The NHL’s Western Conference always seems to be crowded with good teams these days. They always seem to have more teams deserving of making the playoffs than the East does.
Nevertheless, only eight teams are allowed in and it’s as good a time as any to sort out the playoff contenders and the hopefuls.
It’s been said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. Let’s see which teams in the West will be fighting over it in April next year.
Sneaking into eighth place will be the young St. Louis Blues. St. Louis finally makes the playoffs after being on the cusp the last few years.
This is a team that showed glimpses of being a great team last season, but just couldn’t keep it all together for an extended period of time.
Losing players T.J Oshie, David Perron, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak to long term injuries certainly didn’t help their cause.
Of course, it won’t matter how well the youngsters gel if Jaroslav Halak can’t regain his form from two years ago.
On the back end, Alex Pietrangelo is quietly becoming one of the better defenders in the league and will only improve on the 43 points he earned last year.
Anaheim has arguably the best first line in the business, with Ryan Getzlaf centering Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry.
Teemu Selanne isn’t a lock to return, but if he does and is paired with Saku Koivu, then you’ve got the makings of a great offense.
If goaltender Jonas Hiller can shake his vertigo for good, then the Ducks won’t have a problem in net. Hiller has established himself as one of the better goalies in the league.
The questions start to surface on the blue line, though. They are not all that deep on the back end and that is keeping them from being one of the top tier teams in the West.
Nashville advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in their existence last season, and they have all the tools for an encore.
Shea Weber is returning for the year, which is great news because he is the heart and soul of the team and arguably the best defensemen in the league.
In addition to the best defenseman in the league, they have Pekka Rinne manning the crease. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and for good reason. He had a .930 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average, and is just entering his prime.
The only thing keeping Nashville from competing for the cup is a couple of scorers.
The Wings have not missed the playoffs in the last twenty years. They ice an elite team every year and will do so again this year.
The offense will be led by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who are also among the best two-way forwards in the game.
Nicklas Lidstrom is back for another year in Detroit. He is showing very few signs of slowing down, evidenced by yet another Norris Trophy last year to add to his collection.
With virtually no holes in the line-up, expect the Wings to be as dominant as always next season.
Los Angeles’ extensive rebuild is finally starting to pay off. They have an elite team that is still young. It’s a good combination to have. They will continue their rise up in the standings.
Newly acquired Mike Richards will likely centre the second line behind Anze Kopitar next season. He will handle more of the defensive duties, while Kopitar puts up the points.
Rising star Drew Doughty anchors an impressive blue line that includes Jack Johnson and Willie Mitchell.
Jonathan Quick will continue to play like the solid starting goalie he is. With him in net, the Kings will secure home ice advantage in the playoffs this season.
With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the fold, this team is much too talented to finish any lower in the standings.
If that wasn’t enough, they also have Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
They also added some much needed depth this summer when they signed Andrew Brunette and Steve Montador.
In net they have Corey Crawford, who looks like a keeper (no pun intended) after his emergence last season.
Chicago is ready to compete for the cup once more, now that the cup hangover is behind them.
After two straight final four appearances, the Sharks are hoping to go all the way to the finals this year.
The Sharks acquired Martin Havlat and Brent Burns in two separate trades with the Minnesota Wild this summer. The trades cost them Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle and a first round draft pick.
Brent Burns addresses a need on defense. Martin Havlat adds speed to the forward ranks.
San Jose heads into next season with one of the deepest offenses in the league, led by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Secondary scoring includes Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe and Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture. They will have no trouble scoring goals this season.
Keeping the other teams from scoring is another issue. Goaltender Antti Niemi is as inconsistent as they come, although he does perform well in crucial games.
The Canucks have mastered the art of succeeding in the regular season. This will be the fourth straight year they will finish top three in the West.
Vancouver is arguably the most talented team in the league, with the likes of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Kesler is a 40 goal scorer and a great two-way player, and both Sedins are capable of putting up 100 points every year.
They have a solid, if unspectacular, defensive core led by Kevin Bieksa.
Finally, in net they have Roberto Luongo, who had an up and down playoff season last year to say the least. Nevertheless, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year and is capable of putting up solid numbers.