So far in our Puck Drop Preview series aimed at getting everyone primed for the new 2015-16 NHL season, we’ve profiled all 30 teams and offered our take on the changes they made over the offseason. With opening night puck drop drawing ever closer, it’s time to turn our attention to everyone’s favorite part of the preseason – predictions.
We’ve polled the entire LWOS Hockey department to get their take on how the standings will shake out in 2015-16. Up first, the Western Conference.
Puck Drop Preview: 2015-16 Western Conference Predictions
1 – Anaheim Ducks (Average rank: 1)
Ken Hill (@LWOSPuckhead): The Anaheim Ducks were one of only two teams to recieve unanimous votes, and for good reason. The Ducks have a very strong-lineup from top to bottom and look to be the heavy favorite to again finish on top of the West. A bevy of two-way forwards and top offense from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry should again make them a quality offensive team. But perhaps even more important is their emerging d-corps, where Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Simon Despres, all 24 years old or younger, combined with newcomer Kevin Bieksa have the potential to be the pillars of the strongest blueline group in the league.
2 – St. Louis Blues (Average rank: 3.6)
Markus Meyer (@): Say what you will about their playoff performances, but the fact remains that they’re a regular season powerhouse, and with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz only getting better, they look to maybe even improve on that status, even with the loss of T.J. Oshie.
3 – Nashville Predators (Average rank: 4)
Chris Dales: Nashville boasts a great D core and an offensive punch. Not to mention a Vezina-quality tender. The Preds have it all; they could use a little more toughness up front but they will be a force every night.
Markus Meyer: With young cornerstones such as Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg only projecting to improve and franchise pillars Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne still playing top-end hockey, the Predators seem unlikely to regress. Depth signings Steve Moses and Cody Hodgson add nice offensive support, and look for continued development from Craig Smith and Colin Wilson.
4 – Chicago Blackhawks (Average rank: 4)
Aaron Wrotkowski (@): They lost some depth and future when Brandon Saad, Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards found new homes but this is still the defending Cup champions. The additions from Columbus could boost them.
Ken Hill: While many feel the Blackhawks have taken a step back (and on paper, they have) this roster still boasts some of the best talent in the league, from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to Duncan Keith on the blueline and Corey Crawford in goal. They should breeze through the regular season (even with the Patrick Kane situation hanging over the franchise), and prove to be just as formidable as ever in the post-season.
5 – Calgary Flames (Average rank: 5.8)
Brandon Altamonte: Not only will their young players be better, but they added Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik. They should be even better than last season.
Chris Dales: The Flames can’t ride one line all year long. The Jiri Hudler-Sean Monahan-Johnny Gaudreau line is a treat to watch, but everyone in the league now knows that the success of the top line dictates the success of the Calgary Flames. If Calgary wants to move up in the standings they will need more production from their 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines. The Flames boast an enviable D corps that also needs to play big to keep this team in the playoff hunt.
6 – Minnesota Wild (Average rank: 6.2)
Markus Meyer: The success of the Minnesota Wild will ride on Devan Dubnyk. If he’s average, they’ll struggle to stay competitive down the stretch. If he finds himself once again in Vezina-nominee form, they’re a virtual lock. Somewhere in the middle seems like a safe bet.
7 – Dallas Stars (Average rank: 6.8)
Tyler Shea: They may have missed the playoffs last season but the Stars improved their roster this offseason by adding Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Antti Niemi, Patrick Eaves, and some other minor names. These new additions should greatly help them reach the playoffs again. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, John Klingberg, Cody Eakin, among others, will be looking to improve on their 2014-15 numbers.
8 – Los Angeles Kings (Average rank: 6.8)
Aaron Wrotkowski: I like adding Milan Lucic, but the LA Kings are turning into the LA Raiders. They need to make news for their work on the ice. Anze Kopitar will want top dollar and the man will need to get paid. Making the playoffs would say there’s no need for anything rash to happen.
Ken Hill: Despite their tumultuous summer, with Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and a very talented supporting cast, the Kings are too good to miss the playoffs again, right?
9 – Winnipeg Jets (Average rank: 9.2)
Tyler Shea: Winnipeg saw their first playoff action since 1995-96, which was the year before the original Jets relocated to become the Phoenix Coyotes. The Jets were knocked out of the playoffs in four games by the Ducks but the overall improvement of the team was promising and a return to the post-season should be doable. They let some players walk in the summer but the biggest news for the Jets was the return of talented center Alex Burmistrov from the KHL.
10 – San Jose Sharks (Average rank: 10.4)
Tyler Shea: They went from qualifying for the playoffs 11 straight seasons to falling eight points short of getting the final wild card spot in 2014-15. They were perennially the West’s best regular season team but now the Sharks future is looking dim, especially with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau entering the 35 and over club. They still have a decent team but without those two contributing the numbers they gave since 2005-06, it’s tough to see them making the playoffs unless Doug Wilson can make a trade to acquire some younger pieces.
11 – Colorado Avalanche (Average rank: 10.8)
Ken Hill: The Avs previously no-name defense has suddenly become pretty solid with the emergence of Tyson Barrie and the addition of Francois Beauchemin. Though the team could stand for some more depth, they have some top players in top positions and should be in the thick of things for a playoff spot.
Chris Dales: I don’t care what anyone says, Carl Soderberg is not a viable replacement for Ryan O’Rielly and I’m not convinced he has what it takes to play a top-six role in the NHL consistently. When the Av’s drafted Nathan MacKinnon I liked the direction they were headed, now I’m not so sure.
12 – Vancouver Canucks (Average rank: 10.8)
Ken Hill: Over the offseason it looks like the Canucks finally committed to jettisoning some of their veterans in an attempt to get younger. While that bodes well for the team’s long-term success, the negative effects will be felt on the ice next season, and a playoff position seems unlikely, unless Ryan Miller can miraculously recapture his 2010 form.
Markus Meyer: With the Calgary’s, Dallas’ and LA’s of the world all improving, in addition to an aging core (Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows are all 34 or older) a playoff spot will be tough to come by. They’ll remain competitive, but certainly don’t bet on another postseason appearance.
13 – Edmonton Oilers (Average rank: 11.6)
Brandon Altamonte: Huge offseason for them, and are much improved. However, they’re still a year away from making the playoffs, even with Connor McDavid in the lineup.
Ken Hill: Many people have chosen the Oilers as one of the most likely candidates to take at the very least a solid step forward this season (as evidenced by our average ranking), but in a tough, tough Western Conference that’s easier said than done, so chalk up 2015-16 as another learning experience for Edmonton.
14 – Arizona Coyotes (Average rank: 14)
Markus Meyer: The only team that will definitely not be competitive in the West, the Coyotes are 100% committed to the rebuild. Elite prospects Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, along with top blue liner Oliver Ekman-Larsson will make them an entertaining team to watch, but they’ll be eaten alive in an uber-competitive Western Conference.
Thanks for reading. Agree or disagree? Make sure to leave a comment, and watch out for our Eastern Conference standings prediction coming tomorrow.