It's the best time of year!
We’ve asked numerous team bloggers from around the league some burning questions heading into the 2010/11 season. Here is the roundup from the Western Conference. (The East was posted earlier today)
Anaheim Ducks: Is Jonas Hiller capable of carrying the Ducks to the postseason?
“I think the unknown quantity there is whether or not he can handle the long season by himself. Hiller's played 59 NHL games two years straight, and that only beats his highest total in Davos by one game. He's also looked tired down the stretch of those runs, and Hiller is the kind of goalie who looks like he is just fighting the puck on every save when he's tired. So, I think it's still a legitimate question if he can be the kind of 65 game guy where you say he "carried" his team to the postseason or even the 60 game guy who is so unstoppable down the stretch that you can say he "carried" his team. I, personally, think he can do it, but I don't think he has learned how to do it yet.”
- Arthur, Anaheim Calling
Calgary Flames: Are Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay the answer on the top line?
“If Jarome Iginla doesn't regain his elite form, then probably not. The truth is, Olli Jokinen has never been a true "top line" center. His peak production in Florida was dependent on soft match-ups, lots of PP time and a weak division. There's a reason he was dealt by the Panthers, Coyotes and Flames when his price-tag was $5+ million. As for Tanguay, the last time he was a difference maker at ES was three years ago. His results in Tampa last year were ghastly too boot. He may or may not rebound.
All that said, Jarome struggled a great deal last season. He was, at times, a detriment to his line mates. So, in the end, things will ultimately succeed or fail on Jarome's ability to bounce back.”
- Kent Wilson, Flames Nation
Chicago Blackhawks: Will Marty Turco make Blackhawks fans forget Antti Niemi?
“Turco should already have Blackhawks fans salivating in the stands. In just his second preseason game with the team, Turco saucered an outlet pass to the opposite blue line to Patrick Kane that turned into a quick goal on a power play against Detroit. His puck handling ability could make one of the fastest teams in the NHL more lethal on the breakout.
The question that needs to be answered with Turco is whether or not he can make critical saves in pressure situations, which Niemi did last year. That won’t be answered until he’s tested in the regular season.”
- Tab Bamford, Committed Indians
Colorado Avalanche: How will the young Avs deal with heightened expectations?
“Based on the composure and experience that the young Avalanche players developed over the course of last season, I think there is nowhere to go but up. This year will be a lot tougher as there is no longer any surprise about what this team is capable of coming out of the gate. Other teams are familiar with the Colorado’s system and there will only be a handful of unfamiliar players to learn about. Still, the pressure is on and careers will flourish or decay depending on how these kids respond to the rigors of a long second season.”
- Ryan Boulding, The Burgundy Blog
Columbus Blue Jackets: Which Steve Mason will show up this year... the rookie or sophomore?
“It’s difficult to get a feel for Steve Mason coming into the year. He was a stalwart in net his rookie year, winning 33 games and recording a 2.29 GAA en route to the Calder. His sophomore campaign was a big step back (20 wins, 3.05 GAA). Even though the defense in front of him suffered numerous injuries, you could tell something was wrong with Mason’s play. With a new coach and a new slate, Mason should be able to play better this season. But will he be able to match his performance from 2008/09? That seems like a longshot.”
- Ryan Porth
Dallas Stars: With Dallas, is Kari Lehtonen going to finally live up to expectations?
“Despite being chosen second overall by Atlanta back in 2002, Kari Lehtonen has not come close to his potential. Lehtonen’s best season was back in 2006/07 when the Thrashers made the playoffs, and he posted a 2.79 GAA with 34 wins. He’s struggled to stay healthy or consistent ever since. Will things be different in Dallas? Lehtonen has been given a chance to be ‘the man’ in Big D, but he’s going to have to justify it on the ice. I’ll go on record as saying this will be his last stop in the NHL, and it won’t be a long one.”
- Ryan Porth
Detroit Red Wings: Can Jimmy Howard repeat his stellar rookie campaign?
“I don’t think we’ll see too much of a slip up from Jimmah as he heads into his second season, but it is hard to imagine that he’ll be as stellar as he was during the Wings run to the playoffs last season. That said, a lot of his success will be determined by the guys he has playing in front of him. With the Wings looking like they now have three viable scoring lines to go with an aggressive forechecking fourth line, some of the “lack-of-scoring” pressure that Howard had to deal with last season may be eased a bit. Along those same lines, the defense will be key to Howard’s success and a healthy blue line may be what makes or breaks Jimmah’s sophomore campaign.”
- Chris Hollis, The Production Line
Edmonton Oilers: Of the big three (Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi), which rookie will have the best season?
“The tremendous trio in Edmonton has been turning heads this pre-season. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle each have boat-loads of potential… but I’m going to say Magnus Paajarvi. The 19-year-old Swede has been playing in the Swedish Elite League for the last handful of years, a league that is considered by many to be better than the AHL. We all saw what he did in the pre-season against Tampa Bay, scoring a hat trick and looking near-dominant. If he keeps up that kind of play, I think he’ll be the best of the these three phenoms with the Oilers.”
- Ryan Porth
Los Angeles Kings: How long will it take before Jonathan Bernier really pushes Jonathan Quick in net?
“LA Kings Coach Terry Murray named Jon Quick his starter at the end of last season and has remained steadfast in his support of the U Mass Amherst grad as THE man this season. Bernier will supplant Erik Ersberg for the backup role and Kings insiders say that he, not Quick, is the goalie of the future due to his superior technical skill. Look for Quick to get far less a workload than his 72 games of last season (Murray would prefer 55) but the real competition will be next year as Bernier continues to mature into an NHL netminder.”
- Dennis Bernstein, The Fourth Period
Minnesota Wild: Do you expect Todd Richards to improve in his second season as head coach?
“As of right now, things are not looking good for Coach Richards. 0-3-2 in the preseason thus far, including a shootout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets ‘C’ team, is simply unacceptable. I think we have reached a point where Chuck Fletcher has put together a roster of players that can play the game Todd Richards wants to play, and now it comes down to Richards getting them to do so. Unless things turn around very quickly, Coach Richards won't need to worry about improving in his second season, because it will end rather quickly.
That said, I still think the team turns it around. They showed flashes of brilliance in that shootout loss, and it was really the first time the Wild's top players had played together. The chemistry of the Havlat - Cullen - Latendresse line is coming together, and the defense (short of Clayton Stoner) is playing more responsibly. I think the team figures it out, and Coach Richards not only improves, but makes the playoffs.”
- Bryan Reynolds, Hockey Wilderness
Nashville Predators: Is Anders Lindback the best candidate to backup Rinne this year?
“After Wednesday's game in Atlanta, it became clear that Anders Lindback had won the four man race for the Preds' backup goalie slot. Mark Dekanich was the closest competition and he never left the bench as Barry Trotz wanted to see a full game out of Lindback before the season started. The last competition that Lindback will face between now and opening day are goalies passing through the waiver process and other number threes that teams are willing to move. However, if the Predators keep their summer-long vow to go with a goalie in the organization, Anders Lindback will be on the Predators bench on opening night.”
- Buddy Oakes, PredsOnTheGlass
Phoenix Coyotes: Is this the year Kyle Turris lives up to his potential/expectations?
“It’s hard to say as he’s been pushed in camp by Kyle Wellwood. That said, he physically looks like an NHL player now instead of a kid and can make some good moves on the ice with the puck. If I were making the decisions I’d have to say he at least gets the chance to play in the NHL this year as he just seems ready to make the jump. Will that translate into a groundbreaking season stat wise? It could, as he would likely center the top line with Shane Doan on wing.”
- Travis Hair, Five for Howling
San Jose Sharks: Is the blueline deep enough to repeat as division champs?
“Yes, the blue line is deep enough. The only difference from last season is a retirement of Rob Blake. While it will be felt, because the Sharks did not do much to replace him, it won't be to the extent that the Sharks will struggle in the regular season. The race in the Pacific should be closer than it was last year, but with the offensive firepower of Thornton, Heatley, Marleau, Pavelski, Setoguchi and the defensive skills and experience of Boyle, Vlasic, Murray, Huskins and perhaps Lilja, the Sharks will still fight for the top spot in the division and likely in the league.
When it comes to making it all the way to the Stanley Cup final with this blue line, that's entirely different question.”
- Ivan Makarov, Fear the Fin
St. Louis Blues: The Blues are a playoff team in 2010/11: True or False?
“True. The Blues played dreadful at home and suffered through plenty of offensive slumps and still nearly cracked the elite eight last season. Nearly every major offensive skater (Boyes, Berglund, Backes, etc) failed to show up with any consistency in 2009-10, leaving the team struggling to find any production on certain nights. A solid goaltender, rebound performances and a ticket plan based heavily on the outcome of the team making the playoffs (pay half now, half when they make the playoffs) should bring St. Louis back to the postseason.”
- David Rogers, Frozen Notes
Vancouver Canucks: Is Roberto Luongo better off without the captaincy?
“In a word, yes. The job of captain is to instil and uphold a sense of accountability and responsibility within the dressing room; and as a goaltender, both of these were difficult for Luongo to handle. He couldn’t criticize his teammates to the media without sounding like he was blaming them, and the same probably rang true internally. There is a reason why he was the first goaltender in over 50 years to be named captain, but it took both the Canucks and Luongo two full seasons to find out why.”
- Jeff Angus, Dobber Hockey
Photo credit: Getty Images
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