NHL Western Conference Picks/Breakdowns

We have seen an unusual amount of offseason moves, with players having more control over their careers unlike past years. Every sport is trending this way with players having leverage over their current teams, and trades taking place because of it. Recently the massive trade with Matthew Tkachuk going to the Florida Panthers is the perfect example of that. It is the first time two 100+ point players have been traded for each other (Jonathan Huberdeau), with Mackenzie Weegar and futures going the Flames way as well.
With all of that being said, here are how my western conference playoffs are being set, given all of the drastic player movement.
X = Playoff Spot
Y = Home Ice
Z = In the Hunt Late, But Missing Playoffs
Central Division:
Colorado Avalanche (Y)
Nashville Predators (Y)
St Louis Blues (X)
Winnipeg Jets (X)
Dallas Stars (Z)
Minnesota Wild
Arizona Coyotes
Chicago Blackhawks
Pacific Division:
Edmonton Oilers (Y)
Los Angeles Kings (Y)
Calgary Flames (X)
Seattle Kraken (X)
Vancouver Canucks (Z)
Vegas Golden Knights (Z)
Anaheim Ducks
San Jose Sharks
Playoff Team Breakdowns:
Colorado Avalanche – To keep it simple, if you have Cale Makar on your team; and the Avalanche have him locked up for a while, you will always be a playoff team with the chance to hoist Lord Stanley. If everything goes well health wise for Makar, he could go down as the best defenseman ever; he is THAT good. Couple Makar with Mackinnon on the last year of his sweetheart $6M contract, and you will see Joe Sakic sell out at the trade deadline again. Not only is Makar the best, but I have the Avalanche as my number one rated blueline in the entire NHL. It obviously includes Cale Makar, as well as Devon Toews, Sam Girard, Josh Manson, and Bowen Byram; this should be illegal. The Avalanche’s goalie situation is shotty at best with Francouz and Georgiev, but that defense is so good that they will manage. I see this team as scoring enough goals, having a crazy defense, having passable goaltending, with an aggressive GM.
Edmonton Oilers – I see the Oilers as a clear playoff team after the run they had last year; but, once they get in, I’m not confident in their current roster construction to get it done. The positive notes for Oilers fans are that they re-signed Evander Kane to a fair deal, they stabilized their goalie situation by signing Jack Campbell, they kept Yamamoto and Puljujarvi, and are starting healthy/fresh. I still think the Avalanche win the Cup and are simply too darn good last year, but it was no secret that Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse were not healthy in the playoffs. Draisaitl was playing on one leg, and Nurse was Mr. Potato Head out there with his limbs constantly falling off. They have 2 top 5 forwards in hockey (McDavid & Draisaitl) which will carry them to the playoffs.
Nashville Predators – David Poille has built himself a nice team here in Nashville with extra picks to boot if they are going for it at the deadline. Forsberg signed long-term, Matt Duchene just had a 40-40-80 season or whatever, and Ryan McDonaugh is a veteran defenseman that they essentially got for free as a Tampa Bay cap dump casualty. Nino Neiderreiter was also a very good middle 6 free agent pickup. He is typically good for 20 goals, solid 2-way play, and is on a reasonable and low risk 2 year deal. This is simply a well-rounded team with excellent goaltending from Juuse Saros, Kevin Lankinen, and Connor Ingram. Their top 4 defensemen are solid with Roman Josi, Ryan McDonaugh, and Mattias Ekholm; and I really like their entire forward group. With Forsberg, Duchene, and Granlund galvanizing the offense, and youngsters like Eeli Tolvanen and Tanner Jeannot coming into their own, I see the Predators getting home ice. Also Joakim Kemmell may be the steal of the 2022 draft.
LA Kings – This team has a lot going for it. We know Dustin Brown retired, but the veteran leadership of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are still there. Hell, they went 7 games with the Edmonton Connor McDavid’s and Drew Doughty didn’t even play one minute. This team’s offense will be led by Adrian Kempe, Kevin Fiala, Alex Iafallo, and Viktor Arvidsson, who should be their top 4 wingers. They will most likely be centered by Anze Kopitar and shutdown expert Phillip Danault. They also have exciting young guys coming up with Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Brandt Clarke. Trevor Moore is also a nice young winger that may slot on the 3rd line with Byfield. Their goaltending is average, but I really like how Sean Durzi’s game came along last year, and they also have Drew Doughty and Alex Edler back there to lead. I see the Kings as an attack-first team that likes to trap in the neutral zone, and with their talent and leadership I can see them winning a playoff round.
St Louis Blues – Honestly not much to analyze here because they have nearly the same team as last season. They are just well-rounded as heck, with a very solid forward group as well as a veteran blueline. Jordan Binnington in net is a box of chocolates, but when hot, can single-handedly win games. I’m not going to pretend like David Perron won’t be missed, but with how deep they are at the wings, I see them being fine. Saad, Barbashev, Kyrou, Taresanko, O’Reilly, Schenn, Thomas, are 7 forwards that all had 20 or more goals last season. Faulk, Krug, Leddy, Parayko, is not a top 4 to sneeze at defensively either.
Winnipeg Jets – Bounce-back season everyone! The Jets seem disgruntled and unhappy, but I’m holding out hope that talent takes over. Scheifele, Wheeler, Dubois, Ehlers, and Kyle Connor are a hell of a top 5 forward group, and they still have a former Vezina Trophy winner in net in Connor Hellebuyck. Pionk, Schmidt, Morrissey, and Demello are a decent top 4 D-core as well. They also extended Mason Appleton, and have Cole Perfetti coming up the pipeline. I could honestly see the Jets winning a playoff round this year if they handle Pierre-Luc Dubois properly. I doubt that Dubois wants to stay long-term, but he is still an RFA after this season; which means that Winnipeg still has his rights for the 2023-2024 season. My money is that Dubois stays for this entire season, then gets traded in the off-season to the Montreal Canadiens on a sign and trade 8 year deal.
Calgary Flames – Even with losing Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames will still be fighting for a playoff spot in my opinion. Jacob Markstrom had a great season last year and an abysmal playoff round against Connor McDavid. The Flames blueline that consists of Tanev, Weegar, Andersson, Hanifin, and Kylington; and is in my top 5 in regards to their overall grade. Couple that D-core with just enough goals that will be scored by Mangiapane, Toffoli, Lindholm, and Coleman. Also, all goals will be assisted by Jonathan Huberdeau. Dillion Dube is also another young forward that I like. The Flames are going to be a pain to play against, and have Darryl Sutter coaching them.

Apr 29, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers (10) skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at Climate Pledge Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Kraken – By far the biggest surprise on my list, and I am calling my shot. First of all, Philipp Grubauer cannot possibly be that bad again, that had to be an anomaly season. I also understand the Kraken’s direction, but they still have additional picks if they want to acquire more ammo; and you know that ownership group is salivating. Coach Hakstol has tons of options in his forward group with tons of centers. Shane Wright was stolen at pick 4 by the Kraken this year, they signed Andre Burakovsky (who was great for the Avalanche), and stole Oliver Bjorkstrand from my Blue Jackets. They have a top 12 forward group overall, even though their top-end young guys haven’t proven anything yet; I just really think they’re that deep. Bjorkstrand, Burakovsky, McCann, Gourde, Beniers, Wright, Tanev, Schwartz, Eberle, Donato; 10 guys right there that all can easily put up 20. Just guy after guy after guy after guy, zero easy shifts for the other team’s defense. Alexander Wennberg will probably be their 4th line center. Their defense is not great, but not as bad as it was portrayed last year. Larsson, Dunn, Schultz, Oleksiak, are ok; but, I think they may add more. The Kraken go from zero to in the playoffs in my opinion; release them baby!
Non-Playoff Team Breakdowns:
Vegas Golden Knights – Very weird team here with aggressive ownership, old and overpaid vets that are injury-prone; yet, still are talented enough to win the Stanley Cup if every possible thing goes right for them. Obviously I have them on the outside looking in, and there are several reasons as to why. Basically, the Knights’ management got too aggressive too quickly, and managed their assets atrociously. They have had their foot on the gas since their conception, and as of last season, it caught up with them. They have a suspect prospect pool, and are still over the cap. Not to mention that Robin Lehner, Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jack Eichel are all coming off of seasons where they were seriously injured. Those 4 players consist of their captain, starting goalie, number 1 defenseman, and top center. It was just announced that Robin Lehner is out for the season with a big hip surgery being needed, so their goaltending situation is one of desperation and uncertainty. Even with Lehner on LTIR all year, they can’t trade for a big expensive goalie, because they needed to shed salary in order to just get under the cap. They didn’t crawl before they ran, and their philosophy of just going after each shiny new toy didn’t work. Their poor salary cap management made them lose Max Pacioretty, Dylan Coghlan, and Evgeni Dadonov for literally nothing. I do like their new coach in Bruce Cassidy, and this team does have potential; but, for me, I just don’t see it going smoothly for the Knights.
Vancouver Canucks – Their defense simply isn’t quite there. They are in the heart of their atrocious Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers contracts, and don’t really have much else. Obviously Quinn Hughes is an outstanding player and will get all of the minutes he can handle on the back-end, but their depth is shotty at best. Thatcher Demko is a solid goalie on a reasonable deal, but he needs to be a Vezina contender for this team to make the playoffs. Their top 6 forwards are talented with Podkolzin and Hoglander making potential strides as well; but, the same guys that already haven’t won are still there, and JT Miller may be getting shipped out of town by the trade deadline. Pettersson, Horvat, and Boeser are nice players, as well as Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko; but the rest of the puzzle doesn’t quite fit together yet.
Anaheim Ducks – This team is trying to hit the salary cap floor and that’s all I am going to say. Just kidding. Trevor Zegras is fun, and Troy Terry is good, there you go; analysis done. All kidding aside this team is super young, with a prospect pipeline building and on the way, and is probably a couple of years out. Their direction is no secret. They have Zegras and Mason McTavish as their top 2 franchise centers, Troy Terry as their number one poacher, with Jamie Drysdale as their future PP specialist and top D-man. John Gibson is good and still under contract as well. They signed John Klingberg to a 1 year $7M contract, who I believe will get traded at the deadline at 50% salary retained. So, a contending team will probably get a $3.5M Klingberg in exchange for a first round pick as well as other futures potentially. Kevin Shattenkirk is also in the same boat, so really Anaheim may dictate the trade market for defensemen at the deadline. John Gibson has also been in trade rumors for around 6 months, but has several more years under contract at a high AAV. The Ducks have a nice young core, and I assume are going to tear it down for even more futures here soon.
Arizona Coyotes – They will be playing in a College arena, except smaller after regulatory maintenance. Phil Kessel is probably gone, but who cares; I honestly don’t know why they didn’t trade him at the deadline. Chychrun has been under a microscope for a while and may get traded. He is under contract for 3 more years, at a nice number, so he will bring them a haul. But, as of right now, they still have Keller and Chychrun as their main guys, with Lawson Crouse and Nick Schmaltz making big strides as well. They have some nice young players like Dylan Guenther, Logan Cooley, Maveric Lamoureax, and Conor Geekie coming up; as well as all of their 1st round picks, and 8 second round picks already in the next 3 years. They are building young assets, and will probably deal Shayne Gostesbhere for another 2nd rounder at the deadline this year. Karel Vejmelka is a young netminder under contract with some potential, but the Coyotes in general aren’t there yet.
Chicago Blackhawks – They are bad and they should feel bad. The Blackhawks certainly are not hiding the direction of their team by making a bad trade sending Alex Debrincat to the Senators, and a decent trade sending Kirby Dach to the Canadiens. They drafted Kevin Korchinski as the main asset in the Debrincat trade, and they drafted Frank Nazar as the main asset in the Kirby Dach trade. 2 solid prospects to build their future around, and they also have 11 picks in the first 3 rounds in the next 2 years. That is also without them trading away Patrick Kane, Max Domi, and Andreas Anthanesou at the trade deadline; where I think they will get a plethora of high-end picks as well. I actually think it would be in the team’s best interest to trade Patrick Kane before the season, at retained salary, to maximize their badness and get the highest return for him. I think Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh have some upside, and they have a ton of draft picks coming up, but they are just now starting their rebuild. The Blackhawks are firmly in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
Dallas Stars – They very well could make the playoffs since they still have a top 5 goaltender in Jake Oettinger. They have a nice core with Jake Oettinger, Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, and Roope Hintz, although they still need to get 3 of those 4 guys signed with term. Those are 4 very nice players to build around, but if it wasn’t for Oettinger last season they might not make the playoffs, let alone take Calgary to 7 games. Calgary significantly outplayed Dallas in that series, yet Oettinger nearly stole it. They lost John Klingberg for nothing in free agency, which hurts them; but other than that, they really haven’t active this offseason. It really is a situation of other teams improving around them, and the Stars regressing a little. They are still stuck with the Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin contracts, but they are talented enough to at least be viable middle-6 players. Gurianov is also a young guy that they could get more out of. Like I said, they could make the playoffs, and if not, it could be a quick turn around for the Stars.
Minnesota Wild – They are in the same boat as the Dallas Stars in that they simply haven’t improved while their opposition has. They have a solid slew of forwards, and Kirill Kaprizov is an absolute beast, but they have other holes inin their lineup. I love what Ryan Hartman, Marcus Foligno, and Jordan Greenway bring physically, and Mats Zuccarello has always been a talented playmaker. The Wild’s goaltending situation is shotty at best with the hall of famer Marc-Andre Fleury needing to start at least 55 games for them to sniff the playoffs late. They are eating $12-14M in dead cap space from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for the next 3 seasons, which is the doing of the terrible GM Chuck Fletcher; who is currently destroying the Flyers. That cap situation puts the Wild at a significant disadvantage, with them unable to acquire more talent. It is Connor McDavid’s cap hit for nothing. I actually expect the Wild to trade Matt Dumba at the trade deadline for futures, after they realize that they won’t contend this year. The Wild have good forward depth, an average blueline, and a question mark in net. I do like Carson Lambos, Marco Rossi, and Jesper Wallstedt coming up the pipeline though. The Wild will need draft and develop and then reset when they are past the dead cap hits.
San Jose Sharks – The Sharks have some decent young players, as well as some solid players under contract, but they simply don’t have enough goals in them up front. Another flaw of this team is that they have 3 average goalies instead of just 1 main-stay and 1 backup. Their top scorer in Timo Meier will be an RFA after this year, and we will see what happens there. They also have a new GM in Mike Greer, and a new head coach in Dan Quinn. Tons of question marks around this organization, but i actually believe that they will have a quicker turn around than most people think. I think if Meier signs long term then they will have Meier, Hertl, and Eklund as 3 of their long term top 6. I also like Barabanov, Lorentz, Kunin, and Lindblom as depth forwards. Logan Couture is also locked up for 5 years at a high number, and he is an older player. The quickness of their turn-around depends on if Couture, Karlsson, and Vlasic, can get back to their past production levels and stay healthy.