1.) St. Louis Blues
Am I worried about a fall-off after another awful playoff defeat? A little. That isn't good, when you consistently lose playoff rounds some times it will seep into your next regular season. Still, the Blues are a great regular season with a loaded lineup. I like the addition of Troy Brouwer and even Kyle Brodziak for a little toughness. It will be interesting if they turn over things to Jake Allen as well. They have one year left to do something or they'll basically be forced to tear things down.
2.) Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks aren't a great regular season, and the offseason losses of Sharp, Saad, Oduya and now Bickell. It seems like they'll have Patrick Kane the full year. The top-6 is still really good, but they are aging and they're basically at 'let's just get to April' mode now. They're too good to fall much further than this though.
3.) Dallas Stars
If the addition of Johnny Oduya and the improvement of Klingberg can fortify a defense that is spotty - same with Antti Niemi and/or Kari Lehtonen - the Stars may exceed this. That offense is loaded, and I can easily see Patrick Sharp improving off of last year's down year with Jason Spezza to feed him passes. Their top-6 is great, even more so if Valeri Nichuskin can come close to the promise he's shown previously. My only question is that defense. Their offense is fantastic, and I think good enough to get them in the playoffs.
4.) Minnesota Wild
They ended really strong last year, but were absolutely undressed by Chicago in the second round. The team is largely the same, and I think they'll sneak into the playoffs. If their young back-line of Dumba, Brodin, and Spurgeon can continue to improve, they may take a step forward, but I don't know if I trust both their offense to stay as good as it was late last year, and more earnestly if Devin Dubnyk can do that again. The West is just so darn competitive right now, it is really hard to predict any team with a good sense of certainty.
5.) Nashville Predators
I think the Preds have a really nice future with Laviolette as head coach with ther young talent just waiting to take off even more (Seth Jones and Roman Josi could be the best D-pairing in the league in 2-3 years), but I think their surprising goal-scoring from last year drops off a bit. This is a tough division, and I just think the Stars have more premium talent. The Predators over-exceeded last year, and I think the arrow is still pointing up but it takes a little time.
6.) Winnipeg Jets
Last year was a great ride, but I think it was partly a mirage. I just don't think they have the premium young talent that the other teams in this division do. Their best under-25 player is probably Jacob Trouba. If their other young guys get better, they'll be good, but I think they're a few years away. Chicago is somewhat trending down, and same wth Minnesota, so the Jets have a window approaching a few years away.
7.) Colorado Avalanche
I still can't believe they won this division two years ago. They predictably cratered last year, and I didn't like their offseason. Trading Ryan O'Reilly made little sense. In Landeskog and MacKinnon, they still have incredibly good young players, but that is just two of them - far less than what they should have been a few years ago.
1.) Anaheim Ducks
The best regular season team over the past three years is still just absolutely loaded right now. They still have Getzlaf and Perry, but Kesler has fit in great and I think the signing of Hagelin is great. Their third line is still one of the league's best. The defense has four potential stars that are all under 25 in Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen and Despres. The team is so loaded for regular season, and it will basically come down to can they avoid or finally beat the Blackhawks.
2.) Calgary Flames
They are the hot team to regress as it seems unlikely they'll keep up their great shooting percentage, and while I do think that may be somewhat true, I think there are a few reasons why they may not drop. First, Jonas Hiller is a really good goalie, and the defense gets Norris-trophy candidate Mark Giordano back and also add Dougie Hamilton to that blue line. Even behind that first line lies a really nice second line that could add more goals than in years previous. I really like this Flames team.
3.) Los Angeles Kings
The Kings found out the downside of just openly thinking the regular season doesn't matter, with never really putting it together and embarassingly missing the playoffs. Their once deep defense is now a little less deep with losing Voynov, but the team is still really good if motivated. I'm not sure Lucic has much left but even that signing fit in with the general Kings mentality. I think they'll still somewhat sleepwalk through the regular season, but this time good enough still to make it back to the playoffs.
4.) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks decided to just roll those same guys back one more time. The team has fully switched to Couture, Pavelski and Hertl as their offensive future and away from Thornton and Marleau and that is for the better. I do think they'll get a Year 1 bump from Pete De Boer, just like he gave to the Devils and their aging core. A lot of this rests on Martin Jones' ability as a front-line goalie, and I think he'll be just good enough.
5.) Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers will take a step-up, but I don't think enough to make the playoffs. I know McDavid is amazing, and Taylor Hall and the Nuge are better than people think, but that defense still needs to improve and the goalie situation isn't perfect with Cam Talbot. They may make the jump next year when the Sharks become just too old, but the jump is coming. For now, just be watchable.
6.) Vancouver Canucks
Did they do anything to get better? They're still depending on aging players who can't stay healthy anymore, and Ryan Miller who's been just average for a half-decade now. They have a young blue-line that will go through some growing pains also. The future is squarely in sight, and they have to start preparing for the post-Sedin era, no matter how awful and strange that will be.
7.) Arizona Coyotes
They are the West's Devils, and the easy favorite to get the #1 pick, or at least have the odds in their favor. Their young players from recent years like Max Domi and Dylan Strome are on the way, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best defenseman trapped in an awful situation, but there is a plan in place that they have to follow, and part of that plan is sucking.
Western Conference Playoffs
(C1) St. Louis Blues def (WW2) San Jose Sharks 4-1
(C3) Dallas Stars def (C2) Chicago Blackhakws 4-2
(C1) St. Louis Blues def (C3) Dallas Stars 4-1
(P1) Anaheim Ducks def (WW1) Minnesota Wild 4-2
(P2) Calgary Flames def (P3) Los Angeles Kings 4-3
(P1) Anaheim Ducks def (P2) Calgary Flames 4-2
(P1) Anaheim Ducks def (C1) St. Louis Blues 4-3
Stanley Cup Finals
(P1) Anaheim Ducks def (M2) Washington Capitals 4-2