2020: Western Conference Preview
A new team enters the fold
With free agency wrapping up, it's time to take a look at next season. Some teams made a big statement in free agency while others were confident enough in their roster to avoid any big mistakes. When looking at the bigger picture, I am not expecting a whole lot of change this off-season. The strong teams from last season are still the strongest coming into this year. We may see some movement when it comes to the Wild Card teams though. Last year, I predicted 7 out of the 8 Eastern Conference teams correctly and all 8 out of 8 Western Conference teams correctly. My prediction of the Devils over the Canadiens was my only miss. Here is my look at this years standings..
Chicago Blackhawks - 6th place
The Blackhawks made the most changes this off-season. It was clear what Dave's intentions were, ship out soon to be UFA's for more long term gains. His team takes a step back because of this. He may not be completely done as he still has a few solid pieces left in Jonathan Toews and Jeff Petry who will be UFA's in 2 seasons. The Blackhawks come into this season with three goaltenders, Ben Bishop, Mikko Koskinen and Robin Lehner. Bishop will be loaned out to Dallas soon, let's hope Dave got a decent deal in return out of it. Anything less then a 1st + prospect will be considered a fail.
Colorado Avalanche - 2nd place
There is still a lot of intrigue with the Avalanche in free agency. They are still hard after one more defensemen and they appear to have Ryan McDonagh in their sights. The Avalanche were my team to win the division last year but they failed to achieve that by just a few points. This year I am giving the edge to the defending BRHL champions as the Avalanche should coast to a second place finish, with or without McDonagh. The combination of MacKinnon, Rantanen, Aho, Hall, Dadonov and newly acquired Zach Parise make a lethal top 6. On the backend, there is still lots of potential with a big top 3 of Suter, Klefbom and Trouba. The addition of McDonagh would round out the top 4. Goaltending could be a concern for the Aves now and in the immediate future, but Grubauer should play well enough with the team in front of him.
Dallas Stars - 1st place
If the rumors are true about Bishop being a Dallas Star, then it's an obvious pick to have Junya at the top of the division. In the case it is untrue, and the Stars have to use some combination of Tolvanen-Williams for the majority of the season, it could mean the difference between 1st place or 2nd. The Stars have a great two way team lead by one of the best in Sean Couturier. Elias Lindholm, Mark Schefiele, Kevin Hayes, Claude Giroux and Patrick Kane round out the top 6. On defense, the Stars were fortunute to get a breakout season from Erik Gustafsson as it was one of their weak points last season. Pietrangelo, Spurgeon and Gustaffson round out a strong top 3. Pesce, Forbort and Schlemko round out a solid bottom 3. It's a deep team this year in Dallas.
Minnesota Wild - 7th place
One things for certain, Al tried and caused a lot of commotion this offseason. He made a lot of effort to improve his team, and he did. Unfortunately, he will need a couple more off-seasons like this before his team is ready to make the playoffs. The depth is just not there and it still lacks high end talent. With that said, the team will be tougher to play against this year with the additions of Zuccarello, Tatar and Zucker up front. When inspecting the roster a little closer, you'll see that Al is currently spending over 16.5m in goaltending in all levels of his organization. All contracts are over the 1.5m mark, meaning every off-season they will count against his cap. Poor decision making in the goaltending department, but overall it was a good decision to bring in Devan Dubnyk.
Nashville Predators - 3rd place
I had the Predators finishing 4th last season in my predictions, and at times it looked like they were going to miss the playoffs. Tyler made some solid moves as the year went on and it paid off big time as the Predators snuck into the playoffs and brought the eventual BRHL cup winners to 7 games. There has been a trend in the BRHL to acquire defensive minded players and Tyler was one of the early adopters of that. His team still remains one of the better defensive teams in the league and this season they'll have a better version of Holtby 3.8 between the pipes.
Seattle Stoners - 8th place
Rex did not do Rex things this off-season. After a smashing success in year 1, Rex did absolutely nothing this off-season and it closed the gap between him and Larry for best ever Expansion GM. The move to acquire Rasmus Dahlin was veteran savvy, but armed with plenty of cap space Rex opted to just sign M.A Fleury to a contract. The future is bright in Seattle with Dahlin, Heiskanen, Hague and Wilde on the back end. If Rex can continue to draft the way he has and not get fined any more picks, he could have Seattle in the playoff picture in 3-4 seasons.
St.Louis Blues - 5th place
Eric and his Blues missed out on the playoffs last off-season. It resulted in a lot of bodies being shipped out to clear cap space for this years biggest free agent. Adding Alex Ovechkin is huge, but the lack of depth around him keeps the Blues from surpassing the Jets in the standings this year. Goaltending should also be better in St.Louis with Matt Murray looking to bounce back. On the back end, the Blues still have one of the best defensemen in the league in Erik Karlsson but there are no other offensive options available. We would have liked to see Eric push for one more defensemen in FA to really make a statement. The Blues could push for the 4 spot, but they could also finish in 6th like they did last season. There will be no "We Went Blues" this year in St.Louis.
Winnipeg Jets - 4th place
I was a bit skeptical of the Jets last off-season. I predicted them into the playoffs, but I was never confident with that pick. The main concern was goaltending. Garrett Sparks was their starter and he played over his head all year. They do not need to worry about goaltending anymore as Carey Price is back. The team looks stronger on paper now then it did last season. With the likes of Marner, Johansen, van Riemsdyk, Kadri and Nylander up front, the team should be able to compete a little more. Defense is still an issue as there isn't a whole lot to like after Drew Doughty, but they fill in the rest of the defense with solid defense first players. The Jets should remain in a fight all season long for the final couple of playoff spots.
Anahiem Ducks - 3rd place
It was nice of Devon to bring some respectability back to this division. What has been known as the weakest division for the last few seasons, it's now starting to shape up a little with a 4th team added to the mix. The Ducks are improved and ready for the playoffs. There main competition lies with the St.Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames for the last playoff spot or two. If they can be better then just one of those teams they should get a taste of post-season hockey. Led by John Gibson in net, the team added a lot of depth this offseason and should be able to roll out 3 good lines every night.
Arizona Coyotes - 8th place
Not a whole lot to mention here. Joel is rebuilding the correct way, move out anything with any kind of value. The last pieces to move are RNH and Tom Wilson. While both are young enough to be around the team when the rebuild starts to come to an end, they will no longer be in their primes. Best to move on and speed up the rebuild. Going to be a long season in Arizona.
Calgary Flames - 4th place
On paper, the Flames look like a weaker team then last season. It mostly comes down to their defense. The loss of Yandle hurts, but there is no actual defense on their backend after McCabe and Nurse. A few tweaks here and there and the Flames could look like a better team. Unfortunately, in net Varlamov is also a downgrade to what they put out last year and overall the team has the potential to miss the playoffs. Kevin is still loaded with picks so this is more of a transition year then it is a sign of worse times ahead.
Edmonton Oilers - 5th place
I guess Leon saw an opening and is trying his best to take advantage of it. With the Calgary Flames looking like a team who may miss the playoffs this year, Leon went out and traded for Connor McDavid, signed Eric Staal in free agency, and sent out a monster offer to Shea Weber to join the team. I wouldn't go as far to say the team did a complete 180, but the team does look better then it did last season. Goaltending is still an issue as Curtis McElhinney comes in as the starter. The Oilers could be another big player or two away from being a playoff team.
Los Angeles Kings - 2nd place
The Dynasty that never was gets a second chance at taking out division rival Joe Bast. There are a clear top 2 teams in the division now. The Golden Knights dispatched the Kings in the playoffs last year in what was looking like a Rumpy upset to start. The Kings come in more of the same this year with an all offense, no defense approach. Despite the lack of defense, Tuuka Rask is a solid goaltender and should be able to steal wins himself every now and then. The defense looks solid with the acquisition of Alex Goligoski and Torey Krug. Should be a good fight all year between Rumpy and Joe for Pacific division supremacy.
San Jose Sharks - 6th place
I guess at some point this team will be relevant again. They are still on their 10 year path. The signing of Joe Thornton makes absolutely zero sense on a 1 year contract and bringing in players such as Patrick Marleau and Kyle Okposo is just continuing to take steps backwards. Drafting is Mika's only saving grace right now.
Vancouver Canucks - 7th place
Depsite how awful both the Canucks and Sharks are fun, atleast Rob isn't going out and acquiring older players to try and be compeitive. At this point, the best thing to do is make no trades, draft well and re-sign your players. When Rob isn't being Bryce's farm team, he is doing 2 of 3 of those things correctly. There was a prime opportunity for Rob to do what he did last season in signing Ryan Suter and trading him for draft picks, but he was M.I.A for the most part and didn't accomplish anything noteworthy.
Vegas Golden Knights - 1st place
Joe was the only Pacific team to make it out the first round last season before getting dismantled by the Preds in 7 games. Not a lot changes with this team this season but they did lose a big piece on the backend in Ryan McDonagh. Despite the loss, the Golden Knights saw improved rerates out of their stars such as Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Bo Horvat, Jakob Silfverberg and Alex Radulov. On defense, Carlson and Edler should lead the way while Provorov rounds out the top 3. In net, the team has two more then capable goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and Petr Mrazek to hold down the fort. The Golden Knights should run away with the division this year.