2018-19 Western Conference Preview

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The puck drops next month on the 2018-19 National Hockey League season with four games on Wednesday, October 3 to kick things off and once again HockeyClan has got you covered with part two of our two-part series previewing the Eastern and Western Conference.

Here are team-by-team previews letting you know what’s new, who’s where and where they’re going:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) in action on September 21, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Nashville Predators

Smashville did everything right before running into the buzzsaw that was the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs last season. It was a disappointing finish for a team a lot of folks had pegged to make a return trip to the Stanley Cup finals. The Predators did little to shake up what management feels is still prime for another deep run and its hard to argue with the likes of P.K. Subban (16-43-59), Roman Josi (14-39-53), Mattias Ekholm (10-24-34) and Ryan Ellis (9-23-32) in front of all-world goalie Pekka Rinne (42-13-4, 2.31 GAA, .927 Sv%).

Key Additions: Dan Hamhuis

Key Losses: Alexei Emelin, Scott Hartnell

Winnipeg Jets

One of the most exciting teams in The League, Patrik Laine (44-26-70), Blake Wheeler (23-68-91), Nikolaj Ehlers (29-3-60), Mark Scheifele (23-37-60) and Co. brought “The True North” their first playoff series victory since 1986-87 with triumphs over Minnesota, then Nashville, before falling to the Cinderella Golden Knights. The Jets, led by revelation Connor Hellebuyck (44-11-9, 2.36 GAA, .924 Sv%) in between the pipes, seem poised to take the next step in 2018-19.

Key Additions: Laurent Brossoit

Key Losses: Joel Armia, Tobias Enstrom, Matt Hendricks, Michael Hutchinson, Steve Mason, Shawn Matthias, Paul Stastny

Eric Staal #12 of the Minnesota Wild skates against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on April 7, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)

Minnesota Wild

The well-balanced Wild finished 11th in the league in both offense (250 goals-for) and defense (229 goals-against) during the regular season but looked completely out of place once the post-season began. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk (35-16-7, 2.52 GAA, .918 Sv%) overcame a slow start and defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba are solid if not spectacular, but one begins to wonder how long Eic Staal, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise can hold back Father Time.

Key Additions: J.T. Brown, Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks

Key Losses: Matt Cullen, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik

St. Louis Blues

A collapse of epic proportions had St. Louis singing the Blues come playoff time, but management still feels the window to win is open when it wheeled and dealed to bring in Ryan O’Reilly, Patrick Maroon, Tyler Bozak and old friend David Perron to the Gateway. O’Reilly (24-37-61) is a faceoff master winning 1,274 draws and can play both on the power play and on the penalty kill. His addition is an upgrade over Paul Stastny who was dealt late in the season. The key, however, will be the play of netminder Jake Allen (27-25-3, 2.75 GAA, .906), who regressed last season. His leash will be short with veteran Chad Johnson waiting in the wings.

Key Additions: Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak, Chad Johnson, Patrick Maroon, Jordan Nolan

Key Losses: Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Carter Hutton

Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop (30) in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday 25, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dallas Stars

The top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov combined for 103 goals and 229 points and the Stars still finished 18th in The League in total offense with 231 goals-for. Aside from swift-skating defenseman John Klingberg (8-59-67), there wasn’t a single Dallas player with more than 35 points on the roster. Identifying the lack of secondary scoring, Dallas brought back former first round bust Valeri Nichushkin in hopes of lighting a spark. Ben Bishop (26-17-5, 2.49 GAA, .917 Sv%) battled injuries and consistency issues last season, but with Kari Lehtonen gone this is his cage now.

Key Additions: Blake Comeau, Valeri Nichushkin, Anton Khudobin, Roman Polak

Key Losses: Dan Hamhuis, Kari Lehtonen, Antoine Roussel

Colorado Avalanche

Raise your hand if you pegged the Avs to win 43 games and make the playoffs last season — now put your hand down. A year after finishing dead last in the entire Western Conference with 22 wins and 48 points, it all came together for Colorado which qualified for the post-season for just second time in the last eight years. Former number one overall pick Nathan MacKinnon was a legit contender for the Hart Trophy as The League MVP with 39 goals and 97 points and Mikko Rantanen (29-55-84) emerged as a solid complement.

Key Additions: Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole

Key Losses: Jonathan Bernier, Blake Comeau, Nail Yakupov

Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) skates with the puck in the 3rd period against the Colorado Avalanche on March 20, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chicago Blackhawks

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. You can’t stay on top forever, but a lot of things went wrong for the Blackhawks last season. Most notably was the loss of longtime goaltender Corey Crawford who is still battling concussion symptoms in training camp. His loss was too much to overcome with none of the six goaltenders on the Chicago carousel able to fill the void last season. Patrick Kane (27-49-76) is still an elite playmaker and Alex DeBrincat (28-24-52) is a rising star, but the defensive tandem of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are showing signs of wearing down.

Key Additions: Cam Ward, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning

Key Losses: Michal Rozsival, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Jean-Francois Berube, Lance Bouma, Anthony Duclair, Cody Franson, Jeff Glass, Tomas Jurco, Marian Hossa

Related: 2017-18 Western Conference Preview

Pacific Division

Vegas Golden Knights

The 2017-18 Golden Knights took the hockey world by storm, setting new records for a first-year expansion club — in any sport. It was easy to suggest Vegas was in for growing pains, but GM George McPhee’s “Golden Misfits” enjoyed a great start and defied the odds en route to the Stanley Cup Finals! While the greatest story in all of sports didn’t have the storybook ending, the performances from William Karlsson (43-35-78), Jonathan Marchessault (27-48-75), David Perron (16-50-66), Reilly Smith 22-38-60) and Marc-Andre Fleury (29-13-4, 2.24 GAA, .927 Sv%) were nothing short of historic. What’s more, Vegas did not stand pat this off-season adding the likes of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny.

Key Additions: Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Nick Holden

Key Losses: Tomas Tartar, Jason Garrison, James Neal, David Perron, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Nick Suzuki

Erik Karlsson (65), pictured here with the Ottawa Senators on March 29, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada, will lineup for the San Jose Sharks this season. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are hoping EK9 + EK65 = a Stanley Cup. Boosted by the late-season addition of Evander Kane (29-25-54), San Jose went out and made arguably the biggest off-season splash with the acquisition of Erik Karlsson (9-53-62) from Ottawa. Brent Burns (12-55-67) along with Karlsson patrolling the blue line will provide a lot of difficult matchups for the opposition this season. Joe Pavelski (22-44-66) and Logan Couture (34-27-61) are a solid 1-2 down the middle, but the key will be the secondary contributions from the likes of Kevin Labanc, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier. Anything Joe Thornton can contribute will be a bonus.

Key Additions: Erik Karlsson

Key Losses: Mikkel Boedker, Eric Fehr, Jannik Hansen, Paul Martin, Joel Ward, Chris Tierney, Josh Norris

Anaheim Ducks

Rickard Rakell (34-35-69) may just be the best player in The League no one in the East is aware of. All the Ducks’ 2011 first round draft pick from Sweden did was lead the team in goals for the second straight year while adding 18 power play points and 115 hits. Anaheim will continue to be defined by Ryan Getzlaf (11-50-61) and Corey Perry (17-32-49) as long as they lead The Flying V, but this team is getting real contributions from the next generation the likes of Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg (17-23-40), Ondrej Kase (20-18-38) and Nick Ritchie (10-17-27). Anaheim also has one of the most underrated defensive units in The League in Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm.

Key Additions: Luke Schenn, Andrej Sustr, Brian Gibbons

Key Losses: Kevin Bieksa, Jared Boll, Jason Chimera, Antoine Vermette

Los Angeles Kings Goalie Jonathan Quick (32) makes a save during Game 4 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights on April 17, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Kings

Welcome back Ilya Kovalchuk. After a five-year hiatus, his return gives Anze Kopitar (35-57-92) a solid wing on a team that was sorely lacking offense at times last season (237 goals-for, 16th). The number one defensive unit in the NHL last season yielding just 2.46 goals-per-game (202 goals-allowed, 1st). Los Angeles will also be getting back Jeff Carter, who was limited to just 27 games last season. Drew Doughty (10-50-60) and Jonathan Quick (33-28-3, 2.40 GAA, .921) are among the best at their positions.

Key Additions: Iyla Kovalchuk, Peter Budaj

Key Losses: Andy Andreoff, Torrey Mitchell, Tobias Rieder

Calgary Flames

The Flames were among the most active teams in the conference this off-season swinging a deal to acquire Noah Hanifin (10-22-32) and Elias Lindholm (16-28-44) in a trade with Carolina, while improving up front with the free agent additions of James Neal (25-19-44) and Derek Ryan (15-23-38). Last season’s 37-35-10-84 finish was a disappointment and as a result coach Glen Gulutzan was axed in favor of Bill Peters. Johnny Gaudreau (24-60-84), Sean Monahan (31-33-64) and Matthew Tkachuk (24-25-49) are budding offensive stars but it will take the play of Mike Smith to get back in the playoff chase.

Key Additions: Austin Czarnik, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, James Neal, Derek Ryan

Key Losses: Troy Brouwer, Michael Ferland, Tanner Glass, Dougie Hamilton, Jaromir Jagr, Matt Stajan, Kris Versteeg

Edmonton Oilers’ center Connor McDavid (97) keeps an eye on a face off in the first period during a game versus the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Edmonton Oilers

So much talent, so little results. How does a team with Connor McDavid (41-67-108), Leon Draisaitl (25-45-70) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24-24-48) finish dead last in power play efficiency? (14.8%) After qualifying for the post-season for the first time in 11 years in 2017-18, the Oilers’ 36-40-6, sixth-place finish last winter was a severe disappointment. To make matters worse (possibly), Edmonton did next to nothing to over the off-season to improve their situation. GM Peter Chiarelli is hoping last year was a fluke.

Key Additions: Kyle Brodziak, Kevin Gravel, Tobias Rieder

Key Losses: Laurent Brossoit, Mike Cammalleri, Mark Fayne, Eric Gryba

Arizona Coyotes

Unlike Edmonton and Vancouver, the Coyotes actually tried to improve over the off-season. GM John Chayka acquired Alex Galchenyuk (19-32-51) via trade with Montreal, signed free agent Michael Grabner (27-9-36) and took on the remaining three years of Marian Hossa’s contract that also came with two draft picks and two prospects from Chicago. Arizona has a lot of pretty good pieces already in place, too. Clayton Keller (23-42-65), Derek Stepan (14-42-56), Christian Dvorak (15-22-37), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (14-28-42) and Alex Goligoski (12-23-35) are top-level talents but the key to a turnaround lies with goaltender Antti Raanta (21-17-6, 2.24 GAA, .930 Sv%).

Key Additions: Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Grabner, Marian Hossa

Key Losses: Max Domi, Zac Rinaldo, Luke Schenn

Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser (6) waits for a face-off during their NHL game against the New York Rangers at Rogers Arena on February 28, 2018 in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Vancouver Canucks

With the retirement of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, a new era has begun in the Pacific Northwest. Brock Boeser (29-26-55) and Bo Horvath (22-22-44) are the new faces of a franchise in the thick of rebuilding mode. First round draft pick Elias Petterson, as well as Jonathan Dahlen and Olli Juolevi, will be given every opportunity to succeed. Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson are perhaps The League’s most underwhelming goaltending tandem.

Key Additions: Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Tim Schaller

Key Losses: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Nic Dowd, Jussi Jokinen

 

Projected Finish

Central: 1-Nashville. 2-Winnipeg. 3-Minnesota. 4-St. Louis. 5-Dallas. 6-Colorado. 7-Chicago.

Pacific: 1-Vegas. 2-San Jose. 3-Anaheim. 4-Los Angeles*. 5-Calgary*. 6-Edmonton. 7-Arizona. 8-Vancouver

*Designates Playoff Wild Card

 

Main Image: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights blocks a Washington Capitals’ shot in the first period of Game Five of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Capitals defeated the Golden Knights 4-3. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 

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