Ted Kulfan's NHL preview: Breaking down the Western Conference

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Look out for Gerard Gallant and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ted Kulfan previews the NHL's Western Conference:

Central Division


Coach: Jared Bednar

2018-19 record: 38-30-14 (90 points, 5th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Nathan MacKinnon, 41. Assists — Nathan MacKinnon, 58. Wins — Semyon Varlamov, 20

Pressure is on: Bednar — After last season’s playoff surprise, and the collection of young talent, suddenly there are big expectations for the Avalanche.

Rising star: D Cale Makar — There’s a lot of them in this organization, but let’s focus on Makar, who joined the team in the playoffs and was excellent.

Skinny: The Central Division remains strong, and the Avalanche might lack a bit of depth up front. But you get the feeling this could be a dangerous, quality team by playoff time.

More: Ted Kulfan’s NHL breakdown: Top players, contenders, dark horses and more

More: Ted Kulfan's NHL preview: Breaking down the Eastern Conference


Coach: Craig Berube

2018-19 record: 45-28-9 (99 points, 3rd)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Vladimir Tarasenko 33. Assists — Ryan O’Reilly, 49. Wins — Jordan Binnington, 24

Pressure is on: GM Doug Armstrong — Armstrong made a bold move last week acquiring D Justin Faulk but there will be much speculation about re-signing franchise cornerstone D Alex Pietrangelo. Still, winning the Stanley Cup in June will temper much of the angst.

Rising star: Binnington — Let’s face it, the young goalie has to earn this designation after leading the Blues to a Stanley Cup victory.

Skinny: This team was outstanding from Jan. 3 onward last season, and the confidence they gained — plus adding Faulk — will make them awfully tough this winter.


Coach: Peter Laviolette

2018-19 record: 47-29-6 (100 points, 1st)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Viktor Arvidsson, 34. Assists — Ryan Johansen, 50. Wins — Pekka Rinne, 30

Pressure is on: GM David Poile — And Laviolette, too, as the Predators keep juggling to maintain an excellent roster — which is to their credit — but can’t seem to make that final step to a championship. You wonder how much longer the window will remain open?

Rising star: D Dante Fabbro — The Predators have so much confidence in Fabbro, they were fine trading away PK Subban in the off-season.

Skinny: It wouldn’t surprising, at all, to see the Predators back in the Stanley Cup Finals. But in the parity-driven NHL, if they struggle offensively, the Predators might struggle to be a wild card.


Coach: Jim Montgomery

2018-19 record: 43-32-7 (93 points, 4th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Tyler Seguin, 33. Assists — Tyler Seguin, 47. Wins — Ben Bishop, 27

Pressure is on: Seguin — Seguin is making elite, star-quality money now, and the expectations will be ramped up for a blossoming team.

Rising star: D Miro Heiskanen — Talk to any scouts, any analysts, and everyone is under the assumption this kid will win a Norris Trophy sooner or later.

Skinny: GM Jim Nill continues to mold a playoff contender every season, and this roster looks every bit capable of surprising next spring with its blend of experience and young talent.


Coach: Paul Maurice

2018-19 record: 47-30-5 (99 points, 2nd)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Mark Scheifele, 38. Assists — Blake Wheeler, 71. Wins — Connor Hellebuyck, 34

Pressure is on: GM Kevin Cheveldayoff — A salary cap crunch finally hit Winnipeg last summer, and it bit hard. The Jets have a variety of issues going on, and in particular, the defense looks much weaker.

Rising star: LW Kyle Connor — The Shelby Township native is evolving into a yearly 30- to 40-goal scorer.

Skinny: Has the window closed on the Jets? If D Dustin Byfuglien decides to retire, it’s going to be extremely difficult to contend for a playoff spot.


Coach: Jeremy Colliton

2018-19 record: 36-34-12 (84 points, 6th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Patrick Kane, 44. Assists — Patrick Kane 66. Wins — Cam Ward, 16.

Pressure is on: D Duncan Keith — The former Norris Trophy winner hasn’t had a similar type season for a while now, and Keith needs to recapture that magic on an improving roster.

Rising star: C Kirby Dach — The Blackhawks’ 1st-round pick in June could be a major impact player.

Skinny: GM Stan Bowman made a variety of moves in the summer and the roster looks capable of sneaking into the playoffs. But it’s asking a lot of this championship core to make another long run.


Coach: Bruce Boudreau

2018-19 record: 37-36-9 (83 points, 7th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Zach Parise, 28. Assists — Ryan Suter, 40. Wins — Devan Dubynk, 31

Pressure is on: Boudreau — New GM Bill Guerin is likely to bring in his own guy at some point, and Boudreau hasn’t taken the Wild far.

Rising star: LW Ryan Donato — The Wild acquired Donato from Boston in the deadline deal for C Charlie Coyle. On a roster that doesn’t have much young talent, Donato is a bright spot.

Skinny: This roster has probably gone as far as it could, and a rebuild is in order with Guerin taking charge.


►Colorado, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas (wild card)

Pacific Division


Coach: Gerard Gallant

2018-19 record: 43-32-7 (93 points, 3rd)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Mark Stone, 33. Assists — Mark Stone, 40. Wins — Marc-Andre Fleury, 35

Pressure is on: Gallant — A dramatic first-round playoff flameout hurt last spring - and now the Golden Knights return a deep and talented team with sky-high expectations.

Rising star: C Cody Glass — The Golden Knights' first-round draft pick in 2017 might be ready to make Vegas ridiculously deep up the middle.

Skinny: The salary cap has cut slightly into Vegas’ depth, but the Golden Knights have enough to be a tough, tough out in the playoffs. This is a savvy, veteran roster.


Coach: Peter DeBoer

2018-19 record: 46-27-9 (101 points, 2nd)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Joe Pavelski, 38. Assists — Brent Burns, 67. Wins — Martin Jones, 36

Pressure is on: D Erik Karlsson — Karlsson was re-signed to a massive contract although he didn’t star with the Sharks as maybe was expected. He has to stay healthy, which also has been an issue.

Rising star: LW Timo Meier — This is an aging roster, so a young player like Meier needs to keep evolving into an impact star.

Skinny: There’s a lot of star power on this roster - but the age and injury history of some of these veterans make a deep playoff run questionable.


Coach: Bill Peters

2018-19 record: 50-25-7 (107 points, 1st)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Johnny Gaudreau, 36. Assists — Johnny Gaudreau 63. Wins — David Rittich, 27

Pressure is on: Gaudreau — After a dynamic regular season, Gaudreau struggled in the playoffs, as did many of the young stars on this team.

Rising star: D Juuso Valimaki — Valimaki is mobile, can play a physical brand of hockey, and could add quality depth to an already deep defense.

Skinny: Last season’s playoff disappointment might turn out to be a learning experience, but the Calgary goaltending remains a large question mark.


Coach: Rick Tocchet

2018-19 record: 39-35-8 (86 points, 4th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Alex Galchenyuk, Brad Richardson 19. Assists — Clayton Keller, 33. Wins — Darcy Kuemper, 27

Pressure is on: RW Phil Kessel — Acquired from Pittsburgh and looked upon as the final piece to a playoff puzzle, Kessel hasn’t exactly been viewed as a leader in his previous stops.

Rising star: RW Keller — Is making strides to becoming an offensive star, but the pressure will build after agreeing to a large contract extension in the off-season.

Skinny: Don’t sleep on the Coyotes, who are putting together an intriguing roster. A playoff spot is not of the question, at all.


Coach: Dallas Eakins

2018-19 record: 35-37-10 (80 points, 6th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Jakob Silfverberg 24. Assists — Ryan Getzlaf, 34. Wins — John Gibson, 26

Pressure is on: Getzlaf — Many of his veteran teammates have departed, and Getzlaf is now expected to lead a young (but intriguing) roster.

Rising star: C Sam Steel — The Ducks have several potentially impactful forwards, but Steel has the quickness and creativity to make a difference early.

Skinny: The names are going to be different, but the injection of youth may turn out to be the right call for this organization.


Coach: Dave Tippett

2018-19 record: 35-38-9 (79 points, 7th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Leon Draisaitl, 50. Assists — Connor McDavid, 75. Wins — Mikko Koskinen, 25

Pressure is on: GM Ken Holland — The long-timer former Red Wings’ GM begins a new era in Edmonton with the game’s best player (McDavid) — and not too much else.

Rising star: D Evan Bouchard — He needs more seasoning in the minors, but Bouchard looks like he’ll develop into a reliable NHL defenseman.

Skinny: McDavid and Draisaitl are superb, but Holland is going to be hard-pressed in the short-term to weave this roster into a playoff team.


Coach: Travis Green

2018-19 record: 35-36-11 (81 points, 5th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Elias Pettersson, 28. Assists — Elias Pettersson, 38. Wins — Jacob Markstrom, 28

Pressure is on: GM Jim Benning — The message is mixed. Are the Canucks rebuilding, or continuing to go for it with their recent acquisitions? The danger is, Vancouver remains stuck in the middle for a long time.

Rising star: C Pettersson — The league’s best rookie of a year ago could evolve into a major force with that shot of his.

Skinny: Given a few breaks, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Vancouver sneak into a wild card spot.


Coach: Todd McLellan

2018-19 record: 31-42-9 (71 points, 8th)

2018-19 leaders: Goals — Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown 22. Assists — Anze Kopitar, 38. Wins — Jonathan Quick, 16

Pressure is on: McLellan — It’ll be asking a lot of the new coach to somehow energize this older, dormant roster.

Rising star: C Alex Turcotte — He’s still a year, or two, away. But the former USNTDP star will help resuscitate this organization.

Skinny: McLellan is a fine coach, but this roster has too many holes to make the playoffs.


►Vegas, San Jose, Calgary, Arizona (wild card)






Twitter: @tkulfan