What We Learned: The best team in Western Conference, NHL?

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

So the Canucks signed Raffi Torres(notes), and that makes for a hell of a nice looking bottom six. And earlier this summer they signed Dan Hamhuis(notes) and Keith Ballard(notes) to round out a solid D corps. And they have that Roberto Luongo(notes) guy.

That got the Vancouver Province and Hockey News wondering: Are the Canucks now the best team in the West?

And honestly, I don't even think you have to ask it as a question any more.

The Vancouver Canucks are simply the best team in the Western Conference, and maybe in the NHL. Go look at their roster and tell me who gets more points than that team. A wonderful combination of skill and toughness, plus two of the top three players at their position in the league. And a genuinely terrible Northwest Division sure isn't going to hurt.

Others might be able to put together a convincing line of reasoning about how the Canucks have a lot to prove yet, and that no awards are won for a roster in August. Fair points, obviously. But you look at every other major competitor for best in the West, or indeed the league and you see some teams with major holes that Vancouver simply doesn't have.

(COMING UP: The Avalanche's new owner; Mark Staal wants to be a Ranger; Kovalchuk contract update; Nicklas Grossman(notes) signs with Dallas; Finally, something awesome about Marty Turco(notes) in 2010; Tim Kennedy(notes) is brooding; Alexander Burmistrov vs. food; Clarke MacArthur(notes) becomes a Leaf; Joe Pavelski(notes) didn't really pay attention to hockey news this summer; Flyers make a jersey choice; Matt Bradley(notes) is secretly skilled; Boston's good and bad weekend; and a way for Khabibulin to leave Edmonton.)

Quite simply, the Blackhawks paid a heavy price this summer for that Stanley Cup win. But while Chicago is certainly still very good, so much of the depth that made them the best team in the world had to be shipped out of town. If they were to meet Vancouver in the playoffs, I don't think we'd be hearing as much Chelsea Dagger as we did in the past.

San Jose is usually another pretty safe bet to at least challenge for the top spot in the conference, if not the President's Trophy, but seriously, how good can a team leaning on Antero Niitymaki and a rookie be? The same is true of Detroit, where benefiting from a division softer than Kyle Wellwood's(notes) midsection is going to inflate point totals and expectations above where they should be, and even that might not be enough to overcome creaky players that decidedly looked their age down the stretch and into the postseason.

You could also make an argument that the Kings or Coyotes could, when all is said and done, sneak away with the No. 1 seed. Just not a very good one.

Beyond that small handful of teams, everyone has flaws that will keep them well out of contention for the title of "Best in the West."

And even more than that, it's honestly rather difficult to come up with a team in the East that can stack up with Vancouver's roster. Pittsburgh's good down the middle and has an excellent D corps, but that wing depth (what wing depth?) and goaltending leave a lot to be desired. Washington has a very good forward group, obviously, but not so much on defense or in net. Boston's looking for a bounceback year. New Jersey's typically good-not-great these days. Philly has potential problems in net and to a lesser extent up front.

None of this, of course, is to say that Vancouver is any sort of lock to win the Stanley Cup since they have a nasty habit of being awful in the second round of the playoffs. But if you're laying down money on a team that'll win the President's Trophy last year (eh, Wysh?) then you'd do a lot worse than the Canucks.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks signed Joe DiPenta(notes) to an AHL deal. He hasn't played in the NHL since 2008 but played with the Ducks for parts of three seasons, including when they won the Stanley Cup. Fun.

Atlanta Thrashers: Rick Dudley says he wouldn't be shocked to see first-round pick Alexander Burmistrov make the NHL roster. Only problem is he's only 180 pounds. So what's Burmistrov's plan to put on weight? "Work out and eat," he said. "Eat a lot." Worked for Vladimir Krutov.

Boston Bruins: Here's a bit of a stretch: The Bruins starting the season in Europe could mean they'll win a title in a few years. Yeah I don't know about all that either.

Buffalo Sabres: Timmy Kennedy's still heartbroken that the Sabres bought him out.

Calgary Flames: Daymond Langkow(notes), down with a serious neck injury, has been cleared for light skating, but has no timetable for a return. Calgary could really use him this year.

Carolina Hurricanes: Nice little feature on Sergei Samsonov(notes) here. The thing I was most shocked to learn: he's only 32. Really feels like he'd have to be way older than that.

Chicago Blackhawks: Marty Turco's new masks are awesome. Maybe best in the league.

Colorado Avalanche: The other day, control of the Avs was officially transferred from Stan Kroenke to his son Josh, who cares more about hockey than the old man. So that's probably a good thing.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets will only have 75 of their 82 games aired on local TV. A couple will be on Versus, but most of the other seven just won't be aired at all, which is ridiculous in this day and age.

Dallas Stars: The Stars and Nicklas Grossman agreed to a new deal, which is a solid move by Dallas. He's underrated.

Detroit Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader(notes) left Michigan State to sign with the Wings after his junior year, and he's been plugging away at earning his degree ever since. He might even take a course during the season. Good for him.

Edmonton Oilers: Copper and Blue figured out that the older you are, the more likely you are to win faceoffs. So someone should really give Gordie Howe a contract and never lose another draw again.

Florida Panthers: Much-discussed goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom(notes) thinks he can make the big club. It'd take a lot to get that done, what with Vokoun and Clemmensen pretty well slated to have to top two spots locked up.

Los Angeles Kings: Willie Mitchell(notes) Jersey Number Watch rolls on! It won't be 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9. He still has a handful of options, by my count.

Minnesota Wild: Pierre-Marc Bouchard(notes) thinks he'll be ready by training camp after missing all but opening night of last season. Great news. We need more shootout spin-o-ramas.

Montreal Canadiens: Louis LeBlanc made his QMJHL preseason debut Saturday night and picked up an assist. That means hockey has started. That means life is awesome.

Nashville Predators: The Preds signed former third-round pick Taylor Beck to a three-year contract. He was fourth in the OHL in scoring last year. Good contract here.

New Jersey Devils: Said Lou Lamoriello of the new Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) contract: "It's just waiting for the league to give, hopefully, their approval." Upon reading this, Gary Bettman likely performed a spit take.

New York Islanders: Okay so the Islanders had to cancel their trip to China, but that's not so bad. They're just going to have camp in their crummy old barn instead.

New York Rangers: Marc Staal(notes) wants to stay with the Rangers. I have no idea why.

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson(notes) is 38 and has to start slowing down at some point, right? But will it be this season?

Philadelphia Flyers: Remember how awesome those Flyers Winter Classic jerseys were? Well if you don't, you're going to get to see 'em every road game. Unfortunately the Bruins aren't doing the same with their Winter Classic jerseys.

Phoenix Coyotes: Here's a name you probably forgot about -- Mikkel Boedker(notes). The big man expects to be a Coyote for the whole season this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Goodbye Billy Guerin, goodbye forever.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski says both the Sharks and Blackhawks have improved in the offseason. Which Blackhawks could he possibly be talking about? The Waterloo Blackhawks maybe. Definitely not Chicago.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues' official season preview lists Alex Pietrangelo(notes) and Jaroslav Halak(notes) as "New arrivals to watch." I'm guessing the more accurate header "Only arrivals to watch" got cut.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts are making an attempt to sign Kirk Maltby(notes) but it doesn't look likely to happen. Lucky them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Clarke MacArthur will really help bolster the Leafs' forward depth. That bottom 12 is looking great right now.

Vancouver Canucks: You know you wanna pay a bunch of money to stay at Mikael Samuelsson's(notes) house. You'll also get two - count 'em, two - dinners outta the deal.

Washington Capitals: Matt Bradley? Secretly skilled.

Gold Star Award

Big big thanks to the NHL Network for replaying the Flyers/Bruins series all day on Sunday. That was awesome.

Minus of the Weekend

On Saturday NESN was showing a classic Bruins game from (I think) 1988 and Cam Neely was wearing a visor. I thought he was supposed to be some sort of tough guy.

Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week

User "disorder" has a way to solve ALL the Oilers' problems.

Khabibulin for Thomas

Boston gets some salary relief at the cost of dealing with some BS.

Edmonton gets arguably the better of the two at the cost of 2mil or so in cap space.



Really? Did "nothing" cancel?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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