By Ian Palmer
The 2014/15 NHL season faces off on Wednesday, October 8. Here’s our NHL Western Conference Preview of every team with their 2013/14 records, new and departed players and how we think they will fare this season. The West’s Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup last season over the New York Rangers for their second Cup triumph in the past three years. Several clubs went through changes in the summer and of course the NHL Draft also took place back in June.
- 2013/14 Season record: 46-21-15 for 107 points
- Left Town: C Michal Handzus, F Brandon Bollig, D Sheldon Brookbank, and D Nick Leddy
- Newcomers: C Brad Richards
Chicago lost in the conference final to Los Angeles last season after finishing third in the Central. They’ve got two of the top offensive lines in hockey with Brad Richards, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Bryan Bickell. They’re also strong on the back end with Norris-Trophy recipient Duncan Keith. If they stay healthy they’ll be tough to beat and a shoo-in to make the playoffs.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 52-22-8 for 112 points
- Left Town: C Paul Stastny, RW P-A Parenteau, D Andre Benoit, and G Jean-Sebastien Giguere
- Newcomers: RW Jarome Iginla, D Brad Stuart, C Daniel Briere, and F Jesse Winchester
Colorado were one of the top teams in the league last year and won the Central Division only to lose to Minnesota in the divisional semifinal. They’ll miss the scoring of center Paul Stastny who joined rivals St. Louis, but they added Jarome Iginla to help offset it. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is a key player along with last year’s rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov needs to play at last year’s level to win the division again. Even if they don’t they should still be in the playoffs though.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 40-31-11 for 91 points
- Left Town: Tim Thomas, RW Alex Chiasson, and D Aaron Rome
- Newcomers: C Jason Spezza, RW Ales Hemsky, G Anders Lindback, and F Patrick Eaves
The Stars improved the forward lines with Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky from the Ottawa Senators in a trade that saw Alex Chiasson go for Spezza. The Stars should improve on last year’s fifth-place finish in the Central. They were beaten by Anaheim in the division semifinal due to a bit of bad luck. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen needs to stay healthy and play well and Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski will need to lead the inexperienced defensive corps. Winger Valeri Nichushkin also needs to have a good sophomore season.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 43-27-12 for 98 points
- Left Town: G Ilya Bryzgalov, LW Matt Moulson, LW Dany Heatley, D Nate Prosser, and D Clayton Stoner
- Newcomers: LW Thomas Vanek
The Wild finished fourth in the division due to their goaltending last season, but lost to Chicago in the divisional final. The Wild has Josh Harding in net this season along with Niklas Backstrom and they’ll need to play their best. There’s some good young skill in players such as center Mikael Granlund and blue liner Jonas Brodin. Thomas Vanek will add some much-needed scoring and the departed Dany Heatley won’t be missed.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 38-32-12 for 88 points
- Left Town: F Patric Hornqvist, F Nick Spaling, D Michael Del Zotto, and F Patrick Eaves
- Newcomers: RW James Neal, C Olli Jokinen, C Derek Roy, C Mike Ribeiro, and D Anton Volchenkov
Nashville finished sixth in the division and missed the playoffs in 2013/14. They lost some talent in the offseason, but did a good job of replacing those who departed. Barry Trotz is out as head coach and has been replaced by Peter Laviolette. They should play a more offensive style this year and with Pekka Rinne in net could make the postseason. Defenseman Seth Jones enters his second NHL season and with Shea Weber on the blue line the defense looks good.
St. Louis Blues
- 2013/14 Season Record: 52-23-7 for 111 points
- Left Town: G Ryan Miller, LW Brenden Morrow, and D Roman Polak
- Newcomers: C Paul Stastny, D Carl Gunnarsson, and D Chris Butler
The St. Louis Blues finished second in the Central last season and were beaten by the Chicago Blackhawks in the division semifinal. They tinkered with their goaltending last year when they shouldn’t have and will be depending on Brian Elliott and Jake Allen in between the pipes this campaign. They’ve added some scoring in center Paul Stastny and overall have a pretty deep squad with Alex Pietrangelo anchoring the blue line with Jay Bouwmeester. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 37-35-10 for 84 points
- Left Town: C Olli Jokinen, RW Devin Setoguchi, G Al Montoya, and RW Eric Tangradi
- Newcomers: C Mathieu Perreault, F T.J. Galiardi, D Keaton Ellerby, G Peter Budaj
Winnipeg finished seventh in the division and out of the playoffs last year. However, they haven’t really strengthened the lineup during the offseason. Head coach Paul Maurice took over late last season and will have a tough time getting this crew into the postseason. Some players are going to have to have career years to battle for the. These include center Mark Scheifele, defender Jacob Trouba and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Peter Budaj was acquired from Montreal after training camp to backup Pavelec this season.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 54-20-8 for 116 points
- Left Town: G Jonas Hiller, D Stephane Robidas, C Nick Bonino, RW Teemu Selanne, LW Daniel Winnik, D Luca Sbisa, and C Mathieu Perreault
- Newcomers: C Ryan Kesler, LW Dany Heatley, F Nate Thompson, and D Clayton Stoner
Anaheim won the Pacific Division last season and were beaten in the divisional final by Los Angeles. It’s hard to say if their summer moves made the squad stronger or weaker. Ryan Kesler should help, but they’ll miss Teemu Selanne and a couple of the others who left town. Head coach Bruce Boudreau has a team strong enough to make the playoffs though and the Ducks are still strong in net with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen taking over from Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 37-30-15 for 89 points
- Left Town: C Mike Ribeiro, RW Radim Vrbata, and G Thomas Greiss
- Newcomers: C Sam Gagner, G Devan Dubnyk, C Joe Vitale, and F B.J. Crombeen
The Coyotes finished fourth in the division last season and missed the playoffs for the second year running. The biggest change in the summer was renaming the team the Arizona Coyotes from the Phoenix Coyotes. The club moved Mike Ribeiro as GM Don Maloney felt he had off-ice problems and acquired Sam Gagner as a replacement from Edmonton. The squad is strong enough in goal with Mike Smith between the pipes, but still might not reach the postseason.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 35-40-7 for 77 points
- Left Town: F Michael Cammalleri, D Shane O’Brien, D Chris Butler, and G Joey MacDonald
- Newcomers: G Jonas Hiller, LW Mason Raymond, RW Devin Setoguchi, D Deryk Engelland, and F Brandon Bollig
The Calgary Flames finished sixth in the Pacific in 2013/14 and missed the playoffs. They didn’t make too many moves in the summer, but look stronger, at least on paper. Jonas Hiller will give them good goaltending, but they need big years from Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. First-round draft choice Sam Bennett had an excellent preseason and the forward could stick around. New GM Brad Treliving is in place, but in reality Brian Burke is in charge of this club and that could be its downfall. Making the playoffs could be within reach this season.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 29-44-9 for 67 points
- Left Town: C Sam Gagner, F Ryan Smyth, and F Ryan Jones
- Newcomers: D Nikita Nikitin, LW Benoit Pouliot, D Mark Fayne, C Leon Draisaitl, and D Keith Aulie
Once again the Oilers missed the playoffs last season as they finished seventh in the division. They’ve acquired some of the game’s best players over the past few years via the draft, but haven’t improves in the standings. They may even be weaker this year after canter Sam Gagner left. Ben Scrivens is a good number one goalie and he’s backed up by Viktor Fasth. However, all the young talent needs to help the team climb the standings. This includes players such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Nail Yakupov.
Los Angeles Kings
- 2013/14 Season Record: 51-22-9 for 111 points/li>
- Left Town: D Willie Mitchell, and C Colin Fraser
- Newcomers: RW Adam Cracknell
The Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years last season after finishing third in the Pacific Division. There was no need to make roster changes and the Kings more or less stayed pat with last season’s crew. Goaltender Jonathan Quick had wrist surgery during the summer and the Kings hope it won’t affect his play. If he falters then backup goalie Martin Jones is ready to step in. This squad might not win the division, but will make the playoffs without much problem.
San Jose Sharks
- 2013/14 Season Record: 42-30-10 for 94 points
- Left Town: D Dan Boyle, and RW Martin Havlat
- Newcomers: F John Scott, D Taylor Fedun, and F Tye McGinn
San Jose finished second in the division last season and then blew a 3-0 series lead against Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs. It was the second consecutive year the Kings took them out in seven. They didn’t make many roster moves in the offseason, but stripped veteran Joe Thornton of the captaincy and took the A off of Patrick Marleau’s sweater. It’s hard to say what will happen this season, but they have the talent to make the postseason once again.
- 2013/14 Season Record: 36-35-11 for 83 points
- Left Town: C Ryan Kesler, D Jason Garrison, LW David Booth, and C Mike Santorelli
- Newcomers: G Ryan Miller, RW Radim Vrbata, C Nick Bonino, D Luca Sbisa, C Linden Vey, and LW Derek Dorsett
Last year was a write off for Vancouver as the fifth-place Pacific Division club missed the playoffs. They were hit with injuries and new head coach John Tortorella didn’t work out after replacing Alain Vigneault. GM Mike Gillis was also fired and replace by Jim Benning with Willie Desjardins taking over behind the bench. Veteran goalie Roberto Luongo is gone and a new era begins with American Ryan Miller in net. Center Ryan Kesler also moved on to Anaheim. Still, the Canucks could hit or miss when it comes to making the postseason.