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NHL Season Predictions: Western Conference

The 2018-19 NHL regular season is almost upon us, which means it’s time for everyone’s favorite event of the year: predicting the final season standings! Sure, they’re almost always going to be horribly wrong once some teams inevitably defy expectations (see: Vegas and Edmonton from last season), but they’re still fun to make regardless.

Yesterday, the Defending Big D staff predicted where the Dallas Stars’ would finish. Today, they’ll wrap it up with predictions for the rest of the Western Conference, where there is some consistency in the Central and barely any in the Pacific.

(Note: A few writers did not fill out standing predictions, while Rob M. only ranked playoff teams.)

Here are everyone’s specific predictions for each division:

Central Division

Taylor: The division remains an absolute murderers row of tough opponents, and the standings end up closer than ever. For the first time, though, they don’t send two Wild Card teams into the playoffs, as Anaheim outperforms the Minnesota Wild this season.

Robert T: Chicago will be bad (again), and Dallas fans are mad at Ken. Blues could do some damage, maybe; Wild player? Later, baby! Jets and Preds, as Central does; order them from “is” to “was.” The Colorado Avalanche’s last season? Pure happenstance.

Logan: The Central retains its reputation as the Tornado Alley of divisions, with Winnipeg and Nashville duking it out for top spots in the standings. Seguin’s signing and the arrival of Montgomery bring fresh energy to Dallas, and the teams rockets to third in the standings of the most fearsome division.

David: The Central is good, but I don’t see Nashville and Winnipeg as taking huge steps forward, especially with Tolvanen getting sent down, and Winnipeg losing Paul Stastny and Enström, and Maurice probably not trusting Kristian Vesalainen and Sami Niku as he should. In other words, the best teams are still the best teams, but they’re not getting exponentially better. The division will fluctuate a lot, leaving underrated teams to either surprise or falter.

Derek: The Central is going to be a war zone this season. The Jets are going to be an incredibly tough team to handle, possibly even good enough to challenge for the Presidents’ Trophy, while Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, Colorado, and Minnesota will jostle for playoff spots, with both Wild Card positions ultimately going to Central teams.

Ann: I don’t see any reason that the Nashville Predators don’t win the Central again, unless it’s because the Jets sneak up on them in a dark room and steal their pocket change. Can the Blackhawks fail harder than the rest of the Division again? Sources say yes. Everything else is in the bubble.

Wes: Woah boy, Winnipeg. All the Jets need to remain at the top of the NHL is continued consistency from Connor Hellebuyck. Ditto Nashville and Pekka Rinne. The difference between those two teams mirrors your reaction to those two statements. St. Louis is falling back to the pack, and I wonder about Colorado’s depth. Dallas continues their streak of looking great on paper, but we’ll see what happens once the games start. Minnesota and Chicago, meanwhile, are about at the end of their respective ropes, especially if Corey Crawford’s injury is as bad as some suggest.

Adam: #MDK is an appropriate moniker yet again as every team in this division thinks they have a chance to make the playoffs. My lukewarm take is that the Jets will edge out the Predators this year and ultimately represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup.

Tyler: The Central is so strong that it isn’t even fair. Besides Nashville and Winnipeg, I honestly believe any team could finish as high as third and as low as seventh. Chicago bounces back slightly due to an eventually healthy Corey Crawford, but not enough to make the postseason, and Minnesota has a season like the 2016-17 Stars and finally decide to start a rebuild.

Rob M: This division might be the toughest division in professional sports (I’m not kidding). Winnipeg and Nashville remain the class of the division, with depth literally everywhere in their lineups. The Dallas Stars remain endlessly interesting, and with a new system in place that molds their game, the team finds their groove and slips into the third spot. St. Louis made significant improvements and just misses the third spot and instead goes into the first Wild Card. The Central will produce the Stanley Cup finalist from the Western Conference when the hopes of Canada land upon the wings of the Jets.

Micah: While the Stars still have one of the best top lines in the league, it isn’t enough to stop the Presidents’ Trophy winners from last season, the Nashville Predators. With Winnipeg coming off of a Western Conference Final last season, the battle will be between the Predators and Jets to see who can take the tough Central. Although, don’t forget about the Colorado Avalanche who surprised many last season with a playoff berth. Expect Colorado and Dallas to turn some heads in the division by peeking their nose along the top although getting sniffed out by the two top dogs in the Predators and Jets.

Jessica: The Central continues to be the most stacked division in the NHL, with virtually every team ready and raring to make the playoffs. As boring as it sounds to agree with everyone else, at the end of the day I have Nashville and Winnipeg duking it out for the division title with the Jets advancing.

Pacific Division

Taylor: Is this San Jose’s year? I think it might be. We’ll see them represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final this year, and the Vegas Golden Knights have a slide back to the median after capturing lightning in a bottle last year. In a weak division, though, it doesn’t feel as steep of a fall.

Robert T: Vegas made the conference final despite being so thin at goal behind Marc-Andre Fleury that they played a seventh-round pick from that year’s draft at one point, but ha ha ha, no way lightning strikes twice, right? It’s San Jose as usual, then Vegas probably runners-up simply because everyone else behind them is so danged blargh-y. Los Angeles will need everything to break right, but sure, they could get into that third spot; likewise Anaheim, who won’t miss Corey Perry nearly as much as you’d think (he hasn’t hit 20 goals for two years now), could show up to the party. Really, I’m hoping that one of the Canadian teams flukes into the playoffs this year, if only because it’ll give management the false impression that Vancouver, Edmonton, or Calgary actually should be considered a contender. They’re not. Arizona is as likely to make the dance as anyone else, and that alone should tell you just how bad this division is (it’s real bad, y’all).

Logan: While many think it is San Jose’s year, they can’t quite make it past Vegas — who are still motivated to win their first Stanley Cup — in the playoffs. Edmonton makes a surprise return to the playoffs, while Ilya Kovalchuk helps push Los Angeles to yet another playoff appearance.

David: I think the Pacific is actually stronger than the Central at the top. San Jose led by Burns and Karlsson is nuts. Vegas, who I thought was a paper tiger, just added Stastny and Pacioretty. Los Angeles is quietly getting better with young players like Kempe and Vilardi ready to step up, and I suspect Kovalchuk will look good despite his age. The Pacific will look like the Central last year, with two teams dominating the division.

Derek: Erik Karlsson is going to make the Sharks a dangerous team in ways they have never been before, while Vegas is more than ready to prove that last season’s success wasn’t a fluke. Beyond that the division is something of a mess, featuring battle-scarred veteran teams, chronic underachievers, and long-shot up-and-comers, so a hot streak, some unexpected individual heroics, or a rash of injuries could go a long way in determining which clubs come out ahead of the pack.

Ann: Boy howdy am I glad the Stars aren’t still in the Pacific squaring off against the San Jose Sharks with Karlsson and Burns five times this season. Three times is plenty, thank you. Sharks take the Division, possibly the entire West. Vegas and Los Angeles still make the cut for the playoffs.

Wes: Vegas is going to disappoint some people. When your foundation for success is built on elite play from five different goaltenders (including an elite season by Marc-Andre Fleury) and William Karlsson shooting 23.4%, the regression monster is scarier than Gritty. They’ll miss the playoffs, as will Milan Lucic’s Edmonton Oilers. San Jose was the best team in the division even before they signed Erik Karlsson, and Los Angeles still has gas in the tank. Arizona will be this year’s Leap Team, while Anaheim does just enough to make the spring dance.

Adam: The regression bug will bite Vegas a bit this season, but they will still be very good. The Sharks potentially have the No. 1 and No. 2 Norris Trophy candidates and will roll this year, but this division is quite deep as well.

Tyler: I don’t think the Pacific is as weak as everyone seems to think. I believe Erik Karlsson helps the Sharks run away with the division title (and ultimately leads them to the Stanley Cup Final), but everyone after them sans Vancouver has a good case to be made as a playoff team. I think Vegas falls back to earth a bit (specifically Marc-Andre Fleury), but still makes it as a Wild Card, and I refuse to project Edmonton as a non-playoff team so long as they have Connor McDavid.

Rob M: The Vegas Golden Knights shocked the world last season, but the shock value and surprises will wear off in 2018-19. The Sharks are retooled and will take the top spot in the division, with the Anaheim Ducks coming in second, and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) taking the third spot in the division. Back to Vegas, they added good pieces in the offseason, but the league might just figure them out and the home advantage could diminish, putting them at the second Wild Card.

Micah: Can Vegas do it again? The answer is no. I think teams will be more prepared for what the Golden Knights bring to the table and are able to slow the team down this season. That being said, the San Jose Sharks take form with the addition of Erik Karlsson this offseason and Evander Kane last season and take the division looking at making a splash (pun intended) in the playoffs.

Jessica: As per usual, the Pacific tends to be right below the Central in how stacked the division is, but the Sharks’ offseason moves and additions have them positioned to very well snatch the division out of the rest of teams’ hands. After that, it’s a fight between Vegas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Calgary for the next spot.