NHL West Division Preview for 2021
Finally hockey is back as we are heading into the New Year and we will have the NHL season underway by mid-January in this unusually scheduled 2021 hockey season that has been impacted by the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has also resulted in some divisional shuffling for this season. Below I give a quick hitter report on each of the eight teams in the West Division:
Anaheim – The Ducks have continued to trend downward the past two seasons and they now enter the 3rd season of a rebuild. Unfortunately for Anaheim fans, the 3rd year is unlikely to be the charm. This team struggles to score goals, allows too many goals, is weak on the power play, and nearly just as bad on the penalty kill. I know they got Shattenkirk to try and shore up the power plays and Grant to try and stabilize the penalty kill but the Ducks just have too many holes and didn’t do enough in the off-season.
Arizona – This team has been better the past two seasons then they had been in recent years. However, the Coyotes lost quite a few pieces from last season’s team. Players like Hall, Soderberg, Hinostroza, Grabner, and Richardson are now gone but also a key change at the top could make this season a little shaky for Arizona. The Coyotes have a new GM as Armstrong replaces Chayka. The Coyotes are still solid in goal with Keumper and Raanta but will they score enough to be successful? I look for a drop-off for Arizona this season.
Colorado – Had they not suffered a number of key injuries this team likely would have won the Stanley Cup last season. Now, bolstered by even more additions to an already stacked roster, this club has to be the odds on favorite to win it all this season. The Avalanche added Brandon Saad and Devon Toews and this was after adding Kadri and Burakovsky the prior off-season. In other words, Colorado just keeps getting stronger and stronger and this is particularly true in 5 of 5 hockey. With some tweaks to special teams and with healthy netminders, the sky is the limit for the Avs.
Los Angeles – The Kings have really dropped off the past two seasons and I expect them to remain near the bottom of the league this season as well. Los Angeles is in rebuild mode and the good news is that the future looks bright with a lot of prospects plus draft picks piled up. However, after unloading aging vets this is a team that clearly is looking at next season and beyond and this will be another year for LA as a result. Los Angeles did have a winning record at home last season but was awful on the road. Keep that in mind as you cap their games this season. Will that trend continue in a covid-impacted season?
Minnesota – After taking a dip two seasons ago the Wild were on their way back up last season but now appear ready to drop off again. In the long run it will be better for Minnesota but in the short-term they have lost too much. Gone are guys like Mikko Koivu, goalie Devan Dubnyk, Eric Staal, and Ryan Danato among others. It is a long list of departures for this team. Maybe Cam Talbot will be the answer for this team in goal but will they score enough after losing some key contributors that is the question? Defensively the Wild are considered solid but the key will be how Talbot does in a new uniform.
St Louis – The Blues will again be one of the best teams in the league. But will the departure of Alex Pietrangelo hurt the leadership of the team. Who will step up? Will Kyle Clifford help insure the Blues don’t see a drop off in toughness and physicality. Of course the signing of Torey Krug, formerly with the Bruins, is huge for St Louis and this team does indeed look like they just shuffled the deck a bit but should be just as strong. Annually one of the top teams in the NHL this season looks like more of the same but, keep in mind, Jordan Binnington no longer has Jake Allen behind him in goal. Of course that could go one of two ways so keep an eye on how things go on defense and in goal for the Blues early this season. Odds are this team will be firing on all cylinders come playoff time as long as Binnington keeps up his end of the deal! He is dealing with some contract pressure too since his bridge contract expires after this season.
San Jose – This team fell off drastically last season and another tough campaign is likely on the way this season. They have a fractured dressing room per se as the culture of this team is simply off. Maybe too many big personalities in the locker room and now veteran Joe Thornton is gone and with the Maple Leafs. This club was great on the penalty kill last season but everything else was, and still is, a concern. Now will Martin Jones step up his game in goal with Devan Dubnyk now arriving from Minnesota. Good goaltending can help a club get hot but I feel there are still too many holes with the Sharks.
Vegas – This is going to be an interesting season for the Golden Knights. Certainly they are still a high quality team and should be one of the best in the NHL again. But enter Alex Pietrangelo and exit guys like Stastny, Schmidt, Engelland, Cousins and the list goes on. There was just a certain chemistry among these guys that it will be interesting to see how quickly the new club acclimates. Keep in mind there was a lot of drama too about goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after Robin Lehner came on board. But all in all this is a well-coached team under Peter DeBoer and the kind of team that, if it grows more cohesive as a unit as the season goes on, will be the kind of team no one wants to face in the post-season.