NHL Western Conference Teams Getting Stronger During Offseason

By: Matty Simo | Wednesday, July 2, 2014

It's been nearly three weeks since the Los Angeles Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years with a thrilling 3-2 double-overtime victory against the New York Rangers in Game 5. Earlier this week, the free-agency period started, and the rich appear to be getting richer - except for the Kings, who did re-sign key acquisition Marian Gaborik and are 8/1 to hoist the Cup for the third time in four seasons around this time next year according to the LVH SuperBook in Las Vegas.

The Western Conference teams were clearly more dominant than their Eastern Conference counterparts in this year's NHL playoffs, and LA's main competition next season looks to be getting even stronger. Count the Anaheim Ducks (10/1), St. Louis Blues (10/1), Colorado Avalanche (16/1), Minnesota Wild (20/1) and Dallas Stars (30/1) as teams that have improved and should challenge the Kings for their NHL crown next season in addition to the Chicago Blackhawks, who lost Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to LA as defending champs but are 7/1 co-favorites along with the Boston Bruins in 2015.

Last season, the Ducks finished with the best overall record in the West and also won the Pacific Division. Anaheim will be without all-time leading scorer Teemu Selanne next year after he retired following a Game 7 loss to the Kings in the conference semifinals, but the team was able to pry center Ryan Kesler away from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade before the NHL draft. The Ducks also have a promising young goalie in John Gibson, who should take over full-time now after Jonas Hiller inked a deal with the Calgary Flames.

Meanwhile, the Wild added forward Thomas Vanek, the Stars traded for C Jason Spezza, and the Blues signed C Paul Stastny away from the Avalanche, who in turn landed veterans in winger Jarome Iginla and defenseman Brad Stuart. Chicago even improved by landing second-line C Brad Richards, leaving the Blackhawks to focus mainly on re-signing stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to long-term contracts at nearly twice the cost of their current ones that expire at the end of next season.

"I think the Stars were absolutely players and thought they took a big step in the right direction last year," Sportsbook Radio host and NHL betting expert Brian Blessing said. "The Stars drastically improved themselves.

"(But) Minnesota to me still remains the value play to win the Stanley Cup. There's no doubt the Western Conference is much better than the East. And Thomas Vanek going back to Minnesota gives them a power-play presence to go along with the solid roster of two-way players they already possess."

Despite all of the early player movement, the SuperBook has not adjusted any prices on Stanley Cup future odds since Monday. And it would likely take players like Toews AND Kane being dealt away to make a significant impact on the betting board.

"The NHL has become a crapshoot," LVH SuperBook oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. "There's no one player that could change teams and change another team's chances to win the Cup that much.

"It's nothing compared to the NBA, where if LeBron (James) were to change teams, the odds of the team he goes to would probably become the favorite to win the title."

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