Blog Entry

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:44 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 7:02 pm

By: Adam Gretz

This was the only division in the NHL last season to produce only one playoff team, and that was the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, the team that's won the division three years in a row.

Playoff teams have been difficult to come by in the Northwest in recent years, as Colorado and Calgary are the only teams other than Vancouver to reach the postseason over the past three years; and they only managed to qualify once each. You have to go back to the 2007-08 season to find the last time more than two teams went to the playoffs in the same year out of the Northwest, and it's probably not going to happen this year.

Once you get past Vancouver, the Flames are probably the best bet to reach the playoffs, and even they're not a lock, having failed to qualify two years in a row, and then there's a steady dropoff to a pair of rebuilding teams in Colorado and Edmonton, and a team in Minnesota that seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle between being in contention and in a  rebuilding phase.

The Northwest Division (In predicted order of finish):

CanucksVancouver Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history last season, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, Vancouver went on to lose four of the final five games of the series. And they not only lost, they were absolutely dominated, losing by a combined score of 21-4. Even with that disappointment in the rearview mirror, the Canucks are bringing back a roster that remains loaded from top to bottom, and is one of the top two or three cup contenders in the league.

Strengths: Just about everything is a strength for the Canucks. They're deep down the middle with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and the underrated Manny Malhotra at center, and even with the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, they have an excellent defense led by Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. Roberto Luongo is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and Cory Schneider, his young backup, could probably start for quite a few teams as well. They have quality depth up front with wingers like Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, and they excel on special teams, finishing with the top power play in the league last season and the third best penalty kill.

Weaknesses: It's really difficult to find one. Is there one? An obvious one? The Canucks are as deep as just about any team in the NHL at forward, defense and goaltender and have outstanding special teams. Where is the weakness?

FlamesCalgary Flames: A slow start that resulted in just 11 wins in their first 27 games put the Flames in a hole that was simply too deep to dig out of in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by just four points. It's actually the exact opposite path they followed the previous season when they opened the with a 17-6-3 mark, only to completely fall apart over the final four months of the season and missed the playoffs by five points.

Strengths: Jarome Iginla is simply fantastic. He hasn't missed a game in four years, has scored at least 32 goals in each of those years, and managed to put in 43 during the 2010-11 season. Rene Bourque, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and David Moss is a solid group of forwards to put around Iginla, and all have the ability to score somewhere between 20 and 25 goals. A lot of other teams teams can -- and will -- do worse up front.

Weaknesses: How much does Miikka Kiprusoff have left in the tank? He's declined in recent years and his workload might be catching up with him and Henrik Karlsson could (and perhaps should) be getting a bigger role this season. Losing Robyn Regehr could be a significant loss on the blue line, and Jay Bouwmeester's first two years in Alberta have to be considered a tremendous disappointment. In his final three years with Florida he scored 12, 15 and 15 goals. In his two years with the Flames? He's scored seven. Total. And he's taking up over $6.6 million in cap space to be an offensive-defenseman. That's not going to work.

WildMinnesota Wild:  Mike Yeo takes over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years, hasn't won a playoff series since it went to the Conference Finals nine years ago, and he's introducing his version of the neutral zone trap (insert your own "it's boring hockey" comment here). Actually, it's pretty similar to the system the Penguins run -- the team Yeo was an assistant with for a number of years -- and is a bit more up-tempo than the Jacques Lemaire trap Minnesota fans witnessed all those years.

Strengths: Yeo is pushing for Mikko Koivu to win the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward, and he's definitely a worthy player to put on your early season watch list. An excellent two-way player that makes an impact in all three zones and all phases of the game. Dany Heatley, acquired from the Sharks over the summer, is coming off a down year (by his standards) in the goal-scoring department but possesses the best natural goal-scoring ability of any player on the roster and is a legitimate 40-goal threat.

Weaknesses: With Brent Burns no longer on the roster Minnesota has a bit of a hole on its blue line when it comes to providing offense. Marek Zidlicky, who was limited to just 46 games a season ago, was the only other defenseman to register at least 20 points. The 13th ranked power play in the league a season ago lost its top-three power play goal scorers (Burns, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunnette). Heatley should be able to help in that area, but will he be enough?

How good is Niklas Backstrom? He hasn't approached the numbers he put up the first three years of his career while playing under Lemaire, and his backups have pretty consistently put up similar save percentages in recent years. Was he a product of the system or is he set to play like one of the best goalies in the league again?

FlamesColorado Avalanche: Their decision to trade a first-round draft pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Semyon Varlamov was panned over the summer, as most observers are expecting Colorado to once again finish near the bottom of the NHL's standings, meaning that pick could turn out to be a lottery selection. The jury is still out on that trade, obviously, but there's no denying the Avalanche needed a significant upgrade in net after a disappointing season from Craig Anderson helped put the Avs at the bottom of the NHL in save percentage last season.

Strengths: The 1-2 punch of Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny down the middle is the foundation of this team, and they picked up another top young forward prospect back in June when they selected Gabriel Landeskog at the top of the draft.

Weaknesses: The Avalanche bulked up their defense this summer by putting an emphasis on adding size to their blue line, but will it result in a better product? Erik Johnson, acquired in last season's blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues, has the most potential of the group and is still only five years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft. Even with the addition of Varlamov, goaltending remains a question mark, especially since he's had problems staying injury free throughout his career.

The Avs had the worst penalty killing unit in the league last season. Can a full season of Jay McClement to go along with Daniel Winnick help improve that area?

OilersEdmonton Oilers: It's another rebuilding year, but they're getting closer, slowly but surely, to making an impact. And they might be the most entertaining -- and exciting -- non-playoff team in the league with an impressive list of young forwards led by last year's top pick, Taylor Hall.

Strengths: Even if No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn't spend the entire season in Edmonton, the Oilers still have some outstanding young talent up front. Ales Hemsky is one of the NHL's most creative players with the puck and a tremendous playmaker, typically averaging near a point-per-game. The biggest flaw in his game, unfortunately, is that he tends to miss at least 10 games (or more) per season. Getting him for a full season would be a welcome change. Hall looks to be a star in the making, and players like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner are loaded with potential and should make the Oilers worth watching every night, even if they don't win a ton of games.

Weaknesses: Defense. Goaltending. Goaltending. Defense. After Ryan Whitney it's a very thin team on the blue line, and additions like Cam Barker aren't likely to help that. Their defense and goaltending, led by Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, will keep the Oilers at the bottom of the division, as well as the Western Conference, for at least another year.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 15, 2011 4:54 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Jul 1, 2010
Posted on: October 3, 2011 8:34 am

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Vancouver still the team to beat in the West.  Best 1-23 in the conference, may get off to a slow start because of the long and intense post-season combined with a nasty early section of the schedule.   I think they only have 6 home games of their first 17 or something like that.   I expect some struggles and analysts pointing to the cup series hangover, but I will think it's going to have more to do with the schedule if they have a tough OCT-NOV.  Easiest late schedule in the league will allow them to run away with the division.    Don't base what this team is going to do on the postseason (other than Louongo's erratic post-season play), they didn't adjust well to their under-emphasized injuries and were underprepard for Boston.   Boston was the better team and deserved to win for a number of reasons, but they didn't see Vancouver's best.

I think Calgary may keep it interesting, but they'll fall short, Colorado doesn't seem to have a coherent plan, Tambellini is busy throwing high draft picks to the wall and seeing what sticks without any blueline help, and Fletcher is in the early part of a legitimate rebuild.

Since: Jul 2, 2009
Posted on: October 3, 2011 8:06 am

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Never heard of Dany Heatley??  Ok I want into your Fantasy league. 

Since: Sep 14, 2010
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:56 pm

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

At first I thought it was just another hater venting on our team. The Sedin sisters comment usually id's them as unimaginative and dull

But then you added Go Wild Go !  at the end . That deserves some ridicule but I honestly cannot think of a single Wild player that anyone would recognise  to slam.

Tell us which fantasy hockey pools you are in. I would love to join if its a money pool.

Since: Nov 9, 2009
Posted on: October 2, 2011 11:14 am

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Sorry your right about our division as it sucks. I was thinking you were talking about the conferance

Since: Nov 9, 2009
Posted on: October 2, 2011 11:13 am

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

I agree that the Canucks have weaknesses as Boston found them and was the deserving team in the finals. But I disagree that they are highly overrated as I think getting to game 7 of the finals is still a pretty good season. Ask 28 other teams.

Since: Jun 18, 2007
Posted on: October 2, 2011 8:58 am

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Do the Canucks have any weaknesses?  Did you watch the Stanley Cup finals this Spring?  Luongo chokes in money games, and the Sedin sisters fold when you play a physical game against them.  The Canucks are highly overrated.

Since: Aug 28, 2008
Posted on: October 1, 2011 8:05 pm

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

You forgot the most important weekness , they can't get the job done . throwing theirselves down to the ice is not hockey.
They get to the finals and know how to choke better than any team I have ever seen. I do make a lot of money off Cannuck fans every year so its all good .

Since: Aug 28, 2008
Posted on: October 1, 2011 7:54 pm

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

Sorry about your sorry team ,they will always be just like  the Chicago Cubs . they can get anyone on the team they can and never ever win a Stanley Cup , the sissy twins are getting old loser lungo don't have what it takes . If I was you I would take up Riots in the street 101 LOL
oh yeah since when does blue and green colors go together???? they don't .. I do hope you guys make it to the finals again so you can get beat like a drum again lol . Is your favorite song still by the Fratelis Chelsea Daggar ??? You have to know that some teams just are not destined to win it all . looks like it will be another long year for the Cannucks and their fans . Oh well you can always root for the Jets . GO WILD GO

Since: Mar 30, 2007
Posted on: October 1, 2011 2:52 pm

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

I will give you Calgary but min and colorado I would not bet on. Well maybe  Colorado. But they always underachieve so. One team made the playoff from that division sure Calgary was cloase but Dallas was closer and that would mean every team from the division would make the playoffs.

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