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NHL: 2022/23 Western Conference preview

The Western Conference consists of the Central and Pacific Division which were won by the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames respectively last season.

The Avalanche went on to win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl by sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final and they then beat the Tampa Bay Lighting to win their third Stanley Cup.

It was Colorado's third conference title and their first success since 2001, when they also last won the Stanley Cup.

The Avalanche are +170 heavy favourites to retain the conference title but it won't be an easy task with a back-to-back success only happening three times since the current conference structure began in 1994 (Detroit Red Wings twice in 1997 and 1998, 2008 and 2009 and Dallas Stars in 1999/2000).

Can Avs buck the trend?

While the Clarence Bowl hasn't been retained for 13 seasons, a strong case can be made for the Avalanche who will continue to be led by Gabriel Landeskog and have managed to tie up star asset Nathan MacKinnon to a seven-year contract.

Mikko Rantanen will aim to build upon his team leading 92 points and 36 goals, and they have a major luxury of Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar on their blue-line.

Having to stay within the NHL's tight salary cap, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and goalie Darcy Kuemper left but Colorado were able to convince other key free agents, Josh Manson, Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen et al. to stay on to defend their championship status.

With Kuemper moving on to the Washington Capitals, Alexandar Georgiyev was acquired from the New York Rangers to partner Pavel Francouz and his ability to take on a bona-fide role is the main question mark which hangs over the Avalanche heading into the new campaign.

New look Flames

The Calgary Flames are +650 second favourites which is impressive considering they lost their top two-point producers last season Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk over the summer.

Gaudreau scored 115 points (40 goals, 75 assists) last season which ranked second in the NHL and Tkachuk 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists).

The Flames made the best of a tricky situation, trading Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau who equalled Gaudreau with 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists) and top-four defenceman Mackenzie Weegar.

Calgary were then able to add free agent centre Kadri who enjoyed a career year with 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) with the Avalanche last season and in doing so have not only kept their cup window open but have opened up a debate whether they may actually have gotten better.

Oilers seeking revenge

The Oilers are next fancied to win the west (+700) and they will be motivated by avenging the Avalanche's sweep of them in the Western Conference Final.

While a disappointing end, the season was Edmonton's best for two decades and with two of the greatest players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continuing to produce jaw-dropping numbers, the Edmonton faithful rightly feel their team is on the cusp of doing something special.

Their pursuit of the cup will have a new face in goal with Jack Campbell arriving from the Toronto Maple Leafs to replace Mike Smith. The 40-year-old provided much needed stability in a problematic position for the Oilers, but in Campbell, who is ten years younger, Edmonton are banking on him as the long-term solution.

Edmonton had a further boost in the off-season when they were able to tie down Evander Kane to a four-year contract. The 31-year-old joined the Oilers mid-way through last season and had a major impact, not least by joint-leading the playoffs in goals (13) with Colorado's MacKinnon.

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Golden Knights seeking bounce back

The Vegas Golden Knights had a disastrous 2021/22 season, missing the playoffs completely for the first time in their five-year history.

Previously, they had made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season and reached the Western Conference Final on two other occasions.

Hell-bent on success, the Golden Knights have replaced coach Peter DeBoer with Bruce Cassidy who was surprisingly let go by the Boston Bruins after leading them to the playoffs six straight seasons, including a Final appearance in 2019.

With star names such as Alex Pietrangelo, Jack Eichel and Mark Stone on the roster, plus newly acquired Phil Kessel, expectations still remain as high as ever for the Golden Knights who are +850 to turn things around and win the conference.

Their biggest issue to overcome will be the loss of goalie Robin Lehner who has been placed on long-term injury reserve. The load will fall on 25-year-old Logan Thompson who has performed well in the NHL with a .914 save-percentage but only over a tiny sample size of 20 games.

Others contenders

The Minnesota Wild (+900) and St. Louis Blues (+1000) are two teams well built for playoff success, with strong netminding and depth in all positions.

The Los Angeles Kings (+1400) had a much-improved season and are a team heading in the right direction. Finally, with arguably the best in the division, Jusse Sarros in goal, the Nashville Predators (+2500) have the ability to surprise.

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