The West was best yet again this past season, and it just got even tougher.
"It’s crazy, really," one Western Conference GM mused Tuesday night as we talked about all the moves strengthening Western clubs.
The arms race to stay competitive in the Western Conference is mind-blowing.
The Anaheim Ducks filled the No. 2 center hole with Ryan Kesler last week, a major add-on. The Dallas Stars, playoff participants this past season and hoping to climb even more in the tough Western Conference, responded by adding Spezza and Hemsky.
The St. Louis Blues added Paul Stastny. The rising darlings from Colorado lost said Stastny, but they added veterans Iginla and Brad Stuart a day after trading for Daniel Briere. The Wild -- who reached the second round of the playoffs this past season -- added goal-scoring machine Vanek. And the perennial powerhouse Blackhawks signed Richards.
The Cup champion Kings? Well, they had already made their most important move of the offseason last week when the re-signed playoff sniper Marian Gaborik long-term. Otherwise their team is largely intact and ready to contend for years.
The Western Conference hierarchy is not for the faint of heart.
Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim and St. Louis are the dominant four teams at the top; Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota are pushing hard; and it’s too early to know exactly what to make of San Jose as the Sharks begin rebuilding -- they traded away Stuart on Tuesday and await Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to decide their own futures over the next few months.
Either way, you’ve got four teams at the top guaranteed to get back into the playoffs next season, three more that seem like good bets, and the Sharks should still be competitive despite their rebuild.
That’s seven or eight teams trying to keep those eight playoff spots. It just shows you how daunting the task is for Nashville (which at least got better with James Neal last weekend), Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary to make their way up next season.
RED WINGS SWING AND MISS
In Boyle’s case, they offered more money than what he agreed to in New York. And word is they certainly made a strong offer to Niskanen, who opted to take a bit more in Washington.
So now what?
For starters, this isn’t a team that needs that much. Just being healthier after the incredible injury losses this past season would be one way to add about three or four wins next season. The team should also benefit from itsr younger players such as Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser getting some of their initial NHL experience under their belts. Just those two factors alone make Detroit a better team for next season in a division and conference that are as wide open as ever.
But there remains a glaring hole for sure: a right-handed, puck-moving, power-play defenseman.
That’s why either Boyle or Niskanen would have fit the bill.
Could it be Green? It’s interesting in talking to team execs around the league on Wednesday that there was a mixed response. Some believed he was available, some didn’t.
But if the Caps do try to move him, I would suspect the Wings would at least look at him. He fits the criteria listed above.
Now, he’s coming off a couple of less than impressive seasons, especially at a $6.08 million cap hit.
On the other hand, he’s heading into the last year of his deal. He’s got a modified no-trade clause in which every offseason he lists seven teams he can’t get traded to, which leaves 22 open for trade.
Again, we’re not 100 percent sure Green is available, but if he is, one would think Detroit would perhaps take a look ...
UFA center Steve Ott would be a valuable addition for almost any team, a young team needing leadership or a contender adding more character. He’s a solid faceoff guy, penalty killer and gritty player all-around.
Word is about four or five teams are in the mix for the 31-year-old, who finished the season in St. Louis. Ott didn’t re-sign with the Blues at first because he wanted more term than St. Louis was offering, but we’ll see in the end whether or not he circles back to them or not. Minnesota is another team that we think has some level of interest but may not have the cap room to do it.
HABS, AVS GOOD PARTNERS?
Sometimes you have teams that start to become regular trading partners, usually teams in different conferences. Take Anaheim and Toronto, for example. They’ve done a number of deals over the past several years.
Do Montreal and Colorado have the potential to become good partners? They made Monday’s trade in which Daniel Briere and P.A. Parenteau swapped teams. Then a source told ESPN.com that on Tuesday there was talk between both clubs about defenseman Josh Gorges. By then the Avs had already zeroed in on blueliner Brad Stuart from San Jose, so they passed, and Montreal sent Gorges to Buffalo.
BOYLE A ROADIE
Well, we knew Dan Boyle was somewhere in Europe on the first day of free agency when he signed his two-year deal with the New York Rangers.
Exactly where he was and what he was doing there, well, that’s a whole other story.
The veteran blueliner is in England this week, hanging out with his favorite band, Faith No More, who are on tour.
"Yes, I planned this a LONG time ago," Boyle told ESPN.com via text message Wednesday. "My summer workouts have a one-week transition period that allows me to rest and recover [for seven days], so I took advantage and came with them for a couple of shows. Back on Sunday."
Cool, just very cool.
The Los Angeles Kings have a predominantly Canadian-based roster, so the front office got to thinking lately, why not include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the championship celebration festivities next season and not just the annual White House visit.
So plans are afoot, although far from official at this point, to try to visit with the Canadian PM in Ottawa, Ontario, when the Kings are there in December. Neat.
HAVE A GOOD SUMMER!
And with that, I’m off for the summer, folks. It's been a long but fun season, to be sure, including the trip to Sochi and a tremendous playoff run I mostly spent in California.
There is still lots of terrific content on the site, so continue to make this your favorite page.
But until then, talk in September!