Western Conference

Associated pressOctober 7, 2010 

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Blackhawks

Last season: 52-22-2-6, 112 points. Beat Philadelphia 4-2 to win Stanley Cup.

Coach: Joel Quenneville, third season with Blackhawks, 97-44-19; 14th overall, 535-327-137 in NHL.

Player to watch: Marty Turco. The veteran goalie, seeking his first Stanley Cup title, joins the defending champions to replace Antti Niemi - one of several salary-cap casualties.

Icing: With Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews still performing as a dynamic duo, the Blackhawks will be a definite threat to repeat.

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 44-24-5-9, 102 points. Lost to San Jose 4-1 in conference semifinals.

Coach: Mike Babcock, sixth season with Red Wings, 257-101-52; eighth overall, 326-163-85 in NHL.

Player to watch: Mike Modano. After several seasons languishing in Dallas, the 40-year-old Stars forward leaves the franchise that drafted him in 1988 for a shot at a second Stanley Cup title.

Icing: With a healthy roster and a longer than usual summer to recharge the batteries, Hockeytown might be ready for another run at a championship.

Nashville Predators

Last season: 47-29-2-4, 100 points. Lost to Chicago 4-2 in first round.

Coach: Barry Trotz, 12th season with Predators, 411-371-120; 12th overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Matthew Lombardi. Will be counted on to furnish another performance like last season with Phoenix, when he posted 19 goals and 53 points.

Icing: Earning 100 points last season was only good enough for third in the Central. It might take just as many points to qualify for the playoffs again in a hotly contested and balanced conference.

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 40-32-5-5, 90 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Davis Payne, second season with Blues, 23-15-4; second overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Jaroslav Halak. Away from the glaring spotlight of Montreal, the 25-year-old goalie has the opportunity to be the backbone of a club that appears to be on the rise.

Icing: Davis Payne will be behind the bench for his first full season as an NHL head coach. The Blues will likely find themselves just outside of the playoff race again.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 32-35-5-10, 79 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Scott Arniel, first season with Blue Jackets; first overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Steve Mason. Talk about a sophomore slump. Mason started the 2008-09 season in the minors, but then came up and posted an NHL-best 10 shutouts en route to the Calder Trophy as league rookie of the year. Last season, his goals-against average went up nearly a goal over his rookie campaign and Columbus missed the playoffs.

Icing: Rick Nash has shown that he is an elite player, but he needs to lift his team to bigger and better things in the playoffs.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 49-28-1-4, 103 points. Lost to Chicago 4-2 in conference semifinals.

Coach: Alain Vigneault, fifth season with Canucks, 182-114-32; ninth overall, 291-232-71 in NHL.

Player to watch: Henrik Sedin. Will face expectations of repeating his scoring-title numbers of 113 points that earned him NHL MVP honors.

Icing: Always seemingly on the cusp of breaking through, the Canucks are again a popular pick to get to the Stanley Cup finals. .

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 43-30-4-5, 95 points. Lost to San Jose 4-2 in first round.

Coach: Joe Sacco, second season with Avalanche, 43-30-9; second overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Matt Duchene. The rookie put up 55 points last season, helping the Avalanche make a surprise trip to the playoffs one season after posting the worst record in the Western Conference.

Icing: The Colorado kids are growing up quickly and are forming a fine nucleus that could be a tough core in the coming years.

Calgary Flames

Last season: 40-32-3-7, 90 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Brent Sutter, second season with Flames, 91-59-14; third overall, 137-88-21 in NHL.

Player to watch: Jarome Iginla. The Flames captain scored only 32 goals last season, the fourth time in five seasons he didn't reach 40 goals.

Icing: Brent Sutter's club dropped eight points last season from the previous one, snapping Calgary's run of four straight playoff appearances.

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 38-36-1-7, 84 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Todd Richards, second season with Wild, 38-36-8; second overall in NHL.

Player to watch: John Madden. The intense center joins his third team in three seasons. He brings with him a championship resume that features three titles from stints with New Jersey and Chicago.

Icing: The Wild will need some time to rebuild.

Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 27-47-2-6, 62 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Tom Renney, first season with Oilers; eighth overall, 203-170-55 in NHL.

Player to watch: Taylor Hall. The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft is the first big piece in the rebuilding process for the Oilers, who finished last in the NHL in points.

Icing: Tom Renney takes over for coach Pat Quinn, who stepped aside to take a different position within the organization. Renney is a good teacher whose background is in talent evaluation and development. Edmonton will need that to get back to their traditional winning ways.

PACIFIC DIVISION

San Jose Sharks

Last season: 51-20-5-6, 113 points. Lost to Chicago 4-0 in conference finals.

Coach: Todd McLellan, third season with Sharks, 104-18-11; third overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Antti Niemi. After being the Blackhawks' backbone in their run to the Stanley Cup title, Niemi has moved West to San Jose, which is still trying to get to the finals for the first time. A budding star, Niemi might be the perfect pick to replace longtime goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

Icing: The window for the Sharks is closing with each passing season. Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley have been through the grind many times during prolific careers that will seem a bit empty if San Jose can't at least find its way out of the Western playoffs.

Phoenix Coyotes

Last season: 50-25-1-6, 107 points. Lost to Detroit 4-3 in first round.

Coach: Dave Tippett, second season with Coyotes, 50-25-7; eighth season overall, 321-181-72 in NHL.

Player to watch: Ray Whitney. The longtime forward moved west after five seasons in Carolina. His veteran presence, along with the ability to still put up points, will be welcome additions to the young Coyotes.

Icing: The Coyotes fought through financial troubles and threats of relocation to make as improbable a trip to the playoffs as there was last season. With a potential new owner on the horizon, stability could be the next key factor that makes the Coyotes even more of a threat than last season when they pushed the Red Wings to seven games.

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 46-27-1-8, 101 points. Lost to Vancouver 4-2 in first round.

Coach: Terry Murray, third season with Kings, 80-64-20; 14th overall, 440-341-120 in NHL.

Player to watch: Drew Doughty. The defenseman is already a breakout star at age 20. His 59 points last season, his second in the NHL, ranked third among league defensemen. After winning an Olympic gold medal with Canada in Vancouver, Doughty became a finalist for the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman.

Icing: Will have to make up for the lost offense of Alexander Frolov, who left as a free agent, but the Kings are building a solid team from the back end out and will scare plenty of teams this season.

Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 39-32-3-8, 89 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Randy Carlyle, sixth season with Ducks, 219-139-52; fifth overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Bobby Ryan. Fresh off a season in which he posted a career-high 61 points and played on the U.S. Olympic team, Ryan was rewarded with a five-year, $25.5 million deal.

Icing: The Big 3 of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan make this explosive offense churn. Jonas Hiller will need to be just as strong in goal if the Ducks are to contend for a playoff spot.

Dallas Stars

Last season: 37-31-4-10, 88 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Marc Crawford, second season with Stars, 37-31-14; 15th overall, 507-392-170 in NHL.

Player to watch: Brad Richards. The center led the team in scoring with 91 points. A skillful playmaker, the Stars need to surround him with talented finishers.

Icing: The Stars have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons after five straight postseason trips. They will be searching for a new team identity now that Mike Modano is gone. They will also be searching for wins that will likely prove to be elusive again.

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