Best of the NHL in 2016/17. Who's Making The Playoffs in the West?
The West is best and the East is yeast, right? That’s typically the case when it comes to comparing the Western and Eastern conferences. The West has dominated the East with the Western Conference teams winning the Stanley Cup 5 times in the last 7 seasons. The Western Conference teams in the not-so-distant past have beaten most Eastern Conference teams in the regular season as well.
Last season was an exception. The records have indicated the East vs. West battle in the regular season was pretty even. The Eastern teams have improved significantly over the past season and it’s not looking like a tier II hockey league anymore. That means the Western teams can not rely on easily beating the Eastern teams for an easy 2 points anymore.
With 2016 being one of the most boring and non-existent off-seasons in recent memory, I’m hoping to take some of the boredom out by offering ridiculous standings predictions some may find far-fetched, and maybe even shocking.
- Winner of the Pacific Division: San Jose Sharks
Last year, the hockey world seen the unexpected resurrection of the San Jose Sharks. Following the traumatic experience of the 2014 reverse sweep against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks had a demotivated 2015 campaign. Everybody thought 2016 was going to be much of the same but the Sharks dug deep and found ways to win games towards the middle of the season and have since surprised hockey fans everywhere by beating the Kings, Predators and Blues to become Stanley Cup finalists.
The Sharks have kept almost the entire roster from last season and in fact, they added more speed in the lineup by signing Mikkel Boedker to a contract. The reason why the Sharks wanted more speed is because the Penguins used to their speed to win the Stanley Cup against them last year during the Stanley Cup Finals.
With Thornton and Marleau entering their contract years, they know it’s their very last shot at winning the Stanley Cup as they both turn 38 next year. This is the season that they’ll be both more motivated than ever as time is ticking closer and closer towards the end of their contracts and eventually, retirement. The good news is that the team they’re on right now is going to be the best in the West because of the arsenal of players supporting them.
With Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Marc-Edourd Vlasic rounding out the star cast, the Sharks will be fun and exciting to watch. The Sharks were offensive powerhouses last year ranking 2nd in team scoring and 5th in goals against. Expect similar numbers this season as the team improved by signing Boedker to a multi-year deal.
- Winner of the Central Division; Chicago Blackhawks
Last year, the Hawks exited early from the playoffs as the Blues ousted them in 7 games in the Western Conference Quarter Finals. Patrick Kane was electric last season as he ammased 106 points taking home the Art Ross Trophy in the process.
Once again the Hawks dumped salary in the off-season as they got rid of Bickell and Teravainen. That was the bad news. The good news is that they signed Brian Campbell for only $1.5 million and that is a steal considering how well he played for the Florida Panthers last year.
The Hawks are perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup and they had the best powerplay last season. They are an extremely skilled, aggressive and fast-paced team that will take advantage of other teams mistakes every time opportunity presents.
With above-average goaltending with Corey Crawford and a great defensive core with Keith, Campbell, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson in the mix, they’ll continue to provide exceptional puck-moving ability and scoring support from the back-end to Toews, Kane, Panarin (AKA Bread Man) and Hossa.
It’ll be no surprise the Hawks will win a tough central division this year.
- 3rd in the Western Conference; Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are a very big, powerful and physical team. They ranked 1st in hits last season but besides that they didn’t post overwhelmingly great scoring numbers. They’ll miss Lucic for sure because he was one of the very few players to provide physicality the way that he did.
The Kings are still a deep team up front with Kopitar, Toffoli and Carter leading the way. If guys like Brown and Gaborik come back from disappointing seasons, the Kings will be a force to be reckoned with.
The back-end isn’t too shabby when you got Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez leading the defensive corps. Besides that, the rest of the group of D gets thin. The signing of Tom Gilbert helps marginally. The Kings have to rely on somebody standing out from training camp to make a good impression but if you know anything about the Kings, it’s that they always find a way to make something work.
Even if your defensive corp isn’t deep, you still have the most aggressive and acrobatic goaltender in the world in Jonathan Quick backing the Kings up every step of the way.
Look forward to the Kings taking complete advantage of a weak Pacific Division and cementing their playoff spot early this season.
- 4th in the Western Conference; Nashville Predators
When you add P.K. Subban to your team, the aura of the locker room is instantly more passionate and emotional. This can be good or bad depending on how it plays out. The Preds may have lost Weber in the trade but getting Subban back in return is better in the long-term. P.K. is a great puck mover just like teammate Roman Josi. He’ll provide speed and physicality as well – a very dynamic player. They’ll most likely be playing in separate pairings to spread the dynamics around.
The offense looks good as well with Forsberg, Neal and Johansen leading the way up front. Scoring from the back end will be great as Subban, Josi, Ellis and Ekholm have great puck-moving ability and scoring prowess.
This team will be faster and more skilled than a year ago. Speed will serve the Preds well when facing divisional foes with great speed like Chicago and Dallas because they’ll be able to keep up with them. Unlike Chicago and Dallas, the Preds play a more structured and defensive game that will frustrate opposing teams scorers.
On a side note, we might see Viktor Arvidsson raise a few eyebrows and have a break out season. At times during the playoffs last season against Anaheim and San Jose, we was the best player on the ice and was an extremely hard worker. You never know if that hard work will pay off this season.
The Predators will be the most interesting team to watch early in the season just to see how P.K. Subban will be adjusting to his new team.
- 5th in the Western Conference; Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are the most explosive team in the NHL. The fire-power up front is salivating with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and John Klingberg leading the charge. Those guys were the reason why they scored the most goals last year.
The big concern for the Stars is the defensive corp. They lost Goligoski and Demers to free agency and that is a big deal considering that the Stars don’t have anybody else to replace them from within the system. Oleksiak isn’t ready unless I’m proven wrong but I think he’s a few years away from breaking out. Despite that, they did sign Hamhuis and they might sign Russell still, but the depth on defence is still pretty weak for the Stars.
Despite the woes on defence, Dallas still does have good goaltending with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. They were good as a goaltending pair last year and will be good again this year. Who knows if one of them will be traded for a defenceman.
Despite the defensive shortcomings, I’m still pretty confident with this team. As long as they’re on the powerplay and don’t play defence as much, they’ll get a lot of opportunities on the powerplay because of their discipline. They won’t be as good as last season but still good enough to make the playoffs nonetheless.
- 6th in the Western Conference; Calgary Flames
Last season for the Flames was nothing short of atrocious. They were dead last in goals against and penalty kill. Fans had expectations for the Flames last year as they made the playoffs in 2015. Good news for the Flames is that the Pacific Division is still pretty weak in comparison to the Central which means the Flames have the best shot at winning some easy games against the Canucks, Oilers and Coyotes.
The Flames have a great infusion of skill upfront and defensive acumen on the back-end. With Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett and Backlund leading the charge upfront, they’re going to get some grade “A” scoring chances often. The Flames also have some grit as Ferland, Jooris, Frolik, Bouma and possibly Tkachuk rounding out the checking lines.
There is a lot to like on the back-end with Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton leading the way with their puck-moving ability and smarts. They’re a very poised group of defenceman and play a very well-rounded game.
The main reason why the Flames will make the playoffs this season is because they brought in goaltender, Brian Elliott from the Blues. I know a lot people don’t have faith in the Flames after what happened last year but I do. They’re a good team on paper and I think a lot of the young guns have learned their lessons so expect them to step up in a big way this season.
- 1st Wild Card Seed; St. Louis Blues
If the Blues were in any other division, they’d dominate but they’re in Central Division, and that is tough.
The Blues are a very balanced and depth driven team with a lot of grit and sandpaper. The exception to that rule is Vladimir Tarasenko and all he does is snipe pucks top shelf all day long. He’ll be good for 40 goals and 80 points again.
The Blues were in the top 10 in everything from goals scored, goals against to special teams last year. Expect the Blues to be great this year but there will be hiccups along the way. Competing with the rest of the Central Division will not be easy and with Alex Pietrangelo being captain, there’ll be some leadership adjustments and growing pains along the way – especially if you lost somebody like David Backes who had exemplary leadership qualities.
With Brian Elliot gone, Jake Allen will have to take full-time responsibilities in the crease and I’m not sure if he’ll handle it well. He’s a great goalie but I think he’ll have some work to do in adjusting to his new role as the unquestionable starting goalie.
Overall the Blues will do fine but don’t panic if it looks like at certain points that they won’t make the playoffs because they’ll find a way.
- 2nd Wild Card Seed; Winnipeg Jets
A return to the playoffs for the Winnipeg Jets shouldn’t be out of the question. Most people don’t have faith in them but i am one of the few that do. So why is that? That is because the Jets are in the middle of priming their prospect pipeline for a boost to the big leagues. With Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Josh Morrisey on the rise, expect some heads to be turned towards their direction. You also have Adam Lowry, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheiffle still improving and what all that means is that the Jets will establish themselves as a deadly scoring threat when no one else will expect it.
As far as defence is concerned, there actually isn’t too much to be concerned with. Byfuglien, Trouba, Myers and Morrisey will most likely round out the top 4 on the back-end and that isn’t too bad. The only knock on them is that they aren’t as fast as other teams defensive corps like to what Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis have. But the good news is that they’re more physical and that can be a big advantage if they’re able to land the hits.
Goaltending will be a mystery until the start of the season because Pavelic, Hutchinson and Hellebuyck all have cases to be starting goaltenders for the Jets. We might see an early season trade ensue if one of the goalies doesn’t make the cut because they’re all NHL calibre but you can only have 2 goalies on the starting roster.
The Central Division is full of powerful teams but I think the Jets have a great shot to barely squeak into the playoffs. They won’t be as good as Nashville, Dallas or Chicago but Winnipeg has a case to beat them on some nights bounces go their way.
You might be slightly shocked as to why I didn’t choose Anaheim to make the playoffs.
Every once in awhile, when a great team has made the playoffs for many consecutive years, there is sometimes an off-year. When Anaheim lost it’s 4th consecutive game 7 in the playoffs against Nashville, there was an aura of devastation amongst the entire team. The blame game was played by almost everybody and everything was left on a sour note. With Bruce Boudreau released from his head coaching duties, Randy Carlyle is stepping back in to coach the Ducks for the first time since 2011. I don’t know how that is going to workout because the outcome in Carlyle’s coaching usually goes one of two ways. Either every player buys into the system or they don’t at all.
My belief is that they don’t because of how Carlyle left the team last time in 2011. Players weren’t buying in, they weren’t particiapting in Carlyle’s practices and that caused a cancerous type of mood in the locker room. I think old memories between Perry, Getzlaf and Carlyle will come back but not in a good way. They might do well early in the season but bad relationships might form because of the memories and that can cause havoc.
It was just like the Montreal Canadiens last year when they collapsed after doing well. It wasn’t just because of Carey Price either, it was because of the bad relationship between Subban, teammates and the coach. I see a scenario just like this play out for the Anaheim Ducks.
Here’s how the rest of the Standings might play out:
- 9th: Anaheim Ducks
- 10th: Edmonton Oilers
- 11th: Minnesota Wild
- 12th: Colorado Avalanche
- 13th: Arizona Coyotes
- 14th: Vancouver Canucks
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