NHL Western Conference: Do they hold the Stanley Cup winner?

NHL
Nov 8, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Trevor Moore (12) warms up before a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA Today

Just six seasons into their NHL existence, the Vegas Golden Knights lifted the Stanley Cup. No team has ever done it quicker and while they were undoubtedly helped by a generous expansion draft, the players still have to make it happen as a cohesive unit on the ice. There will be many who are looking over the betting sites in Canada who will think that they are set to repeat but what chance do they have of doing so? Read on for the second instalment of our NHL season preview.

Vegas Golden Knights

The defending champions picked up 111 points last season, leading the west. No defending champion has ever got off to a better start than the VGK, looking even hungrier than last season to show that they have the ability to turn this franchise into a dynasty.

That passion and desire starts with Mark Stone who has taken to the captaincy like a duck to water. He leads a true team where there is no one player who is the star but rather a well-oiled machine. Points and goals are shared around as they have been this season. The rest of the NHL should be worried about this Vegas team as they have looked very hard to beat in the opening weeks.

Colorado Avalanche

Despite a string of injuries throughout the season, the Avs made it to the top of the Central division in defence of their 2021/22 title. It will not have been the result that they set out to achieve and with their captain Gabriel Landeskog out for what is likely to be this entire season, they have started a fight with one hand tied behind their back once more.

The team has come together well in spite of losing their leader, making a strong start to proceedings. Cale Makar continues to put up points at a rate that no D-men in the history of the NHL have. Nathan MacKinnon is off to only a steady start with the offence running rather hot and then cold so far.

Edmonton Oilers

Goals are always the order of the day in Edmonton with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl one of the most feared combinations in the entire NHL. The remarkable offensive figures that they have put up year after year are yet to get the Oilers anywhere close to a Stanley Cup and the team’s issues remain the same in a season where they have made a poor start.

Both Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell have found things a struggle this season between the pipes but this is not something that can be blamed entirely on them. There are peewee league defences who don’t give up the same volume of odd-man rushes. A serious lack of defensive accountability needs to be addressed fast or the Oilers can wave goodbye to another year.

Dallas Stars

108 points last season was an excellent return, a level they have topped just once (109 points in 2015-16) in the 16 seasons prior. A huge part of that was Jake Ottinger who has improved his save percentage with each year he has played in the NHL. He has looked almost unbeatable in the early weeks of the season which is perfect as the offence is yet to click.

Jason Robertson is one of the young stars in the league and probably still rather underrated compared to a few of his peers. He has made a slow start to this year but some of the slack has been taken up by Wyatt Johnson. The 20yo is off to a flying start for a team that looks like genuine contenders.

Los Angeles Kings

Since winning the 2013-14 Stanley Cup the Kings have made the playoffs in four of the nine seasons but have failed to get out of the first round. Remarkably they have not won their division since the 1990-91 season and that looks unlikely to change with the Golden Knights in competition.

The Kings have looked great going forward but have been leaky at the back with a tandem of Cam Talbot and Phoenix Copley, not the pair to fill potential bettors with confidence when it comes to them proving the top team in the NHL. Should be fun to watch but others are arguably more complete teams.

Minnesota Wild

A poor end to last season saw the Wild only finish third in the Central. They are a team who are strongest down the left side with Kirill Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Marcus Foligno and newcomer Pat Maroon locking down that side of the ice. 

The issue with the first pair is that they have not been all that strong in coming back to do their defensive duties so far this season with both netminders putting up poor save figures. Marc-Andre Fleury is 39 at the end of the month so his chance of lifting another cup is slim.

Seattle Kraken

Like Vegas, the Kraken has taken advantage of the generous expansion draft rules to build a strong side immediately. Injuries to their sparkplug Brandon Tanev as well as Andre Burakovsky have seen them off to a slow start this season. 

The big disappointment of the campaign so far is Matthew Beniers. The Calder winner last year for an exceptional rookie campaign has looked well off the pace this time around which has to be a concern. The Kraken is going to struggle to make any impact late in the season without some serious improvement.  

Winnipeg Jets

A second season in Winnipeg for Rick Bowness (3rd if you count his 1988-89 year with the old Jets franchise) and he has a squad packed full of first-round draft picks who have the potential to be better than last season if they can find some consistency.

They have been balanced in their scoring so far, playing well offensively which has helped with Conor Hellebuyck just searching for his form. Third in the Vezina voting last year, when he finds his stride the Jets are going to be a solid team who are set for another postseason experience. 

Calgary Flames

Lost their way badly under Darryl Sutter after a great start to his time as coach, turning to Ryan Huska this year. Huska has been a Flames assistant since 2018 but has not managed to get the team off to the sort of start that he would have liked. They looked poor in the recent Heritage Classic, a game against the Oilers that they dearly would have liked to show up for.

In the bottom few teams in the entire NHL in both offence and defence, Huska has his work cut out for him. Jonathan Huberdeau arrived from Florida to great fanfare at the start of last season but has produced nothing like the level he did for the Panthers. The team lacks star power and blaming Sutter won’t cut it this year.

Nashville Predators

Barry Trotz is back in Nashville as the GM, bringing a bit of a buzz back to the team with him. The first head coach of the franchise, he is beloved in the city and is starting to piece together a well-balanced team.

Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist will add to the veteran presence and help to nurture young talent like Luke Evangelista and Juuso Parssinen. We are not expecting them to be Stanley Cup contenders but they should be solid.

Vancouver Canucks

There are few teams who have been more disappointing in recent seasons than the Canucks. They have only made the playoffs once in the last eight seasons but there is a new lease of life under Rick Tocchet.

Brock Boeser never really kicked on after his sparkling rookie season, producing a similar level year in and year out but this year perhaps is the year he finally steps up. Quinn Hughes continues to improve on the blue line and Elias Pettersson is looking to follow up an excellent triple-figure haul last season. The playoffs beckon if they can keep up the pace.  

St Louis Blues

It’s hard to believe that it’s only a few years since the Blues lifted the Stanley Cup, missing out on the playoffs entirely last season. They have been abject offensively this season so far but have been strong at the back with an excellent record when it comes to goals conceded.

They are going to need plenty more from Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas especially if they are going to avoid another end to their season after 82 games. Jordan Binnington has been solid so far but he is going to need to keep that level up if they are to contend.

Arizona Coyotes

The Yotes are an odd one. They have only made the playoffs once in the last 11 seasons but have a habit of upping their game against the stronger sides. In the last three seasons they have not managed to get to 30 wins but at least beat a couple of teams in the West standings last season.

They are off to a better start this season than most would have expected but their top players are in their mid-20s so should be at the peak of their powers. Sean Durzi looks like a nice pickup from the Kings but they could do with Nick Schmaltz staying healthy for the season.

San Jose Sharks

Failed to make the playoffs the last four seasons after being a Western Conference finalist the year before that. They are off to an awful start, there is no working around that for all that the absence of Logan Couture is not going to be a help to them.

They have actually not played quite as badly as their record suggests with both Kaapo Kahkonen and Mackenzie Blackwood putting up decent figures despite taking a string of losses. The record will right itself to an extent but it is hard to see them making any long-term impact this season.

Chicago Blackhawks

Finished bottom of the Central division last season, winning the Connor Bedard lottery with the number one draft pick. It is unfair to ask too much of an 18yo at this stage of his career for all that he looks like being a generational talent.

Corey Perry and Nick Foligno are a pair added to the lineup to bring some veteran presence and they will help Bedard adapt to the rigours of the NHL. This is far too early in the day for Chicago to be a contender but a season of growth is possible and Bedard is going to be helped hugely just for playing his first 82 games at this level. 

Anaheim Ducks

Picked up just 58 points last season, the lowest total of any team in the NHL. They have made a much quicker start to this season, especially impressive in attack, scoring plenty of goals but keeping things a little tighter than last season at the other end.

Troy Terry has now found his stride and 21yo Mason McTavish has started the year off in flying form. He was 7th in the Calder voting last season and looks like building on that. Both Frank Vatrano and Dylan Strome have settled in well and can also improve on their first season at the Ducks. Interesting to see how they get on as they are looking much stronger than last year.

Conclusion

Free Bet

The Vegas Golden Knights are clearly the team to beat again in the West this season. There has never been a Stanley Cup champion who has got off to a better start and it would not be a shock to anyone if they are capable of going back to back as the Lightning did in 2020 and 2021.

At bigger prices, both the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks look set to improve on last season and at least grab a place in the playoffs. It will also be interesting to see how the Blackhawks get on for the future.

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