What a turn of events compared to last season’s start. No team in the western conference went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021. This year fans and analysts are wondering if the reigning champion Colorado Avalanche can become the third team to win back-to-back titles in the last ten years. Colorado won’t have it easy in their conference even if they make the playoffs. Minnesota, Vancouver and St. Louis will be their top competition. The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars should make better pushes for playoff seeding. Outside of those five teams, it’s a race to clinch the bottom two seeds in the conference. A team such as Anaheim could break out and do damage to whoever clinches the first or second seed, possibly throwing the playoffs into doubt. It’s time to break down which four in each division can make the push to the postseason for 2022-23.
Despite being swept by the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Oilers kept most of last year’s roster. They finally addressed the goaltender situation by signing free agent Jack Campbell. Campbell’s got a better defense in front of him that’s shown improvement the past two seasons.
Edmonton’s offense should be top five in the league with stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Warren Foegele and Zach Hyman and Evander Kane. Injuries would be the only reasonable explanation for the Oilers not clinching a top three seed.
If they replaced coaches before the 2021 season, it’s possible Vancouver would’ve made the playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau was refreshing for the players and the Canucks played well returning to some of their basics. All three sides of the puck improved and made the team a formidable force after the firing of Travis Green.
Despite some depth leaving in the offseason, Vancouver’s core players return. Thatcher Demko should take the next step in being a star franchise goalie and Elias Pettersson should have a fantastic season. The Canucks are fortunate they won’t have too much competition in a weak Pacific.
The losses of two 40 plus goal scorers lowers Calgary’s playoff chances but coaching, defense and some additions should soften the fall. The Flames traded Matthew Tkachuk for Mackenzie Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau. Both are talented scorers who can make up some of the difference. They’re also veteran starters on offense and defense and should elevate Calgary’s power-play when chemistry improves.
The Flames made a steal signing Stanley Cup Champion Nazem Kadri late in free agency. Kadri is needed center depth and brings an edge especially in divisional games. Last but not least, the goalie tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar anchors a defense that was third in goals against last year. Calgary will be hard to knock out in both the regular and postseason.
Like the Metropolitan, the Pacific could have three teams make the postseason. Seattle is still building a team that hopes to compete. San Jose and Las Vegas are declining and want a full re-build. Los Angeles is shaky despite last year’s playoff appearance. It’s possible things don’t progress this year after the sweep against Edmonton. Anaheim however could be the western conference’s version of the Ottawa Senators.
I’d like to be consistent on a pick that many would question. There’s a lot of young talent that’s shown potential to disrupt teams, standings and the playoff picture. The Ducks probably won’t go far in the postseason, but the defense in front of star goalie John Gibson is bolstered with additions of Dmitry Kulikov and John Klingberg. Anaheim retained Frank Vatrano and signed Ryan Strome and Rocco Grimaldi.
The needed scoring depth and physical players can help the Ducks maintain their fast season starts and stay relevant all season.
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I personally thought the Wild would go through more turbulence after a fantastic first round series versus Las Vegas in 2021. Turns out the team did much better under coach Dean Evason and put the league on notice.
Last year’s Minnesota roster ranked fifth in goals scored and rocketed up to 18th on the power-play. In less than one year, the Wild traded for goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson. They retained most of last year’s roster. Minnesota now has to find ways to beat both St. Louis and Colorado in divisional matchups to gain a higher seed.
The Stanley Cup champions let starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper leave and brought in Alexandar Georgiev. The tandem of Georgiev and Pavel Francouz will be watched by many as Colorado competes for a second straight title. Fans and analysts know coach Jared Bednar will lead this team to the playoffs.
St. Louis Blues
The Central division has three teams that could go through the western conference and win the championship. St. Louis is the third team. On offense, the top five goal scoring teams in 2021 to 2022 were the Blues at third, Avalanche at fourth, and the Wild fifth. Somehow coach Craig Berube pushed St. Louis’ offense to be better than their division rivals and they excelled.
While the Blues may not be third in goals scored and penalty minutes, second in power-play and fifth in penalty kill this season, it’s more important starting goaltender Jordan Binnington continues his resurgence from late last season in what would’ve been a highlight playoff performance. While his backup Ville Husso went to Detroit and St. Louis signed Thomas Greiss in return, the defense re-signed Nick Leddy and found another way to keep sharp-shooter Vladimir Tarasenko happy.
Expect a grittier, angrier Blues team that will take aim at the defending Stanley Cup champions all season. This will be a fun team to watch.
There’s no way Arizona or Chicago make the postseason with their abysmal rosters. Winnipeg is ready to re-build and could trade their best players before the All-Star break. Nashville had a phenomenal season with just a low playoff seed in the end. The last spot is Dallas’ for the taking.
The Stars showed anyone who watched their playoff series against Calgary that the offense needs a spark, a re-vamp or both. General manager Jim Nill hired a new coach in Peter DeBoer and signed Mason Marchment while extending the contracts of both Jason Robertson and Denis Gurianov.
DeBoer is the right coach for an offensive turnaround. Dallas has a great goalie tandem in Jake Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood. They won’t be as good as the top three teams in the division, but they’ll push boundaries and make them uncomfortable.
2021-22 Western conference picks: 3-5