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The Mess in the West | January

In the Eastern Conference standings, it's pretty much at this point in the season a nine team race. 10th on down in the standings are eight points or more out of a playoff spot, and unless one of those teams wins about 80% of their games down the stretch, they're too far out at this point to make a run.

In the Western Conference, those same eight points that stretch from 8th to 10th in the East, go from 8th to 14th in the West. Not only are things jammed up in the West, which they usually are anyway due to the high level of competition, but some teams are in strange spots in the standings more than halfway through the year.

Let's take a closer look at the West and where teams stand.

1-Vancouver Canucks-29-10-7-65 points-Vancouver was a trendy pick heading into the season to win the Stanley Cup. A slow start had many wondering if perhaps this wasn't going to be the year but the team has found their stride and sits atop the Conference. It doesn't matter what this team does in the regular season though, people will want to see if they can finally get past the second round of the playoffs.

2-Detroit Red Wings-28-12-6-62 points-Rested up for the first time in three years to start the season after going to the Finals in 08 and 09, Detroit got off to a strong start. They looked like the Wings of normal and not the team plagued by injuries last year that had to claw into the playoffs before being too tired to carry on. Unfortunately for Detroit, it looks like this regular season is starting to turn into last year's regular season, only backwards. Injuries have started to pile up for the Wings in key places but if those players can return to the lineup at the level they were playing before their injuries, Detroit should be a strong contender again come playoff time.

3-Dallas Stars-28-13-5-61 points-Dallas is definitely having a surprisingly strong year. Perhaps thought of having an outside chance to make the playoffs, no one saw them leading the division at this point in the season. After going to the Conference Finals in 08 this team missed the playoffs the last two years and looks ready to prove that they've belonged there. Playoff inexperience in net may hinder them down the road, but as for now this is a strong team turning heads.

4-Nashville Predators-25-15-6-56 points-Year in, year out this team finds a way to get it down; this team is the purest form of "will over skill." Not that they aren't talented, but when you break down their roster piece by piece and compare it to the rest of the West, it just doesn't look like they're capable of making the playoffs. But here they are in the top third of the standings getting the job done. Considering the way they choked away game five against Chicago in last year's opening round of the playoffs and despite having never won a series in the postseason in team history, this is a team that is capable of making things happen in the playoffs

5-Anaheim Ducks-26-19-4-56 points-Much like Dallas, this is a team that looked like it would probably finish outside of the top eight this year. But they've overcome defensive personnel loss and despite being the only team currently in the top eight in the West that has a negative goal differential (-5), they're getting the points and getting the job done. Sitting in the middle of the standings, Anaheim is in a position to pull some upsets come playoff time for they have quietly moved into this spot and don't look to be moving anywhere soon.

6-Phoenix Coyotes-23-15-9-55 points-A less than stellar start had doubters calling last year's playoff run strictly luck, but Phoenix has gotten on track and is now playoff position once again. They've been streaky, but this is a well-rounded team that gained valuable experience from their run last year and is a serious threat to whomever they may play in the first round should they hold on in the top eight.

7-Colorado Avalanche-24-16-6-54 points-Another young team that pulled off a surprising playoff seeding last year, Colorado has tried picking up right where they left off last year. It's going to be a battle the rest of the season for this team to stay above the top eight, but they showed last year they have the pedigree as a team to do so. Whether or not this team is ready to take the step and actually win a playoff series remains to be seen, but they showed last year they aren't a pushover.

8-Chicago Blackhawks-25-18-4-54 points-Sitting in eighth and only three points ahead of ninth isn't where the defending Stanley Cup Champions hoped to find themselves at this point in the year. But after an offseason that saw a great deal of the roster overhauled, this has to be considered a win. Few teams have a core talented enough to withstand all the changes this team underwent, but Chicago is one of them and that's why they are still in the top eight. It's hard to imagine that the defending champs would miss the postseason, but they're going to have to work hard down the stretch to ensure that doesn't happen.

9-Minnesota Wild-23-18-5-51 points-They may be outside of the top eight right now, but sitting in ninth, Minnesota is certainly higher in the standings than what most anyone expected out of them. In the second year of transforming from a defense first to a wide open offense team, the Wild have found more success and are looking to make a strong push after the all-star game to make the playoffs. Considering the talented teams in front of them and right behind them, it's likely this team will get left behind come April, but this is a team that we should all be keeping an eye on for next year.

10-San Jose Sharks-23-19-5-51 points-Even though this team started the year off with two new goaltenders from last year, the majority of the skaters on the team was unchanged. Therefore, this spot in the standings is a bit odd. They too have had their ups and downs all year but this is a team far too talented to be sitting 10th in the standings. They've shown an upswing recently and should find themselves on the positive side of the cutoff line in a few weeks, but for right now, Sharks' faithful are sweating a little bit.

11-St. Louis Blues-22-17-6-50 points-A team filled with young talent that has had to deal with more than their fair share of injuries the last few years, this year was supposed to be the year they broke out and made something happen. But all that's happening so far is a pretty average season. They aren't out of it by any stretch and we've seen this team put together second halves of seasons that lead the league. But right now this is a team with points to make up and several teams to leapfrog.

12-Los Angeles Kings-24-21-1-49 points-The Kings turned heads last year with their consistently solid play that had them high up in the West all year long. But they fell short in the first round, and that translated into a lot of people pointing to this team as one to watch out for this season. But they only thing those that have been watching have seen is a team that can't win games on a consistent basis anymore. This team, at this point in the season, is 12th in the West? This is unacceptable for the talent on this roster, and if you start to sweat when watching this team on TV, it's probably the head coach's hot seat that's keeping you warm.

13-Columbus Blue Jackets-21-20-5-47 points-Columbus is a team that a quarter of the way into the year was leading the Conference in wins and sitting pretty in the standings. However, since right about that quarter point of the year they've reverted to the typical below average, underachieving Blue Jacket team we've all come to expect. In the West, no one is ever out of it considering how tight the standings always are, but it won't be long before fans in Ohio have to start talking about next year being "their year" once again.

14-Calgary Flames-20-20-6-46 points-Whereas Nashville does more with less than any other team, Calgary has perfected the art of doing less with more than any other team. Talent up front, on the back end and in net and this team sits next to last in the Conference. Unless this team goes on an unbelievable run here in the second half and finds their way into the playoffs, expect the moves made in Calgary this upcoming offseason to make what Chicago did this past offseason look like nothing in comparison.

15-Edmonton Oilers-14-24-7-35 points-This is one of the few teams that actually is where they should be in the standings. A young team still in the middle of a rebuilding phase that's a couple of years away from really competing. They got off to a decent start but are back to reality and last in the West. However, this time in two years, the one on that 15th place might not be there, and this'll be a team right in the thick of the playoff race.

It's been a strange year in the standings, especially in the Western Conference. What's amazing about the West is the fact that 14 of the 15 teams are at or above .500. That's a combination of three point overtime/shootout games and the West beating the East in inter-Conference games, as evidenced by the fact that only 11 of the 15 teams in the East are at or above .500.

It's quite likely that when the season ends, at least a dozen of the teams will be in different position in the standings than where they are right now. But that's the Western Conference for you.

Happy Hockey.