Finally, after months and months of everyone involved being morons, causing 113 days, 625 games, and the biggest outdoor hockey game in history to be cancelled, hockey fans can finally say “Game On!” The NHL has a new 10-year labor agreement, and is set to start the shortened, 48 game 2013 season on Saturday, January 19. Find out what you need to know about every team in the NHL for the upcoming season, this time featuring the Western Conference. Continue after the jump to find out where your team will finish in the race for a playoff spot out west.
1. St. Louis Blues
The surprise of the league last season has the depth and talent to win the Presidents Trophy. Despite being in the toughest division in hockey, the Blues will use last year’s playoff experience to put together a deep playoff run this year.
2. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are the reigning Stanley Cup champs, and getting an extended offseason should help LA avoid the championship hangover. With all the pieces back, the experience from last year, and some easy points available in the Pacific, the Kings are a true threat to repeat.
3. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver is still the best team in the Northwest, but the gap is closing. If the goaltending situation becomes a distraction, the Canucks could be in for a bumpy ride. However, with the Sedin twins, there is more than enough talent to get into the playoffs.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have plenty of talent and experience, but have struggled to get hot at the right time. The power dynamic is shifting in the Central, and Chicago will have a hard time keeping up with St. Louis. However, Chicago should still end up with home ice advantage in the first round.
5. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes are the forgotten team of the NHL, but they continue to win without superstars, fans in the rink, or even an actual owner. Defensive and opportunistic play spur Phoenix, and quality goaltending from whoever is in net will once again put the Coyotes into the playoffs.
6. Minnesota Wild
The offseason makeover for the Wild has a lot of talented parts coming into the State of Hockey. Parise, Suter, and Granlund will inject offense into a team who is much better defensively than the media gives them credit for. The pieces fit together, and Minnesota will make their way back into the playoffs.
7. Dallas Stars
The Stars have a lot of good, young talent, and have superstars in the making in Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn (if they resign him quickly). The addition of veterans who know how to win should be enough to put Dallas over the hump and into the playoffs.
8. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit has plenty of talent, but has lost nearly as much talent in the last couple years. Without proven players in the line up, and stronger competition from the rest of the conference will make the Red Wings struggle to keep their playoff streak alive.
9. Nashville Predators
Nashville still has a lot of the talent on their roster, but must contend with stronger teams in their division to make the playoffs. While a playoff miss might be seen as a step back for Smashville, this team is still playoff caliber, just the victim of a short season schedule against a lot of tough teams.
10. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have continually struggled in the playoffs, and have at times looked as if they won’t even make the playoffs. A slow start would doom them this year, and there isn’t enough time to get a hot streak and ride into the playoffs.
11. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers will likely be the most fun team to watch in the NHL, but a lack of NHL caliber defense will cause some high paced, high scoring games, reminiscent of the Oilers of the ’80’s. While they have playoff level talent, they don’t have all the pieces quite yet to reach the postseason.
12. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche are a team with talent, but might be hurt by circumstances, both schedule and personnel, related. The division is suddenly deeper, and the room for error is no longer there. Another year, and another high pick could put Colorado on pace to be a darkhorse for the 2013-14 season, unfortunately not this season.
13. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have a lot of decisions to make, and might be forced to play chicken with its best players if the team starts out well. Anaheim must resign or trade one, or more, of the big three, this year. And if the team struggles early despite all that talent, players could be on the way out in a hurry.
14. Calgary Flames
It’s strange to think that the Flames were in the Stanley Cup Final just a few years ago. Strangely, it seems that the roster hasn’t changed from then. While some new blood is in the system, it might be the last year in the Jarome Iginla era for Calgary.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets
Once again, the Blue Jackets have been piled on. No All Star Game. No All Star player on the roster. Lots of holes in the lineup, and not as much talent as possible coming up. This team will struggle to get points, and will likely have high odds for the first overall draft pick.
Who the actual best team out west is is up for debate. The Kings are the reigning champs, but the Canucks, Blues, Blackhawks, and Red Wings are always a threat. There is a clear division between the 15 teams in the Western Conference. There is a large group of contenders who will likely take up all the playoff spots, while everyone else will struggle, and end up with quite high draft picks. The Wild, Stars, Oilers, and Blues are all teams on the way up, and should have strong seasons. The Red Wings, Sharks, Flames, and Avalanche could be looking at seasons that could be a little bit rougher than they’d hope. With such explosive rivalries, and so many games in so few days, things will get heated very quick, especially if a lot of teams remain close to the playoff race. In the end, playoff position could be affected by injuries that keep a superstar out for even a couple weeks. If a team goes on a cold streak, it could be the end of their 2013 season.
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy. If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at email@example.com.