Who Will Win The Western Conference
By Bob Duff
Reconfiguring his team on the fly and continuing to find a way to win it all, what Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has accomplished during the NHL’s salary cap era may be more impressive than GMs who were able to win multiple Stanley Cups in succession during the days when a club could lock up its roster for years.
The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and if you are starting to see a pattern here, it’s no wonder. Lord Stanley’s mug may find that Chicago is its kind of town again in the spring of 2017.
The Blackhawks are overwhelming favorites to win the NHL’s Western Conference, and it will take a stellar performance to overcome them.
A look at the Western Conference contenders, with odds provided by :
They can score, with Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov forming one of the NHL’s most dangerous forward lines.
Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Duncan Keith anchors a deep, solid defense, that features the big three of Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson and solid depth from Stanley Cup-winning vets Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya.
You don’t hear much about him but Cory Crawford is a solid, reliable netminder and the only goalie in this spring’s playoffs with multiple Stanley Cup rings. And Jonathan Toews is their captain. Enough said.
What’s not to like about Chicago? At this stage, it would appear that the only team capable of stopping the Blackhawks would be the Blackhawks. Unless they run into bad luck or injuries, Chicago looks like a sure winner.
At mid season, the Wild, not the Blackhawks, looked like the team that would win over the West. Then they hit a speed bump and went completely off the rails, winning just eight of their last 21 games.
There’s much to like about the Wild, who finished with five players over 50 points and got at least 10 goals from 13 different players while setting franchise records for points (106) and wins (49) and finishing second in the NHL with 266 goals.
The problem is that they rely on too few players to carry too most of the load. Defenseman Ryan Suter will play 30 minutes a night and goalie Devan Dubnyk ran out of gas, posting an .889 save percentage in March.
They’ve won five straight Pacific Division titles but the Ducks have failed so many times in postseason play that no one seems to pay much attention to them any longer.
They brought back Randy Carlyle, the coach who won them the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 and are deep down the middle but with top defenseman Cam Fowler (knee) on the sideline, the Ducks face a tough road to win the West.
The West is almost never won two years in a row by teams that lose in the Cup final series. The last team to do it was the Edmonton Oilers in 1983-84.
The Sharks stumbled to the finish line 4-9, and are hurting with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, their top two centers, uncertain to start the playoffs. They look ripe for a first-round exit.
The last time the Oilers made the playoffs in 2006, they went all the way to the Stanley Cup final. There’s little in the way of postseason experience on their roster but with NHL scoring champ Connor McDavid rolling into the playoffs with 25 points in his last 14 games, to overlook them would be foolhardy.
Pick: Chicago Blackhawks (+180) over Edmonton Oilers (+800)