Northwest Division Preview

Northwest Division Preview

Northwest Division Preview
By Judd Hall

No division in hockey had more twists and turns than the Northwest did last season. Four of the five franchises held first place at one time during 2007-2008. The final two months of the year saw clubs go from the top of the division to out of the playoffs almost every week. Will we see more of the same this season?

Minnesota Wild

The Wild were won the Northwest Division thanks to finishing the season 5-2-1 in the last eight games. One of their biggest offensive guns, Brian Rolston, has left for the nuclear pastures of New Jersey. Rolston’s departure means Minnesota’s attack will be predicated on how healthy Marian Gaborik is now. Gaborik will have some veteran help on offense with Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan (yes, he’s still playing) joining the Wild.

Defensively, this club should be fine since Jacques Lemaire decided to stay for another season behind the bend. His goal is to keep the special teams play up to where it was for Minnesota last year, stopping 85.2 percent of the opposition’s power plays.

Edmonton Oilers

No team was decimated more by injuries than the Oilers were last season. They lost Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani and Sheldon Souray to injuries for a good deal of the year. This could be detrimental to most teams and it was for Edmonton as they were in the basement for much of the season. Yet Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert grew up at such a rate the club finished only three points out of the Western Conference Playoffs.

General Manager Steve Tambellini realized he can’t rely on youth or the sustained health of his big players. That’s why he went out and traded with Carolina for power forward Erik Cole. While Cole will give veteran presence on the attack, it hurts when you know how hard you went after Marian Hossa.

There might also be a goalie controversy coming up this season between Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon. Roloson signed a three-year deal in the summer of 2006. Yet he lost the starting job to the younger Garon last season. While the vet is slated to be No. 1 on the depth chart, Roloson could be like Ray Emery was for Ottawa a year ago.

Calgary Flames

The Flames made the postseason last year despite not having a true advantage on offense (12th in NHL), defense (16th) and special teams (19th on PP, 20th on PK). While the end result was satisfactory, GM Darryl Sutter decided it was time to change the gameplan of his squad.

Calgary shipped forwards Alex Tanguay and Kristian Husileus out of town. Enter the bruising duo of Curtis Glencross from Columbus and Todd Bertuzzi from Anaheim. They should be able to rough up the opposition in their zone, which is something that was sorely missed from the Flames last year. These moves will also benefit star attacker Jarome Iginla’s style of play.

The only issue that remains for the Flames is the lack of depth at goal. Miikka Kiprusoff has been solid for much of his career, but failed a lot in the clutch last season…particularly when he was facing a power play.

Colorado Avalanche

Colorado made a surprise run at the postseason thanks to Jose Theodore regaining his confidence between the pipes. Yet the club decided to not make a concerted effort to re-sign the goaltender, opting to let him go to Washington. Instead, the Avs picked up Maple Leaf retread Andrew Raycroft to fight with Peter Budaj to be the starting netminder.

The Avalanche also got rid of head coach Joel Quenneville despite getting his clubs to the playoffs twice in three years. Now Tony Granato is back on duty, but hopefully just better prepared for the trials of being the head coach. Granato won’t be alone, he’ll have Joe Sakic on the ice to carry out his plays.

Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver has missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. And it sure looks like it will be three of four when you look at the Canucks’ roster. They got rid of two of their better offensive talents in former captain Markus Naslund (signed with Rangers) and pivot Brendan Morrison (signed with Ducks). Now the onus rest on the shoulders of the Sedin twins, along with free agent signing Pavol Demitra.

The Canucks will need a better performance out of Roberto Luongo this season if they want to compete. Luongo was solely responsible for making the playoffs two years ago, but seemed almost lackadaisical in goal last season. All in all, it looks like more ‘under’ plays are in order for us when Vancouver takes to the rink for 2008.

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