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Key questions facing each Western Conference team

Friday, 08.10.2012 / 9:00 AM / Inside the Numbers

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Key questions facing each Western Conference team
NHL.com looks at a key question confronting each team in the Western Conference.

As the summer continues to melt away, NHL teams are working feverishly to figure out how to patch holes and put the right faces in the right places.

It's not easy. Even the best teams have questions that have to be answered, hopefully before the season opens.

Here's a look at the key question facing each team in the Western Conference:

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Will Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry bounce back after down seasons?

Corey Perry
Corey Perry
Right Wing - ANA
GOALS: 37 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 60
SOG: 277 | +/-: -7
Getzlaf was among the NHL's biggest disappointments last season, dropping from 76 points in 67 games in '10-11 to 11 goals and 57 points in 82 games. His struggles dragged linemate Perry (33 goals and 67 points after 50 goals and 98 points) down with him. The Ducks are going nowhere this season unless their No. 1 scoring tandem rebounds to All-Star form. The good news: Both have some extra incentive -- they're entering the final season of their contracts and will be unrestricted free agents next summer.

CALGARY FLAMES

How much do Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff have left in the tank?

Here's something that should alarm Calgary fans: The Flames' best players from their 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final are still their best players eight years later. Jarome Iginla has 516 career goals and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he's coming off his worst season (32 goals, 67 points) in more than a decade, turned 35 on July 1, and has little help up front -- no other returning Calgary player had more than 49 points. Kiprusoff, who turns 36 on Oct. 26, is still one of the NHL's best goaltenders (35-22-11, 2.35 goals-against average, .921 save percentage last season), but the Flames have yet to find a viable backup who can reduce his workload (70 or more games in seven consecutive seasons). For a team that's missed the playoffs three years running, relying on over-35 players is a risky strategy.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

EASTERN CONFERENCE QUESTIONS

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NHL.com takes a look at a key question facing each team in the Eastern Conference at this stage of the offseason. READ MORE ›

Will the Hawks' goaltending hold up?

Chicago has some of the best offensive talent in the NHL, as well as excellent defenders Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The goaltending is another issue. Neither Corey Crawford (2.72 GAA, .903 save percentage) nor Ray Emery (2.81 GAA, .900 save percentage) was in the League's top 30 in goals-against average or save percentage -- a big reason the Blackhawks were sixth in the Western Conference and failed to get out of the first round for the second straight year after winning the Cup in 2010. Chicago can't afford that kind of goaltending again if it wants to contend for a title.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Who's going to score goals for the Avs?

The Avalanche improved by 20 points in the standings last season, finishing with 88 after getting 68 in 2010-11. But they scored 22 fewer goals in '11-12, finishing with 199 non-shootout tallies -- nine of their 41 wins came in the tiebreaker. No Colorado player had more than rookie Gabriel Landeskog's 22 goals, and Ryan O'Reilly led the Avalanche with 55 points. They cut their goals against by 69, but without an improvement offensively -- especially by Paul Stastny (53 points, a career-low for a full season) and Matt Duchene (28 points and minus-11 in 58 games), Colorado will be sitting home again come playoff time.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

They were last with Rick Nash; can they do better without him?

RJ Umberger
RJ Umberger
Left Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 40
SOG: 200 | +/-: -10
There's nowhere for the Blue Jackets to go but up after finishing last in the overall standings -- but they'll look a lot different after dealing the best player in franchise history to the New York Rangers in July for three young players and a first-round pick. General manager Scott Howson brought in Sergei Bobrovsky to challenge Steve Mason in goal, and there's a nice cadre of young defensemen. But Nash's departure leaves one 20-goal scorer (R.J. Umberger, who had 20), and one player (37-year-old Vinny Prospal) who had more than 50 points on a team that managed 198 non-shootout goals. There's more youth and speed; whether that will translate into more wins is the question.

DALLAS STARS

Can two 40-year-olds get the Stars back to the playoffs?

Neither Ray Whitney nor Jaromir Jagr has a lot of career left -- but Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk hopes both still have enough in the tank to get the Stars back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Whitney had 77 points for the Phoenix Coyotes last season and was a Second-Team All-Star; Jagr scored 19 goals and added 35 assists in 73 games for the Philadelphia Flyers while mentoring young stars like Claude Giroux in a return to the NHL after three seasons in Russia. They should provide a boost for an offense that managed 204 non-shootout goals and came up three points short of a playoff berth -- at least this season.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Who will fill the holes on defense?

Nicklas Lidstrom is back in Sweden, Brad Stuart is back in San Jose -- and Detroit will spend training camp trying to find replacements. Lidstrom retired this summer and Stuart went back to Northern California as a free agent, leaving the Red Wings with four defenseman who have significant NHL experience. That means a there's a lot of pressure on youngsters Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl to step up and fill some pretty big skates. If they can't, the Red Wings could be headed for their biggest drop since they joined the NHL's elite two decades ago.

EDMONTON OILERS

Is Devan Dubnyk the goalie they can build around?

Devan Dubnyk
Devan Dubnyk
Goalie - EDM
RECORD: 20-20-3
GAA: 2.67 | SVP: 0.914
The Oilers have a slew of talented young forwards, and the addition of Justin Schultz gives them someone to build around on defense. But the Oilers seemingly haven't had stability in goal since the days of Curtis Joseph. That could change with the emergence of Dubnyk, their top pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, who has taken more and more playing time away from Nikolai Khabibulin. Dubnyk went 20-20-3 last season on a team that finished 32-40-10, and his 2.67 GAA and .914 save percentage weren't bad on a team that has struggled defensively for years. GM Steve Tambellini is amassing a lode of young talent; Dubnyk will have to show he can keep enough pucks out of the net on a consistent basis to dissuade the Oilers from looking elsewhere for help in goal as the rest of the team improves.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Were the champs regular-season underachievers or postseason overachievers?

There are fewer unlikely champions in NHL history than the 2011-12 Kings, who barely made the playoffs before stampeding their way to the Stanley Cup, becoming the first team to win the first three games in all four series. That performance tends to overshadow the fact that for much of the regular season, the Kings were underachievers -- especially offensively, where no one had more than Anze Kopitar's 25 goals, and his 76 points were 17 more than runner-up Justin Williams' 59. The Kings walked a fine line last season, winning the Cup after finishing last in scoring during the regular season. As good as Jonathan Quick is (and that's pretty good, considering he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP), it's not an approach you'd want to bank on every season. The Kings' scorers have to do more than they did last season or they won't get a chance to defend their Cup.

MINNESOTA WILD

How much impact will the Wild's two big-money free agents have?

Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Left Wing - MIN
GOALS: 31 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 69
SOG: 293 | +/-: -5
The Wild stunned the hockey world on July 4 when they signed both of this summer's big free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to 13-year deals. Each is used to making the playoffs -- something the Wild haven't done since 2009 and may struggle to do even with the newcomers in place. Parise is a 30-goal scorer and Suter is an All-Star defenseman, but they're joining a team that fell from first in the overall standings in early December to 24th by season's end. The Wild have one of the NHL's deepest prospect pools, which bodes well for the future -- but even the addition of Parise and Suter is no guarantee of success this season.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Will there be any fallout from losing Ryan Suter and nearly losing Shea Weber?

To say it was a chaotic summer in Nashville would be putting it mildly. GM David Poile voiced his disappointment publicly after Suter opted to leave Music City for Minnesota, and the Predators had to make an enormous commitment to Weber after the captain signed a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet with the Flyers (and forward Alexander Radulov went back to Russia, a move that largely slipped under the radar). Weber said he's happy and excited to remain in Nashville, and Poile said there were no hard feelings -- but the fact Suter is gone and Weber was willing to leave could leave scars on and off the ice.

PHOENIX COYOTES

Can coach Dave Tippett pull another rabbit out of his hat?

Tippett's performance in his three seasons behind the bench in the desert has been beyond remarkable. Coaching a team that's owned by the NHL and regularly sees many of its best players go elsewhere for bigger bucks, Tippett not only has made the playoffs all three years, he's coming off the first division title and the best playoff performance in franchise history. His reward? Top scorer Ray Whitney left for Dallas -- and captain Shane Doan could follow him out of town if the team's ownership situation isn't settled soon. Tippett (and GM Don Maloney) has done miracles on a shoestring, but a fourth straight playoff berth might be a little more than even he can manage -- especially if Doan departs.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

The Blues have a core of young talent, strong goaltending, and an excellent bench boss, but does GM Doug Armstrong need to make a big move to take his club's Stanley Cup chances to the next level? (Photo: Getty Images)

Do the Blues have to make a big move to take the next step forward?

GM Doug Armstrong changed coaches 13 games into last season, firing Davis Payne and bringing in Ken Hitchcock, who turned a 6-7-0 team into the Central Division champions and the No. 2 seed in the West. However, Armstrong stood pat during the offseason after his team was bounced in the second round of the playoffs by L.A. -- his only major moves were signing prior-year draft picks Ty Rattie and Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues have a fine core of improving young talent, good goaltending, and an excellent bench boss. Will that be enough to stay on top in the toughest division in the NHL and compete for the Stanley Cup that has eluded the franchise since entering the NHL in 1967?

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Is the Sharks' window for winning a Cup closing?

The Sharks' streak of four straight Pacific Division titles ended last season, and they failed to make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in three seasons. Two of their top three scorers and their best defenseman are on the far side of 30, and there's not a lot of new talent on the horizon. The Sharks have been among the NHL's best teams for the past few seasons, but they haven't won a Stanley Cup -- or even gotten to the Final. After taking a step back last season and making only one meaningful addition (Brad Stuart, a top-four defenseman but not an impact player), San Jose's window for winning a championship looks like it's starting to close -- unless GM Doug Wilson makes a move that shakes up the franchise.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Will Roberto Luongo still be in Vancouver on opening night?

Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 31-14-8
GAA: 2.41 | SVP: 0.919
GM Mike Gillis gave goalie Cory Schneider, a restricted free agent, a three-year, $12 million contract this summer -- an indication he's ready to graduate from backup to starter, after doing so during the playoffs. But Gillis still has Luongo, one of the NHL's best goaltenders for the past five years -- and trading a 33-year-old with a 10-year contract isn't the easiest task. There have been rumors of deals with various teams all summer, but they've been just that -- rumors. Luongo is still with the Canucks, and there's no sign he's going anywhere yet. If he's on the roster opening night, Vancouver will be spending more than $9.3 million on goaltending, the most in the NHL.

Quote of the Day

I feel that responsibility, I've felt it for the last two years. We core guys get a lot of minutes, we get a lot of opportunity out there. Our teammates, the organization and fans look to us to be the guys to put the puck in the net and to create momentum out there.

— Jordan Eberle on taking his game and the Edmonton Oilers to the next level