who recently signed a two-year, $5.8M contract extension with Anaheim. Come trade deadline time, Jonas Hiller will be on the trade block and may bring back something of value for the Ducks. Ageless wonder Teemu Selanne is clipping along at a point per game. The Ducks have won five in a row. This team continues to impress and stands in second place in the West despite playing the fewest games in the conference.
Vancouver Canucks $139 (39%)
The Canucks welcomed center Ryan Kesler back into the fold and this team has looked significantly better since his return. As always, the Canucks stand atop the Northwest Division and that is unlikely to change. I would put the Canucks higher in the rankings, but I just can't bring myself to fully trust this team as they are a step below the above teams. The Luongo trade odyssey has finally reached its' happy conclusion... let the Saga of Cory Schneider begin!
St. Louis Blues $125 (25%)
Yes, they had a terrible stretch of games in February, but the Blues are just too talented to stay down for long. Jake Allen and Jaroslav Halak have steadied the St.Louis crease after a rough patch of games that saw the Blues give up an average of 5.2 GA. The power play is steamrolling the competition at just over 30% but the PK and goals against are starting to bring down the Notes. I believe Head Coach Ken Hitchcock will rally the troops and the Blues will be a solid playoff contender this season. Watch out, St. Louis is on the upswing.
Los Angeles $120 (20%)
Last year's Stanley Cup Champions have had one of the worst hangovers in recent memory. They started the year with three stinkers and were unable to find consistency until just recently. The Kings are 5-1 in their last six games and have out-scored opponents 19-7 during that stretch. L.A. has a bit of catch-up to do, but they should be a lock for the playoffs and will be a challenge down the stretch.
Nashville Predators $111 (11%)
After a rocky start, Nashville looked like they had finally found their groove but have now lost four of their last five games. They have been shutout in back-to-back games in this week after winning an 4-3 OT thriller against Detroit earlier in the week. The Predators need to improve their offensive strategy as they are currently at the bottom of the league in terms of goals per game but are as stingy as ever with the third ranked defense and the eighth ranked PK. Colin Wilson finally seems to have blossomed into the forward Preds fans always believed he would be. The return of Patric Hornqvist will improve the team's power play performance going forward and Nashville's offensive attack. The Preds are a playoff team, but they will have to get more offense going to hang on to that coveted fourth seed.
San Jose Sharks $110 (10%)
Will the real San Jose Sharks please stand up? After going undefeated in January,the once proud Sharks have turned into guppies, posting a single win in the month of February. That is absolutely incredible. The offense has dried up for the Sharks (26th) and the power play has turned into the flower-play (14th) but the goals against are good (6th) and the PK is great (5th). Despite their current losing streak, I believe the Sharks are too big to fail. Buying low but hoping to sell high on this Jekyll and Hyde hockey club.
Phoenix Coyotes $110 (10%)
I am not investing in the Coyotes roster, I am investing on Dave Tippett who has everyone in the locker room on the same page. Doubt this Coyotes team at your own peril. They may not be flashy or have the best defense, but they are consistent and determined. The Yotes are 6-4 since Mike Smith's return between the pipes, and he has consistently been their best player. Again, doubt this team at your own peril.
Minnesota Wild $95 (-5%)
The Wild spent a lot of money this off-season, and so far, the results really haven't been there for a team with high expectations. Perhaps the most amusing stat (well, at least for Preds and Devil fans) is the Minnesota offense is the 29 th in the league despite big names like Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and others. Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Wild is the lack of balance and teamwork. The players seem to be struggling to gel together as a team. Top defensive pairing Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert have a combined 17 points, which is very good. They also have a combined -11 rating which is very, very bad.
Detroit Red Wings $90 (-10%)
While Detroit was able to defeat Nashville last night, the fact remains the Red Wings are simply not a very deep or good team this year. Are they in playoff contention? Yes. Are they going to make the playoffs? No. They don't have the special teams play to get it done this year (25th ranked PK and 26th ranked PP). They also lack any form of depth on the blueline. Jimmy Howard has put the team on his back, and while the Wings aren't winning games, Howard has done everything he can to give his team a chance to win. We are seeing the end of an era in Detroit.
Dallas Stars $85 (-15%)
Things were looking great for the Dallas Stars in early February, but then star netminder Kari Lehtonen went down with a groin injury. The Dallas Stars ability to make the playoffs rests on the Finnish netminder. If he is able to battle through his injury and not lose a step, Lehtonen will improve this team's chances going forward. He is one of the best in the business. The Stars also inserted injured center Derek Roy back into the lineup, which will certainly help on both ends of the ice. The Stars are a tricky one to figure out as they have the grit and skill to make the playoffs, but the West is so competitive it's hard to see them getting over the playoff hump.
Edmonton Oilers $65 (-35%)
The age-old question of youth versus experience seems to have taken its toll on the Oilers. It appears experience and trickery have trumped youth and skill. The Oilers are struggling to find goals right now, as they are ranked 27th in goals for this year and haven't been able to find consistency in offense or in defense. Unlike Detroit, Edmonton is enjoying excellent special teams play with the 5th ranked power play unit and the 4th ranked PK. Taylor Hall's two games suspension fora knee-to-knee hit earlier this week was not a surprise, and he should feel lucky he wasn't injured on the play either. Invest on the Oilers' future, but not their present.
Colorado Avalanche $40 (-60%)
Much like the Oilers, the Avs are not good enough to compete for a playoff spot this year, but they have a few bright spots in Matt Duchene (17 points in 16 games) and recently signed, P.A. Parenteau (14 points in 16 games). Avs fans have to be excited for the return of last year's Calder Memorial Trophy winner, Gabriel Landeskog. He is a truly special player. Colorado really needs to improve their blueline before they can be a playoff contender. The Avs also need to bolster their prospect pool as it is a bit shallow at the moment.
Calgary Flames $20 (-80%)
Despite big wins against Dallas and Minnesota this week, the Flames are 27th in goals against in the league, surrendering an average of 3.25 goals against a night and one of the worst PK units in the league killing 74.5% of the power plays they have faced. The Flames did get some good news this week as Mike Cammalleri returned to the line-up and Sven Baertshi seems to be improving. The Flames have an uphill battle going forward. They have a decent core but will need to add some talent in the upcoming years through the draft. Right now the best thing that the Flames can do is trade away some of their top end talent and build through the draft.
Columbus Blue Jackets $15 (-85)
Scott Howson finally got axed, but that doesn't necessarily make things any easier for the Jackets. Recently acquired Brandon Dubinsky is on the IR, giving youngster Cam Altkinson a chance to shine. Artem Anisimov was released from the hospital two days ago after suffering a scary hit during the Red Wings game Thursday night. The Columbus blueline is also a mess with injuries to many of their starting defensemen. The present maybe grim, but the future looks brighter for the Jackets. They have a decent prospect pool and will be a big player come draft time. The rebuilding is just beginning in Columbus.