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Western Conference preview: The Basement Dwellers

The final installment of this series will feature teams that figure to finish at the bottom of the Pacific Division. These are teams that are more concerned with winning the number one pick in Dallas next June then they are about playoff seeding. I would be surprised to see any of these teams playing meaningful games in April next year, although they’ll have plenty of chances to play spoiler to the playoff teams.

Arizona Coyotes

There are some who think the Coyotes will take the next step this year as a playoff contender but I don’t see it. To their credit they did have a great offseason, adding Niklas Hjlamarsson, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta in trades. Those three add a needed veteran presence and can still perform at a high level. They said goodbye to coach Dave Tippett and longtime caCptain Shane Doan, who opted for retirement after spending his entire career with the Jets/Coyotes organization. On top of that, they own one of the NHL’s best prospect pools, with multiple blue chips and young players under the age of twenty-five.

All of these things point to a bright future, but the team is still too young. Anthony Duclair had a nightmare sophomore season and he will have to return to his rookie form when he and Max Domi turned a lot of heads in the hockey community. Guys like Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome will need some time to adjust to the NHL this year. Still, with all the young talent they have accumulated, this team has the potential to be one of the strongest teams in the conference in a few years with a good chance at a Cup.

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have experienced quite a fall from grace. Since terrorizing the league in 2011 and coming a single win away from the Stanley Cup, they have won a grand total of three playoff games and have often looked like a team desperate to return to their glory days without the personnel to do it. That attitude manifested itself in moves like Loui Eriksson’s six year contract and the trade of Nick Bonino for Brandon Sutter. GM Jim Benning finally made some good trades to help the future last season but he still has work to do.

It’s not all bad in Vancouver though. Brock Boeser showed promise in his short stint last year and Bo Horvat is the real deal. There is also the potential to recoup some assets if the newly signed Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner are dealt at the deadline to contenders. Other than that though, there’s not a lot for Canucks fans to be excited about this season. Jacob Markstrom as the starting goalie doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, nor does having Alex Edler still on the top defense pairing. The situation with the Sedins is one to watch, with Henrik and Daniel’s contracts expiring after this year. It’s hard to imagine the Swedes in any other sweater but this could conceivably be the last year with the twins in British Columbia.

Colorado Avalanche

No one really saw the disaster that was the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche coming. They weren’t supposed to be great but they weren’t built to tank the season either. So it’s almost unbelievable that they managed to post a 48 point season: by far the worst since the full-season lockout and last in the league by a full 21 points. There was plenty of blame to go around, with almost everything going wrong and multiple players posting the worst campaigns of their careers. Over the offseason, Joe Sakic was unusually quiet for a team that underachieved so completely the previous year. Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are still members of the Avalanche, despite rumors swirling that both would be dealt to contenders.

I’m comfortable saying that the Avs can’t possibly do worse than they did last year but it still looks like a rough season is ahead of them. Moving forward, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them trade their veterans and build around Nathan Mackinnon. They do have some intriguing young guns like Tyson Jost, Mikko Rantanen, and the recently drafted Cale Makar. For this year however, they have little depth- a problem that could be exacerbated if Duchene or Landeskog are dealt and they will likely be in the running for the number one pick for a second year in a row.

Vegas Golden Knights

Of course the Golden Knights are on here, they’re an expansion team after all. The Knights will open their inaugural season relying on goals from James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, and Vadim Shipachyov, who, like the team itself, has played in zero NHL games. The defense has quantity, if not quality, with a core of serviceable bottom four pairing blueliners but no true top pairing skaters. Vegas picked up Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstrom in the first round but none figure to make an impact on the big team for this year.

Here’s what will determine if the first season of a Big-Four professional sports team in Las Vegas is a success. If Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore develop into difference makers at the NHL level, Marc-Andre Fleury steals some games and provides steady leadership, and the team makes inroads with the community and becomes part of the fabric of Las Vegas, then George McPhee and his staff have done a good job. Bill Foley has said that he wants to win a Stanley Cup within seven years of the team’s first game but this roster needs a lot of time to grow until we potentially see the Stanley Cup on the Strip.

Yardbarker: NHL