As the days draw closer to the opening of the 2019-20 NHL season, it is time to contemplate a conference winner in the West. This is never easy but there are several contenders.
Let’s look at what could be an even crazier race to predict than last season.
Vegas is the early favorite from the Western Conference. There are several reasons why. For one, they have depth like few teams in the NHL possess. The thought process is the Golden Knights won’t have the Stanley Cup Final hangover they did last season. Also, revenge is on their minds for the way their season ended in last year’s playoffs. The major that changed the Game 7 forever as it was called.
Vegas is built from top to bottom as Marc-Andre Fleury is primed for another run-in net. As usual, the question will be how the Golden Knights will rest Fleury. Also, the top six for the Golden Knights includes one of the better players in the league in Mark Stone. Stone has a way of producing and was a shot and chance machine. Depth again is indicative by the fact that players like Alex Tuch are on a third line that is one of the more dangerous trios in the league.
For the Golden Knights, it comes down to seeding and then the playoffs. If they can get past Round 1, then the expectation is a run to the conference final and maybe beyond. The Pacific is not as tough as previous seasons so they should either finish first or second there. With the Karlsson line and the Stone line, the Golden Knights have a team capable of going as far as they did two seasons ago.
The Sharks were the beneficiary of the Game 7 with the four power-play goals. San Jose made its way to the Conference Final before bowing out to St. Louis. The Sharks did not have an easy time of things, but the duo of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns is quite the double-edged sword from the blueline. Also, the San Jose top-six may have lost Joe Pavelski but players like Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are among a young wave of forwards that will only get better.
One big question mark is in net for the Sharks. Martin Jones won 35+ games last year but his save percentage hovered around .900 all season long. Jones must be better and much better than that. Also, San Jose did trade away Justin Braun, but the expectation is that San Jose’s depth will step up. They did get younger, and that is important to mention. Joe Thornton is still on the third line with Kevin Labanc as well.
There is a reason why San Jose was projected as a division winner, but their conference odds are interesting and intriguing. They will be a team to watch all season.
Simply, the Dallas Stars have trended up from +1500 to +850 on the strength of their offseason. A big part of this was adding Joe Pavelski to an already talented roster. Dallas came within one goal of knocking out the Stanley Cup Champion, St. Louis Blues in Round 2. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin formed one of the best goaltending duos in the league and Bishop was supremely dominant at home especially where Dallas barely gave up two goals a game when he was in net. The Stars’ top-six features Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Add in Joe Pavelski with Alexander Radulov and then there is the emergence of Roope Hintz as well. Miro Hesikanen and John Klingberg are the young nucleus of a developing defensive core.
The real race will come around the trade deadline as these teams arm up for the playoff runs to come. Dallas could be a team that contends for the Western Conference with their depth, experience, and knowing how close they were.
By Chris Wassel