Ranking the NHL’s Western Conference before the season


By Andy Clayton-King

How do the Chicago Blackhawks Stack up in the Western Conference

The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in unfamiliar territory; for the first time in nine seasons, the Blackhawks will look to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Unfortunately, they will have to fight their way through a loaded Western Conference.

All hope is not lost as the Blackhawks will bring up a group of young, talented players and look for rebound seasons from some of their veterans.

Here is the competition facing the Hawks, divided into tiers based on their threat level.

Cellar Dwellers

These teams look bad with no real chance of making the playoffs

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks finished second to last in the 2017-18 season under new Head Coach, Travis Green. The long lasting foundation of the team, the Sedin twins, have since retired, leaving a major hole in the team’s roster and leadership hierarchy. The goaltending and defensive situations are shaky at best and abominable at worst. They have a collection of young forwards like Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson that could make this team exciting to watch. As exciting as the trio may be, the team is likely to finish dead last in the Western Conference.

Left in the Dust

These teams have made noise in the past but are past their expiration date. They could make the playoffs but will probably be bounced in the first round, if they make it at all.

L. A. Kings

The Kings offseason moves are somewhat up for debate. On one hand, the offensively deficient club added a proven goal scorer in Ilya Kovalchuk. On the other hand, Kovalchuk is 35 and was never a prolific skater to begin with. In essence, Kovalchuk only makes the Kings older and slower in an ever younger and faster league.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are in an eerily similar situation to their geographic rivals, the Kings. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler have all had magnificent careers. Unfortunately, all three are 33 years old or older with a ton of harsh physical miles on their bodies. Kesler’s health issues may end his career sooner rather than later. Perry is a shell of his former self. Getzlaf has still looked good, but he may end up in the same boat as Kesler and Perry. This team has a fabulous young defense corps, but until the Ducks can replace their prominent forwards, they won’t be in any serious contention.

Boom or Bust

These teams could skyrocket or crash and burn. Their seasons hinge on unpredictable factors

Arizona Coyotes

Arizona finished last in the Western Conference last season, but there was plenty of reasons for optimism. After a historically poor start to the season, the Coyotes played the rest of the season with an average record. Goaltender Antti Raanta looks like a true starting goalie; their defense looks promising and the forwards improved by acquiring Alex Galchenyuk, a former 30-goal scorer who is still just 24 years old. This team could surprise and push for a playoff spot in.

Edmonton Oilers

Connor McDavid: that’s about the only thing the Oilers have going for them. Leon Draisaitl is also a great player, but where he will play is unsure. If he doesn’t play with McDavid, he’s not as effective of a player. If he does play with McDavid, this team loses precious forward depth. The defense is in poor shape, but a bounce-back season from goaltender Cam Talbot could hide a lot of Edmonton’s deficiencies.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights shocked the NHL in their inaugural season. They topped the Pacific Division and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in a truly historic season. A number of players had career years for the Golden Knights, including goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and forward William Karlsson. Adding center Paul Stastny, who only seems to have good seasons in contract years like last year, to replace scoring wingers James Neal and David Perron could backfire. Vegas will also be without the services of defenseman Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games after he controversially popped for PED use. Reigning Jack Adams Trophy recipient Gerard Gallant will have his hands full this season.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche had the worst record in the NHL in 2016-17. They improved drastically and earned a playoff spot last year behind a MVP caliber season from superstar center Nathan MacKinnon. The true quality of this team probably lies somewhere between the cellar and the playoffs. The Avalanche are a team on the rise, but still lack both forward and defensive depth. Expect another brilliant season from MacKinnon, but the Avalanche to fall short of the postseason anyway.

Bubble Teams

These teams have a lot of good pieces and should be in competition for a playoff spot

Calgary Flames

The Flames’ vaunted defense corps didn’t work out as planned last season and scoring depth was an issue. During the offseason, the Flames brought in a new head coach, made a big trade to mix things up and signed scoring winger James “The Real Deal” Neal in free agency. The Neal signing seems like nothing but positive in the present. Calgary could stumble out of the gate if new Head Coach Bill Peters’ system takes a learning curve.

Dallas Stars

Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov make up one of the best forward lines in the NHL but the rest of the forward lines have some question marks. Jason Spezza will be seeking a bounce back season after putting up only 26 points last year. Dallas will be looking for Radek Faksa and Valeri Nichushkin to provide some scoring depth for the team. The Stars could have an exciting young defense this year if some of their top prospects make the team out of training camp.

Minnesota Wild

Every year is a year of optimism with the Wild; they call up their hope-inspiring prospects, and it looks like they have a chance to be great. This season is no different. Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek will all look to make a big impact on this roster. Despite the reasons for optimism, this is a story told too many times, and this season they could miss their top defenseman, Ryan Suter, for a significant amount of time. Suter suffered an injury at the end of last season that initial reports considered “career threatening,” according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press in a May 23 article. The Wild could have one of the deepest teams in the league, but it won’t matter if they can’t figure out how to put all the pieces together.


These teams just miss the top tier, but are safe bets to make the playoffs

St. Louis Blues

The Blues have had an admirable offseason after missing the playoffs by a single point in the standings. Their biggest issue, center depth, was shored up immensely. Despite a heavy cost, centers Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak transform a weakness into a potential strength for the Blues. Furthermore, the Blues have a few high profile prospects that could step into the lineup this season. The only question mark for this team is Jake Allen and whether or not he can find some consistency in his game.

San Jose Sharks

It’s business as usual for the Sharks as they are icing a very similar team as they did last season. If Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl can continue to improve, it’s just gravy on top. This is a strong roster with no glaring weaknesses or uncertainties. Expect San Jose to finish at the top of the Pacific Division.

The Powerhouses

These teams are Stanley Cup favorites and dominate in multiple facets of the game every night.

The Nashville Predators

A harsh critic might dock the Predators for having average center depth, but the rest of the team is so good it doesn’t matter. Nashville is known for having the best defense corps in the league. They can roll four forward lines, and have the reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender, Pekka Rinne in net. Even their backup goaltender is great. There just isn’t much to dislike about this team.

The Winnipeg Jets

With the exception of defense and backup goalie, the Jets can match or exceed Nashville in every aspect of the game. Mark Scheifele is one of the premier centers in the game today, Patrik Laine and captain Blake Wheeler top one of the best collections of wingers in the league and Winnipeg has a Vezina caliber goalie of their own. The defense isn’t as outstanding as Nashville’s, but it’s certainly not a weakness. This team is big, strong and fast, capable of matching up with any team in the league and still dominating the game.