Breaking down the West's playoff contenders
With the NHL's 2009-10 campaign opening this week, here's a look at the eight potential playoff clubs in the Western Conference.
Chicago Blackhawks: Lost in the news of their offseason distractions is the fact the Blackhawks are a better team than they were a year ago. The additions of Marian Hossa and John Madden provide veteran depth and experience, whereas young stars like Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker are a year older and wiser. Expect Cristobal Huet to step up as starting goaltender this season. With their depth in young talent and experience, the Blackhawks could emerge as the conference champion and a Stanley Cup contender this season.
San Jose Sharks: For the past three seasons, the Sharks were projected to be Cup contenders, but they came up short every time. This year, management has tinkered again, adding former 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley to Joe Thornton's line, setting up for perhaps one of the best one-two scoring punches in the league. The Sharks are deep enough in skilled players to remain among the NHL's elite, but have yet to overcome their reputation for playoff meltdowns. Another early exit could result in significant changes next summer.
Vancouver Canucks: Their biggest moves this past summer were locking up the Sedin twins and goalie Roberto Luongo to long-term extensions. GM Mike Gillis wasn't content to stop there, signing winger Mikael Samuelsson as a free agent and bolstering his defense by acquiring Christian Ehrhoff from San Jose. The breakout performance of forwards Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows provides the Canucks with valuable offensive depth. This could be the best-balanced Canucks team in years, which should make them contenders for the division title and one of the top clubs in the West this season.