Gap Between NHL’s Western, Eastern Conferences Widens In Offseason

Jeff Carter, Corey CrawfordThe 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 Final 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.

Player Old Team New Team Method
Jarome Iginla Boston Bruins Colorado Avalanche Free Agent
Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche St. Louis Blues Free Agent
Thomas Vanek Montreal Canadiens Minnesota Wild Free Agent
Brad Richards New York Rangers Chicago Blackhawks Free Agent
Radim Vrbata Arizona Coyotes Vancouver Canucks Free Agent
Ryan Miller St. Louis Blues Vancouver Canucks Free Agent
Jonas Hiller Anaheim Ducks Calgary Flames Free Agent
Ales Hemsky Ottawa Senators Dallas Stars Free Agent
Mark Fayne New Jersey Devils Edmonton Oilers Free Agent
Benoit Pouliot New York Rangers Edmonton Oilers Free Agent
Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks Anaheim Ducks Trade
Jason Spezza Ottawa Senators Dallas Stars Trade
James Neal Pittsburgh Penguins Nashville Predators Trade
Nate Thompson Tampa Bay Lightning Anaheim Ducks Trade

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 center punch 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.

I usually hate when teams honor division titles with banners hung from the rafters, but considering the strength of the Pacific and Central next season, whichever teams emerge fully deserve to recognize the accomplishment without criticism.

What does the strength of the West mean for the Bruins?

The weakness of the East gives the Bruins — who went 18-4-5 against the West in 2013-14 — a tremendous opportunity to reach their third Stanley Cup Final in five seasons.

Even with the departure of 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla, Boston has more than enough talent and depth to finish atop the conference and earn the No. 1 seed in the 2015 playoffs. Pittsburgh, Montreal and the Rangers all have been weakened by free-agent departures of top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen. The only East team that has significantly improved is the Tampa Bay Lightning, but questions remain about their blue line and goaltending.

Failing to win the East next season would be a massive disappointment and a huge opportunity lost for the B’s.

Yardbarker

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