West trade deadline recap

The Western Conference will be a gauntlet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially after the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline on Friday. There is no clear favorite. Several teams are legitimate contenders and have made big moves hoping for a deep run.

“The West is loaded, and the team that comes out of the West is going to have to play at a high level for a long time, and they have to have good depth, and they have to have a lot of things,” Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “But I think it’s great for the fans, and it’s going to be an exciting race in the West.”


“Wild, wild,” Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “The wild West.”

Look at the playoff field in the conference from top to bottom right now:

The Vancouver Canucks led off trade season by acquiring center Elias Lindholm on Jan. 31. He hasn’t been a great fit so far, and they could have used a top-six forward. But Lindholm is starting to get comfortable in his new surroundings and still has time to adjust before the playoffs, and let’s not forget: The Canucks didn’t make the playoffs the past three seasons and now sit atop the conference.

The Dallas Stars improved their back end by acquiring defenseman Chris Tanev on Feb. 28. This is a team that made the Western Conference Final last season and leads the Central Division this season.

“We’re one of the top teams, and let’s see,” Stars GM Jim Nill said. “There are eight or 10 very good teams in the League, and we knew that going in. Now let’s see where this goes. Those guys have to bring players in and make them fit in. I think our four lines can match up with any four lines in the League, I think our defense can match up with any defense in the League, and our goaltending can beat anybody. Now we’ve got to go do it.”

The Jets have become more dynamic by adding forwards Sean Monahan on Feb. 2, and Tyler Toffoli on Friday. After missing the playoffs in 2021-22 and losing in the Western Conference First Round last season, they have as good a chance as anyone.

“You look at all the teams, and it feels like everybody is trying to stack up and do whatever they can to win,” Toffoli said. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s always tough, and anything can happen in the playoffs.”

Winnipeg lands Toffoli and Miller from New Jersey

The Colorado Avalanche solved a problem at second-line center and stayed strong on defense, adding center Casey Mittelstadt and defenseman Sean Walker while subtracting center Ryan Johansen and defenseman Bowen Byram. They also added forwards Brandon Duhaime and Yakov Trenin.

Now consider that forward Valeri Nichushkin is back after dealing with off-ice issues, and captain Gabriel Landeskog might even return from knee surgery for the first time in two seasons.

The Avalanche won the Cup in 2021-22 when their superstars had a strong supporting cast. They got upset by the Seattle Kraken in seven games in the first round last season after losing some depth. Maybe they have the right mix again.

“You look at what it takes to get to where we’re trying to go, and it takes a lot of players and takes a lot of luck to stay healthy,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We’ve been talking about it all year -- a little bit light on our forward depth -- and we’ve made the moves now to make us deep in there.

“And different style players too. A couple guys we added are big, heavy bodies, play a man’s game, kill penalties, do a lot of dirty work. But they’re big, physical guys that play hard, and if you’re looking at some of the teams that you’ve got to go through out West, they have the same attributes.”

The Oilers added defenseman Troy Stecher and forwards Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick for the same reason -- for depth to support the superstars. They went to the conference final in 2021-22 and lost in the second round last season, and they feel it’s time. Since replacing coach Jay Woodcroft with Kris Knoblauch on Nov. 12, they’re 35-12-1 and boast the best points percentage in the NHL (.740).

The Los Angeles Kings entered the season talking about the Stanley Cup after back-to-back first-round exits. Though they didn’t make a trade leading up the deadline, they replaced coach Todd McLellan with Jim Hiller on Feb. 2 and have gone 9-4-1 since.

The Nashville Predators were sellers last season and missed the playoffs. They were buyers this season, adding forwards Wade Allison, Anthony Beauvillier and Jason Zucker.

And finally, of course, we have the Golden Knights, who made bold moves once again by adding defenseman Noah Hanifin and forwards Tomas Hertl and Anthony Mantha.

The Hertl trade was a stunner just before the deadline at 3 p.m. ET on Friday. He has a knee injury but should be back before the end of the regular season.

David Pagnotta on the Devils' goaltending carousel

The Golden Knights lost four straight games before a 5-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, have gone 24-23-7 since Nov. 4 and hold the second wild card in the West. But injuries have been a factor, and these are the defending Stanley Cup champions. What if Hertl comes back strong? What if captain Mark Stone returns from a lacerated spleen in the playoffs the way he returned from a back injury last season?

“Our players have earned the respect for management to try to help, and I think when you have a room full of champions, it’s easy for us to want to improve the talent and continue to add and try to help and try to put our team in a position to achieve that again,” Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon said.


Wild, Wild. The wild West.

There is only one problem.

“Oh, there will be a few teams upset after the first round,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said. “There are a lot of good teams in the playoffs. That first round is always the toughest. It is. There are going to be four teams knocked out of that first round that are really good hockey teams who have had really good years, but we all know what we’re up against before the puck drops in October.

“You’ve got to get in the top eight, you’ve got to make it, and all bets are off. The team that’s healthy, the team that’s playing well, will keep moving forward. You see Vegas just picked up Tomas Hertl, so this conference is tough.”

NHL.com staff writer Derek Van Diest and independent correspondents Taylor Baird, Darrin Bauming and Ryan Boulding contributed to this report