Hey, everyone else ran his fairly ridiculous picture from ESPN's Body Issue, why not us too? Can't imagine the verbal dressing room abuse this is worth.

On to the West, a time zone and part of the country that actually does exists, contrary to the opinion of the majority of hockey media members. If Detroit moves to the East next year as per rumours, the only time most fans are going to read about this conference will be during inter-conference play.

But me, I live out west. The wild, wild west of Arizona, in fact, and I take quite an interest in this conference.

Here’s how I see things shaking down after everybody has played their 82 games:

1. Vancouver

2. Los Angeles

3. Chicago

4. Detroit

5. San Jose

6. St. Louis Blues

7.Anaheim Ducks

8. Nashville Predators

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

10. Minnesota Wild

11. Edmonton Oilers

12. Dallas Stars

13. Phoenix Coyotes

14. Calgary Flames

15. Colorado Avalanche

Western Conference Final: LA vs. Vancouver

Western Conference Champion: Vancouver (me picking a re-match of last year’s Cup final may look like the easy way out, but both teams are still stacked)

*****

Three explanations coming: Top of the Conference, the Playoff Bubble Teams, and the Bottom Rungs

Top of the Conference

I really didn’t wanna be the guy who picked “chalk” (all favourites) as they call it, but c’mon – that Vancouver Canucks team didn’t lose anything valuable from last year, has more experience, and still has one of the best goalies in the league despite the opinion of you delusional humans who somehow became convinced Luongo isn’t an absolute stud.

The Kings are killer – if it wasn’t Van, they’d have been my team. So many great threats up front, a few rocks on the back end and great goaltending.

I have Chicago re-finding their stride again. Don’t forget, they lost to the 1-seed in playoffs in round one last year, in game seven, in overtime. It took them awhile to figure themselves out again after purging so many good players post-Stanley Cup, but they figured it out. They’ll regroup nicely.

Last, I have Detroit getting the last home ice spot because it seems they’ll never stop being the powerhouse that is Detroit, they have the best coach in the league, and Pavel Datsyuk could get home ice if we surrounded him with players who could only use plastic light sabres for sticks. And he’d still get 40 assists.

Playoff Bubble Teams

You know who could weasel into the playoffs this year? The teams from 6 to 14. No offense to you Colorado – we’ll talk in a second.

But truly, looking at that grouping of teams, there’s a few bright spots and couple questions in every lineup. Columbus made a few big splashes that could take them to the next level. For once, Minnesota actually has a couple interesting players on their roster (which is why it’s sad I have them at 10 – not bad, not good, just….there, again). And who knows how early the Oil will come into their own?

In the end though, I’ve been waiting for St. Louis to come through and be the team they can for awhile now, and it’s got to happen eventually. Great talent up front, solid goaltending and a good coach. This is the year they pull it together.

Bottom Rungs

Colorado actually has some seriously bright spots in their roster. To name a couple: I think Duchene is a stud, and we know Stastny definitely is. But when I think of teams that could surprise me, prove me wrong and get into the playoffs, I just don’t see it here. Badly lacking depth, Landeskog will be good but green, and the goaltending is neck-and-neck with Phoenix for worst tandem in the league (okay, Colorado’s a little better).

Those other teams just above them, well, there’s just a little more potential there to surprise me.

In the end, 7 of last year’s playoff teams from the West will return to the land of glory.