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NHL’s Western Conference Has One Playoff Spot Open in 2016-17

There have been many changes in the NHL’s Western Conference so far this off-season. But one thing should remain constant out West: That is the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks all should be playoff bound. That leaves just potentially just one playoff spot open in the the West in 2016-17.

NHL’s Western Conference Has One Playoff Spot Open in 2016-17

Fighting for the Last Spot

Unless one of the top seven Western teams has an incredible rash of injuries, the last playoff spot will be a battle between the Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. These teams are either middle of the road, building but trending upwards or trying to regain past years’ performances to get back to the playoffs. Let’s break it down.

Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes were a nice surprise last season. But still Arizona finished 24th in goals scored per game, 28th in goals allowed, 20th on the power play and 28th on the penalty kill.

Still the Coyotes had many highlights from last year from talented youngsters Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. This year’s squad could include top prospects Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak. Arizona also added two really good veterans in Alex Goligoski and Jamie McGinn.

If goalie Mike Smith can return to his top form, it’s very possible that the Coyotes could be the sleeper team out wW

Calgary Flames

The Flames dream season of 2014-15 turned into a nightmare this past year. The only thing positive that came out of last season for Calgary was they netted Matthew Tkachuk in the draft.

Calgary’s issues last season were simple. The Flames play in their own end and between the pipes left a lot to be desired to say the least. Calgary finished last in the league last season in goals allowed per game. While the Flames have not improved their blueline, they did add veteran goalies Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson.

The Flames do have a lot of talent and skill in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Mark Giordano. They also greatly improved in net. Adding forward Troy Brouwer with his size, skill, leadership and experience can only help. What will decide whether or not the Flames make the playoffs is if new head coach Glen Gulutzan and his squad greatly improve their play in their own end, as well as their specialty teams (finished last year 22nd on the power play and last on the penalty kill).

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche collapsed down the stretch last season, going 1-8-0. Colorado’s biggest questions are whether they good enough in net and on the blueline. The Avalanche finished 24th in goals allowed per game last season. In fact, Colorado was a team that didn’t have a strength last season, as they finished 20th in goals scored per game, 19th on the power play and 23rd on the penalty kill.

Like Calgary, Colorado has plenty of skill with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon. Top prospect Mikko Rantanen could make an impact next year as well. But Colorado needs to get better across the board. So far the only additions this off-season have been Joe Colborne and Fedor Tyutin.

Can the play on the blueline and in net between Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard greatly improve? If not the Avalanche will be a lottery team again next year.

Edmonton Oilers

Will this be the year the Oilers make the playoffs? Cam Talbot was solid in the second half of the season (56 games, 2.55 goals against average  and a .917 save percentage). Is Jonas Gustavsson enough in terms of being Edmonton’s backup goalie? Finishing 27th in goals allowed per game last season, its clear Edmonton needs to get a lot better with their defensive play. Adam Larsson will help but to what degree is up for debate.

Even though the Oilers traded Taylor Hall they might have more talent up front with the signing of free agent Milan Lucic and drafting Jesse Puljujarvi.

Believe it or not with all the young offensive talent the Oilers had last year with Connor McDavid (played 45 games), Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton finished 26th in goals scored per game and 18th on the power play.

Edmonton has so much talent but the young Oilers are still working on their games and what it takes to win hockey games in the NHL. Not to mention their defensive play. The Oilers will be better this year but odds are they will not be a playoff team this coming season.

Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild made the playoffs last year by default. Any time a team finishes 19th on offense, 9th on defense, 15th on the power play and 27th on the penalty kill and makes the playoffs, that team should consider itself very lucky.

The Wild signed Eric Staal and Chris Stewart and bought out Thomas Vanek this summer. Did Minnesota get better this off-season?

The biggest question for the Wild is whether Zach Parise (and his aching back) is healthy. If Parise is unable to be a top flight player or someone who misses significant time then Minnesota is heading to the lottery next season.  It won’t matter how good of a job new head coach Bruce Boudreau does.

It’s clear there is a wide gap of talent between these five teams and the top teams in the West. The only thing that is known for sure out west is the last spot is up for grabs.

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