NHL Western Conference 2014-15: Puck Daddy’s predictions

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Fun fact about the NHL’s Western Conference in 2014-15: Roughly 11 teams could realistically make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. 

Yes, it’s more “West Is Best” this season, with Stanley Cup favorites and burgeoning contenders clashing not only to win the conference, but make the cut in two incredibly competitive divisions.

Well, save for three of the four Canadian teams.

Here are the Puck Daddy and Yahoo Sports predictions for the Western Conference.

The panel: Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy editor; Sean Leahy, Puck Daddy editor; Ryan Lambert, Puck Daddy columnist; Jen Neale, Puck Daddy writer; Josh Cooper, Puck Daddy editor; Jen LC, Puck Daddy analytics columnist; Sam McCaig, Yahoo Sports hockey editor; Nick Cotsonika, Yahoo Sports columnist; Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs, Puck Daddy fantasy hockey writer.

Playoff teams are marked with an (*).

And here … we … go. 

GREG WYSHYNSKI, PUCK DADDY EDITOR 

Central Division

Pacific Division

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Anaheim Ducks

*St. Louis Blues

*San Jose Sharks

*Dallas Stars

*Los Angeles Kings

*Colorado Avalanche

*Vancouver Canucks

Minnesota Wild

Arizona Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Edmonton Oilers

Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames

The Blackhawks are loaded for another run at the Cup and will cruise to a President’s Trophy win this season. The Blues take second, holding off a surging Dallas team, provided Kari Lehtonen remains healthy. The Avalanche tumble from that 112-point season, but not far enough to miss the wild card.

Bruce Boudreau’s teams make the playoffs. It’s just what they do. The contentious situation in San Jose gives us pause, but there’s way too much talent there for them to falter. And the Kings know they can win the Cup finishing first or eighth; they sail into the playoffs.

That leaves the Wild and the Canucks for the last spot, and I don’t trust the Wild’s goaltending this season as much as I trust Miller and Lack. Now that the circus has left town, and Kesler’s in Anaheim’s locker room, the Canucks get back to what they do best – make the Western Conference playoffs (and get knocked out by Chicago).

SEAN LEAHY, PUCK DADDY EDITOR 

Central Division

Pacific Division

*St. Louis Blues

*Anaheim Ducks

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Los Angeles Kings

*Dallas Stars

*San Jose Sharks

*Colorado Avalanche

Vancouver Canucks

*Minnesota Wild

Arizona Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Calgary Flames

Winnipeg Jets

Edmonton Oilers

It's really hard to look at the eight teams who made the playoffs in the West last season and say one of them won't be back again in 2015. Sure, Vancouver and Nashville may be better than last season, but are they improved enough to surpass one the established top eight? Not yet. (How easy would it be pick one of these non-playoff teams if they were playing in the East?)

Despite having a summer that had bewildered everyone, and their mission to alienate Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, I wouldn't be shocked to see the Sharks *finally* make a run. Maybe the "us vs. them" mentality Doug Wilson has instilled in this team pays off. And maybe it ends with a housecleaning. We'll see. 

In the end, to steal a line from Doc Emrick, the Kings will again be the kings. The roster is basically the same from last season and they know how to turn it on come April. And if Jonathan Quick can't get the job done, Martin Jones makes for a fine replacement.

RYAN LAMBERT, PUCK DADDY COLUMNIST

Central Division

Pacific Division

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Los Angeles Kings

*Dallas Stars

*San Jose Sharks

*St. Louis Blues

*Anaheim Ducks

*Minnesota Wild

*Vancouver Canucks

Nashville Predators

Edmonton Oilers

Colorado Avalanche

Arizona Coyotes

Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames

Wow, six of the eight or nine best teams in the league last season are the best teams again. Who saw this coming? The Canucks will improve now that the goalie situation is resolved, and the team doesn't hate their coach. Meanwhile, Minnesota will remain static with Darcy Kuemper providing reliable puck-stopping all season (if they're smart anyway). 

JEN NEALE, PUCK DADDY WRITER

Central Division

Pacific Division

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Los Angeles Kings

*Dallas Stars

*Anaheim Ducks

*St. Louis Blues

*San Jose Sharks

*Colorado Avalanche

Calgary Flames

*Minnesota Wild

Vancouver Canucks

Nashville Predators

Edmonton Oilers

Winnipeg Jets

Arizona Coyotes

The West will continue to be competitive, and I have the same teams making the playoffs as did the previous season. The only difference is the seeding. 

Dallas and Colorado will swap places in the standings with the Avs taking the wild card. Both teams are good; however, the Stars are considerably better with the addition of Jason Spezza than the Avs have become by adding Jarome Iginla.

Minnesota is the only real question mark in the conference. They could be challenged by the somewhat remastered Nashville who added a new coach and James Neal. The Canadian teams are still remixing their lineups and are a season or so out from being true threats once again.

California will remain dominant, as will Chicago and St. Louis.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

JOSH COOPER, PUCK DADDY EDITOR

Central Division

Pacific Division

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Los Angeles Kings

*St. Louis Blues

*Anaheim Ducks

*Colorado Avalanche

*San Jose Sharks

*Dallas Stars

*Arizona Coyotes

Nashville Predators

Vancouver Canucks

Minnesota Wild

Calgary Flames

Winnipeg Jets

Edmonton Oilers

In spite of all the hoopla about the Central Division and the moves the teams made, it seems forgotten that the Pacific Division is still solid. So I have them split evenly, with the Wild taking a major nosedive. 

Minnesota’s goaltending (amongst other issues) will ultimately be its demise. Also, you can’t keep Dave Tippett out of the playoffs for too long – which is why I see Arizona making it. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a total stud, minute-crunching defenseman, who will prove that he’s a franchise building block this year.

JEN LC, PUCK DADDY ANALYTICS COLUMNIST 

Central Division

Pacific Division

*St. Louis Blues

*Anaheim Ducks

*Chicago Blackhawks

*Los Angeles Kings

*Dallas Stars

*San Jose Sharks

*Nashville Predators

Arizona Coyotes

*Minnesota Wild

Calgary Flames

Colorado Avalanche

Vancouver Canucks

Winnipeg Jets

Edmonton Oilers

The Anaheim Ducks are built to be successful over a long season and likely come out on top of the Pacific Division again this year. Whether that will translate to a playoff series win is less foreseeable, but they have game changing forwards to help that happen. The San Jose Sharks are stacked with talent both from forwards and on defense, but their shocking culture change over the summer has a lot of people wondering what the future holds. Regardless of how they use some of their players in the short term, the Sharks are too good not to make the playoffs. 

The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings are essentially the same team they were last season. They have impeccable coaching and excel at shot suppression. They are a bit streaky in the regular season at times, but once the playoffs roll around the team becomes an unstoppable machine.

The Central Division will in all likelihood be the toughest division in hockey this season. The St. Louis Blues made some curious moves this summer in terms of personnel, but are a very good team. They have the weapons to be dangerous offensively, but they will need to adjust their style of play if they want to go very far in the postseason. The Chicago Blackhawks will likely have some of the best scoring lines in the NHL this season to go along with their sound defensive systems. Head coach Joel Quenneville is doing a lot of tinkering with the defense presently, but the team should have a fairly smooth road to the playoffs.

Due to how stacked the Central is, it is quite possible the remaining three teams in the playoffs out west will come from this division. The Dallas Stars will have one of the most dangerous offenses this season. With some consistent goaltending, they will be able to overcome a less than stellar defense and make it to the playoffs. The Minnesota Wild may not be a flashy team offensively, but their talent in terms of shot suppression wins them games. They have a very good chance to make the playoffs this season if their goaltending is competent, even if it’s done by committee. The team that may surprise some people this season is the Nashville Predators. New coach Peter Laviolette has an opportunity to get his team into the playoffs with a solid defensive core and healthy goaltending. He is likely to open the historically conservative offensive system up to be more effective. If Laviolette can make this happen, Nashville could be the dark horse out West to make the playoffs.

SAM MCCAIG, YAHOO SPORTS HOCKEY EDITOR

Central Division

Pacific Division

*St. Louis Blues

*Los Angeles Kings

*Chicago Blackhawks

*San Jose Sharks

*Dallas Stars

*Anaheim Ducks

*Minnesota Wild

Vancouver Canucks

*Colorado Avalanche

Edmonton Oilers

Nashville Predators

Arizona Coyotes

Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames

St. Louis is loaded with skill and depth on forward and defense, the perfect combination for surviving and ultimately thriving an 82-game slog in the ultra-competitive Central Division. Chicago is still Chicago, a truly elite team with Cup convictions. Dallas is my pick to rise up in the West, Minnesota remains a strong contender, and Colorado might backpedal but the Avs are too talented up front not to make the playoffs. Nashville skates into its first-ever season without Trotz behind the bench, while Winnipeg just doesn’t have the horses to keep up.

Los Angeles enters 2014-15 as the defending Stanley Cup champions and will play like it during the regular season, with California cousins Anaheim and San Jose also pushing the pace in the Pacific. Vancouver comes in as my ninth-place team in the West with a playoff shot if somebody stumbles. Arizona gets squeezed out, Edmonton is talented but the West is too tough, Calgary is tough but the West is too talented. 

NICK COTSONIKA, YAHOO SPORTS NHL COLUMNIST 

Central Division

Pacific Division

*Chicago Blackhawks

*San Jose Sharks

*St. Louis Blues

*Los Angeles Kings

*Dallas Stars

*Anaheim Ducks

*Colorado Avalanche

Vancouver Canucks

*Minnesota Wild

Edmonton Oilers

Nashville Predators

Arizona Coyotes

Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames

The best division in hockey is the Central. Five teams should make the playoffs: the Blackhawks, Blues, Stars, Avalanche and Wild. The ’Hawks have much the same team that won the Cup in 2013 and easily could have won the Cup last season. The Blues are stacked and now have Paul Stastny. The Stars surprised people last season; they won’t surprise this season after adding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Yes, the Avs will regress, but not so badly that they will miss the playoffs. Then there is the Wild, another year older and wiser.

The Pacific is top heavy. There are three Cup contenders – the Kings, Ducks and Sharks – and then there is a dropoff. Did I say the Sharks? Yes, I did. Despite their first-round meltdown, summer of shame and captaincy crisis, this was one of the best teams in the NHL last season and should be one of its best teams again. The Sharks might be the most motivated of this group in the regular season, even though they cannot make things right until the playoffs. The Ducks are taking some emphasis off the regular season. As for the Kings, well, we know better than to worry about them until April.

DARRYL “DOBBER” DOBBS, PUCK DADDY FANTASY COLUMNIST

Central Division

Pacific Division

*St. Louis Blues

*Anaheim Ducks

*Minnesota Wild

*Los Angeles Kings

*Chicago Blackhawks

*San Jose Sharks

*Dallas Stars

Edmonton Oilers

*Colorado Avalanche

Vancouver Canucks

Nashville Predators

Arizona Coyotes

Winnipeg Jets

Calgary Flames

Anaheim and Blues will start to pull away from the other members of the 'Big 4' (Chicago and Los Angeles), with the Ducks taking the President's Trophy. The most improved playoff team will be the Wild. It took a couple of years for the team to mesh after transforming it a couple of years ago, but now they'll be running on all cylinders. The most improved team over all will be the Oilers. Here is a team that will top 90 points this year and actually have some playoff hope until mid-March. 

Of the Canadian teams, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver will be in the playoff conversation at the trade deadline, with the Jets and the Flames being out of it by Halloween.