In our latest NHL preview for the 2021-22 NHL season, we take a look at the Western Conference and why you should believe in every team, not believe in every team, and what their realistic chances for reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs are for this season. To keep up with all the NHL action this season, subscribe to ESPN+.
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Reason to believe in the Ducks: John Gibson can be one of the best goalies in the league when he is at his best, but he could really use some support in front of him. The Ducks also have two really outstanding young players in Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale to start building around.
Reason to not believe in the Ducks: The roster as a whole is just not very good. Even worse, they do not seem willing to pick a direction in which to go. They are not close to being a contender but they also refuse to go all-in on a full-scale rebuild. That just leaves them stuck in neutral.
Playoff team: No. Not even in a weak Pacific Division.
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Reason to believe in the Coyotes: They at least seem to have some kind of a long-term plan. The short-term situation is lousy, and this is not going to be a very good team, but they are at least giving themselves a lot of future assets to try and build with. Will it work? Who knows. But at least you can not accuse them of not having a direction.
Reason to not believe in the Coyotes: Well, they are simply gutting the roster. They have almost no long-term commitments, they are trading every veteran not named Jakob Chychrun, and the roster just looks like one of the league’s worst. This is going to be a long season.
Playoff team: No. But Chychrun might get some Norris Trophy votes.
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Reason to believe in the Flames: They play in a weak division and do have some talent on the roster. It is not a BAD team. It is just simply not a great team, either. They definitely have a path to the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan on the roster. Chris Tanev was great on the blue line last year, and Jacob Markstrom can be better.
Reason to not believe in the Flames: While the roster is not bad, it is also not really on par with the contenders in the NHL. Plus, they have the whole Gaudreau contract situation looming over their heads. Trading him is probably not an option due to his no-trade clause and the control he has over where he goes, but they have to figure something out here. He is too good to lose for nothing.
Playoff team: The overall weakness of the Pacific Division absolutely puts them in play.
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Reason to believe in the Blackhawks: They are getting Jonathan Toews back, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat are top scorers, and they added the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Marc-Andre Fleury this offseason. Those are the positives.
Reason to not believe in the Blackhawks: They spent a ton of money this offseason but there are some serious questions with that. Will Fleury, at age 36, be able to duplicate his 2020-21 performance? It was an outlier from recent years and he is not playing behind a great defensive team. They spent a ton of money on Seth Jones who has not been good for two years now. Will he bounce back? They still have some top-line talent, but the depth is a serious question mark.
Playoff team: Probably not. Even with the offseason additions this still looks like the fifth or sixth best team in its own division on paper.
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Reason to believe in the Avalanche: This is still one of the best rosters in the league on paper with a lot of key players still in the prime of their careers. Nathan MacKinnon is a top-five player (maybe top-two), Mikko Rantanen is dominant, Cale Makar has Norris Trophies in his future, and the defense as a whole is fantastic. They have everything a Stanley Cup-winning team should have. Superstars. Depth. Defense. All of it.
Reason to not believe in the Avalanche: The only question that might be lurking is in goal. Is Darcy Kuemper going to be the guy? They also have to get through the Second Round ceiling, but talented teams like this ultimately figure it out and get there.
Playoff team: Yes. Top Stanley Cup contender.
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Reason to believe in the Stars: Injuries to Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov for pretty much the entire 2020-21 season really hurt this team. They lost a ton of one-goal games, many in overtime and shootout, and then missed the playoffs by four points. Seguin and Radulov could have made a huge difference there. They are back this season. Combined with this defense (Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, Ryan Suter) they could be a huge surprise this season.
Reason to not believe in the Stars: Even with the returns of a healthy Seguin and Radulov they still do not have a lot of impact players at forward and offense could be a bit of a concern.
Playoff team: Yes, and very comfortably.
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Reason to believe in the Oilers: They have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They are two of the best offensive players in the world. In the prime of their careers. They have combined to win three of the last five MVP awards and will probably be top-three scorers this season. They should be the foundation of a Stanley Cup-winning (or at least Stanley Cup contending) team.
Reason to not believe in the Oilers: The depth is awful, the defense is worse, and they gambling on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to duplicate his 2020-21 performance which was an extreme outlier from the previous three seasons. They are wasting the prime years of their two superstars.
Playoff team: Even with all of their flaws they should be because the Pacific Division is lousy after the Vegas Golden Knights.
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Reason to believe in the Kings: They have outstanding center depth with Anze Kopitar, Philip Danault, and top prospect Quinton Byfield (when he returns from his ankle injury) down the middle. They added Viktor Arvidsson from Nashville who could have a nice bounceback year. They also have one of the best farm systems and best collections of young talent in the league. The future is bright here.
Reason to not believe in the Kings: The defense is not particularly good and they might still be trying to hold onto Jonathan Quick’s past success instead of playing the superior goalie right now, Cal Petersen.
Playoff team: This is more possible than a lot of people will expect. The center depth, Petersen playing more than Quick, and the division open the door for them to take a bigger than expected step this season.
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Reason to believe in the Wild: Kirill Kaprizov almost single-handedly turned them into one of the most exciting teams in the NHL a year ago. He is a potential superstar and has made the Wild entertaining for the first time, in, well, ever? Goaltending is solid. Defense is strong.
Reason to not believe in the Wild: Center depth is a major concern, but Marco Rossi has star potential. The salary cap situation is about to get very bleak in future seasons after the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts and that will significantly limit their ability to add players around their core pieces.
Playoff team: Yes. They should be. Maybe not a Stanley Cup contender, but a playoff team.
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Reason to believe in the Predators: Filip Forsberg is healthy and they have an outstanding starting goalie in Juuse Saros, and that is one position and player that can single-handedly change a team. Saros did that a year ago when he salvaged their season and carried them to the playoffs almost by himself.
Reason to not believe in the Predators: Saros is probably the only reason this team made the playoffs a year ago, they traded Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis, and are bringing back mostly the same flawed roster around that. Not a great roster on paper. If Saros is not an All-Star all season this season could get ugly for them really quickly here.
Playoff team: It is going to be really difficult for this team to get back there without some dramatic improvements from within.
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Reason to believe in the Sharks: Maybe some of their veterans find the fountain of youth and have big bounce-back seasons. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns need to be better, and perhaps they can be. They also have the luxury of a weak division to stack points up against.
Reason to not believe in the Sharks: It is an aging team with bad contracts, Evander Kane’s situation keeps looming over them, Tomas Hertl is a free agent after this season and could be a trade chip, and the goaltending is still a question.
Playoff team: Probably not. They have been a constant in the playoffs for the past two decades and always a strong Stanley Cup contender, but that run seems to be over for now and a rebuild should be on the horizon. This should be a third straight year outside of the playoffs.
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Reason to believe in the Kraken: Phillip Grubauer and Chris Driedger should give them a solid goaltending duo to build around, and that always gives you a chance. They may have missed some opportunities in the expansion draft, but they do have some good players here and on paper might already be the fourth or fifth-best team in the Pacific Division.
Reason to not believe in the Kraken: They simply lack impact players, which is to be expected for a first-year expansion team.
Playoff team: They are not going to be Vegas (then again, nobody expected Vegas to be Vegas in its first year) but do not rule out the possibility of them sneaking into that third Pacific Division spot.
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Reason to believe in the Blues: Adding Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich gives them a formidable forward group, especially with Vladimir Tarasenko still being in the mix for now and (hopefully) being healthy. Ryan O’Reilly is one of the best all-around, two-way centers in hockey.
Reason to not believe in the Blues: The defense took a huge step backward a year ago and they have not done anything to address that except losing Vince Dunn to Seattle in the expansion draft, who was probably one of their most effective (and probably underused) defenders in recent seasons. Jordan Binnington is also a major question mark because nobody really knows which version they are going to get on a given night. The good one from the Stanley Cup year, the average one from the past two regular seasons, or the meltdown from the past two Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
Playoff team: Still a playoff team, but Binnington’s play and the defense will determine what type of playoff team they are. A make the playoffs and lose in the First Round team, or still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
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Reason to believe in the Canucks: They have some excellent high-end players here with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Conor Garland leading the way. They should be able to build something around that group. The forward depth is actually looking better than it has in recent years with the additions of Garland, Jason Dickinson, and the emergence of in-house prospects Nils Hoglander and Vasili Podkolzin.
Reason to not believe in the Canucks: The defense is a concern, with some really expensive players back there that have probably already played their best hockey. Not sure Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to give them what they expect, and while Hughes is an impact player offensively he took a step backward defensively in his second season.
Playoff team: They should be with that top half of the roster and that division. But there are enough questions on defense to make that far from a given.
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Vegas Golden Knights: Stanley Cup expectations again
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Reason to believe in the Golden Knights: They are simply one of the best teams in the league, and have been from the day they started playing in the NHL. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore are top-line players and a legitimate championship level core.
Reason to not believe in the Golden Knights: Having Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner was a huge advantage, but now only Lehner remains and it goes without saying that it is a significant drop in goalie depth. They also lack impact players at center, which has been a problem. Their offense dries up deeper in the playoffs in large part because they do not have a ton of center depth. Can Nolan Patrick have a breakout season here? The change of scenery might help him.
Playoff team: Definitely. By far the best team in the Pacific Division and they should win it easily by a significant points margin. They are a legitimate, top-five Stanley Cup contender.
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Reason to believe in the Jets: They have a top-three goalie in the NHL in Conor Hellebuyck and some really high-end forwards that can score. Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor are fantastic, while Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Pierre-Luc Dubois are right there with them. Depth is a little concerning, but they have the most difficult players to find (the star players) already in place.
Reason to not believe in the Jets: Forward depth beyond the top-six is a concern, while the defense has probably been their biggest Achilles heel in recent years. They attempted to address that this offseason with the additions of Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks and Brenden Dillon from the Washington Capitals. They need Schmidt to bounce back from a down year to really make a difference. With Schmidt and Dillon joining Neal Poink and Joshua Morrissey they should have a solid top-four today. The depth is a concern though.
Playoff team: With their high-end forwards and goaltending they should be there as long as the defense is solid.
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