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Western Conference Predictions: Who's on the Rise?

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Western Conference Predictions: Who's on the Rise?

A new NHL season begins on Wednesday. Now it's time to put our experts to the test.

Tarik El-Bashir and J.J. Regan will cover the Capitals all season long for NBC Sports Washington. What do they think the NHL season will hold? It's time to get their season predictions. First, let's start with the Western Conference.

El-Bashir

Central
1. Dallas
2. Minnesota
3. Chicago

Pacific
1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. San Jose

Wild card

1. Nashville
2. St. Louis

RELATED: TOM WILSON HAS ANOTHER HEARING WITH TEH DEPARTMENT OF PLAYER SAFETY

The skinny: With Ben Bishop steadying a previously shaky situation in net, Alexander Radulov bolstering the O and Ken Hitchock back behind the bench, the Stars are ready to rise in the Central. Bruce Boudreau’s Wild will qualify for the postseason for a sixth straight year, but the question is this: can ‘Gabby’ get them past last year’s first-round flameout? The top-heavy Blackhawks have fizzled in the first round each of the past two seasons, but I’m not ready to write off a core headlined by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. P.K. Subban and the Predators are still a playoff team but before you get all crazy about their 2017-18 prospects remember this: they were the tournament’s 16th seed a year ago. I’ve still got Blues getting in, despite a rash of injuries. Why? They were lights out defensively after Mike Yeo took over behind the bench last February, and I’d expect that trend to continue.    

In the Pacific, Anaheim will be banged up to start the year with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler sidelined, but they’re still formidable, with a stingy D and enough veteran savvy to hold off Connor McDavid and Oilers. Speaking of, McDavid feels like he’s primed to have another MVP year, doesn’t it? I’m not sure the Sharks have another Cup run left in them, but Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Co. are good enough to make some noise in a weak division that’ll see Calgary and Los Angeles keep things interesting before just missing out. It’ll be fun to track Vegas’ progress, but they won’t be close for a couple of years.

Conference winner: The Ducks, once they’re healthy, will have the skill and experience to win in the West.

Regan

Central
1. Dallas
2. Chicago
3. Nashville

Pacific
1. Edmonton
2. Anaheim
3. Calgary

Wild card
1. Minnesota
2. San Jose

The skinny: The biggest issue holding the Stars back has been their goaltending. Now that they have a legitimate No. 1 in Ben Bishop, the sky's the limit. Nashville looks poised for a big season after their coming out party last year, but keep an eye on Pekka Rinne who turns 35 in November. You should never count out a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season, but that is an older team and you have to wonder how much confidence there is in the head coach after yet another disappointing postseason. We have seen this story play out with three different teams now and I believe the Wild are due for a major step back. Those four teams make the playoffs over an injury-riddled St. Louis, a dreadful Colorado and a Winnipeg team that is still a goalie short and a year away.

In the Pacific, Edmonton is on the rise. You may be worried about their salary cap situation, but for now Connor McDavid makes them a contender. Anaheim has won six division championships in a row, but they are getting older, have plenty of injuries to deal with already and it will be hard to stifle the momentum of the Oilers. Calgary is on the rise, but I do not think they have addressed their goaltending issues. I understand why they needed to move on from Brian Elliott, but I also do not see Mike Smith as an upgrade. San Jose’s time has passed and I think they will only just squeak into the playoffs as a wild card over Winnipeg and Los Angeles.

Conference winner: The conference looks wide open so I will go with the best player, McDavid, to lead the Oilers to a conference title.

RELATED: NHL POWER RANKINGS

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!