The team emerging from the West Division that is only temporary should enter the Stanley Cup semi-finals in a first, title-winning position.
Like those mountain ranges in the middle of this three time zone conglomerate, coronavirus-driven realignment yielded a division that certainly looks high at the top.
“It will be better than the bubble. We might get to see some grass, so that will be fine, '' said Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado. "We are ready to play."
Colorado held the third-best record in the NHL last season before the pandemic shortened the schedule, with a still young star in MacKinnon and an even younger centerpiece with Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar.
Vegas came into the net to bring Robin Lehner back and maintain an elite tandem with Marc-Andre Fleury that could be vital in the 56-game sprint of a schedule that will provide less rest than usual. Alex Pietrangelo was added to the Blue Line with a seven-year $ 61.6 million contract with a team that made it to the conference finals in two of the first three seasons.
St. Louis won the championship just 19 months ago and signed Torey Krug to compensate for the departure of 12-year-old tough Pietrangelo.
The rest of the group – Minnesota, Arizona, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose, in order of finish 2019-20 – could be scrambling for one spot in the postseason. All games up to and including the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs fall within the division.
"Seven teams are happy," said Avalanche defender Devin Toews. "We will take them down."
THE NEW ARRIVALS
Pietrangelo is the most prominent addition to teams in the West, with 16 career goals despite only 70 games coming in before the virus outbreak.
Toews and Brandon Saad gave the Avalanche a boost after injuries piled up last year when they were dropped in the second round by eventual conference champion Dallas.
Veteran defender Kevin Shattenkirk has taken his championship ring from Tampa Bay to an Anaheim team that has started over.
RECONSTRUCTION IN CALIFORNIA
The three California teams have been in the playoffs for the past two decades, with the Stanley Cup hoisted by the Kings in 2012 and 2014, the Ducks winning everything in 2007 after finishing second in 2003 and the Sharks reaching the final. in 2016.
Last season, this reconstruction trio finished as the three worst teams in the conference. This will be a valuable winter and spring for the young players who have not played in a game since March.
"It's good for them to have good competition, to see what the really good teams look like, so they know what to do," said Bob Murray, Ducks CEO. "But there are teams in our division that we have to play in the game every night."
BETWEEN THE PIPES
With Fleury and Lehner in Vegas, Jordan Binnington in St. Louis, John Gibson in Anaheim, Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, and Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta in Arizona, the West Division has no shortage of experienced and experienced goalkeepers. Devan Dubnyk was traded by Minnesota to San Jose, which turned to Cam Talbot.
"If you can get a hot streak, you can take advantage of that a little more, if only because of the number of games," said Kuemper. "If you have two great weeks, you could have eight to 10 games in that period."
The West will need more travel than the two other US divisions.
"The start will be more important than usual in an 82-game schedule," said Sharks defender Erik Karlsson. "Every game is a four-point game, whoever you play."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions that currently ban contact sports in Santa Clara County, the Sharks have temporarily given Arizona a second team. They trained there, hoping to eventually be able to skate on the home ice. So the NHL has scaled back their home schedule, with 24 of the last 38 games scheduled for the SAP Center in San Jose, but they're starting with eight straight road games. Vegas will visit on Feb. 1 and 3, but that may need to be moved to a neutral site.
The Coyotes can get comfortable on Feb. 13. They are starting a 10-game home stand that will run through March 6. The same goes for the Ducks and Kings, who might as well mark "Freeway Series" in their calendars for the final stretch. They play five times in Southern California from April 16 to May 1.
As with college hockey, most road trips will include two-game stops to minimize the potential virus exposure from regular travel. While Anaheim and Los Angeles annoy each other in late April, Minnesota and St. Louis play four times in six days with a few games in each place in a mini-reprise of their first-round playoff matchups in 2015 and 2017.
"While you're in that town," said wild veteran Zach Parise, "you might as well play them twice."
DO NOT MISS IT
St. Louis begins January 13 in Colorado, part of an opening night tripleheader on NBC Sports Network.
The Blues close the regular season with a few road games against their old friend Pietrangelo and the Golden Knights, a back-to-back set on May 7 and 8 that could affect the seeds for the playoffs.
The first reunion is scheduled for January 26 in Nevada, with a rematch in the desert two days later. Pietrangelo, whose wife and four young children were born in St. Louis, returns to Missouri for the first time on March 12.