Yep, the Predators haven’t even raised the banner yet for winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team in the regular season, and it’s already ancient history – at least in the arms’ race that is the Western Conference.
Even with all the trades last season and more deals and signings during the offseason, the pace has only quickened as NHL teams prepared to open training camps. First, Vegas added Max Pacioretty from Montreal on Monday, and the Sharks tried to top that by picking up two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson from Ottawa.
”Those are two great players, and yeah it’s definitely a tough conference and we’re in a tough division too,” Josi said. ”The whole season is tough. I mean your first goal is to make it into the playoffs, and it’s not an easy thing in our conference, in our division. You’ve got to be ready for it. It’s going to be a battle all year.”
The Predators essentially stood pat this offseason after posting 117 points to win their first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy. Their biggest move was signing defenseman Ryan Ellis to an extension before the season started and extending some other players. General manager David Poile did his best work during the season with a three-way trade bringing Kyle Turris to Nashville in November and adding Ryan Hartman at the deadline.
Nashville wound up losing in the Western Conference semifinals in seven games to Winnipeg. Still, the standard had been raised.
”It’s very competitive …,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. ”When teams go out and get better, it forces other people to get better.”
That’s exactly what everyone in the West has been trying to do.
Paul Stastny went from St. Louis to Winnipeg at the trade deadline last season, then he went to the Vegas Golden Knights this offseason as a free agent. The Sharks added Evander Kane last season and re-signed him to keep him around. This offseason, St. Louis acquired Ryan O'Reilly from Buffalo . Calgary signed forward James Neal after he spent a season with Vegas, and the Los Angeles Kings signed Ilya Kovalchuk .
”The West is like loaded right now,” Poile said. ”It feels like anybody could not only make the playoffs, there’s going to be some unbelievable top teams that don’t make the playoffs this year. It should be fun and exciting for the fans and the players. It’s probably going to be nerve-wracking for us. If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and I think the West certainly has more than its share of top teams.”
Turris can sympathize with what Karlsson will go through being traded. At least Karlsson will make the move during the preseason, but Turris said all the trades makes every game feel like a playoff game because of the competition.
”You got to bring you’re A-game every night,” Turris said. ”Every team feels they have a shot, and (the conference), it’s just really tough.”
Defenseman P.K. Subban was involved in one of those big trades himself on June 30, 2016, when Montreal sent him to Nashville for another All-Star defenseman in Shea Weber. Subban said it’s a little different game going from the East to the West, but he cautions against thinking the West absolutely is the conference to beat when it matters.
”Everybody had a Western Conference team pegged to win the whole thing, and Washington ends up winning,” Subban said.
”So I think as the season goes on, I think the body of work and through the games and with the amount of games that we play and the parity in the league, we see it. It’s tough every night, and it’s probably more clear who the top teams are. But once you get in the playoffs, it doesn’t really matter. Anything can happen.”
AP Hockey Writers Stephen Whyno and John Wawrow contributed to this report.
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