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Are the Blackhawks the best in the West?

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks

There are easier things to do than making the playoffs in the Western Conference. Last season, the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars all failed to qualify in the West. Had they played in the Eastern Conference, they would have.

Of the teams that did qualify, seven of the eight earned at least 100 points. The talent hasn't dropped off in the offseason, either and this season's battle for Best of the West should be as balanced and competitive as ever.

Here's a look at which teams will compete for supremacy and which might reverse their fortunes come the 2010-11 season:

Chicago Blackhawks:

After ending a 49-year drought by winning the Stanley Cup last spring, the Blackhawks will have a target on their backs, game in and game out. But while the Hawks lost some pieces in the offseason, the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane returns and will be complemented with skilled forwards Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, while Norris Trophy hopeful Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook solidify the defense.

Detroit Red Wings:

Goalie Jimmy Howard had a rookie season to remember; with another year under his belt, the Wings will have no trouble in goal. Up front, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg hope for bounce-back seasons. What's more, the Red Wings will still have one of the formidable defensive units led by Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski.

San Jose Sharks:

The Sharks owned the best record in the Western Conference for the second consecutive season and with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle, a threepeat is within reach, though an appearance in the Final is the expectation in San Jose. Stanley Cup winning goalie  Antti Niemi should help bring that mentality to the locker room and ice, as he replaces Evgeni Nabokov.

Vancouver Canucks:

After relinquishing his captaincy, Roberto Luongo can concentrate his efforts solely on stopping the puck, while Henrik and Daniel Sedin continue to put up points at a rapid pace. Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson and Alexandre Burrows give the Canucks a deep, balanced attack. Vancouver.

Surprise Teams:

St. Louis Blues:

The Blues missed the playoffs by five points last season, but there's a young core that includes David Perron, T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Erik Johnson that can help the team make a push in 2010-11 -- especially if newcomer Jaroslav Halak plays up to his playoff performance in goal.

Edmonton Oilers:

There's no room to go but up when you finish at the bottom of the standings like the Oilers did last season, but the No. 1 selection of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Taylor Hall, will join Edmonton's future with Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi -- and the three can quickly reverse fortunes for a young, hungry team.

Author: Sergei J. Feldman | Staff Writer

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