Mon, Oct 06, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Healthy, happy NHL sees tilt toward Western Conference

AP

Ice hockey is a booming business right now. After an attention-grabbing Olympic trip and an exciting playoffs for the scandal-free NHL, revenue and television ratings have risen to record levels across a largely healthy, happy league.

Yet the NHL ice is tilted decidedly to the West, and the continental divide might even grow this season.

A few months after the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings staged an epic conference finals won by the Stanley Cup champion Kings, nearly every team on the Western side of the NHL’s unbalanced standings made significant off-season additions to chase the league’s twin post-season powers.

The Anaheim Ducks added Ryan Kesler. The Dallas Stars snared Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. The St Louis Blues signed Paul Stastny. The Minnesota Wild snagged Thomas Vanek. The Colorado Avalanche got Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere.

Even Chicago picked up Brad Richards. Only the champs essentially stood still, daring the West to catch them.

“It seems like the West is loading up again,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to matter too much what the other teams do. It’s going to matter what we do.”

The Blackhawks and the Kings each have two titles in the last five years, and they are both the widely considered favorites to play for the Stanley Cup again. However, when Los Angeles beat the New York Rangers in five games in the Stanley Cup Final last year, many prognosticators scoffed that five West teams could have beaten any East representative — and the theoretical math appears much the same this autumn.

“The West is such a grind,” Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “There’s so much talent. All these huge, physical teams that skate very well. We can have another great regular season, and it won’t matter if we don’t have the toughness to win in the playoffs.”

The Western Conference has won six of the past eight Cups, and the two East winners were stretched to a full seven games in the Final. Although Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Tampa Bay return strong clubs, league MVP Sidney Crosby and the rest of the East’s stars realize they will have to go West to win a title.

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