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Wild, Stars top improved non-playoff teams in West

Wednesday, 07.18.2012 / 12:23 PM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Wild, Stars top improved non-playoff teams in West
Things have been tight in the Western Conference the past few seasons, but several of the non-playoff teams from a year ago made significant improvements this offseason.

Summer may be the most enjoyable time of the year for many; but when it comes to NHL teams, they want to put off the start of the vacation for as long as possible.

For the seven Western Conference teams that missed out on the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff party, their goal since the second week of April has been figuring out how to extend their seasons into May -- or even June, like the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

So how can the teams that missed the fun turn into postseason hits during the upcoming season? With about a month until training camp opens, NHL.com examines why fans of the unlucky seven can harbor playoff hopes in 2012-13:

CALGARY FLAMES

Last season: 37-29-16, 90 points, five points out of eighth place

How it ended: The Flames were one point out of a playoff spot on March 15, but they won just once in their next nine games to see their postseason hopes extinguished.

Jiri Hudler
Jiri Hudler
Center - CGY
GOALS: 25 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 50
SOG: 127 | +/-: 10
Offseason changes: Jiri Hudler was signed to replace Olli Jokinen as a top-six forward, and promising Czech center Roman Cervenka was imported from the Kontinental Hockey League. Dennis Wideman signed a five-year contract to add an offensive element to the blue line. And to lead the group, Bob Hartley was hired to replace Brent Sutter.

Why they could get in: Hartley is a proven winner as a coach, and Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff remain among the best in the League at what they do. Hudler is coming off a career-best offensive season, and Wideman was an All-Star last year. Sven Baertschi could be a Calder Trophy favorite. If everyone stays healthy, this certainly could be a playoff team.

DALLAS STARS

Last season: 42-35-5, 89 points, six points out of eighth place

How it ended: The Stars led the Pacific Division as late as March 30, but lost their last five games to miss the postseason for the fourth straight year.

Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr
Right Wing - DAL
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 54
SOG: 170 | +/-: 5
Offseason changes: The Stars got a bit older by signing 40-year-old free-agent forwards Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. They also changed top-end centers, trading Mike Ribeiro on the first night of the draft to the Washington Capitals, then acquiring Derek Roy from the Buffalo Sabres for forward Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy.

Why they could get in: General manager Joe Nieuwendyk is gambling Jagr and Whitney will remain productive and Roy is poised for a bounce-back season. If they play to their talent level, combine them with emerging young stars Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn and there should be more than enough offense. And the Stars should be solid in goal with the combination of Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman. With the Pacific Division likely to be another close competition, that could be enough to thrust the Stars back into the playoffs.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Last season: 41-35-6, 88 points, seventh points out of eighth place

How it ended: The Avs were seventh in the Western Conference on March 21, but they won just one of their last seven games to end the season.

PA Parenteau
PA Parenteau
Right Wing - COL
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 49 | PTS: 67
SOG: 167 | +/-: -8
Offseason changes: PA Parenteau, coming off a career-best season with the New York Islanders, signed a four-year deal to add offense to the top-six forwards. Greg Zanon was signed to add defensive depth and physicality. Most of the other major components from last season will return, among them forwards Matt Duchene, Steve Downie and David Jones, and defenseman Erik Johnson, all of whom signed new contracts this summer.

Why they could get in: The Avs can run out three talented lines that can score, topped by last year's top line of Ryan O'Reilly between Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk. Duchene and Paul Stastny will be looking to improve on their efforts from last season, and with Parenteau playing alongside one of them, that certainly could happen. Zanon is a low-risk addition to the defense. The Western Conference is certain to be a tightly bunched group again this season, and Colorado should be in the mix for a playoff spot.

MINNESOTA WILD

Last season: 35-36-11, 81 points, 14 points out of eighth place

How it ended: On Dec. 13, the Wild were 20-8-3, the best record in the League. They went 15-28-8 the rest of the way.

Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Left Wing - MIN
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 69
SOG: 293 | +/-: -5
Offseason changes: No team made a bigger splash in free agency, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year contracts. They also added toughness with forward Zenon Konopka, and solidified their goaltending by re-signing Josh Harding. Rookie Mikael Granlund will arrive this season and is an early Calder Trophy candidate. Defenseman Mathew Dumba, the seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, could compete for a roster spot.

Why they could get in: Injuries were a big reason the Wild plummeted down the standings last season, with team captain Mikko Koivu missing a month's worth of games on two different occasions, and injuries limiting other top players Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc-Bouchard and Niklas Backstrom. Better health and contributions from some of the game's best crop of prospects -- Charlie Coyle, Brett Bulmer, Jonas Brodin, Granlund, Dumba among others -- could have the Wild in the hunt for the Northwest Division title.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Last season: 34-36-12, 80 points, 15 points out of eighth place

How it ended: They started 7-13-4 and were 14th in the West when 2011 ended. Despite finishing 24-15-6, the early hole was too much to scale.

Sheldon Souray
Sheldon Souray
Defense - ANA
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 21
SOG: 179 | +/-: 11
Offseason changes: The Ducks got bigger and stronger on defense with the additions of Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. Viktor Fasth was signed out of Sweden to compete for the backup spot behind workhorse goalie Jonas Hiller. Veteran forwards Jason Blake and George Parros won't be back, but second-line center Saku Koivu will return, as will future Hall of Fame member Teemu Selanne, who decided in July to play one more season.

Why they could get in: The Ducks were one of the better teams in the second half of the season as coach Bruce Boudreau opened the offense. Ryan Getzlaf had a down season, but remains an elite top-line presence, as does 2010 MVP Corey Perry and 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan. That trio could be the most productive offensive unit in the League. Selanne led the team in scoring while playing all 82 games, and likely will continue to amaze. Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin make for a pretty good anchor on defense. With Hiller backstopping them, the Ducks certainly could soar back near the top of the Pacific Division standings.

EDMONTON OILERS

Last season: 32-40-10, 74 points, 21 points out of eighth place

How it ended: The Oilers were winless in six of their final seven games as they missed the postseason for the sixth straight season.

Ryan Smyth
Ryan Smyth
Left Wing - EDM
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 46
SOG: 194 | +/-: -5
Offseason changes: The biggest move of the offseason was the promotion of assistant coach Ralph Krueger to coach to replace Tom Renney. With the top pick for the third straight year, the Oilers added to their arsenal of young forwards by selecting Nail Yakupov. Ryan Smyth and Darcy Hordichuk were re-signed to add veteran leadership, but that was the extent of the dip into free agency. Restricted free agents Devan Dubnyk, Theo Peckham and Jeff Petry also signed new deals. Edmonton also won the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, and he could join Petry as anchors on the blue line for years to come.

Why they could get in: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showed last season he could center a top NHL line, and with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the Kid Line looks promising. Add Yakupov to that group and it just gets better. Dubnyk showed in flashes he can be an NHL starter in goal, and Nikolai Khabibulin remains a solid option in net. Krueger is highly respected and a big reason the Oilers' power play improved from No. 27 in 2010-11 to third in the League last season. If the young group continues to mature, the Oilers could make a run at one of the final playoff spots.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Last season: 29-46-7, 65 points, 30 points out of eighth place

How it ended: Things never really started for the Blue Jackets, who opened the season 0-7-1 and finished with the League's fewest wins and points.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Sergei Bobrovsky
Goalie - CBJ
RECORD: 14-10-2
GAA: 3.02 | SVP: 0.899

Offseason changes: With a number of holes to fill, the Blue Jackets were active over the summer. The Jackets added to their depth at forward by dealing Rick Nash to the New York Rangers, landing Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov, both of whom can play at center or on the wing. Three draft picks were sent to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Adrian Aucoin was signed to add a veteran presence on defense. Left wing Nick Foligno was picked up in a trade with the Ottawa Senators after scoring a career-best 47 points last season. Defenseman Ryan Murray, the second pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, will have a chance to earn an opening-night spot on the roster.

Why they could get in: Despite all their issues, there is some quality talent in Columbus, especially on defense. A full season of James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson should create a solid top pairing, and Murray, Tim Erixon (also acquired in the Nash deal), Nikita Nikitin, Fedor Tyutin, John Moore and Aucoin provide quality depth. The offense likely will take a hit without Nash, but Dubinsky has 25-goal potential, Cam Atkinson shined in a brief NHL stint, and young center Ryan Johansen still has the look of a future star. Bobrovsky was on the NHL All-Rookie team two years ago and showed in Philadelphia he has the ability to steal games. If he can steal enough in Columbus, the Blue Jackets could challenge for a playoff spot.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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