After posting picks for the East yesterday it’s time to look to the Wild Wild West. Last year the eight seed went out and crushed the Top 3 teams en route to winning the Cup, previous stalwarts like Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, and Chicago all bowed out in the first round, and other squads like Minnesota, Dallas and Edmonton are looking to make some noise. As usual the Western Conference will be in a complete state of flux, and with such a short season it should be even stranger.
The predicted standings are…
15. Columbus Blue Jackets: Let’s start with the closest thing that we have to a sure fire prediction. This team was terrible last year and then went out and traded away their player netting very little back in return. Hopefully they actually win the draft lottery this year and end up with Seth Jones or Nathan McKinnon to help reinvigorate this incredibly struggling franchise before they become the Markham Blue Jackets!
14. Calgary Flames: The Flames have been one of the most consistent teams since the last lockout, consistently mediocre that is. For years they have been a lock to be penciled into the amorphous 7-12 spot in the West. This year things could finally come off the rails as their core keeps getting older, their big additions of Hudler and Wiedeman have “Boumeester Part II” written all over them, and the series of back-to-backs do not favour a workhorse like Kiprusof. The most interesting thing about this squad wil be to see if they actually trade Iginla this year.
13. San Jose Sharks: Sacrilege I know! This team was remarkably good for the better part of a decade, but their time may be up. Last year they finished 7th in the West and looked terrible in the playoffs. They made no noticeable additions in the summer and like Calgary, their core has passed their prime. The short season may drag on too long for this team.
12. Anaheim Ducks: Last season it looked like SuperPerry returned to earth after being dominant the year before. While the dynamite Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan trio is too good to be as horrible as they were last year, it doesn’t seem likely that any of them will be able to will this team into the playoffs like they did in 2011. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are free agents at year end, and if the Ducks give up and trade both of them, expect this team to be competing with Columbus for the Conference basement.
11. Colorado Avalanche: How on earth can this team give P.A. Parenteau $4 million and play hardball with Ryan O’Reiley? It just boggles the mind here! This team made some noise late last season and Varlamov was tearing up the KHL during the lockout, so don’t expect them to be terrible, but they won’t be able to compete with the other up and coming Western Conference teams just yet.
10. Dallas Stars: If this was 2007 they would have the best team in hockey. Yet unfortunately Jagr and Whitney won’t be putting up huge numbers, sure they will help, but they won’t be enough to get this team the handful of points that will separate most teams in the West. Now if they can get Jamie Benn signed and playing soon then things could be different, but that seems like it will be a bit of a protracted battle for reasons that defy logic.
9. Minnesota Wild: On July 4 when Parise and Suter were signed it seemed like everyone was ready to plan the parade dubbing them the Miami Heat of Hockey. Now that things have calmed down a bit this team is not quite as good as the hype leads one to believe. One must remember that they were worse than the Blue Jackets after New Year’s last year and adding two player won’t turn a bad team to champions. Sure they have some very good young players coming in like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, but those take time. This team will be a Western Conference powerhouse soon enough but it won’t be yet. The new players may have some difficulty adjusting to the system which will give them a bit of a slow start which will cost them a few points in the very close Western Conference.
8. Edmonton Oilers: Is this finally the time for this squad to get there? They have been bad for so long and have such a strong collection of talent that it’s only natural that they take the jump soon. Sure goaltending is a big question and the defense is a little shaky but the young player should benefit from the back-to-back games and most of this team has been dominating the AHL for the past few months so chemistry should not be an issue. Of course they won’t last too long in the playoffs, but there is a lot of reason to be excited in Oil Town.
7. Detroit Red Wings: This feels dirty doesn’t it? This team is clearly trending downward especially after losing one of the greatest defensemen of all time. For the first time in memory defense is a big weakness on this squad. Howard was very good last year and Gustavson has the potential for a bounce-back season so that should lesson some of their other shortcomings, obviously their forwards are world class but they are a little light on depth which should put them in a very unfamiliar spot at the middle of the pack.
6. Nashville Predators: Sure everyone wants to write them off after losing Ryan Suter, but let’s not forget that Shea Weber is still there. This team has the best defensemen in the world, one of the best coaches, and one of the top goalies. Let’s also not forget that this team scored the eighth most goals in the league last season without any big names up front. This is a squad that bounces back year after year, expect this to be no different.
5. Chicago Blackhawks: This team is pretty much the same as it was last year, high-level top talent, average depth, and questionable goaltending. Last year they were able to finish 6th, but three points out of 4th so there’s little reason to think that they won’t be in the same place especially if Patrick Kane is able to recover from an off year.
4. Phoenix Coyotes: Let’s see, they won their division and made it to the Conference finals after everyone counted them out. This year, everyone is counting them out again and they bring back the same pieces. Mike Smith was spectacular in the playoffs last year and should solidify his position as a top level goalie this year.
3. Vancouver Canucks: This is all contingent on how the goaltending situation resolves itself. If they trade Luongo for some top level talent they could easily finish first in the West, but as it stands now their prospects are not so bright. Currently they don’t have a second line as both Booth and Kesler are out with long term injuries and Jason Garrison seems like a flash in the pan last year. Of course they are still better than the bad (but improving) teams in their division. This seems to be their last chance to win, and sadly it doesn’t look like they will be able to do it.
2. Los Angeles Kings: They bring back the same roster that dominated the NHL last spring and are incredibly well rested. Not only should they win their pretty bad division with ease, they stand a very good chance of repeating as champions.
1. St. Louis Blues: There is no reason not to believe in this team right now. They are perhaps the deepest, most complete team in the NHL and with the rash of injuries that are bound to take place this year that’s incredibly important. They had two stellar goalies and can roll line after line of talented player. Last year was no aberration, this team is going to be a force in the West for a very long time.
As for the playoffs, the Blues should make short work of the Oilers while the Kings can pass the Wings in a tough series, expect Nashville to surprise the Canucks and the Blackhawks to get revenge on the Coyotes on the backs of a great Marian Hossa series and story. That leaves the Blues beating the Predators in a series that sees record low goals scored and the Kings rolling through the Blackhawks. St. Louis should get revenge on LA for sweeping them last year to move onto the finals where they lose to the Penguins. That’s right, Crosby hoists the Cup again.
We can dream, can’t we?