Western Conference Predictions: Who's on the Rise?

NBC Sports Washington Staff
NBC Sports Washington

A new NHL season begins on Wednesday. Now it's time to put our experts to the test.

Tarik El-Bashir and J.J. Regan will cover the Capitals all season long for NBC Sports Washington. What do they think the NHL season will hold? It's time to get their season predictions. First, let's start with the Western Conference.

El-Bashir

Central
1. Dallas
2. Minnesota
3. Chicago


Pacific
1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. San Jose


Wild card

1. Nashville
2. St. Louis

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The skinny: With Ben Bishop steadying a previously shaky situation in net, Alexander Radulov bolstering the O and Ken Hitchock back behind the bench, the Stars are ready to rise in the Central. Bruce Boudreau's Wild will qualify for the postseason for a sixth straight year, but the question is this: can ‘Gabby' get them past last year's first-round flameout? The top-heavy Blackhawks have fizzled in the first round each of the past two seasons, but I'm not ready to write off a core headlined by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. P.K. Subban and the Predators are still a playoff team but before you get all crazy about their 2017-18 prospects remember this: they were the tournament's 16th seed a year ago. I've still got Blues getting in, despite a rash of injuries. Why? They were lights out defensively after Mike Yeo took over behind the bench last February, and I'd expect that trend to continue.    

In the Pacific, Anaheim will be banged up to start the year with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler sidelined, but they're still formidable, with a stingy D and enough veteran savvy to hold off Connor McDavid and Oilers. Speaking of, McDavid feels like he's primed to have another MVP year, doesn't it? I'm not sure the Sharks have another Cup run left in them, but Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Co. are good enough to make some noise in a weak division that'll see Calgary and Los Angeles keep things interesting before just missing out. It'll be fun to track Vegas' progress, but they won't be close for a couple of years.

Conference winner: The Ducks, once they're healthy, will have the skill and experience to win in the West.

Regan

Central
1. Dallas
2. Chicago
3. Nashville


Pacific
1. Edmonton
2. Anaheim
3. Calgary


Wild card
1. Minnesota
2. San Jose

The skinny: The biggest issue holding the Stars back has been their goaltending. Now that they have a legitimate No. 1 in Ben Bishop, the sky's the limit. Nashville looks poised for a big season after their coming out party last year, but keep an eye on Pekka Rinne who turns 35 in November. You should never count out a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season, but that is an older team and you have to wonder how much confidence there is in the head coach after yet another disappointing postseason. We have seen this story play out with three different teams now and I believe the Wild are due for a major step back. Those four teams make the playoffs over an injury-riddled St. Louis, a dreadful Colorado and a Winnipeg team that is still a goalie short and a year away.

In the Pacific, Edmonton is on the rise. You may be worried about their salary cap situation, but for now Connor McDavid makes them a contender. Anaheim has won six division championships in a row, but they are getting older, have plenty of injuries to deal with already and it will be hard to stifle the momentum of the Oilers. Calgary is on the rise, but I do not think they have addressed their goaltending issues. I understand why they needed to move on from Brian Elliott, but I also do not see Mike Smith as an upgrade. San Jose's time has passed and I think they will only just squeak into the playoffs as a wild card over Winnipeg and Los Angeles.

Conference winner: The conference looks wide open so I will go with the best player, McDavid, to lead the Oilers to a conference title.

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