1. San Jose Sharks. Is any team under more pressure than the Sharks this year? This is a team that is becoming known as the biggest playoff choke artists in the league, and one more early post season exit could mean a complete overhaul in the off season. Gm Doug Wilson has put together another great team, they lead the Western Conference with 89 points, and are in the running for the Presidents trophy, but still playoff question marks arise. The recent addition of Niclas Wallin will help solidify blue line depth and help take some pressure off of workhorse Dan Boyle. I wouldn't expect the Sharks to be major players on Wednesday, but they could be in the market for a reliable back up goalie and experienced forwards. Players like Martin Biron from the Islanders and Raffi Torres from Columbus have been mentioned.
2. Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are one of the leagues youngest teams, but also perhaps the most skilled. This is a franchise that has not one a Stanley cup in almost fifty years and they are very hungry. Chicago is looking to do even better than their trip to the Western Conference finals last year, and it appears that they have the team to do it. Besides inexperience there is one very large question mark for the Hawks....Goaltending. Despite having the lowest goals against average in the league, it is hard to feel firmly secure in Cristobal Huet. It seems that Huet has been surpassed by rookie Antti Niemi as the starter in Chicago. Although Niemi has played very well this season, does Chicago really want to rest their lofty Stanley Cup aspirations on a rookie goaltender? The Blackhawks are rumored to be very interested in Thomas Vokoun and have the assets to acquire him, though it is unsure if Vokoun will waive his no-trade-clause. Another possibility is Dwayne Roloson but the real prize for the Hawks is Vokoun. Chicago appears to be willing to part with skilled young winger Kris Versteeg if the right deal comes along, but the real trick will be getting rid of Huet's inflated contract. If Chicago cannot find a good goalie I am told they may make a strong pitch for a veteran blueliner like Scott Niedermayer.
3. Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks appear poised to make a strong run in the post season with Roberto Luongo fresh off a gold medal performance at the Olympics and the phenomenal play of the Sedin twins. The Canucks have had great production from their top two lines with Burrows playing with the Sedins, and Ryan Kesler with Mason Raymond who has emerged as a legitimate 25-30 goal scorer. Vancouver is lacking a good shut down third line center, as Kyle Wellwood has not done the job so far. Vancouver has been linked with Jeff Halpern from Tampa Bay as well as, surprisingly, Nathan Horton. Horton would obviously not be the third line center but could thrive in a top six role with the Canucks. The largest hole Vancouver has is on defence. The good news is that Kevin Bieksa is returning from a tendon laceration sometime in the next six games, the bad news is that Willie Mitchell has no time table for a return and may even miss the rest of the season with his concussion and back issues. The Canucks would love to get their hands on B.C. boy Dan Hamhuis from Nashville but the asking price may be too high. Pavel Kubina could also be a fit if Vancouver can shed the necessary payroll to fit his five million dollar contract. Kubina also becomes a UFA at years end so Atlanta's asking price would be lower than Nashville's for Hamhuis. The Canucks do have assets to deal in the form of Ahl goaltender of the year and former first round pick Corey Schneider. There is also talk that Vancouver could deal blue chip prospect Cody Hodgson if the right deal comes along, but I still do not believe this will happen as he is still very much in the Canuck's long term plans.
These are the top three teams in the West but look for the Kings, Phoenix, Anaheim to also be active. No matter what happens it is sure to be an exciting day.