Here we are, a few weeks away from training camp and I am more excited then ever. Why you ask? This 2011-2012 season is full of expectations and plenty of player bounce backs. At least I can only hope it pans out the way I expect it too.

I already came out with my own 30 Questions, 30 Answers article, and the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Prediction – Top 8 Teams, but now allow me to break down the Western teams in the order I expect the top 8 to finish in the Western Conference.

(1) L.A. Kings – 110 pts

Not the Vancouver Canucks? That’s right, the L.A. Kings in my opinion are the next team in the West to excel and possibly win the Stanley Cup. They are the next Detroit Redwings, of this generation. If it wasn’t for Anze Kopitar breaking his ankle last season right before the playoffs, the Kings were my sleeper team in the West, going deep in the playoffs. And now that they have Mike Richards this team is stacked down the middle, finally. Richards along with Simon Gagne and the rest of the ex-Flyers have a lot ot prove to themselves and to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. They want to shove it all in his face for trading them at one point or another, and it may just happen. And if you think they are stacked down the middle, look at their defense and goaltending. The deepest team in the West.

(2) Vancouver Canucks – 100 pts

The Choking Canucks as I call them, almost didn’t even make it out of the Quarter Finals last year. And with how they were jumping around like little kids after beating the Blackhawks in game 7, after blowing a 3-0 series lead, you knew this team has serious emotional problems. The true test now will be if Alain Vigneault can get his team in 2011-2012 season form after blowing a 2-0 and 3-2 series lead over the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. And also getting shut out 4-0 in game 7. And lets not forget about the players who got them within one win of the Stanley Cup, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, who both had injuries and may miss the beginning of this up coming season. It may be safe to say that the Canucks may struggle this season and see an early first round exit come playoff time. But since the Sedin twins can only play regular season hockey, they should still be in the top 5. It maybe time these Sedin twins start looking into a local garbage roller hockey league since they only combine for a total of 20 hits per season. And the fact that they are in a VERY EASY North West Division, they will be in the top 3 once again.

(3) Chicago Blackhawks – 99 pts

Is Corey Crawford another Faith No More or will be Epic this season? For you guys who don’t know about 90′s music, in other words, is he another one hit wonder? (Don’t worry I don’t actually listen to that kind of music). In order for the Blackhawks to not scramble into the playoffs again and have a deep playoff run, they need Crawford to play either as good as last season or better. With last’s years experience and confidence, he should have another great season. And to think this team thought Marty Turco was going to help them win last season, pssh. They also need Marian Hossa to stay healthy and get into 40 goals per season form.

(4) San Jose Sharks – 98 pts

With back to back losses in the Western Conference Finals, Doug Wilson finally made the move of trading over-rated Danny Heatley along with Devon Setoguchi. In return the Sharks received Brent Burns and Martin Havlat. Burns adds a second offensive force on the blue line, while Havlat brings speed and creativity to a forward groups that sometimes appeared slow and stale. And Havlat will do just that where he couldn’t in Minnesota. But they are still going to need Joe Thornton and Antti Niemi to play top notch hockey. If Thornton is going to wear the “C”, he needs to act like a leader in the playoffs. Last year showed promise of a bright 2012 Playoff future, if confidence carries over.

(5) Detroit Red Wings – 97 pts

The Wings made few offseason moves and are counting on Nicklas Lidstrom to continue to devour 20-plus minutes a night while playing at an elite level. But, without Brian Rafalski Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings are going to struggle this season. Even though I think Howard is over-rated anyways. This team is getting too old, and not enough young power on the upcoming. They are a playoff team, they always are, but by playoff time 41 year old captain Lidstrom and the rest of the gang may be out of gas and see a first round exit. They won’t have a team like the Coyotes to beat up on again in the Quarter Finals..again.

(6) Anaheim Ducks – 96 pts

You know, I really wish the Ducks would go back to this logo. Probably one of the best logo’s in all of sports. Jonas Hiller came out a two weeks ago saying he is ready for this upcoming season, and is over vertigo symptoms. But what started his vertigo symptoms? Oh that’s right, another heavy season workload. And what makes him think this season is any different, especially with a backup like Dan Ellis!? Maybe Bob Murray should have resigned Ray Emery and had both players split this season. I mean after all, Emery came in and went 7-2 in the last 9 games of the regular season. He may not be playoff material yet, but that’s when a healthy Hiller comes into playoff instead of a vertigo infested brain. The Ducks have the talent up front with or without Teemu Selanne. But without a 110% healthy Hiller, the Ducks will see an early first round exit, again.

(7) Nashville Predators – 94 pts

The key players from last season (Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) are back — though a lot of useful role players (Marcel Goc, Cody Franson, Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan) have gone elsewhere — and young players like Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum appear ready to contribute. And with a coach like Barry Trotz, this team could make another playoff run. But with hos tight the West is every season, and teams like the Kings, Canucks, Blackhawks…basically everybody above them, they are going to scramble for a late season playoff appearance.

(8) Columbus Blue Jackets – 93 pts

Of the remaining teams in the West, the Blue Jackets make the most sense to grab the final 8th spot. Rick Nash finally has a player to play along side with, Jeff Carter. And if the Blue Jackets want to make it into the playoffs, Steve Mason needs to rediscover his Calder Trophy form. Mason was the NHL’s top rookie in 2008-09 and led the Jackets to their first (and only) playoff berth, posting a 33-20-7 record, a 2.29 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. But he hasn’t come close to matching those numbers in either of the next two seasons — last season’s 3.03 GAA was actually a slight improvement from 2009-10, and his .901 save percentage was well below the League average. The Jackets, who’ve missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, opted not to sign an experienced goaltender who could challenge Mason for the No. 1 job, so if they’re going to get back to the playoffs, the 23-year-old has to revert to his rookie form.

As you can see the Western Conference is expected to be very tight once again this 2011-2012 Season. But it’s anyone’s spot and will come down to the final games in the regular season for most teams.

If your interested in following all of my NHL Hockey picks this season be sure to check out the Pucking NHL Picks section of my site. Last season I finished 117-60 +$12,860 in all of my NHL Hockey picks.