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Who's on the hot seat in the West?

by John Kreiser
Vacation time is over. With the new season almost ready to begin, here's a look at a player from each of the 15 teams in the Western Conference who will be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim -- The Ducks already were struggling when Getzlaf injured his ankle just before the Olympics. He wound up missing 16 games, a big reason he dropped from 91 points to 69 -- and Anaheim went from making the second round of the playoffs to an unwanted early vacation. Getzlaf is an NHL rarity -- a power center -- and the Ducks aren't the same team without him in top form.

Jarome Iginla, Calgary -- The face of the franchise for the past decade just turned 33 -- one year older than the number of goals he scored in 2009-10, when he had his lowest scoring season since 2000-01. Iginla has gone from 50 goals in 2007-08 to 35 in 2008-09 and 32 last season, and with no one else on the roster who had more than 27 goals, the Flames need their captain to find the scoring touch he had a few years ago or face another early summer.

Marty Turco, Chicago -- With both goaltenders from their Stanley Cup team now gone, the Hawks have turned to Turco to carry the load. The 35-year-old, who had spent his entire NHL career with Dallas before signing with Chicago this summer, is coming off back-to-back non-playoff seasons with the Stars. However, while he wasn't very good in 2008-09 (33-31-10, 2.81 GAA, .898 save percentage), he was better with a smaller workload last season (22-20-11, 2.72 GAA, .913 save percentage). The Hawks don't need him to be Superman, but with no proven backup, they do need him to be a solid 50- to 60-game starter.

Craig Anderson, Colorado -- Anderson might have been the best of all free-agent signings last summer; he was the biggest reason the Avs went from last in the West to a playoff berth. The 2009-10 season was the first as a starter for the former Blackhawk and Panther, and he delivered despite seeing an average of 34 shots a game. But the Avalanche haven't done much to improve themselves this summer, meaning that the pressure is on Anderson to do it again.

Steve Mason, Columbus -- From Calder Trophy winner to struggling sophomore -- such was the story of Mason's 2009-10 season. The NHL's best rookie in 2008-09 never found his rhythm and saw his goals-against average soar from 2.29 to 3.06. Not coincidentally, the Blue Jackets went from playoff qualifiers to also-rans. With every goal a precious commodity in Columbus, Mason -- with a new contract in his pocket -- has to give new coach Scott Arniel the kind of performances he produced as a rookie to avoid a repeat of last season.

Brenden Morrow, Dallas -- Morrow has yet to show the same kind of skill and drive he had before a knee injury early in 2008-09 ruined his season. His 46 points were the lowest total he's put up in a full season since 2002-03. As captain, the Stars count on Morrow for leadership; but on a team that often struggles to score, they also count on him to generate offense -- and at age 31, he has to show that his 32 goals and 74 points in 2007-08 (the last time the team made the playoffs) were no fluke.

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit -- Lost in the cavalcade of injuries that nearly wrecked the Red Wings' season was a surprising offensive decline by Datsyuk, who was healthy enough to play 80 games but produced only 70 points after back-to-back 97-point seasons. Though he was the runaway NHL leader in takeaways and a 55-percent winner in the faceoff circle, Datsyuk has to return to being an offensive force for the Wings to be more than just another above-average team.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton -- There's always pressure on the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft, partly because he's invariably going to a team that's coming off a bad season (that's why the team is picking first). The Oilers, who finished 30th in the standings last season, expect Hall to step right into the lineup and produce offensively. If he doesn't, it could be another long season in Oil Country.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles -- Slovenia's only NHL player already is a star -- at 22, he scored 34 goals and led the Kings with 81 points while becoming one of the most visible faces on an emerging young team. For the Kings to take the next step, going from just making the playoffs to contending for the Cup, the 23-year-old center has to do likewise and move from a top-20 scorer to the next level.

Martin Havlat, Minnesota -- The Wild spent a lot of money last summer to bring in Havlat as a replacement for Marian Gaborik after the biggest scorer in franchise history left for the Rangers. But 18 goals, 54 points and a minus-19 rating in 73 games is not what GM Chuck Fletcher had in mind. Havlat's failure to match his 2008-09 production in Chicago (77 points) was a big reason the Wild missed the playoffs. They can't afford another season like the last one from him.

Matthew Lombardi, Nashville -- The Predators sent captain Jason Arnott to New Jersey and used the money saved in that deal to sign Lombardi, a speedy center who had the best season of his career with Phoenix in 2009-10 by scoring 19 goals and 53 points. As the likely No. 1 center in Nashville, the 28-year-old has to show those numbers were merely a stepping stone to better things, not just a career season.

Wojtek Wolski, Phoenix -- Wolski was a point-a-game player for the Coyotes after arriving from Colorado at the trade deadline, and his combined totals of 23 goals and 65 points were career highs. With Lombardi gone, GM Don Maloney says Wolski will be shifted back to center, a position he hasn't played in the last few seasons. Wolski likely will center the Coyotes' top line, meaning he's got to produce right from the start to keep Phoenix from backsliding after the franchise's best season since moving to the desert.

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis -- At last, Halak is a No. 1 goalie -- but with St. Louis, which acquired him from Montreal during the summer and signed him to a four-year contract. For the first time in his NHL career, Halak won't have someone looking over his shoulder -- but he'll also have to prove his brilliant playoff performance for the Canadiens was not just a six-week surge. The Blues, a team on the rise, have bet a lot that Halak is the goaltender who can make them a contender.

Antti Niemi, San Jose -- Speaking of betting on goaltenders -- the Sharks let the best one in franchise history (Evgeni Nabokov) walk away as a free agent after last season. They signed Antero Niittymaki in early July, and then snapped up Niemi -- whose play for Chicago was a key in the Hawks' sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference Finals -- when the Blackhawks opted to walk away from his arbitration award. The Sharks need Niemi to be the missing ingredient that gets them over the hump in the playoffs.
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver -- Kesler doesn't have to put up Henrik Sedin-like offensive numbers to be successful as the Canucks' No. 2 center, but they do need him to keep building on last season's 25-goal, 75-point performance to keep opponents from ganging up on the top line. His emergence as a point producer has given the Canucks a viable second line and turned them into a team that has Cup aspirations.
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