Commentary

Screen Shots: My conference picks

Updated: October 8, 2007, 4:03 PM ET
By Adam Proteau | The Hockey News

With my NHL division previews and predictions now archived for all to laugh at and lampoon over the coming decades, the only start-of-season task that remains is posting my overall conference picks.

Before we get to them, a couple notes: First, the effect of the league's preposterous, unbalanced schedule definitely was a key factor in my choices. It explains, among other picks, why Detroit gets the nod for first in the West, why Ottawa wins out over Pittsburgh in the East, why Nashville and Toronto make the playoffs and Minnesota and New Jersey do not.

Second, as an added twist (and as an acknowledgement to the ever-increasing unpredictability of any team's performance from year to year), I'm going to outline a range of potential final conference standings for every team. Hopefully, this will greatly cut down the volume of whinery that comes my way.

The Hockey News
Subscribe at http://www.thehockeynews.com

Western Conference

1. Detroit: Class of the Central still has what it takes -- i.e., Nicklas Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek and ZetterSyuk -- to romp through regular season.
• Best possible conference finish: First in West; Worst-case scenario: Seventh in West.

2. Anaheim: No Teemu Selanne? No Scott Niedermayer? No sweat for deep Ducks.
• Best possible conference finish: First in West; Worst-case scenario: Sixth in West.

3. Calgary: Mike Keenan experiment pays major dividends, especially for Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf.
• Best possible conference finish: Second in West; Worst-case scenario: Eighth in West.

4. San Jose: Youngsters won't be leaned on nearly so heavily once in-season trades put Sharks over the top.
• Best possible conference finish: First in West; Worst-case scenario: Fifth in West.

5. Vancouver: League's stingiest back end needs help from questionable forward unit.
• Best possible conference finish: Third in West; Worst-case scenario: 10th in West.

6. St. Louis: Underrated defense corps, development of young players helps Blues bounce back to postseason.
• Best possible conference finish: Fifth in West; Worst-case scenario: 10th in West.

7. Colorado: Late-season addition of Peter Forsberg gives Avs extra push into playoffs.
• Best possible conference finish: Fifth in West; Worst-case scenario: Ninth in West.

8. Nashville: Coaching and Shea Weber help stop the Preds from falling completely out of playoff picture. But not by much.
• Best possible conference finish: Sixth in West; Worst-case scenario: 11th in West

9. Minnesota: Ultra-tough Northwest division wears down, squeezes out talented-but-timid Wild.
• Best possible conference finish: Fourth in West; Worst-case scenario: 10th in West.

10. Los Angeles: Output from youngsters, not newly added free agents, will dictate how far Kings propel up conference chart.
• Best possible conference finish: Seventh in West; Worst-case scenario: 11th in West.

11. Dallas: Divisional, conference opponents have improved; aging Stars squad hasn't.
• Best possible conference finish: Seventh in West; Worst-case scenario: 12th in West.

12. Chicago: Tons of young talent, but team toughness, durability are major question marks.
• Best possible conference finish: Eighth in West; Worst-case scenario: 13th in West.

13. Edmonton: Finding stability after late-season tailspin will be tough enough for a young group still seeking out its identity.
• Best possible conference finish: Eighth in West; Worst-case scenario: 14th in West.

14. Columbus: The Blue Jackets need career years from Rich Nash, Nikolai Zherdev and Pascal Leclaire for a playoff berth. One or two of those performances is possible, but three? We don't think so.
• Best possible conference finish: 10th in West; Worst-case scenario: 15th in West.

15. Phoenix: The Coyotes are woefully low on proven NHL talent; how much is one hockey legend expected to take before snapping and/or quitting?

• Best possible conference finish: 11th in West; Worst-case scenario: 15th in West.

Eastern Conference

1. Ottawa: Little has changed for speedy, slick Sens; Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros must create more offense if Cup hopes are to be realized.
• Best possible conference finish: First in East; Worst-case scenario: Fourth in East.

2. Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury and defensemen are under the gun to produce, but it could be coach Michel Therrien who pays price if Pens falter early.
• Best possible conference finish: First in East; Worst-case scenario: Seventh in East.

3. Washington: Few think the Caps can be this good this quick. But that's what they said about Pittsburgh last season.
• Best possible conference finish: Third in East; Worst-case scenario: 10th in East.

4. New York Rangers: The Blueshirts are the bees' knees on offense. But a somewhat suspect defense corps will be the ultimate decider of their fate.
• Best possible conference finish: First in East; Worst-case scenario: Sixth in East.

5. Buffalo: Key personnel losses may slow down Sabres' juggernaut, but team depth ensures more postseason play. Once there, underdog status should help them.
• Best possible conference finish: Second in East; Worst-case scenario: Seventh in East.

6. Atlanta: Pivot-poor team also needs help on blue line. A prolonged slump by Marian Hossa, Kari Lehtonen or Ilya Kovalchuk could result in Thrashers missing playoffs.
• Best possible conference finish: Third in East; Worst-case scenario: Ninth in East.

7. Philadelphia: New-look Flyers will be a handful every night; If Martin Biron falters, Antero Niittymaki not exactly a reassuring backup.
• Best possible conference finish: Fourth in East; Worst-case scenario: Ninth in East.

8. Toronto: Erratic Leafs again will be life-and-death for playoffs. Early home stretch will determine GM John Ferguson's future.
• Best possible conference finish: Sixth in East; Worst-case scenario: 12th in East.

9. New Jersey: Departure of Brian Rafalski hurts Lou's Crew more than the departure of Scott Gomez, and Martin Brodeur's odometer is starting to become an issue.
• Best possible conference finish: Fifth in East; Worst-case scenario: 10th in East.

10. Florida: It's the postseason or bust for this group -- or, at least, for Olli Jokinen, who's rapidly closing in on Panthers assistant coach Guy Charron's record for most regular-season NHL games played without a playoff appearance.
• Best possible conference finish: Third in East; Worst-case scenario: 12th in East.

11. Carolina: If any team needed good health, it's this one. Cam Ward's dominance in net, which led them to a Cup in 2006, but was notably absent last season, is crucial to their postseason hopes.
• Best possible conference finish: Third in East; Worst-case scenario: 12th in East.

12. New York Islanders: Isles fans hoping bench boss extraordinaire Ted Nolan can pull off another miracle with patchwork collection of prospects, mid-tier veterans.
• Best possible conference finish: Eighth in East; Worst-case scenario: 14th in East.

13. Tampa Bay: Dan Boyle injury just one of numerous and significant hurdles Bolts must clear to avoid breaking up elite trio of star forwards.
• Best possible conference finish: Seventh in East. Worst-case scenario: 14th in East.

14. Boston: Even with new coach Claude Julien, the Bruins still lacking sense of direction. Stopping the practice of giving up on young players would help.
• Best possible conference finish: Eighth in East; Worst-case scenario: 15th in East.

15. Montreal: Habs have talent, but sorely lack size, grit possessed by genuine Cup contenders.
• Best possible conference finish: Eighth in East; Worst-case scenario: 15th in East.

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at aproteau@thehockeynews.com or through out Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau's Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.

Can't get enough Adam? Subscribe to The Hockey News at http://www.thehockeynews.com to get the column Proteau Type delivered to you every issue.

ALSO SEE