The 2021 National Hockey League season starts Wednesday, January 13th. This year, teams have been realigned and are split into four divisions.
Here's the fourth and final of four division forecasts. Read the NORTH DIVISION PREDICTIONS here. Read the EAST DIVISION PREDICTIONS here. Read the CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTIONS here.
In this article, we look at the West Division, which includes eight teams – mostly in the western United States.
Here's a look at the ODDS TO WIN EAST DIVISION, according to SPREADS.CA:
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
The Colorado Avalanche is the prohibitive co-favorite to represent the West for a title. They have added on defense, maintaining their top three lines and is still in favorable cap position to make a trade or two. In the offseason, Colorado could have entered the goalie market, boosting or adding in depth, but choose to stay put or look to the trade market. If Colorado is satisfied with their goaltending, they could focus on rental players like Taylor Hall. They should also feast on some of the weaker West teams, focusing on a deep playoff run. I predict Colorado to finish 1st in the division.
Las Vegas Golden Knights
Las Vegas landed one of the top free agents, securing Cup captain Alex Pietrangelo, and resigning goalie Robin Lehner. Las Vegas, like Colorado, is in a “win-now” mode and has had playoff success. Their team is now a favorite and taking seriously with hockey circles. Some of the “cast-away” mentality (Us vs the world) has left the organization, but they have the players to challenge for a championship. They, like Colorado and St. Louis, should feast on weaker West teams, so expect high team point totals. Las Vegas should also be matching up with Colorado, positionally, so look to trades early in the season. I do not think they will be on top of the division but finish in 2nd/3rd with St. Louis.
St. Louis Blues
St. Louis is coming off a 2020 season that could have led to another deep run in the playoffs. They have made moves and deals that were paying off with a good record, but the stoppage/COVID really got the team off track. They may have made the steal of the offseason, signing a perennial 30-goal forward Mike Hoffman, and replacing their captain with a younger, cheaper defenseman, Torey Krug. The team, on paper, still has the personnel to make another Cup run, but face a mounting obstacle with Colorado and Las Vegas, playing in their division. Expect the Blues to clean up on weaker teams out West. I don’t think they win the West but should slot in 2nd/3rd place.
San Jose Sharks
San Jose made a few moves in the offseason in hopes to change their disappointing 2020 season. They have a very talented and experienced roster, with a few award-winning stars. The Sharks believe that they have skill and talent to still be a contender in the division. Questions in goal (Martin Jones, Devon Dubnyk) have a veteran presence and may be valuable for other teams if San Jose starts slow. To complicate the team, the state of California has shut down the team facility and the team may have to play on the road, or in other arenas. San Jose could compete for a playoff spot or just miss the cutoff (4th/5th).
Arizona made a solid trade last year, in attempts to gain some traction and seriousness within the hockey market. Acquiring Taylor Hall was a risk that could have kickstarted the franchise. However, a draft evaluation/cheating scandal, a mismanaged draft pick, and trading some draft capital for Hall, has set the franchise back several years. The team could have turned their current assets in to some promise but stood pat this offseason, not risking any more potential problems. In a shorten season, this should have been a great excuse to hit the reset button and look to next year. Arizona could challenge for a playoff spot, but they should be sellers around the deadline, hoping another franchise overpays for players.
Minnesota outlook for the 2021 season should be “next year”. They have some talent in the minors and some trading capital to booster their team. Also, being in a weak division, they might be able to get some wins and momentum, setting a positive tone for an organization. Minnesota could challenge for a playoff spot. Their primary weakness is in goal (Alex Stalock, Cam Talbot). Both have put up solid numbers, but in back up roles. Both have upset their teams last year, challenging the preemptive starter and emerging to lead. Minnesota has two young players (goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, forward Kirill Kaprizov) that should challenge for a roster spot and Calder (best rookie) consideration. Look for Minnesota to finish 4th/5th.
Anaheim’s roster has some potential, with a top ten goalie John Gibson starting to reach his peak. Gibson might lead the league in shots faced, minutes played, etc., or Anaheim could hold back. Anaheim’s bright future (Jaime Drysdale, Trevor Zegras), coupled with another top 5 pick this season, might lead to some trades. One issue for the team- Anaheim is above the cap and may need to shed salary. Anaheim should be content to compete but ride out the losing for one more year. The point totals for the Ducks is at 59.5, I would look for the under, but still being competitive. 6th place in division would a win for the Ducks. Gibson should be able to steal some games, so make sure to check starting line-ups for individual games.
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles picked 2nd in the NHL Entry draft, selecting center Quinton Byfield. He should lead the future Kings, but aside from that, Los Angeles needs to keep the rebuild going. The Kings still have veterans Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, and Anze Kopitar to lead this team but their better days may be behind them. The Kings may have some saving grace- they have the most cap space in the league, being a great trading partner come trade deadline. They could also be a key piece in three-team trades, as well. The Los Angeles King should look for another top 5 pick, I predict they finish last in the division.
Predictions by PS.CA NHL writer Patrick Day, who lives in St. Louis and is a Blues fan, but didn't let that sway his judgement. Patrick can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org