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Avalanche Journal: Where does Colorado fit in loaded West after a pre-trade deadline arms race?

A few weeks ago, there were defined tiers in the NHL’s Western Conference, with six teams at the top as clear-cut contenders to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

This played out ahead of the trade deadline, with all six teams making at least one significant move (and 15 total between them) in an arms race to try and wiggle ahead of what was a compacted group. One is struggling and no longer among the top six in the standings, but the Vegas Golden Knights are also the defending champions and made a huge push with three big trades.

The Avalanche, by virtue of trading Tomas Tatar earlier this season and then Kurtis MacDermid just before the dealing frenzy took off, found enough financial flexibility to add four new potential regulars to the lineup, the most from this six-pack of contenders.

Where do these six teams stand now as the NHL enters the stretch run? The Denver Post reached out to 18 media members around the continent for a quick straw poll. The questions was simple — please power rank these six teams — but among the responses included phrases like, “There isn’t much between these teams,” “This could include a 1A, 1B, etc.” and also, “This is really hard.”

Our voting group included beat writers and national insiders. The votes were added up and averaged, with lowest score winning.

There is a pretty clear divide. If this was a tier system, there would probably be three — one for the top two, the No. 3 team in its own and then the bottom three were very close.

1. Colorado Avalanche (1.556, nine first-place votes)

Add: F Casey Middelstadt, F Yakov Trenin, F Brandon Duhaime, D Sean Walker

Subtract: F Ryan Johansen, F Kurtis MacDermid, D Bo Byram

The Avs have also added Valeri Nichushkin back to the lineup, but lost Logan O’Connor for the season with a hip injury that needs surgery. They’ve also still not been able to ice their 12 best forwards who aren’t facing long-term issues, but the Avs also look like a faster and deeper team already. The goaltending has also improved lately, and when that position is adequate or better, this looks like a tough team to beat.

2. Dallas Stars (2.111, seven first-place votes)

Add: D Chris Tanev

Subtract: None

Speaking of goaltending, there are 44 goalies who have played at least 25 games this season. Jake Oettinger ranks 38th in goals saved above expected, easily the worst of any projected playoff starter. His backup, Scott Wedgewood, is 39th. Tanev was a great addition, and this is now arguably the deepest team in the NHL … if a better version of Oettinger shows up before it’s too late.

3. Edmonton Oilers (3.556, two first-place votes)

Add: F Adam Henrique, F Sam Carrick, D Troy Stecher

Subtract: None

Henrique could have been an option to fill the No. 2 center spot in Colorado, but he’s the fourth-best pivot in Edmonton. The Oilers are 38-14-2 in their past 54 games with a plus-60 goal differential. That’s two-thirds of a season being a Terminator. They are going to ride with Stuart Skinner in net, and probably should have done better with adding to the defense corps, but the Oilers are loaded and rolling right now. They were also the only team to get votes in all six spots.

4. Winnipeg Jets (4.444)

Add: F Tyler Toffoli, F Sean Monahan, D Colin Miller

Subtract: None

The Jets have allowed the fewest goals and have the Vezina Trophy favorite Connor Hellebuyck in net. They might have overpaid for Monahan, but underpaid for Toffoli. The two moves combined have upgraded the offense, and Winnipeg’s ability to keep the puck out of its own net is the biggest reason why Central rivals Colorado and Dallas in particular will be wary of the Jets.

5. Vancouver Canucks (4.667)

Add: F Elias Lindholm

Subtract: F Andrei Kuzmenko

It feels weird that Vancouver didn’t do more, right? The Canucks did trade for Nikita Zadorov in November, and they were linked to other high-end players, but … Lindholm was it. To make things worse, Lindholm hasn’t played well (seven points in 18 games). While everyone lauded the Canucks at the time for doing this big deal early, it looks like the market improved for buyers closer to the deadline and they overpaid.

6. Vegas Golden Knights (4.722)

Add: F Tomas Hertl, F Anthony Mantha, D Noah Hanifin

Subtract: D Daniil Miromanov

Vegas is the ultimate wild card. The Golden Knights could get everyone back and rip through the playoffs. It’s also not out of the question that they go full 2014-15 Kings and miss the tournament. They made huge moves, but Hertl can’t help right now and this team is 24-24-6 since starting 11-0-1. Three voters said the Golden Knights would be higher if/when they get healthy, but three voters actually put Nashville ahead of them.

The Predators deserve a mention as a potential spoiler. While they traded Trenin to the Avs in a “seller” move, they also added forwards Jason Zucker and Anthony Beauvillier in cheap deals to backfill and are one of the hottest teams in the league. Nashville’s lineup doesn’t match up body-for-body with these clubs, but the Predators have a star at every position (Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi and Juuse Saros) and are 11-0-2 in the past month.

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