If you look at how the NHL standing shook out this season, you’d think it was actually a “down year” for the Western Conference. In terms of points, sure. In terms of elite players and teams? Not so much. The West is wide open and is anyones to win. The Colorado Avalanche are back to defend their title while Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers are in search of their first trip to the Cup since 2006.
Below are predictions for the entire Western Conference bracket. Please, be gentle.
2023 NHL Playoffs: Western Conference predictions
No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. WC1 Seattle Kraken
Alright, let’s dig in. The Avalanche aren’t the same team as last season. With that said, we’ve seen teams get to the playoffs and take off (Lightning). Colorado has one of the top offenses in the NHL led by its power play. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar are the drivers but depth is an issue. Colorado has missed center Nazem Kadri all season. Plus, Gabriel Landeskog was out all year. Alexandar Georgiev is an upgrade in net over last season with Darcy Kuemper. Is that enough along with a deep defense to carry the Avs to the Cup? It should be plenty to get the by the Kraken and their putrid goaltending. Seattle can roll lines and these games should be high scoring. In the end, the Avs will advance.
Pick: Avalanche in 5
No. 2 Dallas Stars vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild
I’ll just start this off with this: I love the Stars. Dallas is built perfectly for playoff hockey, where goaltending is way more important and being able to play two-way is key. The Stars were top-5 on both special teams (PP and PK). Jake Oettinger had perhaps the best series of a losing goaltender (or any goaltender) in NHL history last year vs. the Flames in the first round. Oettinger definitely relishes playoff hockey. Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are all looking to get back to the Stanley Cup. Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz are looking to make a mark.
The Wild aren’t an easy draw. Filip Gustavsson was arguably the best goaltender in the NHL this season. Minnesota has depth at forward and an elite goal-scorer in Kirill Kaprizov. Joel Eriksson Ek is out. Injuries and wear-and-tear should play a factor in this series. If it’s tight with great goaltending, it’s going to come down to gamebreakers. The Stars just have more and I think they get it done.
Pick: Stars in 6
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. WC2 Winnipeg Jets
The more I think of this series the more I hate it. You should get physical play and there’s Jack Eichel, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, etc, etc. Connor Hellebuyck in net for Winnipeg is an X-Factor. He can steal a game or two from the “top-seeded” Golden Knights. This may end up being one of the more even matchups between a No. 1 overall seed in a conference and the bottom seeded team.
Vegas plays well enough defensively in front of so-so goaltending to get by. Really, the Golden Knights don’t do anything particularly well. They’re just well-coached and deep. This is a veteran team with good depth all around. If Jonathan Quick and Laurent Brossoit can bend but not break, the Golden Knight should get by the Jets, who have a weak blue line and struggle to score.
Pick: Golden Knights in 5
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Kings
The other team we love? Edmonton. It’s not even all about Connor McDavid. The Oilers have better goaltending (finally) and their defense isn’t a complete pasta strainer. Also, the Oilers are just really hot right now, having won nine in a row. If they can carry this momentum at all, it’ll be tough for L.A.
Give the Kings credit, last season we saw they push McDavid and the Oilers to the brink of elimination with seven games in the first round. Will that be the case again? Probably not. The Oilers are deeper throughout and McDavid is on another planet. He’s turned Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into a 100-point scorer and Zach Hyman into a point-per-game player. It’s just hard to envision Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty slowing the Oilers down. Plus, similar issues in net with Joonas Korpisalo and Pheonix Copley should hold the Kings back. L.A. lacks the depth at forward and just won’t be able to keep up.
Pick: Oilers in 4
No. 1 Avalanche vs. No. 2 Stars
This series should be amazing. The matchups in the West are way more intriguing than the East despite what the standings say. During the regular season, the Avs took three of four games, one being in a shootout. Colorado seemed to peak a bit later in the season. Dallas still had a shot at first place. Home ice could be big here.
The Stars get a advantage in net with Oettinger. This is very much a matchup of offense vs. defense. Dallas being tops on special teams and with a great goalie and PK. The Avs with one of the more potent power plays in the NHL. It’ll come down to who can take advantage of those (usually) limited opportunities.
Despite it being the defending champs. I think the edge is to Dallas. The Avs will struggle more to contain Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, plus the Stars have better depth at forward. Oettinger steals a game on the road and home-ice is gone. I think this series goes deep but the Stars pull through and upset the Avs.
Pick: Stars in 7
No. 1 Golden Knights vs. No. 2 Oilers
This Vegas team feels like the Bruins of old, before the coaching switch and historic season. The Golden Knights will try and muddy things up a bit and rattle McDavid. They will not succeed. Edmonton can match the physical play with Mattias Ekholm, Darnell Nurse and Nick Bjugstad. The Golden Knights will likely struggle to score at even strength and can’t skate with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. If Vegas gets into any penalty trouble, the Oilers PP should have the advantage in the postseason. Edmonton also finally has a goaltending advantage with Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell playing well down the stretch.
Pick: Oilers in 5
Western Conference Final
No. 2 Stars vs. No. 2 Oilers
Again, we have McDavid’s offense vs. the Stars stout defense and Oettinger. The Oilers took two of three games from the Stars during the regular season. Dallas did do a good job containing McDavid; he only scored two goals and had nine shots in three games. If the Stars can contain McDavid and make the rest of the roster beat them, that’s the path to winning this series. But sometimes you have to look outside of what’s on paper.
McDavid is in the Conference Final for a second straight season and can taste the Cup. I think that alone helps the Oilers push through to the Cup Final for the first time since 2006. The Stars are tough but just won’t have an answer for game-breaker McDavid. Plus, the Oilers can match some of that physical play from Benn, Radek Faksa and Max Domi. Mattias Janmark could be the X-Factor for Edmonton. He scored four times vs. his old team during the regular season. He plays unsung hero and McDavid gets to the Cup.
Pick: Oilers in 7