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The Puck Starts Here - Western Conference

As the 2019-20 NHL season begins, here's what you need to know for each team in the Western Conference

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

SEATTLE -- The NHL regular season rolls out the red-line carpets Wednesday with four matchups: the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs face off at 4 p.m. PT. Then, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, the 2018 Stanley Cup champs, visit the 2019 Cup-winning St. Louis Blues at 5 p.m.

Out in our time zone, the Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers begins at 7 p.m. (admittedly we're rooting for former NHL Seattle senior hockey ops advisor and new Oilers coach Dave Tippett in this one) before the San Jose Sharks travel to Vegas to finish the evening. 

Want to watch Opening Night with fellow fans? You're invited to join NHL Seattle for a watch party featuring all four games on Wednesday at The Angry Beaver in the Greenwood neighborhood.

Before we get to the previews, check back each Monday of the season for a weekly look-ahead to highlight what to watch, what to know, how to impress your hockey friends and a quick look back at magical games over the weekend, plus some surprises. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your linemates/school mates/teammates/co-workers.

Here are some quick hitters about what you can expect from teams in the 2019-20 season.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

We'll start with the West. Not sure why all North American pro sports standings start with eastern regions since the West is the best-and recall the St. Louis Blues won the Cup last June.

Up first: the Pacific Division, which Seattle joins in 2021-22.

 

 

Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 80 points, missed the playoffs.

Who's that? John Gibson played like a top-3 goalie all season, earning an eight-year contract extension. His backup, Ryan Miller, is a former all-star and can still throw some shutouts.  

This season: The Ducks were last in the NHL last season in goals scored (2.39 per game) and last in shots on goal. They were shut out nine times and scored two goals or less in 45 of 82 games. They have nowhere to go but up. The Ducks' younger players need to pick up the scoring slack. New coach Dallas Eakins can help with that since he was promoted from the American Hockey league affiliate, San Diego Gulls. He knows the young guys.

Outlook five words or less: Prospects need to score goals. 

 

Arizona Coyotes

Last season: 86 points, missed postseason by two wins

Who's that? The Coyotes traded for Phil Kessel this summer, picking up a premier goal scorer who won two Cups with Pittsburgh. Kessel is sort of love-hate player who finds the net and fan doubts. He's a big name in a market that needs one, plus he reunites with head coach Rick Tocchet, considered the Phil whisperer with the Penguins during the recent back-to-back Cup run. 

This season: Tocchet is a solid coach. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson are top-level defensemen. Derek Stepan is an offensive force. Lots of other players could have breakout seasons or not. 

Outlook five words or less: Much depends on G Darcy Kuemper

 

Calgary Flames

Last season: 107 regular-season points, lost to Colorado in first round of playoffs

Who's that? Matthew Tkachuk, whose last name is pronounced "kuh-CHUCK", is a rising star who signed a new three-year contract this week in time for Wednesday's opener. Tkachuk grew up in Arizona and his dad Keith was an NHL stalwart. Matthew has 174 points (71 G, 103 A) in 224 games, including 34 goals last season.

This season: This team is loaded with a top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm staying intact. There was talk of moving Lindholm to center. Mark Giordano won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman last season and Cam Talbot has looks strong in goal.

Outlook five words or less: Contender for Western Conference champ.


 
 

Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 79 points, did not make the playoff

Who's that? Connor McDavid returns from a season-ending knee injury last spring. All reports indicate he looks solid and ready, if a bit rusty (which he will shake off soon enough). Projects as top three scorer in league. 

This season: New coach and ex-NHL Seattle senior advisor Dave Tippett has three potential all-star centers in McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins. But McDavid and Draisaitl are so potent together it is tempting to play Draisaitl at wing. New GM Ken Holland addressed this with adding James Neal and other veterans at wing. 

Outlook five words or less: Healthy McDavid + Tippett = playoffs contender.

 

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 71, bottom of the Western Conference

Who's that? The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 with players like Anze Kopitar up front, Drew Doughty on defense and Jonathan Quick in goal. Kopitar is 32 and Quick is 33; both are facing prove-it seasons. New coach Todd McLellan was fired in Edmonton, but Pacific Division fans know he went deep in postseasons with San Jose. He will get this team to play hard every night. 

This season: This roster will look different and stronger when Seattle enters the league in for 2021-22. Expect to see players like top draftees Alex Turcotte (now a freshman on Wisconsin's NCAA team) and Finnish center Rasmus Kupari among others for a team ranked top 5 in its prospects pipeline.

Outlook five words or less: Better under McLellan.

 

San Jose Sharks

Last season: 101 points, lost 4-2 (in games) to St. Louis in Western Conference Final. 

Who's that? D-man Erik Karlsson signed a monster contract (eight seasons, $92 million) that has Sharks fans learning too much about not signing other favorite players such as Joe Pavelski. Karlsson is a bonafide star and along with two more top-level defensemen, Brett Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (gotta love those French-Canadian names). Logan Couture is the new captain and a force on offense and social media.  

This season: The Sharks have enough scoring (including Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane) but they will be looking for goalie Martin Jones to become a more consistent performer in net. He was hot-cold-hot-cold in last spring's playoffs. 

Outlook five words or less: No-doubter for postseason. 

 

 

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 81 points, missed the playoffs by five wins.

Who's that? Hockey fans know plenty about Jack Hughes, the U.S. Development Team star center drafted No. 1 overall last June and on the opening day roster for New Jersey. Well, his brother Quinn is a star in the making who will be flying from his defensive position toward Seattle's goal soon enough. The 19-year-old played a handful of impressive games for the Canucks last spring after his University of Michigan (coached by legendary NHLer Red Berenson) NCAA season ended. He will be a contender with Jack for the league's Calder rookie award. Drum roll, Seattle: Brother Luke is a top defenseman prospect eligible for the 2021 Draft. 

This season: Is it a good or bad thing that Seattle's nearest rival-to-be is in the potential playoff mix this season and trending positive for 2020-21 and beyond? Most fans didn't like the Tyler Myers signing (too much money and years for what is deemed a middle-road D-man). No matter, a young offensive core of Elias Pettersson (age 21), Brock Boeser (22) and Bo Horvat (24) will be in their scoring primes for five-plus seasons. 

Outlook five words or less: Playoffs possible without major injuries

 

Vegas Golden Knights

Last season: 93, lost Game 7 to San Jose in first round of playoffs.

Who's that? Mark Stone remains as one of the NHL's best players that many fans don't quite know. He scored several big goals during a playoff series that ended abruptly and controversially with a major penalty that allowed San Jose to score four goals during the five-minute segment with Vegas a man short. Stone sparked this talented team following a mid-season trade and is considered by scouts to be a top defensive forward as well. 

This season: VGK has premier scorers and stellar goaltending. The defensive group is solid, but this team would appear unbeatable with one of San Jose's top D-men. But the team-first attitude will carry them to a third straight postseason since winning the expansion bid to become the NHL's 31st franchise. 

Outlook five words or less: Media favorite for Cup Final.

 

Moving onto the Central Division:

 

Chicago Blackhawks

Last season: 84 points, missed the playoffs. 

Who's that? Robin Lehner turned in Vezina Trophy (top goalie award) finalist year for the Islanders last season with a 25-13-5 record, 2.13 goals against average, 93% save percentage and six shutouts. The Isles promptly signed Colorado's Semyon Varlamov to a big contract, prompting Lehner to join Chicago on a one-year contract. He's not with the Blackhawks to back up two-time Cup winner Corey Crawford, who is in the final year of his own contract. Expect Lehner to push Crawford for playing time and even be the goaltender Chicago signs long-term.  

This season: Patrick Kane continues to be an elite playmaker and scorer. His summer workout regimen attracted several teammates who noted the All-Star's stamina late in games. The better conditioning should help a team that has too many no-movement clauses for aging players. Coach Jeremy Colliton (who at 34 is the same age or younger than several Hawks standouts) gets a whole season to see if his on-ice works and appears to be set on letting Kane and another future Hall of Famer Jonathan Toews play on the first line together. 

Outlook in five words or less: Lower seed, but in postseason

 
 
 

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 90 points, surprise team to make the Western Conference bracket

Who's that? This one is easy. Keep your eyes on Nathan McKinnon, who even gets fellow NHLers to check out his goal highlights. Top center McKinnon reunites with right wing Mikko Rantanen, who just signed a new contract that Seattle fans will learn soon enough will sustain a difficult duo to keep out of goal range. 

This season: The Avs' youth movement arrived a year earlier than expected. The Central Division is crazy competitive, and Colorado looks prepared for the long run with a top-3 prospect pipeline. Cale Makar pulled off his college jersey when his NCAA ended as championship runner-up, then two days later was playing like a seasoned pro for Colorado in the playoffs (which ended in a second-round Game 7 loss to San Jose). Philipp Grubauer gets the No. 1 goalie job, pairing with Russian league star Pavel Francouz as intriguing backup. 

Outlook in five words or less: MacKinnon deserving of strong roster

 

Dallas Stars

Last season: 93 points, beat No. 1 seed Nashville first round, then lost in seven games to Cup winner St. Louis. 

Who's That? John Klingberg, 27, is a standout defenseman with top-5 skills as both defender and offensive threat-and fun to watch. Teammate Miro Heiskanen, 20, might be an even more talented two-way D-man within another season or two. Coach Jim Montgomery is popular with his players, veterans and younger players alike. 

This season: Dallas signed two veteran playmakers, Joe Pavelski (San Jose) and Corey Perry (Anaheim) who will be expected to add scoring punch. Pavelski will likely deliver and be a terrific influence in the locker room. Perry has doubters but there are plenty of stars on the Stars who are further under the media microscope. Goalie Ben Bishop will continue his strong play (he made 52 saves in the Game 7 double-overtime playoffs loss to St. Louis). 

Outlook in five words or less: Pencil in for playoff spot. 

 

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 83 points, missed the playoffs. 

Who's that? This team truly missed defenseman Matt Dumba, 25, whose torn pectoral muscles shelved him for the last four months of 2018-19. He is a rock-solid defender, super-elite offensive talent who quarterbacks the power-play too. 

This season: Mats Zucarello, Norway's fave, signed a four-year contract that some hockey pundits considered too long for a 32-year-old. We'll see, but early reports are Zucarello and Zach Parise, Minnesota's fave, are developing playmaking chemistry. Anyone looking to feel old: Parise is 35. Fan faves aside, this roster is thin and prospects cupboard is scarce. New GM Bill Guerin has work to do. 

Outlook in five words or less: Dumba finalist for Norris Trophy
 


 

Nashville Predators

Last season: 100 points, bounced after first round of playoffs. 

Who's That? Nashville GM David Poile traded popular and must-watch defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey to free enough salary to sign center Matt Duchene as the second-line center and goal scorer they've never quite had as they never have quite won the Cup.

This season: How do you rack up 100 regular-season points but consider the year a bust? Lose in five games (best of seven series) to wild-card qualifier and division rival Dallas. This is a potent team that maybe uses the 2019 sting as motivation to claw their way, shift by shift, to the Stanley Cup Final, taking nothing for granted, 100 points or not. Coach Peter Laviolette, one of the league's best, will be as motivated as his players. Cup-hoisting dreams is fleeting for beloved goalie Pekka Rinne, 36, who will share time with promising Juuse Saros. 

Outlook in five words or less: Cup-worthy and wiser. 

 

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 99 points, won Stanley Cup Final is seven games. 

Who's that? The Blues sport a balanced offensive group with Vladimir Tarasenko as its always dangerous goal-scorer, strong defensive pairings and the promise of top-flight goaltending. The team got stronger just 10 days ago when it traded for all-star defenseman Justin Faulk, moved by Carolina for salary cap reasons. Believe it, every Central Division competitor sunk a bit in their chairs when hearing the news. 

This season: Most fans know the Blues had the worst record in the NHL last Jan. 2. But they were never the worst team. They believed in burly coach Craig Berube, who remarkably was officially the team's "interim head coach" during the entire Cup run. On Jan. 7. Backup goalie Jordan Binnington, 25, earned a shutout against Philadelphia, starting a run of 24 regular-season victories in 30 games with a famed "Do I look nervous?" mantra. Expect his steely career arc to continue upward. 

Outlook in five words or less: Always tough to repeat.

 

Winnipeg Jets

Last season: 99 points, lost to St. Louis in first round. 

Who's that? Patrik Laine, 21, recently signed a shorter-term two-year "bridge contract" that is basically the young Finn counting on his scoring touch to return before free agency. He scored 36 goals as an 18-year-old, 44 as a 19-year-old and was "down" to 30 as a 20-year-old. 

This season: Winnipeg's regular season was impressive and losing to the Blues turned out to be no shame. Yet there are plenty of media and fan opinions that the Jets' "Cup window" is fast closing if not already shut. One reason is the team traded one top defenseman, Jacob Trouba, they feared not re-signing next summer. Two more left as free agents. The top veteran defenseman Dustin Byfuglien shockingly left the club in September to ponder his future. 

Outlook in five words or less: Conceivable to miss the playoffs. 

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