PHT’s 2018-19 Western Conference predictions

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Can the Western Conference grab the Stanley Cup back from the East in 2019? The conference is certainly loaded and with Erik Karlsson‘s addition in San Jose and the Vegas Golden Knights strengthening with the acquisitions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, it’s going to be a real fun fight to see who comes out on top and is playing in June.

The Central Division was already going to be a tough nattle with the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets standing out, but it’s hard to sleep on the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Let’s not forget that the Chicago Blackhawks may be primed for a bounce back year (Corey Crawford‘s health will play a big role in that). In the Pacific, the Sharks and Golden Knights have pushed forward while the Anaheim Ducks are trying to heal up. Can the Calgary Flames take a big step under new head coach Bill Peters? Will the Arizona Coyotes provide a surprise for us all? How will the Los Angeles Kings fare now that they’ve added Ilya Kovalchuk?

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

We’ve already predicted the East, so let’s take a look at how we see the West finishing. (Our playoff selections sit above the line in each column.)

Let us know in the comments how you see both West divisions shaping up.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION

LEAHY: Predators. One last run with Pekka Rinne? Why not? David Poile kept majority of this group together from last season, bringing back Dan Hamhuis on the blue line. They’ve been deep in the postseason and probably got a bit of an eye-opener last year losing to the up-and-coming Winnipeg Jets.

O’BRIEN: Jets. Winnipeg is absolutely loaded with jaw-dropping talent, to the point where they can get away with essentially neglecting Jacob Trouba. The thing, to me, that separates the Jets (and Maple Leafs) from some absolutely bone-rattling competition is that their core is, for the most part, just so young. Byfuglien and Wheeler are basically the only important players who can talk about life when cell phones were only abundant, not ubiquitous. They also have some cap space to rent a good player or two at the deadline, another Toronto parallel.

GRETZ: Sharks. Any team that has three potential Norris Trophy candidates on it is going to be a force to deal with. This was a 100-point, second-round playoff team a year ago and now they have Evander Kane for a full season and Erik Karlsson added to the blue line.

ALFIERI: Predators. The Predators fell short in their quest for a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final, but they still have one of the better rosters in the conference and in the league. A shorter postseason run in 2018 means that they’ll be fresher for this season. Even though San Jose added Erik Karlsson, the Preds’ depth on the blue line is good enough to compete with what the Sharks have. Nashville will get it done.

BILLECK: Jets. Took a big step last year, won a Game 7 against the team many thought would be in the Cup final, and then learned how to lose and all the bitter feelings that go with it. I think they can do what Nashville should have done and took that next step. 

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
• Atlantic Division
• Metropolitan Division
• Central Division
Pacific Division

Eastern Conference predictions
Stanley Cup picks
NHL Awards picks
• Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.