Opening Night of the 2013-14 NHL regular season is set to go on October 1st. There is much anticipation from hockey fans after a lockout shortened season last year that saw the Chicago Blackhawks capture their second Stanley Cup in three years. This season brings a fair amount of change with some division realignment and a number of player transactions. The NHL is also seeing its salary cap go down making a tighter budget a reality for a handful of teams in the league.
So here is our look at the teams in the NHL’s Western Conference and perhaps what we can expect from them. Remember that the top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference — regardless of division
NHL Season Preview 2013: Western Conference
The new Pacific Division includes the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. This is a big tough division with some perennial powerhouse teams such as the Canucks, Sharks and more recently Los Angeles Kings. Look for this top be a strong division with a number of hard working teams vying for playoff positions.
San Jose Sharks – I really thought the Sharks would have won a Cup by now. They show signs of being a strong team. They’re big, can skate and have decent goaltending. Players such as Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and more recently Logan Couture can dominate a game by themselves. Couture is a star and is coming into a league of his own. Look for other teams to pay more attention to Logan this year and as a result we will see where his results come in at. If the Sharks play consistent and remain healthy we see them as the top team in the Pacific Division this season. Surprised?
Los Angeles Kings – this team exudes work ethic. Having been one year removed as the Stanley Cup champs this team is still solid from head to toe. They’ve added some toughness in acquiring Matt Frattin from Toronto and Daniel Carcillo from the Hawks and if Johnathan Quick regains his prowess look for the Kings to challenge for the top spot in the Pacific. Big, strong and solid goaltending. Are we seeing a theme here yet?
Vancouver Canucks – time is quickly passing for the Canucks. They should have won the Stanley Cup a few years back instead having bowed down to the Boston Bruins. Some interesting developments for the Canucks this off season. They, essentially swapped coaches with the New York Rangers with fiery John Torterella coming in as bench boss replacing Alain Vigneault. It will be interesting to see how this impacts key players on the team (Read: Daniel and Henrik) so the Canucks should be a harder working team. Not sure if the Luongo fiasco is finally over, but he is a true professional and we expect Roberto Luongo to have one of his best seasons ever. He will be the reason why the Canucks compete for top spot in the Western Conference. Another fairly big team that can skate well and has one of the best goalies in the game. This team will be competitive.
Anaheim Ducks – this team has too many good players to be a bottom feeder. Look for stronger seasons from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The loss of Bobby Ryan to Ottawa is big, but this team is well coached and will again play some stretches of good hockey. They could finish anywhere from second to sixth in the division.
Phoenix Coyotes – this is a well coached team that always seems to have solid goaltending. They will again compete for a playoff spot but may just be outclassed and out muscled by some of the bigger teams in the division.
Edmonton Oilers – this team took a step backwards last year. We do not see things improving mightily for the Oilers this year (and I’m a huge Oilers fan). Hiring Dallas Eakins as head coach is a good thing we believe as he will whip the team into shape, which is probably not that difficult to do with all the young talent on the team. The problem with this team is that GM Craig MacTavish failed to address key areas such as adding size up front (especially with the top six forwards) instead bringing back Ales Hemsky and Linus Omark. MacT also failed to land a solid tender. Devin Dubynk did all he good, but he still tends to give up a bad goal each and every game. As an elite goaltender you simply cannot do that. The Oilers also traded one of the few forwards with the grit to go to the net in Magnus Paajarvi when he went to the Blues for David Perron. This trade will come back to haunt the Oilers. This team needs some better D-men, better goaltending, more size up front and some deeper grit. Taylor Hall really is becoming Mark Messier-like and Jordan Eberle is a solid performer. Veteran winger Ryan Smyth adopted to a new role, but we expect him to have a much better season as well. Unless the areas above are addressed in the first half of the season, the Oilers will miss the playoffs again. They’re just not big enough and tough enough to win the tight battles.
Calgary Flames – don’t call it a rebuild. OK, regardless times are changing for the Flames. The one transaction that they made that was extremely interesting was the hiring of Brian Burke. As much as we don’t care for the guy, his teams are always tough, a little dirty and that can go a long way. However the Flames are missing a lot of key components including a starting goaltender. Flames will compete but will be out of the running by the Olympic break.
Chicago Blackhawks – still class act of the league. The defending champs lost a couple of key pieces but will remain the strongest team in the West. Could a repeat be in the works? You never know. Patrick Kane, Patrik Sharp and Captain Serious will continue to drive this team in the regular season and in a post season march to another Stanley Cup.
St. Louis Blues – a well coached team with a tremendous defense. The Blues will challenge the Hawks for the #1 spot in the Central Division. A few new faces in the line up including Derek Roy and Maxim Lapierre make the Blues a solid team in the West.
Dallas Stars – Jim Nill added some great pieces to the team. The Stars will be much more difficult to play against this year. Jamie Benn is a star in waiting and the addition of former #2 pick Tyler Seguin is not a bad thing (unless he cannot control his off-ice activity). Love the new jersey too. Big things could happen in Big D this year.
Minnesota Wild – I think everyone expected bigger things from the Wild last year as they signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. This team actually has a lot of skill up front, but do they play the right system? The addition of Matt Cooke adds some team toughness, but the Wild did lose some talent in Devin Setoguchi, Pierre Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck not to mention D-man Tom Gilbert who had an off year last year. One thing I can say is that I’m happy the Oilers will be playing the Wild less times this year.
Colorado Avalanche – you know I’ve never been a fan of Patrick Roy. So we will see how this experiment goes. Some good young players on this team, but the Avs, like the Oilers, are lacking on the back end. Very surprised that they did not select Seth Jones with the #1 pick in this year’s Entry Draft instead picking forward Nathan MacKinnon (which was most likely a Pat Roy judgement call), but then again forwards tend to make more sense with the top pick don’t they. Matt Duchesne will have another solid season but it won;t be enough to propel the Avs into the playoffs unless as a wildcard.
Nashville Predators – lucky to get Seth Jones, the Preds have a solid backend but lack front end scoring. They will be competitive right up until the end but will miss the post season again.
Winnipeg Jets – the Jets are a much improved team. They just move to a more challenging division which will make it for them to make the playoffs this season, but not for lack of trying. The Jets work hard and simply do not have the high end pieces to put them over the edge of being a contender. A longshot for a wildcard spot, but this is one team that we would love to see prove us wrong. Evander Kane should pot 3–35 goals but after that where will the scoring come from?
Thats it for our look at the Western Conference. Stay tuned from our report on the East later this week.
The new Central Division in the Western Conference includes the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets, who are moving from the Eastern Conference to the Western.