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SPORTS EXTRA / NHL PREVIEW

Western Conference Capsules

October 04, 2000|JIM HODGES | Times Staff Writer

* In predicted order of finish

1. COLORADO

Coach: Bob Hartley, third season.

1999-2000: 42-29-11-1, 96 points.

Who's new: G David Aebischer (rookie), D Nolan Pratt (trade with Carolina).

Outlook: The primary concern is home ice for the second round and conference championship, because the Avalanche has grown weary of losing to Dallas in the playoffs. Goalie Patrick Roy (32-21-8, 2.28 goals-against) is only four wins from passing Terry Sawchuk for the all-time record for victories and has lost 12 pounds in an attempt to get off to a fast start and have the kind of season that commands a new contract. There is offense aplenty in Peter Forsberg (14 goals, 37 assists in 49 games), Joe Sakic (28 goals, 53 assists in 60 games) and Milan Hejduk (36 goals, 36 assists), but the Avalanche's forte could be defense, with Ray Bourque teaming with Adam Foote for a full season. With a $50-million payroll, this has to be a Stanley Cup season to be considered successful.

2. DALLAS

Coach: Ken Hitchcock, sixth season.

1999-2000: 43-29-10-6, 102 points.

Who's new: D Sami Helenius (free agent), LW Shaun Van Allen (free agent), Ted Donato (free agent).

Outlook: This is the Stars' last season in Reunion Arena, a building nobody will miss much, and they enter it with a veteran nucleus that includes high-scoring Mike Modano (38 goals, 43 assists) and Brett Hull (24 goals, 35 assists) and a defense that takes a little offense a long way. They also have goalie Ed Belfour, who at 35 seems to be getting better (32-21-7, 2.10). Two young defensemen, Brad Lukowich and Richard Jackman, join a veteran crew that includes captain Derian Hatcher, Darryl Sydor, Richard Matvichuk and Sergei Zubov to run the trap that confounds and irritates opponents and fans who would prefer to see scoring.

3. ST. LOUIS

Coach: Joel Quenneville, fifth season.

1999-2000: 51-20-11-1, 112 points.

Who's new: LW Dallas Drake (free agent), D Sean Hill (free agent), G Dwayne Roloson (free agent), Mike Van Ryn (free agent).

Outlook: The Blues, who had the NHL's best record last season, found that the trip from boom to bust is only seven playoff games long. The lesson was taught by San Jose and prompted new owner Bill Laurie to pony up some of his $1 billion in assets and tell GM Larry Pleau to get some more players. Drake (15 goals, 30 assists with Phoenix) is a gritty winger who can help make sure teams don't take liberties with concussion veteran Pavol Demitra (28 goals, 47 assists) and Pierre Turgeon (26 goals, 40 assists in 52 games). With Chris Pronger (14 goals, 48 assists), first winner of the Norris and Hart trophies in the same season since Bobby Orr in 1972, and Al MacInnis, the Blues' defense is sound. The question is whether goalie Roman Turek, so good during the regular season, can recover from a playoff meltdown.

4. DETROIT

Coach: Scotty Bowman, eighth season.

1999-2000: 48-24-10-2, 108 points.

Who's new: D Jesse Wallin (rookie).

Outlook: The easiest way to be checked into a locker stall is to bring a birthday cake into the Red Wing dressing room, because this is a team that is aging rapidly, with no new blood in sight. Among forwards, Steve Yzerman (35 goals, 44 assists) is 35; Sergei Fedorov (27 goals, 35 assists), 31; and Brendan Shanahan (41 goals, 37 assists), 31. All remain formidable but getting gray. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (20 goals, 53 assists) is 30; Chris Chelios (3 goals, 31 assists), 38; Steve Duchesne (10 goals, 31 assists), 34; Todd Gill (3 goals, 6 assists), 34; and Larry Murphy (10 goals, 30 assists), 39. Goalie Chris Osgood (30-14-8, 2.40) struggled at times last season. The sand is running out on this team.

5. KINGS

Coach: Andy Murray, second season.

1999-2000: 39-31-12-4, 94 points.

Who's new: D Mathieu Schneider (free agent), LW Stu Grimson (free agent).

Outlook: Improvement can come from the power-play addition of Schneider (10 goals, 20 assists) and the assimilation of RW Ziggy Palffy (27 goals, 39 assists) into the offense. Luc Robitaille (36 goals, 74 points) wants to play for a Stanley Cup champion before he retires, and Rob Blake wants to stay in Southern California with a new contract. Keys here include either Jamie Storr or Stephane Fiset stepping up in goal and signing center Jozef Stumpel.

6. SAN JOSE

Coach: Darryl Sutter, fourth season.

1999-2000: 35-37-10-7, 87 points.

Who's new: LW Scott Thornton (free agent).

Outlook: Sutter has a chance to join Al Arbour and Lynn Patrick as the only coaches to improve their teams in four consecutive seasons, but to do so the Sharks will probably have to play .500 hockey for the first time in franchise history. They need to get captain Owen Nolan (44 goals, 40 assists) signed and recovered from an Aug. 19 hernia operation. He is the last Shark holdout after training camp opened with eight. Goalie Steve Shields (27-30-8, 2.56) was also a late signee, as was heir apparent backup Evgeni Nabokov (2-2-1, 2.17).

7. EDMONTON

Coach: Craig MacTavish, first season.

1999-2000: 32-34-16-8, 88 points.

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