This division had both western conference finalists last year, despite low point totals from all five teams.
Phoenix: The Coyotes had a really good going until the ran into Quick and Co. Their young players were maturing before the world’s eyes, some of the elder statesman were having career years, and Mike Smith was every bit as good as Quick. Some of their older players have moved on, but the next generation is more than ready to pick up the slack. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mikkel Boedker will be household names in the Western Conference by seasons end.
Dallas: The Stars added several names in the off season; Whitney, Jagr, Roy up front should be a huge boost. In a shortened season where Jagr and Lehtonen’s injuries from last season should have had time to heal fully and the pair should have been able to get to full strength and range of motion in all body parts. Now if they’d just get Jamie Benn under contract or traded off for a kings ransom they’d have not only a shot at the division title, but seeing the second round.
Los Angeles; The Kings did it all, and then did nothing. They are returning almost their entire championship roster. One wonders if they lockout will help or hurt this team. Any Cup hangover should be long gone, but not many of the players have played overseas or in the AHL in the extended break. Even with an enormous wealth of talent of his own, and an unmatched blueline in front of him, it is unlikely J Quick has a repeat of last years numbers. This means for Orange County to see a second Cup parade this year, the offense has to actually work more often than one in five games.
San Jose: One way or the other, this is likely the end of the line for this core group. Last year was a big regression over previous seasons. It’s cup or bust, which oddly puts them in a similar position to the Chicago Blackhawks a couple years back, although with a much higher percentage of their roster on the downslope of their career. If Stuart slides into a #3 or #4 role, the team is in good shape, if he’s leading the team in minutes things are quite unlikely to be pretty.
Anaheim: Last years Ducks were dead on a arrival, fueled partly by persistent scapegoating of Bobby Ryan in lieu of actually fixing the lack of depth at any position. While I like Bryan Allen as much as anyone, and Sheldon Souray was a big slice of what was right in Dallas last year, anyone who looks at this blueline and dreams of drafting thirtieth is probably indulging in a controlled substance. That said, Hiller is entirely capable of stealing a season this short and putting the team in the playoffs with little regard to how well his team plays in front of him, if he’s healthy, and the top forwards are motivated and in sync this team is very dangerous.
Top dog(s): Coyotes and Kings are too close to call.