Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: The Big Mick Previews the Northwest Division

Only one team from the Northwest Division made the post season last season, and that was the Presidents’ Cup winner Vancouver Canucks.  There’s plenty of new faces on some of these squads, but one feature is the common thread in this group of teams is youth.  There is serious competition in this division in this season, and this is how it will play out.

redit: iwona_kellie via photopin cc
redit: iwona_kellie via photopin cc

5. Calgary Flames (90 Points, 17th Overall, 9th in Conference, 2nd in Division): If there were ever a franchise in need of a floor to ceiling rebuild it’s the Calgary Flames.  They aren’t awful enough to get a top shelf draft pick, and they aren’t good enough to make the playoffs. Kiprusoff is now 36 years old, and although he can steal some games for the Flames, one has to wonder if he can remain healthy.  Despite GM Jay Feaster’s emphatic “NO,” one has to wonder  if he will finally succumb to the phone calls and trade his one major asset, leader Jarome Iginla. Bob Hartley is a capable coach, but, he needs tools to build a winner, and there just aren’t enough useful tools in Calgary. (Prediction: 13th in Conference)

4. Colorado Avalanche (88 points, 20th Overall, 11th in Conference, 3rd in Division): The Avs are one of the most interesting young teams in the league.  They have interesting goaltenders with Varmalov and Giguere. They have the son of a hockey legend in Paul Stasny. They have the league’s youngest captian in phenom Gabrial Landeskog. But, their defense corps is still a big question.  Their biggest name on the blue line is Erik Johnson and he’s been inconsistent, at best.  Maybe this young team can prove all their critics are wrong, and they may get very close, but look for Colorado to fall short of the post season. (9th in Conference)

3. Edmonton Oilers (74 points, 29th Overall, 14th in Conference, 5th in Division): The Oilers may be the most dynamic young team in the

league.  One person close to the game called the Oilers “stacked.” Edmonton features four players picked first overall, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and rookie Nail Yakupov.  Add in Jordan Eberle, and the newly minted Oiler Justin Shultz.  Shultz spent the lockout making opponents look silly in Oklahoma City of the AHL, along with many of his Oilers teammates.  If there is one team that will benefit from the lockout, it’s this Oilers squad.  They will take many teams by surprise, and return to the post-season with a big exclamation points.  It’s not quite the return of the “Boys on the Bus” era, but it’s close.  Look for a power swing in the West, because the Oil have struck black gold. (Prediction:  7th in Conference)

photo credit: Chapendra via photopin cc
photo credit: Chapendra via photopin cc

2. Minnesota Wild (81 Points,24th Overall, 12th in Conference, 4th in Division) : The Wild unequivocally made the biggest splash in the free agent market, snagging hometown hero Zach Parise and Ryan Suter with matching 10 year contracts. These two premier players come to a roster that includes solid goaltender Nik Backstrom and scoring winger Dany Heatley.  The one thing that could hamper the Wild’s progress is the amount of roster moves they made.  No less than 7 players departed from the Wild roster in the off-season.  That’s a lot to handle during a super short training camp.  Maybe the Wild will hand out an orientation manual.  Regardless of that, look for the Wild to get back to the post season. (Prediction: 5th in Conference)

1. Vancouver Canucks (111 Points, 1st Overall, 1st in Conference, 1st in Division, lost to the Kings in Western Conference Quarterfinals) : Ryan Kessler is injured, the future of Roberto Luongo is in question, and only four Canucks played overseas.  That’s not an equation that makes for a good result, especially in a season that will look more like a sprint than a marathon.  Looking at their roster from top to bottom, the very first thing one notices is the lack of depth at center.  Now, that doesn’t mean the Canucks will fall from their perennial division crown.  If Luongo stays for the season, they may have the premier goaltending tandem in the NHL with Cory Schneider presumably splitting time with Lu.  Look for a slow start from this team, but to recover nicely.  It will be a close race in the Northwest, but the Canucks are still the best team in this division from top to bottom. (Prediction: 2nd in Conference)

To Read my other previews:
Click here for the the Atlantic Division or
Here for the Northeast Division. or
Here for the Southeast Division, or
Here for the Central Division or
Here for the Pacific Division

Feel free to follow me on twitter @BigMick99 and @lastwordonNHL and be sure to join Ben Kerr, Max Vasilyev and I on Wednesday Nights at 11:00pm when we host the hockey radio show, “Puckheads”, on the Last Word Radio Network.  You can listen in live or to our past podcasts by clicking here, or by searching for us on iTunes.

Main photo credit: Venture Vancouver via photopin cc

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