This will be a very interesting season coming up for the West. The Central will be the most competitive division in the league. The Pacific will be easy prey and present an opportunity for emerging teams to looking to snag a wide open P3 seed or a wild card spot. Each team from the West has an element of uncertainty and distinct strengths, as well as weaknesses. That is unlike the East where there are more dominant teams from top to bottom of their charts.
Pacific Division Winner: San Jose Sharks
Resigning Erik Karlsson was huge for the Sharks. They now boast the best 1-2 puck moving punch in the league with Burns on his side. Losing Pavelski to the Stars will hurt short term but the team’s top 6 is still very balanced. Hertl and Meier had breakout seasons plus Couture is more than capable of taking over Pavelski’s role as a #1 center. Martin Jones didn’t have a good season last year and he’s looking to bounce back. Jones could easily get a .900 sp% if Burnzie stopped giving away pucks like how Oprah gives away cars so it isn’t all of his fault. It would also help if Jones could squeeze his 5-hole like an employee at Booster Juice squeezes lemons. In a lackluster Pacific division, the Sharks can easily take the top seed in not just the division but in the conference as well. Look for them to face a wild card team during the playoffs in April.
Central Division Winner: Colorado Avalanche
It was very tough to choose a decisive winner out of the Central because of how competitive it will be. It is without a doubt the Avs are on the rise and they will be one of the most exciting teams to watch next season. The speed and transition game from the Avs is incredible. It’ll make you feel like wearing a sorority t-shirt while sky-high in Colorado. It’ll be especially interesting to see Byram and Makar coming into their own when they play their rookie seasons next year. Their progress prompted the Barrie trade to Toronto while simultaneously solving the team’s secondary scoring issues in picking up Nazem Kadri in the process. There are concerns with how Grubauer will handle his first full season in net but he’ll be just fine.
Central Division Runner Up: St. Louis Blues
The Blues proved last season they can battle against adversity in a big way. Being in last place on January 3rd, the Blues made an epic comeback to finish with 99 points to end their season and make the playoffs. Oh and they also won Stanley Cup which made their year even more incredible. They have kept their team they had from last season as they will look forward to making another deep run in to the playoffs. They play with a lot of sandpaper and will wear you down with a type of grit that’ll make Brian Burke wake up in a cold sweat during the middle of the night. Binnington has proven to be the real deal between the pipes and will have a solid season ahead of him.
3rd Seed in the Central Division: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets lost a lot of assets on defence during the off-season. Losing Trouba, Chiarot and Myers won’t be as bad as most would think because the Jets still have Morrissey and Byfuglien as their top defenceman. When the Connor and Laine contracts get settled (Likely to stay in Winnipeg) the Jets will boast the best top 9 in the league as they still have forwards coming through the prospect pipeline. Roslovic is due for a breakout and the talented Vesalainen is looking to crack the lineup. There might be a trade during the season where they could unload a forward for a defenceman but that remains to be seen. Hellebuyck will need to play better this season as the defensive core in front of him went away like a wrong pull in a game of Jenga. He is capable and has proven to play with a sp% above .920 so it’s likely.
Pacific Division Runner Up: Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights made a huge addition in adding Mark Stone to their top 6 and he fit in like a glove immediately. This is a team that’s still capable of making a deep playoff run. Vegas is great at transitioning and their play is fluid. Fleury didn’t have a spectacular year in net but he can bounce back with better numbers if he has more rest. Subban is capable of shouldering the backup role. The defence looks thin on paper but it hasn’t stopped Vegas from making deep playoff runs before. This is the only team capable of taking the division from the Sharks but they will fall short. Still “golden” to make the playoffs (Horrible pun intended).
3rd Seed in the Pacific Division: Vancouver Canucks
The first off-the-board selection is the Vancouver Canucks. They’re more likely to take the P3 seed than a wild card because teams from the Central will more likely fight for those spots. Vancouver is a team on the rise and the end of last season showed good signs that they can take the next step. Signing Myers and Ferland will offer good secondary help to the main core. Demko and Markstrom played well in net near the end of last season. Look for them to split their duties this season. Hughes made a great first impression with the team last March and he’ll likely be with the team full time. Petterson and Boeser will increase their point totals by 20 a piece as long as they’re healthy. Most importantly, the “Vancouver” wordmark was scrapped from their jerseys and that’s a huge win in itself.
#1 Wild Card : Dallas Stars
The Stars looked great during the second half of the season and they upset the Preds in the playoffs in 6 games. They signed Pavelski and the defensive core is growing from within as Heiskanen and Lindell look to take the next step. It’s business as usual for Benn, Seguin and Radulov plus Bishop is providing outstanding goaltending. The Stars would rank higher if they were in any other division but they’re in the Central. It will also help if the Stars owner calls Seggy and Benn “terrible” again like he did last season. That’ll give them the kick in the ass they need to earn a playoff berth. Regardless, it’ll be a tight race to the finish but this a good team that’ll play some interesting hockey.
#2 Wild Card: Nashville Predators
This might come as a surprise to some, others will expect a drop in the Preds rankings. They traded away Subban because he yelled “YUPP!!” over 10,000 times in the locker room over the past season plus Rinne is now 36 years years old. His play has shown age although Saros is a good backup who can take on a split role if needed. Their offense completely dried up during the second half of the season which is why they brought in Matt Duchene. He’ll help with their scoring but it’ll be hard to tell how he’ll fit in. With how the Central is stacking up as well as the team’s question marks, Nashville may not play with the caliber like they did in the past. The Avs and Stars are getting ahead of them while the Preds took a step back. Still a very good team but the downward trend is starting now for this squad.
Biggest Disappointment: Calgary Flames
The Flames absolutely fizzled during their 1st round playoff exit against the Avalanche. Their goaltending is what’s scary about this squad as Talbot and Rittich are now the tandem heading into next season. If you ask Peter Chiarelli about their goaltending, he’ll say he would of given Talbot and Rittich $4.6 M each for the next 3 years but thankfully Brad Treliving oversees hockey operations there. Giordano won’t have the season like he did last year plus Lindholm and Tkachuk will likely come back to Earth.