Players on Canada’s West Coast teams might have nice tans come playoff time as they’ll be spending a lot of time in sunny climate. The Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks now share a division with the three Californian teams and the Phoenix Coyotes. With only 14 teams in the West this season, the playoff race will be as intense as ever.
Teams listed in order of predicted finish.
Los Angeles Kings (2012-13 record: 27-16-5; eliminated by Blackhawks in Western Conference final)
The Kings failed in their attempt to repeat as Cup champs last season, losing to the eventual champs in the Western Conference final, but they’ll remain one of the league’s elite teams in 2013-14. With a talented blue line featuring young stars Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, plus leaders and skill up front with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, the Kings are solid in all areas. Oh, yeah, and they have a guy named Jonathan Quick in net.
It took the Kings a while to come into their own last season, but they were great in the playoffs, so an 82-game schedule should be more beneficial to this team than the 48-game campaign was last year. Look for Matt Frattin and Tyler Toffoli to become valuable offensive weapons if they earn decent ice time, and for Matt Greene and Robyn Rehger to make up for the loss of Rob Scuderi.
Key acquisitions: Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, Jeff Schultz
Key departures: Jonathan Bernier, Rob Scuderi, Brad Richardson
San Jose Sharks (2012-13 record: 25-16-7; eliminated by Kings in second round of playoffs)
The Sharks were a middle-of-the-road team in 2012-13 and should be a middle-of-the-road team again in 2013-14, as they’re essentially the same squad as last season. You can’t deny their offensive upside as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle should all be among the point leaders of their respective positions. Still, there’s nothing that stands out about the Sharks apart from perhaps goaltender Antti Niemi. If the Finn can improve upon his career year, he can carry this team a long way. A playoff team? Yes. A Cup contender? Not quite.
Key acquisitions: Tyler Kennedy, Tomas Hertl (rookie)
Key departures: Scott Gomez, T.J. Galiardi
Vancouver Canucks (2012-13 record: 26-15-7; eliminated by Sharks in first round of playoffs)
Despite the Canucks having a successful regular season, there was a lot of turmoil in Vancouver in the lockout-shortened 2013. The big question for the Canucks going forward is how John Tortorella will change the look of the squad. The former Rangers bench boss likes to ride his stars, so look for the Sedins’ ice time to increase. Vancouver’s top two lines should be reliable, but the bottom half of the roster must prove itself. If Roberto Luongo can remain one of the best goalies in the game, the Canucks could go deep.
Key acquisitions: John Tortorella (coach), Brad Richardson
Key departures: Alain Vigneault (coach), Cory Schneider, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre, Derek Roy
Anaheim Ducks (2012-13 record: 30-12-6; eliminated by Red Wings in first round of playoffs)
The Ducks overachieved last year. It was surprising how well they did in the regular season considering how top-heavy their roster looked on paper. In 2013-14, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be world class -- we all know that -- but the big question is, Where will the secondary scoring come from? Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are getting long in the tooth, and it won’t be a shock if their output declines. Bobby Ryan’s gone, and that will be a major factor. With 11 fighters set to become free agents next summer, this is a make-or-break season for the Ducks.
Key acquisitions: Jakob Silfverberg, Dustin Penner
Key departures: Bobby Ryan, Toni Lydman, David Steckel
Edmonton Oilers (2012-13 record: 19-22-7; did not make playoffs)
Is this the year that the upstart Oilers finally break out? There’s no doubting their skill. In fact, their glut of young talent must have many GMs across the league extremely jealous. Former No. 1 picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov will continue to hone their abilities, and Andrew Ference will be a huge influence on the team’s young defenders. The biggest difference could be the attitude of the team, shaped by new coach Dallas Eakins. Devan Dubnyk is a capable goalie, and as long as he doesn’t cost the team any games, the Oilers should make a serious run at the postseason.
Key acquisitions: Dallas Eakins (coach), Andrew Ference, David Perron, Philip Larsen, Boyd Gordon, Jesse Joensuu
Key departures: Shawn Horcoff, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Whitney, Theo Peckham, Mark Fistric, Teemu Hartikainen, Eric Belanger
Phoenix Coyotes (2012-13 record: 21-18-9; did not make playoffs)
Their ownership troubles seem to be resolved, and their on-ice issues could be on their way to being fixed as well. Mike Ribeiro was a great offseason acquisition, and signing goalie Mike Smith to a new six-year deal was important for the franchise. They’ve got a lot of speedy forwards, a good crop of grinders, and one of the best young defencemen in the game in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They’re not built to play very physical, however, and that could cost them in the long run.
Key acquisitions: Mike Ribeiro, Brandon Yip, Thomas Greiss
Key departure: Boyd Gordon
Calgary Flames (2012-13 record: 19-25-4; did not make playoffs)
Sorry, Flames fans, this season could be a tough one. Brian Burke was hired as president of hockey operations, so it will be curious to see if this results in a slew of personnel changes on and off the ice during the season. No more Jarome Iginla, no more Miikka Kiprusoff, no more Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Tanguay, Cory Sarich. Goals will be hard to come by, and unless goaltenders Karri Ramo and Joey MacDoanld stand on their heads and steals games, the Flames could realistically finish with the worst record in the West.
Key acquisitions: Brian Burke (president of hockey operations), David Jones, T.J. Galiardi, Karri Ramo, Shane O'Brien
Key departures: Miikka Kiprusoff, Alex Tanguay, Cory Sarich, Roman Cervenka
Canucks vs. Oilers. After some heated pre-season action that resulted in two Canucks being suspended and Sam Gagner’s jaw getting broken, this rivalry could become a rough one. Both teams will be in the playoff race late in the season, which should translate to their games being more intense, especially late in the season.
Big question mark:
How will Roberto Luongo perform after all the drama between him and the team over last season?
And the playoff teams will be…
Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Edmonton Oilers