Western Conference showing no mercy with offseason pickups
The Western Conference dominated the NHL last season, which made the Los Angeles Kings' five-game Stanley Cup Final triumph over the New York Rangers a fitting end to the 2013-14 campaign.
Jason Spezza (left), Thomas Vanek (center) and James Neal are three of the marquee acquisitions by the West this summer.
By Nicholas Goss NESN
The Western Conference dominated the NHL last season, which made the Los Angeles Kings’ five-game Stanley Cup Final triumph over the New York Rangers a fitting end to the 2013-14 campaign.
In fact, many media members and fans joked on Twitter that the Cup should have been presented after Game 7 of the Western Conference finals between the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, who clearly were the two best teams in the league.
The West had six teams tally over 100 points in the standings, while the East had four. The West had four 110-plus point teams, and the East had only one — the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins with 117 points.
The gap between Western and Eastern conferences has become even wider after the moves made in the free agent and trade markets this summer.
Here’s a recap of notable players who remained in or moved to the West this offseason:
Top Western offseason moves
St. Louis Blues
New York Rangers
St. Louis Blues
New Jersey Devils
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
After the Kings dominated the playoffs with superior skill and depth down the middle with Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter, many of their Western rivals made a serious effort to upgrade at center.
It began with the Ducks replacing Saku Koivu by acquiring Ryan Kesler from the Canucks via trade. He’ll form an excellent 1-2 punch down the middle with Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf.
The Stars acquired Jason Spezza from the Senators in a multi-player trade, just one year after acquiring a No. 1 center in Tyler Seguin from a deal with the Bruins. The Blackhawks gave top prospect Teuvo Teravainen another year to develop into the No. 2 center role by signing veteran Brad Richards, and the Blues — who lost to the Blackhawks in Round 1 in part because of their lack of scoring at center — signed Paul Stastny for $7 million per season. Colorado made up for the loss of Stastny by signing Jarome Iginla.
Not only did just about every playoff team from the West last season upgrade in some form, many that missed the postseason also made moves to improve. The Canucks signed seven-time 30-game winner Ryan Miller as their No. 1 goalie, the Flames added veteran netminder Jonas Hiller, the Predators signed center Olli Jokinen and traded for 40-goal scorer James Neal, and the Oilers added depth by signing forward Benoit Pouliot and veteran D-man Mark Fayne.
One contender that has been surprising in the offseason is the San Jose Sharks, although trade speculation continues to surround captain Joe Thornton.
Honoring division titles with banners hung from the rafters isn't everyone's thing, but considering the strength of the Pacific and Central next season, whichever teams emerge fully deserve to recognize the accomplishment without criticism.