With the start of the new NHL season, the loaded Western Conference has many dangerous teams. Sportsbooks across the country will only see one of those teams make it to the top five to win the 2022-23 Stanley Cup.
This is hardly as much disrespect for the Western Conference as respect for a very dangerous Eastern Conference featuring teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, among others. But that is neither here nor there; the NHL Western Conference is the home of the reigning champs and a host of teams that will be all too eager to try to snatch their crown every opportunity they get. Colorado will be where we begin.
The Colorado Avalanche: The Champs
When considering the Western Conference, it all must start with the defending Stanley Cup champions and odds-on favorite to repeat in the West and the League, at +250 and +450, respectively. Last year, the Colorado Avalanche were absolutely dominant throughout the entire regular season and postseason. They were ultimately able to hoist the Stanley Cup while dethroning the two-time champs in the process.
Coming into this season, there have been some roster changes. They have re-signed their best player — perhaps the best in the world — Nathan MacKinnon. They traded him for New York Rangers goaltender Alexander Georgiev. Changes in the roster demonstrate that this team knows how difficult it’s going to be to gain back-to-back championships. They witnessed Tampa Bay do it the previous two seasons and almost a third season too.
A team that went 56 and 19, with an additional seven overtime losses last campaign, has set itself a very high standard to compete against for this upcoming slog. Coach Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche will have no easy road this year. Each night will be a tough affair as other teams give the defending champs their best shot. Injuries can also present a challenge; good fortune one year regarding players’ health can turn to despair sooner than might be anticipated.
Within their own Central Division, there are potentially some dangerous teams to consider like the St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild, and the Dallas Stars. Of course, there are always surprises as well. Teams like the Predators and Jets — or even Arizona or Chicago — could make things interesting too, should the victories pile up for any one of those clubs.
However, that is less of a concern for the defending champs, who are focused on how to play their game. Last year, they proved that stopping them is easier said than done and that when they’re on their game, few teams can keep up or play as physically demanding a brand of hockey as they can. Vegas, Edmonton, or Calgary are strong contenders. One thing’s for sure, every team in the West is going to give it their best.
The Vegas Golden Knights: Looking To Bounce Back
Last season, Vegas Golden Knights missed the playoffs entirely by three points. For the first time in the history of that franchise, the Golden Knights experienced a major blow for the team. However, with the team they have coming into this new season, they are the second-best favored team to win the Western Conference +700 and +1200, respectively.
The team has remained busy this offseason, undeterred from the failure of last season and aiming high once again. For a team that got to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season, there is no ambition too lofty for this outfit. Under new boss Bruce Cassidy and company, this team has great expectations, but great talent as well.
While that should not be unexpected, it is a lot for any team to bear, let alone one managed by a younger coach with players who haven’t all played together for a terribly long while.
Names like Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, Robin Lehner, Shea Weber, Mark Stone, and Jonathan Marchessault will get you those expectations and those Stanley Cup odds, but it will ultimately come down to how the team can perform. If the team gels and can play as cohesively as the Avalanche were able to last season, the Golden Knights can be serious contenders not only in the West but also for the Stanley Cup championship.
While the expectations are great, the payoff for Vegas would be massive as well. With the roster they currently have, they could make deep playoff runs a habit for many years to come.
The Rest of the Contenders in the West
After Colorado and Las Vegas, there are a few teams that are tied at +900 to win the Western Conference — Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Minnesota Wild — and +1600, +1600, and +1800 to become the Stanley Cup champs, respectively. Meanwhile, St. Louis sits at +1000 to win the West and +2200 for the Cup — and then the odds really begin to fall off the metaphorical cliff.
Focusing on just those next three, Calgary, Edmonton, and Minnesota, each has great amounts of young talent, and each has shown over the last season precisely what they can do over stretches of the season. That, however, is not good enough in either the Western or Eastern conferences, and so continuity and consistency will be keys for those teams as this season begins and goes on.
For the Calgary Flames, how will they perform after trading away one star, Matthew Tkachuk, for players like Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, and Cole Schwindt? For Edmonton, can the incredible talents of Leon Draisatl and Connor McDavid be accentuated by a supporting cast that can let them flourish as a team not only during the regular season but during the postseason as well?
As for the Minnesota Wild — a team that many were surprised by last season — grow from their mistakes and faults into a better, more composed club? They have the talent with names, like Kiril Kaprizov, Mats Zuccarello, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek, but they need to find the consistency that young teams so often lack in the early stages of their personal and collective developments.
These are all important questions that each team will have to come to terms with through competition, but with the season closer than many people realize, the time to find out the truth of where everyone stands has nearly begun.
The Rest of the West
As for the rest of the Western Conference, Dallas has the next best Western Conference odds at +1800, with Stanley Cup odds at +4000. From there, the odds concerning each only get longer for the likes of Nashville Predators, LA Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, and Arizona Coyotes. That, however, is all a part of the fun of them playing the games and the entire season.
In the NHL, and indeed across all sports, things rarely ever go exactly as the pundits and sportsbooks predict them to go. It’s precisely because of upsets and the unexpected that so many people love sports and watch them, even if those people aren’t betting on any sports. While the teams mentioned above are not expected to do very much this season, they don’t believe that any more than their supporters do.
They want to come out and win, and for some true believers of their favorite team — underdog or not — their team will reward their belief by turning a wager on a +5000 team into a life-changing winner.
A Wild Western Conference Awaits In 2022-23
With the above noted and considered, it is fair to say that the NHL Western Conference will be competitive and full of surprises for each club. It should make for some interesting matches, where the Golden Knights and the Avalanche will be forces in their divisions and the conference in general. However, cases can be made by each fan base that a team that has been overlooked will emerge with a successful season.
Who that will be is, of course, the fun of it all. While some fans might count out those teams with the longest odds, none of the true contenders in neither the West nor East are overlooking anyone on their quest to hoist the Stanley Cup over their heads.