A Flyover of the Western Conference at the All-Star Break

The west is much more intriguing than in years past, if only because there aren’t that many true favorites to make it out over the others. The playoff contenders in this conference are all relatively balanced, which should make for an exciting finish to the season. Here’s how the 16 teams in the west are doing this All-Star Break.


Dallas Stars

Dallas is experiencing what San Jose and Vegas did in their first years under Pete DeBoer. This Stars team has finally found the scoring touch that they’ve been lacking for the better part of a decade now. Dallas is one of the most electric teams in the league this year, with Jason Robertson emerging as a superstar and guys like Roope Hintz starting to come out of their shells as well, with several hat-tricks to boot. In goal, their brick wall from the playoffs in Jake Oettinger has chosen to maintain his stellar form by stopping everything in sight once again. They’re an exciting group headed into this playoff push. A deep playoff run might be on the menu if everything goes right for them.


Winnipeg Jets

I can’t tell if this team is legitimately good or if everyone is playing way over their heads. The scoring being dominant, I get, it’s Winnipeg, but the defense? Wasn’t that one of their more considerable weaknesses over the past few years? Having Connor Hellyebuck recapture his 2018 form helps with that, but the Jets have been giving their Vezina-caliber goalie more help than usual this year. They’re hitting a bit of a skid going into the All-Star Break, but barring a collapse, they should make the playoffs. Don’t even think about it, Jets.


Minnesota Wild

I need Minnesota to tell me what they are before I judge them. Are they the team that starts the year unable to play defense? Are they the juggernaut that rattles off 6 in a row? Or are they the mediocre squad that couldn’t hold onto a lead for their lives? So far, we’ve seen all three of these, and there’s no telling which version we’ll get for the second half of this season. They’ll probably buy at the deadline again, but those Parise and Suter dead-cap hits loom large. They might have convicted Chuck Fletcher of sins in absentia, but they can’t recover. Maybe they’ll win more than two playoff games this time around.


Nashville Predators

The Preds, despite all of the offseason moves, are still the mediocre washup that doesn’t want to admit the glory days are over. They’re still a talented team, but they’re by no means a cup contender right now. The west is too stacked for them to do anything this year, so their only options are to sell at the deadline or limp into the playoffs to get massacred by Dallas or Winnipeg. The catfish will rain down with impunity soon. Maybe they can make a chant about how much everyone besides Jusse Saros sucks this year.


Colorado Avalanche

Cup hangover? The Avs are still blacked out well into the next day if that’s the case. The whole team has had enough injuries to rival North Korea, but the team has struggled to round into form this year. They’ll have these moments where they look like the juggernaut of last season, only to lay a massive egg and fall apart against inferior competition. I’m not that worried, though. They’ll probably buy at the deadline, and even if they make it in as a wild card, they’ll still have a chance. We all know what can happen if they get rolling. The question is if they can figure out how.


St. Louis Blues

Nazem Kadri broke this team last year. This season has been nothing but toxicity and arrogance from the Blues, but they haven’t done a thing to back it up. Jordan Binnington is once again elite… in the antagonizing department. Taking cheap shots at unsuspecting players, trying to fight opposing goalies, and getting in the grill of other teams when they’ve done nothing wrong is a surefire way to end up on the good-guy list. The Blues have lost the fire they’ve had in seasons past, and the rumors swirling have them as deadline sellers, too. Craig Berube may be on thin ice soon, and Tarasenko and O’Reilly will probably be dealt this march for some peanuts. It’s too bad, St. Louis. You guys have one cup, and then you’re back to the incredible failure of years past. See you in another 50 years.


ASU Coyotes

Behold, the NHL’s rendition of the Chargers moving to LA! It’s easy to sell out every home game when you can only fit 5,000 fans in the “arena.” Even then, opposing teams’ fans still dominate the Coyotes’ games. This team is deep in a tank, and the only thing they’ll win this year would be Connor Bedard. Trade for Taylor Hall at the deadline. You can thank me later.


Chicago Blackhawks

Sadly, a team with Toews and Kane on the same line is as bad as the Blackhawks are. This team was supposed to take a step forward this year; instead, they’ve fallen to the point where they’re out-tanking the Coyotes. This is another team taking a deep dive for Bedard, and Toews and Kane are likely to get dealt to real teams come this deadline. Chicago is in a sports dark age right now, and it doesn’t look like the Hawks will help with their plight. Cheers.


Seattle Kraken

Now we’re seeing why so many people last offseason were so high on the Kraken. It’s taken a year, but the hype they had after their expansion has finally been realized. The most significant difference, though, has been in the net, which seems to be the piece that has fit the entire puzzle together. Last year, Phillip Grubauer experienced a massive regression, turning into swiss cheese and giving up endless goals to the opposition. This year, he’s recaptured the form that made him a Vezina finalist in Colorado. The rest of the team, and their young core, are starting to emerge to the point where they are leading the division going into the All-Star Break. Even the optimists didn’t see this out of them. Impressive.

Vegas Golden Knights

Early in the season, this team looked unstoppable. Vegas had all their injured guys back from last year, and Thompson was playing way over his head. Alas, they had to regress to the mean, to the delight of all hockey traditionalists against putting the team there. Vegas has lost control of the division to Seattle and are playing .500 hockey going into the All-Star Break. At least they’ll have those future considerations to cling to, as they will probably be a second-round exit this year.


Los Angeles Kings

I thought this team had what it took to make the next step this year. This year reminds me a lot of last year, except this time they actually have expectations of being more than a bottom-feeder. Their rebuild got a big shot in the arm this offseason by getting Kevin Fiala from Minnesota, and so far, he’s been everything he was advertised as at the beginning of the year. However, their Achilles heel this year is goaltending. Quick looks like he’s finally starting to fall off, and his replacements have been substandard. His backup, once given the starting role, was a dumpster fire. But Phoenix Copley, am I right? Nope. He was chased out of a game after giving up two to Nashville in the first 40 seconds. They’ll need to get that part of the machine fixed and fast. The grace period is finite, and the Kings will be at the end of it pretty soon. The bandwagon Angelinos will not tolerate more playoff futility for very long. The Ducks can tell you how that goes.


Edmonton Oilers

Wasn’t this team supposed to be good this year? I guess not. Unfortunately, you need more than one competent line and no overpaid albatrosses of defensive contracts to succeed in this league. McDavid and Draisaitl are beasting, but the rest of the roster has been lacking. That playoff run last year is looking more and more like a fluke. The Jay Woodcroft luster has worn off, and he has been revealed to be in the same boat as most Oilers coaches before. With how insufferable Oiler fans were last year during their run, no one feels sorry for them.


Calgary Flames

Cup contenders. We thought the Flames would be cup contenders this season. Why does this team take every single expectation and completely defecate on it? It happened last year when they got to face Mike Smith in the playoffs, and it’s happened before then in pretty much every other season. Remember over the summer when we were all fawning over Brad Treliving and his brilliance when putting together this year’s roster? Turns out we all drank the Kool-Aid on this team. The Flames have, once again, produced nothing in the regular season but horrific underachieving. They can’t even use not having Johnny Hockey as an excuse; he’s been horrible with Columbus since being traded. This team got carried on Markstrom’s back for most of last year, and it shows. I’ll await the inevitable first-round exit.

Vancouver Canucks

Typically, in this segment, I’d talk about how Vancouver failed to take off. I’d be talking about how the new management made the first good move of their tenure by fleecing the Isles for a rental in Bo Horvat. I would also mention how the underachieving of the core, in large part, led to the Horvat trade. That is all irrelevant. You can’t talk about the Canucks these days without mentioning BBQ Bruce. The way top brass dragged their feet when choosing to part ways and hung him out to dry for over three weeks is grounds for all the abuse under the sun. They realize the entire fanbase lost faith in them over this debacle, right? There’s zero trust in Aquilini and his minions to do the right thing anymore. The Canucks, even without Trader Jim Benning, are still being run by a bunch of clowns. This move is their magnum opus. Enjoy being unlikeable and mediocre for the next half-decade.


San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are roughly in the same predicament as the Penguins and Capitals. The only problem is that the fossils they’re keeping around have completely sucked instead of using necromancy to revive the glory years. Most of the team sucks this year, but the main culprit for this team is its goaltending — if you could even call it that. Devan Dubnyk retired before the season, so the Sharks have been stuck with an aging James Reimer and the perennial backup Kappo Kahkonen. In terms of performance and metrics, this is one of the worst goalie tandems in the league. The sieves they call defensemen aren’t doing a good job helping, either. Besides an unprecedented throwback year from Erik Karlsson that probably does nothing but increases his trade value at the deadline, there’s nothing back there. This team will be spinning the tires for a while, and the SAP center will continue to be a cavern on a nightly basis. Timo Meier and Kevin LeBanc will also probably be gone. Such a tragic end.


Anaheim Ducks

Picture the scene in front of you. A majestic tank comes rolling down the street toward you. You are already dazzled by its awe and might, but then it sprouts several limbs and appendages and turns into every field marshal’s dream. That would be the Ducks. Behold one of the most hilarious tank jobs this year in the NHL. The tanks are beyond rolling into view. It’s gotten to the point where they’re driving themselves off cliffs—such epic failure. The funniest part is that Anaheim treated the offseason like they were contenders. They saw the overachieving last year and decided to add to it. Adding all those former Rangers only turned Anaheim into a watered-down version of them. They were devoid of scoring touch and defense and were carried to their few wins by John Gibson. Even then, his back is close to breaking again from his imitation of Atlas lifting the Ducks organization. This team has been the worst in the league this year. It was so bad that they didn’t even get a regulation win until Thanksgiving. They haven’t scored more than five goals in a game all season. That’s near historical failure. It’s gotten to the point where the fans hope they lose so they can ruin Connor Bedard next season. Congratulations, you’re the 2014 Buffalo Sabres. Enjoy the rest of your pathetic season in limbo.


In terms of playoff predictions, it’s anyone’s race. The only teams that are really out of it are Chicago, the Sharks, and Anaheim. Everyone else at least has a shot. The divisional berths will go to Winnipeg, Dallas, the Avs in the central, and the Kraken, Kings, and Vegas in the Pacific. The wild cards are, well, wild cards. I see Minnesota and Calgary making it this year. See you at the deadline.


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