Colin Dambrauskas: The Western Conference “Ins & Outs” – Better or Worse?

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Although there is still much of the summer left (despite the weather we’ve received to date), I felt it would be a good idea to start talking about some possible expectations for next year, based solely off the Western Conference team off-season transactions thus far.

As mentioned above, with plenty of time before opening night, teams are very likely to sign an extra player or two, and likely even find themselves in the middle of one or more trades.

The below will therefore list what teams have done, so far. That is to say, that a player who became a UFA, and has not been signed to this point, is considered a “lost asset” from their respective club, until the time when said player is re-signed.

With that established, we can assess how teams have improved so far this year and given where they sit in terms of cap space, needs, organizational direction, we can try and make reasonable expectations provided things were to remain as they are.

The players listed (in/out) are those who I felt were worth mentioning for each team. There are plenty of prospects/complimentary type guys lost to UFA or what have you, but those who I feel had a large enough impact either way will be mentioned.

Enjoy! Anaheim IN: Dany Heatley, Jason LaBarbera, Ryan Kesler Out: Temmu Selanne, Stephane Robidas, Daniel Winnik, Saku Koivu, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa,

For me, this team remains very strong despite losing some veteran presence in Selanna, Robidas, and Koivu. While they brought in a strong option down the middle in Ryan Kesler and some added fire power in Dany Heatley, losing a young talent like Nick Bonino could sting a litte.

That said, I like their overall moves and I feel they remain very competitive this year. Only possible issue for me is how the overall leadership will be affected. Avalanche IN: Brad Stuart, Jarome Iginla Out: JS. Giguere, Paul Stastny

While losing a player like Paul Stastny would generally bum a franchise out, fans have a lot to be excited about with this young talented group. The Avalanche didn’t shake up much, but what they did do was bring in some promising veteran assistance to help continue to mold their young core.

With Stuart on the backend and Iginla playing up front, this team could very likely turn some heads next year. St Louis IN: Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarsson Out: Ryan Miller, Brendan Morrow, Derick Roy, Roman Polak, Vlad Sobotka

So far the moves which the Blues have taken part in, I feel, are all that was really needed…save for maybe added goaltender depth.

Paul Stastny was a great acquisition, and given his age, should bolster their team’s overall depth for years. Stastny will replace what the Blues lost in offense from Morrow and Roy, combined, and also adds an extra element to their defensive side of the game.

In terms of defense, the Blues acquired Carl Gunnarsson from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Roman Polak. This was, somewhat, a lateral move for me. While the two players don’t really play a similar game, neither will make a big difference on either of their respective teams, but will be strong complimentary players which I believe was needed by both.

Last but not least is Vlad Sobotka who is in the middle of an arbitration hearing and was recently awarded one-year, $2.725 million contract from said arbitrator.

How this ends is undertermined as I do not feel the Blues are willing to spend that kind of money for this player, despite his recent production. In the interim, Sobotka signed a contract with the Avangard Omsk of the KHL. The team will need to find a way to keep this player, or move him for added pieces. San Jose IN: John Scott Out: Brad Stuart

That pretty much sums it up.

The years in which the San Jose Sharks have been dominant Western Conference team. Not to say that they will suddenly plummet or anything, but looking around them, they have not done enough (yet) to remain competitive while others are slowly improving (at least on paper).

While the organization has not yet moved either of Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, I expect that at least one of the two will be traded as they begin to retool for the future.

Their current squad, at their prime, couldn’t get it done, it would be foolish to think that they can band aid this group and make one last push. Time to start making a new 5 year plan with the likes of Pavelski and Couture. Chicago IN: Brad Richards Out: Michal Handzus, Brandon Bollig

Nothing big hear. The organization needed to lock down their two most important players in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are now over the cap and will need to make a move or two to get back into a more comfortable salary situation.

That said, this team has not lost any stride in competitiveness. The players who mattered to their success are still around, and those who were looked upon for complimentary roles can be replaced in due time, depending on how things go.

The acquisition of Brad Richards should level out any lost offensive production from lost UFA’s. No reason to expect this team so slow down next year. Los Angeles IN:None to speak of OUT: Willie Mitchell

After winning another Stanley Cup, this organization didn’t feel the need to make any big/impacted changes to their squad which remains, for the most part, intact.

I do, however, expect the Kings to make a deal or two as the year winds down because as mentioned, the Western Conference is a tough place to play in and if they are hoping to extend their 2014 success into 2015, a change or two may be needed. Minnesota IN: Thomas Vanek, Out: Matt Moulson, Illya Bryzgalov, Dany Heatly

Although I feel that the Wild will be a competitive team this upcoming season, their moves so far leave me at “meh”. Vanek will certainly help boost their offensive production which is needed in their conference; however he won’t make up what they lost in Moulson and Heatly alone.

Outside of the offensive side, the Wild will need to make another couple of moves if they are wanting to improve upon last year’s results. Their core remains pretty strong, though I do not feel that they are strong enough (yet) to make a big enough mark on those around them. Stars IN: Jussi Rynnas, Anders Lindback, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, OUT: Ray Whitney, Tim Thomas, Alex Chiasson

Okay, losing Alex Chiasson likely bothered fans but let’s look at the big picture – the addition of Spezza will pay in dividends. Add to the fact that they have also gained offensive production in Ales Hemsky, and this Stars team should look pretty good next year.

The issue for me, will be their “strength”. Neither Hemsky nor Spezza are known to play with an edge, and while the league is starting to lean toward finesse over fists, having an extra top 6 player or two who can also play the body is critical to success – especially in the West.

All things considered, I do believe the Stars have improved and could very much move up a few spots in the standings from last season. Arizona IN: Devan Dubnyk, Sam Gagner Out: Thomas Greiss, Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro

Arizona simply hasn’t done anything to impress so far. Losing Vrbata will hurt, and Gagner (who has potential) won’t necessarily replace his production. Add to the fact that the team lost Ribeiro, and they may find it challenging to find the back of the net often enough to keep their heads above water.

Final verdict for me, so far, is that this team challenges for bottom 5 spots in the West. Nashville IN: Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, James Neal Out: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Hornqvist, Nick Spaling

I think Nashville made a few nice moves here. Picking up James Neal, while not the most favored player in the league, should add some grit and offense to their lineup. Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen and James Neal should have no issues replacing what Hornqvist and Spaling offered, and you also have some added veteran experience in the lineup.

Del Zotto is also out the door, and it’s too bad because I feel that the young defender has something to the right team who can afford him time and added guidance. Nashville should once again challenge for a playoff spot and perhaps find a little more success than they did last year. Winnipeg IN:None to speak of OUT: Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi, Al Montoya, Evander Kane?

Although the fans in Winnipeg deserve better, they simply won’t be getting it next year. With the loss of a few decent players, and the likeliness of Kane being moved, the 2014-15 NHL season won’t be too promising for this team as things stand.

Of course there is still plenty of time for adjustments and the younger core of this group could surprise a few…but it likely won’t be anywhere near enough as teams around them continue to improve themselves. Vancouver IN: Radim Vrbata, Ryan Miller, Nick Bonino OUT: Mike Santorelli, Ryan Kesler, Jason Garisson, David Booth

Welcome to the beginning of your rebuild, Vancouver.

Bringing in Nick Bonino and Radim Vrbata was a good long term move and short term move, but this last ditch effort by the Canucks organization is not likely one to yield a ton of success, in this writer’s opinion.

The time to move the Sedins is now. They may be relunctant to “tank”, as would be indicative of bringing in guys like Vrbata and Ryan Miller, but the moves are not likely enough for this group to challenge beyond likely another early playoff exit.

And don’t get me wrong, challenging for the playoffs each year while trying to improve is not a bad goal – the Canucks simply need to come to the realization that a 3-5 year goal, at this point, is a better option than a 1-2 year goal. Calgary IN: Mason Raymond, Jonas Hiller, Derek Engelland, Brendan Bollig, OUT: Mike Cammalleri, TJ Galiardi, Joey MacDonald, Chris Butler, Kevin Westgarth

Given that the team continues to rebuild, their acquisitions so far weren’t anything special.

What the Flames did, however, was improve in areas which could stand to, well, improve. They acquired a proven goaltender in Jonas Hiller who needed a change in scenery. They picked up an extra enforcer or two in Engelland and Bollig who can both skate and add to the overall team depth.

All things considered I am more than fine with their moves to date. The only real player who they lost which will make a difference is Cammalleri, and Mason Raymond can’t be expected to replace his production.

That said, having a year older version of Colborne, Monahan, Stajan, Baertschi, Backlund, and the possible addition of some younger guys like Gaudreau and Bennett, and this team could actually turn a few extra of those one goal games into wins.

Final verdict is that the Flames added some veteran leadership, kept a few from last year, and created spots/opportunities for rookies to step up if they’re ready. Edmonton IN: Mark Fayne, Benoit Pouliot, Keith Aulie, Teddy Purcell, Nikita Nikitin OUT: Sam Gagner

The Edmonton Oilers have finally taken a step in the right direction. Bringing in guys like Fayne and Purcell will certainly help the team move to the next level, which in my opinion is a year or two late. Add to the fact that Nikitin and Aulie are added to their defensive core, and the team has actually improved overall.

Pouliot and Purcell will have no problem taking care of any/are of Sam Gagner’s offensive numbers. Moreover, the team’s young core is one year older and players like Hall/Eberle are certainly looking to break the organization’s losing trend. We’ve said it too many times and repeating it is like beating a dead horse at this point, but this should be the Oilers time to start climbing in the standings.

Overall verdict? Another year or two before this group is competing in the playoffs, but they are going to move up a few spots and start to gain some respect. poll by twiigs.com

Thanks for reading!

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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