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Welcome to the first ever IWP NHL Preseason Prognostication! A version of this post was originally planned for September or October but then that lockout thing derailed nearly all hockey content on the blog. But praise Baby Hockey Jesus, the lockout has ended and it’s time to make preseason guesses at what this shortened season will bring.

Today we start with my guesses for the Western Conference. As a Blue Jackets fan I’d like to think I’m wrong (and I’d like to be proven wrong), but we’ll see what happens when the puck drops

File:Columbus BlueJackets.svg15. Columbus // Why I’ll Be Right: This team is essentially the same one that clunked into last place last year, Jack Johnson will get more ice time, Bobrovsky is only a slight improvement over Mason, enough of the under-performers last year were traded away before they could improve with the Jackets, they just don’t have enough offensive spark or defensive skill. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Johnson gets limited, one of the goalies gets hot for a few games (which will matter a great deal), Nikitin improves, Atkinson/Johansen/Erixon explode, puck luck saves them in a shortened season.

File:Calgary Flames Logo.svg14. Calgary // Why I’ll Be Right: They’re not outright abysmal but they’re certainly not good, Kiprusoff will do decently but won’t get enough scoring support, the rest of their division will probably be better than they are (thus burying them this far down). Why I’ll Be Wrong: Somehow their albatross contracts find glory years they’ve never had, Iginla finds the fountain of youth, Kiprusoff turns in an elite season, the Oilers/Avalanche/Wild somehow don’t match up against the Flames (and Calgary takes advantage).

File:Nashville Predators Logo (2011).svg13. Nashville // Why I’ll Be Right: The defense just won’t be the same sans Suter, Rinne won’t put up the same numbers as last year (and it will hurt), Radulov isn’t around anymore to help drive play (yes, really) and score goals. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Vezina Rinne steals the show, Kostitsyn hits it big, they churn out a rookie all star d-man to shore up the blueline, some of their younger players (Bourque, Smith, Wilson) turn into legitimate top six scorers, Weber kills anybody who dares enter their defensive zone.

File:Minnesota Wild.svg12. Minnesota // Why I’ll Be Right: Parise and Suter don’t do enough to cover up what an awful team the Wild were last year, Backstrom is average or only slightly above average. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Heatley quits sucking, Parise plays better than his age, Suter magically improves the whole defensive corps, that early 2011-2012 puck luck finds them again in the short season.

File:Dallas Stars logo.svg11. Dallas // Why I’ll Be Right: Solid-but-aging additions will keep them afloat but not in the playoff picture, Lehtonen will slip (ever-so-slightly) to his career averages. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Lehtonen falls too far or outperforms expectations, the truncated schedule doesn’t necessarily help the elder players (groin injuries aplenty), or Eriksson & Benn click and they pull the Stars into the playoffs.

File:Detroit Red Wings logo.svg10. Detroit // Why I’ll Be Right: Lidstrom is gone and it’s hard to replace one of last year’s best defenseman (never mind his all-time legend status: he was great last season), age has been catching up with Zetterberg & Datsyuk for years (and they’re not any younger). Why I’ll Be Wrong: Their top scorers re-capture some of their youth, Nyquist picks up the slack, Mike Babcock turns the right screws to get them rolling, Howard finds a groove and keeps winning, sheer Red Wing luck, or maybe it all hits the fan and they totally drop off.

File:Colorado Avalanche logo.svg09. Colorado // Why I’ll Be Right: Erik Johnson is better than you think, Landeskog will have another great year, O’Reilly develops more, but their division will be too tough to overcome completely. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Varlamov picks up the slack and they barge forward into the playoffs, Duchene and Stastny have better-than-average years (or what they were expected to do last season), or maybe the goaltending folds and last year’s sub-par offense can’t keep up again.

File:Logo Edmonton Oilers.svg08. Edmonton // Why I’ll Be Right: Hall + Nugent-Hopkins continue to grow into NHL superstars, Yakupov is an exciting and dynamic prospect who finds quick success, Eberle faces regression but doesn’t completely fall off the map, Schultz instantly translates his AHL dominance to the NHL, Dubnyk is better than you think. Why I’ll Be Wrong: The defense and netminding are too much for the firepower to keep up afloat, regression hits Eberle hard, weird managerial decisions, injuries hamper progress.

File:Phoenix Coyotes.svg07. Phoenix // Why I’ll Be Right: Sean Burke, Mike Smith, a not-outright-awful lineup of skaters, Yandle and Ekman-Larsson turn in another solid season, Vermette comes out of his absurd slump, Mike Smith, Sean Burke. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Mike Smith… Tampa-style (bad news), Vrbata and Doan are another year older, Sean Burke retires, the rest of the team is unremarkable… what if they’re too unremarkable?

File:Anaheim Ducks.svg06. Anaheim // Why I’ll Be Right: Those high-talent forwards turn their excellent underlying stats into top-tier scoring (that means you Getzlaf), Hiller’s vertigo ends and he re-finds his 2010 form, Teemu (Teemu!) uses his mythical abilities one last season and closes out his career in the playoffs. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Perry/Ryan/Getzlaf disappoint again, the lack of Visnovsky hurts the blueline more than expected, they can’t keep up with strong divisional opponents.

File:StLouis Blues.svg05. St. Louis // Why I’ll Be Right: They overperformed somewhat last year but still have a roster that can drive play and thus succeed in low-scoring affairs, one (or both) of Elliott and Halak repeats even a fraction of their wild dominance, Hitch doesn’t lose his team and pushes them forward. Why I’ll Be Wrong: The goaltending completely implodes, Hitch loses the locker room, the offense doesn’t click enough to overcome the inevitable slight save percentage drop.

File:SanJoseSharksLogo.svg04. San Jose // Why I’ll Be Right: Because they haven’t lost much from last year, a healthy Havlat should be around most of the year, Niemi is typically good again, Vlasic and Boyle continue to drive play, Thornton/Pavelski/Marleau face insane competition and demolish it (even if the scoring numbers aren’t what they used to be). Why I’ll Be Wrong: The star forwards might finally feel age, Couture’s production stalls, the defense takes a step back.

File:ChicagoBlackhawksLogo.svg03. Chicago // Why I’ll Be Right: Healthy Toews and Hossa, Seabrook continues to dominate, Keith rediscovers his Norris ways, they find even average goaltending (and thus the team turns into a machine of doom), Toews resumes his previously interrupted quest for a Hart, a weakened Central finds the Hawks and Blues alone to tear it up. Why I’ll Be Wrong: That goalie problem continues or worsens, old Hossa won’t be as effective (even when healthy), Kane is good but not great (again), Keith is too much like Jack Johnson.

File:Los Angeles Kings Logo (2011).svg02. Los Angeles // Why I’ll Be Right: The defending Cup champs were red hot at the end of last season and return nearly every player from that team, Carter and Richards return to career average scoring, Doughty continues to be a monster, Quick puts in another outstanding year, Brown brings any of that playoff scoring touch. Why I’ll Be Wrong: The injuries to Quick and Kopitar last longer than expected (and even with LA’s depth that’s hard to make up) & stumble to start the year, Carter doesn’t get out of his slump, Doughty gets injured.

File:Vancouver Canucks logo.svg01. Vancouver // Why I’ll Be Right: Sedin, Sedin (you decide which goes first), Kesler comes back at some point, Schneider or Luongo play their version of normal (you pick, they’re both outstanding), the coaching staff knows exactly how to make teams suffer when facing the Sedins, they will eat their division alive (again), and they’re not necessarily better than LA but I think they’ll finish higher. Why I’ll Be Wrong: Luongo is traded & Schneider crumbles, Kesler’s injury lasts too long, the Sedins face age effects on scoring, an improved division makes up some ground on the two time Presidents’ Trophy winners.