With the 2020-21 NHL season starting Wednesday, NHL.com is taking a look at the five top storylines in each of the four realigned divisions. Today, the Honda West Division, which includes the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Blues, Avalanche and Golden Knights finished first, second and third, respectively, in the Western Conference last season based on points percentage. They all are considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season.
Meanwhile, the Wild, Coyotes, Ducks, Kings and Sharks were five of the bottom six teams in the Western Conference last season. They’re all hopeful for better days ahead.
“We have a lot of work before we can say we’re a contender in the top three in our division,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “There’s some great teams. But we have the makings to be.”
1. Go West, Cup contenders
Two points separated the Blues and Avalanche in the Central Division last season. They split their regular-season series, each going 2-2-0, and the Avalanche scored one more goal (15-14). Now they’ll play each other eight times, including the first two games of the season at Ball Arena in Denver and three times in five days from April 20-24. If Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon has his eyes on the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player, he’s going to have to grind through Blues defenseman Colton Parayko and goalie Jordan Binnington. If the Blues have their eyes on first place, they’re going to have to find a way to stop MacKinnon.
2. Pietrangelo vs. his old team
Alex Pietrangelo didn’t know when he signed with the Golden Knights on Oct. 12 that he would wind up in the same division as his former team, the Blues. The defenseman played his first 12 NHL seasons with the Blues, including the past four as their captain, and helped St. Louis win the Stanley Cup for the first time in its history in 2019. He knows what he’s up against when they meet at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28. He’ll go to St. Louis for the first time for a back-to-back at Enterprise Center on March 12-13. The Golden Knights and Blues will close the regular season with back-to-back games in Vegas on May 7-8. And then there’s the chance Pietrangelo faces the Blues again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
3. California dreaming
The Ducks, Kings and Sharks were the bottom three teams, in that order, in the Western Conference last season, marking the first time since 1996 that a California-based team did not participate in the NHL postseason. Of the three, the Sharks might be in the best position to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of their veteran depth. The Kings and Ducks each is in the middle of a rebuild. Regardless, the team that earns the most points against its California-based rivals could be in position for a playoff spot.
4. Goalie decisions, questions
The Golden Knights might have the best goalies in the division, even though it’s tough to determine who is the best goalie on the team. Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury each have the potential to challenge as the West’s best. The Blues might finish first if Binnington has another dominant season. Philipp Grubauer wants to prove he can stay healthy and carry the Avalanche. Darcy Kuemper might be the Coyotes’ best hope for a playoff spot. The same can be said for John Gibson with the Ducks and Jonathan Quick with the Kings. Then there’s the Wild and Sharks, who are linked by their goaltending. Minnesota identified Cam Talbot as its new No. 1 and signed him Oct. 9, four days after trading Devan Dubnyk to San Jose, where he will share time with Martin Jones in an effort to get the Sharks back in the playoffs.
5. DeBoer and igniting a rivalry
Peter DeBoer turned the Sharks-Golden Knights rivalry on its ear when the former San Jose coach was hired to coach Vegas on Jan. 15, 2020. The Sharks had fired DeBoer on Dec. 11, 2019. He never got a chance to face his former team last season. He’ll do it eight times this season, which might be enough to fan the flames of one of the best rivalries in the League. The Golden Knights defeated the Sharks in six games in the Western Conference Second Round in 2018. The Sharks responded by knocking out Vegas in a seven-game series in the first round in 2019, when Game 7 turned legendary with San Jose coming back from down 3-0 with four goals on the same five-minute power play in the third period before winning in overtime.