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A look at who's on the hot seat in the West

by John Kreiser

With summer quickly moving toward fall and teams looking toward the new season, here's a look at a player from each of the 15 teams in the Western Conference who'll be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks -- After averaging more than a point a game for four consecutive seasons, Getzlaf plummeted to 11 goals and 57 points in 82 games in 2011-12 -- and, not coincidentally, the Ducks failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Getzlaf, whose struggles also affected linemate Corey Perry, has to have a major bounce-back season if the Ducks are to have any hopes of returning to the top eight in the West -- and if he hopes to earn a new contract.

Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames -- Eight years after he led the Flames within one victory of the Stanley Cup, Kiprusoff is still the most important player on a Calgary team that hasn't contended for a title since 2004 and has missed the playoffs three years running. Kiprusoff is coming off an excellent season (35-22-11, 2.35 goals-against average, .921 save percentage) and has 35 or more wins in seven straight seasons. But he'll have to be even better if the Flames are to get off the treadmill of just missing the playoffs.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane
Center - CHI
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 66
SOG: 253 | +/-: 7

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks -- Kane's off-ice incidents have gotten a lot more attention than his offensive numbers -- which have dropped for two seasons in a row. His 23 goals in 2011-12 were the fewest he'd scored since getting 21 in his rookie season, and his 66 points were a career low. There's no question Kane is among the most skilled players in the NHL, but as he prepares to turn 24 (in November), the Blackhawks need him to return to being the 30-goal, 88-point scorer he was in their Cup season of 2009-10.

Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche -- The Avalanche came up just short of the playoffs last season, partly because Stastny had the worst non-injury season of his career, scoring 21 times and putting up 53 points. That was good for second on the team -- but also marked a drop from 57 points in 2010-11 and 79 points in '09-10. For the Avs to get back into the top eight in the West, they have to get more offense from Stastny, who averaged just under a point a game until the past two seasons.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets -- The Blue Jackets appear to have soured on 2009 Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason, who's struggled in each of the past three seasons. Enter Bobrovsky, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers after struggling last season as Ilya Bryzgalov's backup following a successful rookie season in which he played 54 games and posted a 2.59 GAA. The starting job is Bobrovsky's to lose; the Jackets need him to grab it and run with it to have any hopes of digging out of last place in the overall standings.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars -- Benn, still just 23, is a star on the rise with the Stars, who need him to move to the next level if they hope to end a four-year playoff drought. The 2007 fifth-round pick was an All-Star last season, when he finished with 26 goals and 63 points (and a plus-15 rating) in 71 games, up from 22 goals and 56 points a year earlier. With the addition of Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr to help carry some of the scoring burden, Benn looks like he's poised for a breakout year.

Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings -- With Nicklas Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart now with the San Jose Sharks, Kronwall becomes the Red Wings' No. 1 defenseman -- meaning he's likely to see more minutes and be forced to handle more responsibility. Like a Broadway understudy who suddenly finds himself forced to step in for the star, Kronwall will have to elevate his game on a team that finds itself having to retool its defense while trying to stay among the NHL's elite.


Who is on the hot seat in the East?

By John Kreiser - Columnist looks at 15 players in the Eastern Conference who will be under big pressure to perform in 2012-13. READ MORE ›

Devan Dubnyk, Edmonton Oilers -- Is Dubnyk a No. 1 goaltender, or isn't he? The answer to that question could well determine how the Oilers fare this season. The 26-year-old, Edmonton's first pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, got a two-year contract from the Oilers this summer after going 20-20-3 with a 2.67 GAA and a save percentage of .914 for a team that finished 29th in the overall standings -- up from 30th in the previous two seasons. For the Oilers to improve, Dubnyk has to build on a strong second half of 2011-12, in which he wrested the starting job from Nikolai Khabibulin, and show he can handle a bigger workload.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings -- A funny thing happened when the Kings landed Carter from Columbus in late February: Their offense got better -- good enough to win the Stanley Cup -- even though Carter's numbers in L.A. (six goals, nine points in 16 games) were actually worse than they were in Columbus (15 goals, 25 points in 39 games) on a per-game basis. Carter did get eight goals and 13 points in the Kings' run to the Cup, but he has to return to the form that produced 115 goals in the three seasons before 2011-12 for the Kings to have a chance to repeat.

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild -- Wild owner Craig Leipold opened his wallet this summer to bring in Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, the two big names available in free agency. While the Wild are counting on Suter to lead the defense, Parise will have the unenviable task of trying to breathe some life into an offense that has historically struggled to score -- and do it in his hometown.

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Speaking of pressure, how much will Weber face when he takes the ice this fall after the Predators matched the 14-year, $110 million offer sheer that he signed with Philadelphia? Weber, a First-Team All-Star in each of the past two seasons, will no longer have Suter as his partner -- but will face increased expectations after the Preds broke the bank to keep him.

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes -- Can he do it again? That's the question Smith will face after his brilliance in goal not only carried the Coyotes to the first division title in franchise history, but to their longest playoff run as well. With leading scorer Ray Whitney gone to Dallas and Shane Doan possibly leaving as well, there will be even more pressure on Smith to prove he's not just a flash in the pan who had a career year at age 30.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks -- On a team whose big names (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle) are on the far side of 30, 23-year-old Couture is the one established offensive player who still has significant upside. Couture has back-to-back 30-goal performances in his first two NHL seasons and went from 56 points as a rookie to 65 in 2011-12. The Sharks need him to take a few more steps forward this season, when he could replace Thornton as the No. 1 offensive option in the middle.

T.J. Oshie
T.J. Oshie
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 54
SOG: 188 | +/-: 15
TJ Oshie, St. Louis Blues -- The Blues had a breakthrough season in 2011-12, winning the Central Division title and finishing second in the West even though no one on the team had more than 24 goals or 54 points. Oshie, who tied David Perron for the team lead in points, has the potential to put up much better offensive numbers -- the Blues obviously expect more after signing him to a five-year deal this summer. St. Louis scored 206 non-shootout goals last season and needs more offense; Oshie has to be one of the providers.

Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks -- There seems to be little question that the Canucks are putting their goaltending eggs in Schneider's basket after he supplanted Roberto Luongo as the starter during the playoffs -- they signed the former Boston College star to a three-year, $12 million contract during the summer. But on a team that's expected to contend for the Stanley Cup, there's a big difference between being a solid No. 2 and an NHL starter, especially if the Canucks can't find a taker for Luongo in the trade market.

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