NHL Preview: Western Conference

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NHL Preview: Western Conference

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Courtesy of Flickr

Chris Hennessy, Contributing Writer

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The NHL season has started. Finally. Today, Oct. 2, the Blues play Washington on opening night, with all three New York teams starting up this week. I have got Tampa in the Cup from the East, and here’s who I think will play them in June.

Central Division: So good.  There is so much talent in the Central division, and there has been for a few years now.  Winnipeg has taken a significant step back, and the Blues have lost some key pieces from the Cup run, leaving this division open for a team like Colorado or Nashville to take the reins.

That being said, the Blues could pull the opposite of a Stanley Cup hangover and come out firing.  The Central has been hard to predict over the past few seasons; last year I had Winnipeg winning the division and representing the West in the Cup. They had a fine season, came in second to Nashville and lost to the Blues in the first round.

This year, I have the Jets missing the playoffs. Patrik Laine missed most of camp and Kyle Connor is not on the roster, as they are both restricted free agents and lost their three best defensemen. Tyler Myers left for Vancouver in free agency, Jacob Trouba got traded to the Rangers and Dustin Byfuglien is on leave from camp for personal reasons.

The Blues will be back in the playoffs. The goaltending and defense are still there, and even though their depth took a hit by losing Patrick Maroon, they can still score with the best of them. Joining them from the Central will be Colorado, as a full year of Philip Grubauer and that offense will be dynamic, and Nashville will be there, too. Even though the Predators lost P.K Subban, they still have a topflight defensive core and depth scoring. All of the teams in the Central were over .500 last year, and that can be expected again. A talented team like Dallas can miss the playoffs this year, but will certainly make their name known in the wild card race.

Pacific: I have the same three teams making the playoffs from the Pacific as last year: Calgary, San Jose and Vegas. None of them got a lot better, and only the Sharks lost a really key piece in Joe Pavelski. The rest of the division is decidedly mediocre, with Arizona and Vancouver vying to be players in the wild card race.

I really like what Arizona did last year, Antti Raanta is proving to be a solid goalie down there, and they look to improve on 86 points from last season. Vancouver added Tyler Myers and J.T Miller and will look to see improvement from former Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette on the offensive end. A full season of defensive stud Quinn Hughes and more ice time for goalie Thatcher Demko will also help the Canucks finally finish the seemingly eternal rebuild since that lone Cup Final appearance in 2011.

My eight playoff teams from the West are: Nashville, Colorado, St Louis, Calgary, San Jose, Vegas, Dallas and Vancouver.

I will send the Sharks to the final to face Tampa, a supremely talented offensive team, even after losing Joe Pavelski.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will win the Cup in six games over the San Jose Sharks.  Hold me to it.