Unlikely Predictions: Western Conference

Winnipeg Jets sniper Evander Kane, a recurring source of trade speculation, has had about enough of talking.

Where’s the fun—or the glory—in making reasoned, realistic predictions for the 2014-15 NHL season? You’re right, and nobody cares because a lot of other people were right, too. You’re wrong, and it’s like you couldn’t even correctly predict a simple outcome.

Those kind of predictions are for the weak. We believe in going hard or going home. So these are real predictions—not probabilities—things that might not happen, but are just likely enough that if you offered us the right odds, we’d snap them up as prop bets right now.

And we’ve got one for each team—today we’re tackling the Western Conference. (You can find the East right here—please note that it was published a full two days before Jeff Skinner’s latest head injury.) Enjoy, and come see us in April.

Anaheim Ducks: With Teemu Selanne out of the power-play picture (and yes, despite his complaints, he saw the fourth-most PP time among Ducks forwards) speedy youngster Devante Smith-Pelly (we like him because he has a hyphenated last name!) steps into the void, crashes the net and emerges with 20-25 goals and a whole lot of fans in California.

Arizona Coyotes: The ‘Yotes become the only team in the NHL to have defencemen finish 1-2 in team scoring, as both Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekmann-Larsson top 50 points. Mikkel Boedker finishes third on the team with 49. The Coyotes do not finish third.

Calgary Flames: Flames fans will enjoy their team’s youth movement, watch its possession game continue to blossom and will absolutely not be wishing for the season to end by February. While the Flames will still miss the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference, fans will have seen enough from a handful of prospects by March that there will be genuine hope for contention in the near future—and in Calgary, predictions don’t come much bolder than that.

Chicago Blackhawks: Last season’s leading scorer Patrick Sharp finishes no better than fifth on his team in points, behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and… Brandon Saad, who plays a major power-play role and finishes with 66 points.

Colorado Avalanche: It’s not an unlikely prediction to say the Avs lack of a possession game catches up with them and they come crashing back down to earth. Many expect that, so here’s two more specific predictions: Nathan McKinnon takes a bigger leap than anyone expected, topping 80 points, and Semyon Varlamov takes a bigger step back than anyone imagined, finishing with a SV% around .912 after ending last year at .927.

Dallas Stars: Every year there’s a team pegged to make a huge leap that doesn’t get there. this year, that’s the Stars. Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky struggle with injuries and don’t deliver the secondary scoring the team badly needs, and Kari Lehtonen plays just 47 games and can’t find a groove. Everybody’s preseason darling loses a dogfight with the Wild down the stretch and misses the playoffs by a point.

Edmonton Oilers: Hey–remember Nail Yakupov? That huge bust who was benched at times last year? Yeah, he’s not a bust at all and after returning to camp with a new attitude and an improvement on the defensive end, he’s rewarded with prime PP time and scores more goals than he had total points last season (24). He’s still a minus player though–but he’s above -10, which is a victory in itself.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are a very good team and nothing changes that. They finish third in the conference and enter the playoffs riding the hot hand of…goaltender Martin Jones. (Hey, this team is a machine–you gotta really reach for something that’d be shocking to see in Los Angeles.)

Minnesota Wild: The offence in Minnesota explodes, turning the Wild from a quietly competent team that makes the playoffs as a wild card and loses in the second round into a fun, exciting team that makes the playoffs as the second wild card and loses in the first round. Oh, and Darcy Kuemper is the unquestioned starter by season’s end.

Nashville Predators: The Preds are the worst team in the Central division–yes, worse than the Jets!– but discover several young stars along the way, as Calle Jarnkrok, Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis all make big strides. While they’re doing that, however, the “first line” of Mike Ribeiro and James Neal pretty much fails horribly.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton notches 75 points (shocking, we know!). In related (and somewhat more shocking) news, a couple of San Jose’s pluggers start the season hotter than they’ve ever been. It apparently takes the Sharks’ “brain” trust a few weeks to realize that Thornton makes the players around him much better and move him back into the top six. Several months down the line, Mike Brown uses his great October to get himself a nice little raise, then buys Jumbo Joe and new set of golf clubs.

St. Louis Blues: The St. Louis Blues do not choke in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They cruise to the Western Conference Final with only two losses, then beat the Kings in six games and go on to capture the Stanley Cup. They definitely do not wet themselves at the first sign of playoff adversity, nor does their goaltending go south or their team grit disintegrate. Nope. None of that happens. Nosiree.

Vancouver Canucks: The Sedins return to the list of the NHL’s top 20 scorers. Ryan Miller returns to All-Star status. Radim Vrbata becomes every poolie’s favourite misspelled name and, in general, the Canucks prove that goaltending and coaching are the two quickest routes to a turnaround in hockey. They hold their own in a tough division and clinch the West’s top wild card spot.

Winnipeg Jets: An angry Evander Kane lets his stick do the talking, silencing all the critics who were wondering why, at age 23 and having spent every NHL season on a bad team, he doesn’t play with a veteran winner’s poise and composure. Anyway, he scores 38 goals and this time the media criticizes him for not talking enough. After the Jets miss the playoffs, he literally begs management to trade him to a U.S. market.

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