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The Season – Northwest Division

In Hockey Hits on October 4, 2010 by geespotting

THE SEASON

NORTHWEST DIVISION

…It’s the final preview of the 6 divisions in the NHL, and a peek at the Northwest. It may be a long season for most of these teams, and I am not talking long in terms of quantity. Other than the Canucks, I expect the rest of the division to miss out any playoff berths. Let’s run it down:

1. VANCOUVER CANUCKS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Roberto Luongo

…Despite the Hart and Art Ross Trophy wins for Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo is still the franchise in Vancouver. The skeptics were on him again following a playoff loss to Chicago, but, Bobby Lou battled through a pair of injuries, the pressure of being the go-to goalie in his hometown during the Olympics, and being the Captain of the Canucks. This season, no worries about 2 of those 3. There is a bit of concern in Canuckville as Luongo is battling groin problems heading into the season, but, he isn’t the captain anymore, and the Olympics are done. Good news is that Cory Schneider will finally step up as the backup in Vancouver, and could give Roberto a bit more relief than he has had in previous seasons. The ‘Nucks were one of the busiest teams in the off-season, and it starts on D, and the depth they now have. Adding Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard gives them two mobile d-men who can play at both ends of the ice, and with some toughness too. Add to that, the offence of Ehrhoff, Edler and Bieksa, and that is a very solid front five. Sami Salo is hurt (again) and his cap numbers won’t hurt the Canucks, but, when he is ready to return, there may be a move or two that will accomodate that. Up front, the Sedins are now mentioned in the same breathe as the Pittsburgh and Washington duos, and you can expect at least top 10 numbers from both. Ryan Kesler has emerged as one of the best 2 way players in the league, and one of the most despised too! The depth continues with Burrows (hurt for another month or so), Raymond, Samuelsson, and newcomers Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, and the much anticipated debut of youngster Cody Hodgson. The Canucks also have some grit and toughness, and one of the most feared fighters in the game, Rick Rypien. There is reason for the optimism in Vancouver, and reason for some of the off-season publications (Hockey News being one) saying that the Cup will finally return to Vancouver. At the very least, a solid regular season could see Vancouver near the top of the conference!

PRIME POOL PIX: Roberto Luongo, Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows.

BUYER BEWARE: Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Raffi Torres.

2. COLORADO AVALANCHE

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Craig Anderson

…The Avs are loaded with a ton of young talent, and probably a Matt Duchene comes to mind as the franchise player in Denver, but, the guy leading the franchise right now is Craig Anderson. He had remarkable numbers to start last year, and helped Colorado land the final playoff spot in the West. He may have had the performance of the playoffs, as he single-handedly almost upset San Jose in the first round. He will have to be on top of his game again for Colorado to make it big in the West. The Colorado defence is solid, but, not impressive, and if veteran players like Scott Hannan and Adam Foote hit the injury bug, some of the young players pressed into duty may not be able to deliver. Up front, Colorado does have a lot of strengths, with the likes of young stars Duchene, Chris Stewart and Paul Stastny. They also have those type of forwards that help you win, the grit players that help guide Chicago to a Cup win. There also some injury concerns with Peter Mueller and his lingering concussion problems, and the aging Milan Hejduk. The Avs will be one of the top teams for years, but, that may still be a year or two out of reach. I expect a good team, but, looking from outside of the top 8 this year.

PRIME POOL PIX: Craig Anderson, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart, Milan Hejduk.

BUYER BEWARE: John-Michael Liles, Peter Mueller.

3. CALGARY FLAMES

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Miikka Kiprusoff

…There is no doubt that the face of the franchise, and leader of the franchise is Jarome, but, the guy that can get the franchise back into the playoffs is Kiprusoff. He is still one of the top tenders in the league, but, has fallen a bit, and may not be as intimidating as he once was. Kipper will have to step up his game if Calgary has a chance of making the playoffs. On defence, the loss of Dion Phaneuf will show this year, as he excels in Toronto. Jay Bouwmeester had a disappointing debut in Cowtown, and he will have to be better too. The rest of the defence is veteran laden, but, not as mobile as other units, and that could hurt Calgary in the long run. Up front, a top 5 finish in points for Jarome may not be enough to save this team. Even if the re-additions of Oli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay work out in some way, Calgary will still be lacking. I think that Jokinen can rebound a little, and Tanguay can be a point a game player, which means 40 points for Alex, if you catch my drift on his recent injuries. The blasts from the past continued today as the Flames signed Brendan Morrison, who will fill in for the injured Matt Stajan. The better days for Daymond Langkow have already come and gone, and I don’t think the potentials of David Moss and Curtis Glencross will amount to too much. Expect another playoff miss in Calgary this season. Go Stamps Go1

PRIME POOL PIX: Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, Oli Jokinen, Rene Bourque.

BUYER BEWARE: Jay Bouwmeester, Matt Stajan, Alex Tanguay.

4. EDMONTON OILERS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Ales Hemksy

…Again, my definition of franchise player, is the guy who should lead the franchise this year. Taylor Hall is the franchise player, and the player of the Oiler future, but, you never know, he could actually lead this team in his first year. A healthy Hemsky is still a frustrating Hemsky, but, if he could piece together a healthy season, there is no reason to doubt a top 20 finish in points. He has more tools to play with than ever before, and his talent and experience should make the Oilers one of the funnest teams in the league to watch. I mentioned Hall, and he has some company with Jordan Eberle, and Magnuss Paajarvi, who was the best of the three in the pre-season. If Sam Gagner and Alex Cogliano can re-claim their games, then the Oil have a young force of talent up front. Dustin Penner will have to show that last year wasn’t a one hit wonder, and Shawn Horcoff will just have to stay healthy. These young forwards are the reason why the Oilers will climb out of the league cellar, and move up in the standings in their own division too. Real concerns are in net where Nik Khabibulin is an old goalie with injury issues, and some legal ones too. Whether Deslauriers or Dubnyk step in as back-ups or get that number one shot, they just aren’t that good. The Oiler defence has some promise with Ryan Whitney, Kurtis Foster and Ladislav Smid, but, just too many other spots on the d can be considered holey at best! A better, more exciting campaign for Edmonton, no doubt, but, the playoffs are still out of reach in the City of Champions. Hey, at least you have the Eskies…ouch!

PRIME POOL PIX: Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle

BUYER BEWARE: Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Whitney, Andrew Cogliano, Shawn Horcoff.

5. MINNESOTA WILD

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Nicklas Backstrom

…It may be a long, cold Winter in Minny as the Wild are destined to finish among the bottom of the league standings. The only saving grace, may be the grace of saves from Nicklas Backstrom. For me, he is one of the most under-rated players in the league, and will get another season of rubber after back-up Josh Harding has to pack it in for the year. It remains to be seen if newly signed Jose Theodore can provide some relief in the nets for Nicklas. The defence isn’t too bad with Marek Zidlicky, (a PP specialist), Greg Zanon, Cam Barker and Brent Burns. As the new season approaches, injury concerns are back for Burns, which has been the norm the past few seasons. Up front, Mikko Koivu has emerged as one the top playmakers in the game, but, his supporting cast is still lacking. Martin Havlat can still play, but, he has always had a history of being hurt, and history repeats itself. Andrew Brunette never seems to age, and always puts up points, but, I won’t expect too much from Eric Nystrom, Chuck Kobasew and Matt Cullen. Guillaume Latendresse was a pleasant suprise last year for Minny, but, I don’t think he will match those numbers. There are some good young players in the system, but, there are a year or two away from making the team, and making an impact. If Minnesota comes close to a playoff spot, that would be rather wild. Not even Brett Favre can save this one.

PRIME POOL PIX: Nicklas Backstrom, Marek Zidlicky, Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette.

BUYER BEWARE: Brent Burns, Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

…So, there you have a run-through of all the divisions. Still to come, a look at some award predictions, and the conference and Stanley Cup picks too! The Season is just days away!

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2 Responses to “The Season – Northwest Division”

  1. Hmm, 4 out of 5 teams with goalies as franchise players, im sensing a pattern… no Iginla? p.s. Stasny will be the face of Colorado in 2 years

    http://whitsport.wordpress.com/

    • well…I mentioned that my idea of the franchise player is the player deemed best on that franchise. Miikka is still the key in Cowtown, while in Colorado, Craig Anderson is the guy that moved them into the playoffs. Besides, in a year or two, the face of the Avs will be Matt Duchene, and not Stastny!

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