Highlighting the 5 teams in the northwest, this division could be one of the toughest in the NHL today. With just about 7 weeks until training camps open up, we are going to take a in depth look at the northwest division and where each team could find themselves come April.
The Avs decided they needed some help up front and on the scoring sheet, so on July 1st they targeted forward P.A. Parenteau who had a breakout season with the Islanders.
Adding a player who had 67 points on his resume will help any club, but is it enough to climb from 11th in their conference to a playoff berth?
A healthy Matt Duchene, another strong season from Calder trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog, some improved goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and a trip to the playoffs could definitely happen for this club.
Steve Downie and Cody McLeod will be there for the protection of their teammates, and some veteran leadership from Milan Hejduk, Erik Johnson and Paul Stastny could be a great recipe for success. Head coach Joe Sacco will be hungry to get his team back in the playoffs, as there were many rumours circling his departure last season. There is still room for improvement and GM Greg Sherman has the money as there is a little over $16 million in cap space.
Last season: 3rd in Northwest, 11th in conference Prediction: 3rd in Northwest, 8th in conference
Despite missing the playoffs 3 years in a row, GM Jay Feaster was fairly quiet this summer. He did add solid blue liner Dennis Wideman to the mix, and with rather disappointing seasons from Jay Bouwmeester and Anton Babchuk, Wideman would be the special teams help Calgary needed. But it was up front where Feaster didn’t pay too much attention too. He decided it was time to let go of Olli Jokinen who racked up a solid 61 points this past season, and replace him with 2 new faces, Jiri Hudler who notched 50 points with the Red Wings in 2011-2012, and former KHL forward Roman Cervenka who has yet to experience this type of hockey at the NHL level. Calgary has always been a steady defensive team, that comes with strong goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff and a strong blue line core, however finding themselves at 25th in the league in scoring is an area that needed improvement, and I don’t think Feaster really addressed that. Keeping in mind, captain and leading scorer Jerome Iginla is now 35 years of age, his point total will be due to drop a bit over the next little while. It will be very important for the Flames to stay healthy and show a strong work ethic under new head coach Bob Hartley. If Feaster looks to add any scoring, he’ll have to drop some salary somewhere along the way, as he only sits with a little over $3.5 million in cap space.
Last season: 2nd in Northwest, 9th in conference Prediction: 5th in Northwest, 13th in conference
There is no other team in the NHL today that have the young talent the Edmonton Oilers have, however, that is really the only focus on that club. A bright future indeed, but their top players are still gaining every experience possible. And all of these young guns have dealt with the injury bug thus far as well. The Oilers have made it clear a few years ago that the “rebuild” was in motion, and that it was. Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, to name a few of their core young guys they are investing their future in. An exciting, young and fast team to watch still lack the punch to the playoffs. A question mark in goaltending, where Devan Dubnyk has shown some brilliance, and some average to below average net minding at times as well. He will need to show some strong play and consistency if the Oilers want to climb out of the basement this year. Also, some veteran players that just don’t have the touch that they once had, like Ryan Smyth, who is now on the downslide of his career at the age of 36. Beside the NHL draft and selecting Nail Yakupov 1st overall, the other big story was free agent Justin Schultz, who did not sign in Anaheim for unknown reasons. Schultz was on the radar for many teams, but he chooses to go with the young core and start his NHL career off on the same page as Yakupov. Schultz was given a heavy salary for an unproven player, but Tambellini really showed his interest and has faith in the young blue liner. Now, there is still some much needed improvement with this club, but with some smart UFA acquisitions in the next 2-3 summers, a few trades here and there and the Oilers will be not only a playoff team, but a team to fear in the postseason. With a little over $7 million in cap space, I don’t see Tambellini using that money unless the injury bug hits early, or they surprise everyone and have a strong season and a push for the playoffs, in which he might try to add another player or two for that push.
Last season: 5th in Northwest, 14th in conference Prediction: 4th in Northwest, 11th in conference
There is nothing like opening up the chequebook and signing a couple of contracts worth $198 million. Like many, or everyone, it was a surprise that two of the biggest names on the UFA market both signed on the same team, but a bigger surprise that team was the Minnesota Wild. Just by adding two players of such calibre will definitely bring more success to this organization. With a good crop of talent already with players such as Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, the biggest problem the Wild have encountered in recent years were their injuries, and to key players at that. Niklas Backstrom will be between the pipes again this season, who I would call a good goaltender, not great, but he has the team in front of him to change that. The key piece to the puzzle in Minnesota just may be the youth and how effective they can be starting their NHL careers. Mikael Granlund is a highly touted prospect that the Wild have high hopes for, and if he can come in and make an immediate impact, in a good way that is, then the Wild will be on their way to a successful campaign this season. Playoffs? My bet would be on a definite yes this year. The roster is set, and there is no room for wiggle with just a little over $1.3 million in cap space.
Last season: 4th in Northwest, 12th in conference Prediction: 2nd in Northwest, 5th in conference
The Canucks enter this upcoming season with a new #1 goaltender between the pipes in Cory Schneider……or do they? Roberto Luongo has yet to be traded, so as of right now, Mike Gillis has approximately $9.33 million locked up in goaltending. So at the start of the season, Schneider just might have his ex-competition breathing down his neck, and that isn’t something he wants. Luongo obviously has the tools to be a #1 goaltender, and could easily find his way back to that job if Schneider starts the season rough. Looking at their forward core, Gillis was happy with what he had and didn’t change a thing. And realistically, why would he, they know how to put the puck in the net, but it seems like when the playoffs come rolling in, they just don’t have the finish. The only addition Gillis added to the team was offensive defenseman Jason Garrison, who finished 3rd in goals scored by a defenseman with 16, only behind Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber. Keep in mind they lost Sami Salo who contributed with his bullet of a shot on the point. But even though they have an uncertainty with goaltending, they have two #1 goaltenders, and that will not hurt any team. Expect as usual the Canucks to have another strong season, and another trip to the post season. But whatever happens from there, I won’t expect a parade hitting the streets of Vancouver in 2013.
Last season: 1st in the Northwest, 1st in the conference Prediction: 1st in the Northwest, 2nd in the conference
- Blueline Caper