Michael Russo’s Western Conference predictions
1. Anaheim Ducks
2014-15: 51-24-7, 1st (109 pts.)
Three consecutive Pacific Division titles, back-to-back 50-win seasons, 18 third-period comebacks, led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, and they should absolutely be better.
2. St. Louis Blues
2014-15: 51-24-7, 2nd (109 pts.)
They awkwardly tried to hire Mike Babcock before bringing Ken Hitchcock back as coach, but this team, led by Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo, still is deep up front and on the back end.
3. Calgary Flames
2014-15: 45-30-7, 8th (97 pts.)
This hardworking team, which had a 20-point gain in the standings from 2013-14, was among the best late-game squads. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the league’s most exciting players, and Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton make the Flames stacked on the back.
2014-15: 46-26-8, 6th (100 pts.)
The Wild again should be one of the best defensive teams in the league, has stability with goalie Devan Dubnyk and a bunch of youth — Mikael Granlund, Matt Dumba, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle — ready to take the next step.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
2014-15: 48-28-6, 4th (102 pts.)
Besides the inevitable Stanley Cup hangover, they’ll be different with no Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. But the corps is intact with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford.
6. Los Angeles Kings
2014-15: 40-27-15, 9th (95 pts.)
Stanley Cup winner to playoff outsider a year ago. General Manager Dean Lombardi tried to regain control of his club this offseason. There’s too much talent not to rebound: Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.
7. Dallas Stars
2014-15: 41-31-10, 10th (92 pts.)
Playoff bound until injuries derailed them late, the Stars should score a ton with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn leading the charge. As always, their fate will rest on defending and stopping the puck.
8. Winnipeg Jets
2014-15: 43-26-13 (99 pts.)
There could be a season-long distraction with “Big Buff” in the final year of his contract, but this big, aggressive team should build on last year’s playoff berth.
9. Vancouver Canucks
2014-15: 48-29-5 (101 pts.)
In a tough conference, it seems difficult to buy that the Canucks will overachieve like last season. The Sedins are 35, and even with Brandon Sutter’s arrival, Vancouver is not deep enough.
10. Nashville Predators
2014:15: 47-25-10, 3rd (104 pts.)
Team features Pekka Rinne in goal and Shea Weber and Roman Josi on the blue line, but if Filip Forsberg suffers a sophomore slump, the shoe everybody was waiting to drop last year finally will.
11. Edmonton Oilers
2014-15: 24-44-14, 13th (62 pts.)
This is the season the Oilers restore pride in a city and … not get the first overall pick. Add Connor McDavid to a group that boasts Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and things have to improve.
12. Colorado Avalanche
2014-15: 39-31-12 (90 pts.)
The Patrick Roy luster wore off last season, and when Jarome Iginla at 37 is outscoring all the talented young guns, there’s problems. The kids will have to rebound and the Avs will need better play from a shoddy blue line.
13. San Jose Sharks
2014-15: 40-33-9 (89 pts.)
Logan Couture agreed there was a “culture” problem on the Sharks last season, and it’s doubtful he was talking about ex-coach Todd McLellan. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau remain and GM Doug Wilson could soon be the next one out.
14. Arizona Coyotes
2014-15: 24-50-8 (56 pts.)
In the heart of the tank for Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel effort last year, they may really, really be tanking for Auston Matthews this year. This potential star is a native of Scottsdale, Ariz.