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Ducks, Kings, Blackhawks, Blues among many threats to conquer the West

October 06, 2016 - 3:46 PM

It's pretty well impossible to go back-to-back in the west.

The Detroit Red Wings (2009) were the last team to repeat as champions of the NHL's top conference, the only such squad to do so since the 2004-05 lockout. There's just too many threats in the west to get by, from the Drew Doughty-led Los Angeles Kings to P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators to the always intimidating Chicago Blackhawks.

Here's a look at the Western Conference from the contenders up top to the hopefuls looking to rise higher:


Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 103 points, first in Pacific, lost in conference quarter-final

Key off-season move(s): Hired Randy Carlyle, traded G Frederik Andersen, signed F Antoine Vermette, traded for G Jonathan Bernier

Outlook: The Ducks are betting that Carlyle, their Stanley Cup-winning coach in 2007, can solve their seemingly random Game 7 woes. Carlyle last helmed one of the NHL's worst teams in Toronto, but he's got more than enough talent here to compete for another Cup crown. Anaheim's defence is elite (though Hampus Lindholm remains unsigned) and there's an aging, if still effective forward contingent. Carlyle's effect will be curious, but a bigger question is whether 23-year-old gaoltender John Gibson ready to emerge as a full-time No. 1 starter.

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 107 points, second in Central, lost in conference final

Key off-season move(s): Re-signed G Jake Allen, lost captain David Backes to free agency, traded G Brian Elliott, named D Alex Pietrangelo captain

Outlook: The Blues fell just short of their first Stanley Cup final since 1970, but they should be right back in the mix this year. St. Louis is loaded with veterans in their prime and youngsters just scratching the surface, including 24-year-old scoring machine Vladimir Tarasenko. The Ken Hitchcock-coached outfit has few weaknesses, though like the Ducks, the Blues are handing the reigns to a relatively unproven goaltender with 26-year-old Allen.

Chicago Blackhawks

Last season: 103 points, third in Central, lost in conference quarter-final

Key off-season move(s): Signed D Brian Campbell, traded F Teuvo Teravainen and F Andrew Shaw

Outlook: Robbed of key talent over the years due to the salary cap, there are real signs of slippage in Chicago. The Blackhawks finished outside the top-seven in puck possession for the first time since 2008, 15th overall last year. The presence of Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews means this group will be competitive again, but having to continually purge their roster (Teravainen and Shaw this past summer) to fit under the cap means the Blackhawks will lack the same great depth of past Cup teams.

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 102 points, second in Pacific, lost in conference quarter-final

Key off-season move(s): Signed D Tom Gilbert, F Teddy Purcell and G Jeff Zatkoff, re-signed F Trevor Lewis and D Brayden McNabb, named F Anze Kopitar captain

Outlook: The Kings were bounced in the first round last year, but there's every reason to think another Cup run is in order. With Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar still in their prime, Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli rising and solid depth all around up front (though not so much on defence), the Kings are well-positioned. They were the No. 1 puck possession team in hockey last year, and not by coincidence, a top defensive squad.

Nashville Predators

Last season: 96 points, fourth in Central, lost in conference semifinal

Key off-season move(s): Traded D Shea Weber for D P.K. Subban, re-signed F Filip Forsberg and F Calle Jarnkrok, named F Mike Fisher captain

Outlook: Nashville looks like a real threat to contend for the Cup following a summer that saw Subban join their already-stacked defence. The Predators are deep all the way around, a high-quality unit that allowed the fewest shots against per game last season (27.3). Their two best forwards, Ryan Johansen and Forsberg, also still young and only getting better. Their biggest question comes in goal, though a Pekka Rinne revival might just mean a deep run next spring.

Dallas Stars

Last season: 109 points, first in Central, lost in conference semifinal

Key off-season move(s): Re-signed F Jamie Benn, signed D Dan Hamhuis and F Jiri Hudler

Outlook: Dallas blew the doors off the league last season, scoring 17 more goals than the next closest team. The Stars should be similarly potent again this year with arguably the NHL's top offensive duo in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But Dallas still has great uncertainty in goal with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen set to tussle for the top job once more. Instability from the two helped to ruin an otherwise fine 2015-16 campaign and could do the same again this season.

San Jose Sharks

Last season: 98 points, third in Pacific, lost in Stanley Cup final

Key off-season move(s): Signed F Mikkel Boedker and D David Schlemko, lost G James Reimer to free agency

Outlook: The Sharks were a perennial playoff disappointment before last season's surge. And while it's hard to see them getting past the minefield of Western Conference contenders again, it's not impossible. Joe Thornton continues to wreak havoc at age 37, Joe Pavelski remains an elite scorer and two-way centre, Brent Burns is a game-changer and Martin Jones looks the real deal between the pipes. Continued growth from Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and even Boedker should keep this group in the conversation out west.


Minnesota Wild

Last season: 87 points, fifth in Central, lost in conference quarter-finals

Key off-season move(s): Hired Bruce Boudreau, signed F Eric Staal, lost F Thomas Vanek to free agency

Outlook: With one of the deepest defence groups in hockey and a stable goalie duo, the Wild be a tough competitor again, all the more so with Boudreau now leading the bench. Boudreau's teams are known for keeping the puck, but can this group score enough to be a real threat? Only three Wild players, led by Zach Parise, mustered 20 goals last season. Staal, Vanek's off-season replacement, had only 13 goals and 39 points, his lowest marks since he was an 18-year-old rookie.

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 82 points, sixth in Central, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Hired Jared Bednar, signed F Joe Colborne, re-signed F Nathan MacKinnon and D Tyson Barrie

Outlook: Patrick Roy's abrupt resignation might end up spurring an upward trend for the Avalanche. Roy-coached teams were outshot badly most nights despite a wealth of skilled young talent. Unlocking the likes of MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog might make for a scarier Western foe, even more so if goaltender Semyon Varlamov rounds back into form with a lesser nightly workload.

Winnipeg Jets

Last season: 78 points, last in Central, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Re-signed F Mark Scheifele, drafted F Patrik Laine, re-signed F Matthieu Perreault, named F Blake Wheeler captain

Outlook: There's just too much talent here for the Jets to flail again. Not only is Laine joining promising young players like Scheifele, Marko Dano, and Nikolaj Ehlers, but so too in all likelihood is Kyle Connor, the NCAA's leading scorer last season. Jacob Trouba's potential departure (he requested a trade) weakens the defence and there are questions about who will emerge in goal, but this Jets squad, with all that young skill, seems sure to rise.


Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 70 points, last in Pacific, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Signed F Milan Lucic and G Jonas Gustavsson, traded F Taylor Hall for D Adam Larsson, named F Connor McDavid captain, drafted F Jesse Puljujarvi

Outlook: The Oilers can't be certain that a decade-long playoff drought will end, but they can feel good about the future. McDavid is just getting started and surrounded by plenty of talent, including 20-year-old Leon Draisaitl and Puljujarvi, the 18-year-old who went fourth overall at last year's draft. Goalie questions seem to have been answered with Cam Talbot and the defence has improved from years past. There's enough here for a major step forward.

Calgary Flames

Last season: 77 points, fifth in Pacific, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Traded for G Brian Elliott, re-signed F Sean Monahan, signed G Chad Johnson and F Troy Brouwer, drafted F Matthew Tkachuk, hired Glen Gulutzan

Outlook: The Flames solved many apparent needs this summer, primarily in goal with the acquisition of Elliott. If he can stabilize a crease that wobbled between four goaltenders last season Calgary should push back into the playoff picture. Their best players up front, Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau, are all quite young and just getting better and a defence led by Mark Giordano is reasonably well-rounded. Hope is rightfully in the air in this Alberta city.

Arizona Coyotes

Last season: 78 points, fourth in Pacific, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Hired GM John Chayka, traded for/signed D Alex Goligoski, re-signed F Shane Doan, signed F Jamie McGinn, F Radim Vrbata and D Luke Schenn

Outlook: The Coyotes eventually ran out of gas last year, but there's reason to think this group might make things interesting a good while longer this season. With Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, poised to join skilled young forwards like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair and the roster otherwise upgraded with veterans, contention for the final playoff out spot West isn't out of the question.

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 75 points, sixth in Pacific, missed playoffs

Key off-season move(s): Signed F Loui Eriksson, traded F Jared McCann for D Erik Gudbranson, drafted D Olli Juolevi, re-signed G Jacob Markstrom

Outlook: The Canucks continue to occupy an uncomfortable middle between past and future, not quite ready to rebuild but also not near playoff contention. Vancouver opted to sign a 31-year-old Eriksson to pair with the aging, but still effective Sedin twins, also sacrificing a young prospect (McCann) for more immediate help on defence (Gudbranson). This team had the worst goal differential in hockey last (minus-52) and it doesn't appear as though things will improve much this season.

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