2015-2016 NHL Western Conference Predictions
The Western Conference proved it was the dominant conference in the NHL last season. Will it be able to continue that trend this year?
1. St. Louis Blues (X)
Analysis: The Blues have always been a premier regular season club, and that will not change this year. They have exceptional depth at forward, and Jake Allen has another year under his belt. Whether or not that success will translate into the playoffs is the big question.
2. Nashville Predators (X)
Analysis: The Predators sat atop the league for a majority of last season but fell off at the end of the year. They were kicked out in six games by Scott Darling and the Chicago Blackhawks, but still have a lot to learn. Pekka Rinne will lead them to a good finish again this season.
3. Minnesota Wild (X)
Analysis: The Wild started a storybook run under Devan Dubnyk last season, and will look to build on that for this year. They have enough talent in their offense and defense to get the job done, but Dubnyk needs to establish himself as a true number one netminder.
4. Chicago Blackhawks (X)
Analysis: The Blackhawks had their seemingly annual salary cap purge again this offseason, but this one may have hurt the most since they lost Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. They may not be a dominant regular season team this year, but the playoffs are a different story. A looming investigation of Patrick Kane will also be a huge factor for the upcoming year.
5. Dallas Stars (X)
Analysis: After a disappointing 2014-2015 campaign, the Stars will look to rebound. They have to starting goalies in Lehtonen and Niemi, and they will battle it out to see who reigns supreme. Their defense still needs work, but they should be able to score enough goals to counteract that.
6. Colorado Avalanche
Analysis: The Avalanche had the regression that many people saw coming, and things aren’t looking to bright again in terms of playoffs. They’re an above average team stuck in a very good conference. Semyon Varlamov will have to stand on his head again if they want to sneak into a playoff spot.
7. Winnipeg Jets
Analysis: Despite being last in the division, the Jets will be a good team next year. Like the Avalanche, they’re a good team in a great conference. Lucky for them, they have many solid trading assets if things go sour, like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.
1. Anaheim Ducks (X)
Analysis: The Ducks are another team stuck in the limbo of outstanding regular season team and playoff disappointments. They added Carl Hagelin, which will help their penalty kill. Chris Stewart is also on a friendly contract which could pay off quite well. They still have to sort out their goaltending issue, as John Gibson, Freddie Andersen, and Anton Khudobin are all NHL caliber.
2. Calgary Flames (X)
Analysis: The Flames built on their playoff success with a tremendous offseason by acquiring Dougie Hamilton and signing Michael Frolik. Kari Ramo has put himself in the position to be a number one, and the fate of Jonas Hiller still has to be decided with Joni Ortio knocking on the door. Sam Bennett is also expected to make his regular season debut. The Flames are going to be a fun team to watch again this year.
3. Los Angeles Kings (X)
Analysis: Los Angeles is angered at missing the playoffs, and they’ll look to rebound this year. They acquired Milan Lucic and replaced Martin Jones with Jonas Enroth. The next big item on the agenda after the playoffs is re-signing Anze Kopitar.
4. San Jose Sharks
Analysis: The Sharks will yet again miss the playoffs after having a quiet offseason outside of signing Paul Martin. Martin Jones is looking like an upgrade over Antti Niemi, but it still shouldn’t be enough to escape the West.
5. Edmonton Oilers
Analysis: Connor McDavid will have to wait for his playoff debut. The Oilers will be a good team this year and nowhere close to the bottom, but like the Sharks and the Jets, I don’t think they’ll have enough to get out of the West. Cam Talbot’s game in front of Edmonton’s shaky yet improved defense is still to be determined. Even if they don’t make it this year, the future if bright for Edmonton.
6. Vancouver Canucks
Analysis: The Canucks made some questionable moves this offseason and may not make it back to the playoffs. Ryan Miller, Henrik Sedin, and Daniel Sedin are all getting older, and Jim Benning already said Dan Hamhuis isn’t coming back. If Jake Markstrom doesn’t turn out to be a number one goalie of the future, what’s Vancouver’s plan?
7. Arizona Coyotes
Analysis: I think we all can agree on this one. The Coyotes will be at the cellar of the league all year, and will be praying to the hockey gods for Auston Matthews. The big concern moving forward is their future in the desert.
With these predictions, the playoffs would shake out like this:
(P1) Anaheim VS (WC2) Dallas
(C1) St. Louis VS (WC2) Chicago
(P2) Calgary VS (P3) Los Angeles
(C2) Nashville VS (C3) Minnesota
This was Part II. You can find Part 1 on the website.