NHL Divisional Preview: Northwest
The NHL regular season may officially begin on Oct. 7, but the retooling and reshaping of many teams has been going on for months. CBCSports.ca offers you a glimpse at what teams across the league have done in the off-season with a series of six divisional previews — in our final instalment, we feature the Western Conference's Northwest Division.
3rd in West, 1st in Pacific in 2009-10
49-28-5 (103 pts.) —15-7-2 vs. Northwest — lost in 2nd round to Blackhawks (4-2)
It was more of the same for the Canucks last season — winning the division, beating a (mostly) young team in the first round and were booted out of the second round by Chicago.
Looking to escape the cycle in 2010-11, off-season acquistions improved their overall defensive game. Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis make up for the departing Willie Mitchell and the addition of Manny Malholtra and Raffi Torres secures a new-look third-line (although Malholtra's no-movement clause and contract numbers are questionable).
The best addition was by subtraction — specifically the painted-on letter 'C' on the helmet of Roberto Luongo. The goalie had more than enough to deal with last season without having to add the load of a captaincy.
Notable Additions: F Raffi Torres (Buffalo), D Dan Hamhuis (Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh), F Manny Malholtra (San Jose), D Keith Ballard (Florida), F Jeff Tambellini (NY Islanders), D Ryan Parent (Nashville)
Notable Subtractions: D Willie Mitchell (Los Angeles), F Pavol Demitra (Europe), G Andrew Raycroft (Dallas), D Brad Lukowich (Dallas), F Michael Grabner (Florida), F Steve Bernier (Florida), F Matt Pettinger (Europe), Kyle Wellwood (Free Agent), F Ryan Johnson (Free Agent), D Shane O'Brien (Nashville),
Notable Quotables: "[Luongo] confirmed last night and said he'd rather just focus on stopping the puck. He's going to continue with all the leadership stuff he did before but not have the same sort of expectations with the media on game days that has happened the last couple of years. He's focused on trying to win a Stanley Cup and feels this is in the best interests of the team." —Vancouver GM Mike Gillis
Outlook: A healthy set of Sedin twins, a less stressed Luongo and an improved defensive corps give the Canucks a great shot at playoff success.
8th in West, 2nd in Pacific in 2009-10
43-30-9 (95 pts.) — 10-11-3 vs. Northwest — lost in 1st round to San Jose (4-2)
Changes in the Mile High City mostly dealt with veterans stepping aside — Darcy Tucker (35) retired, Ruslan Salei (35) moved to Detroit and Stephane Yelle (36) was let go. That means more ice-time for Matt Duchene (19), Peter Mueller (22), Paul Statsny (24) and the rest of the Avalanche up-and-comers.
The young guns' breakout season was possible due to the near-mythical performance of goalie Craig Anderson. His regular-season numbers (seven shutouts, 2.63 GAA, .917 SV%) and his playoff-record 50 saves in regulation against San Jose displays his importance to the team. It's also a wake-up call that players need to limit how spectacular he needs to be for the Avs to win.
Anderson is tasked with providing a steady hand for Colorado, but for the team to show real improvement they will have to keep their goalie from leading in the league in shots faced (2,233).
Notable Additions: D David Liffiton (Columbus), F Daniel Winnik (Phoenix)
Notable Subtractions: D Ruslan Salei (Detroit), D Tom Preissing (Europe), F Darcy Tucker (Retired), F Marek Svatos (Free Agent), F Stephane Yelle (Free Agent)
Notable Quotables: "If I’m having a bad game or a tough stretch where I’m not scoring, I can’t let my confidence waver. I really improved on that last year. I kept a really good, even keel, where in years past I might have been really down at times. Last year I wasn’t up and down. It wasn’t too much of a roller coaster ride emotionally. I still have room to grow in that area, and if I continue to grow I’ll just be playing better hockey all the time." — Colorado's Matt Duchene to his team's website on what he learned his rookie season.
Outlook: They won't be able to surprise anyone this year, so the pressure is on for the Avs to find success night in and night out with opponents that now know what to expect.
10th in West, 3rd in Pacific in 2009-10
40-32-10 (90 pts.) — 12-9-3 vs. Northwest — missed playoffs (1st season)
The biggest story may be the fact that the Flames — missing the playoffs and lacking scoring depth — have effectively tried to turn back the clock by re-acquiring Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay.
It's hoped the return of the two forwards may spark an upswing in point production for Jarome Iginla. The Flames' captain had 32 goals last year but he lacked a reliable centre for most of the campaign. Tanguay's production has trailed off since he was a Flame in 2007 and Jokinen's last tour of duty in southern Alberta was deemed a failure as a centre for Iginla. There will be plenty of pressure on all three, as they are pegged as the team's top line.
Aside from the recycled forwards, what may be overlooked is the move they didn't make: Calgary has not picked up a reliable backup for Miikka Kiprusoff. The 33-year-old netminder has averaged more than 74 games per season since the lockout. The Flames would be much better off if they had a healthy, rested Kiprusoff for a playoff run everyone on the Red Mile demands.
Notable Additions: F Alex Tanguay (Tampa Bay), F Olli Jokinen (NY Rangers), F Raitis Ivanans (Los Angeles)
Notable Subtractions: Nigel Dawes (Atlanta), Christopher Higgins (Florida), Eric Nystrom (Minnesota), Jason Jaffray (Anaheim), F Jamal Mayers (San Jose), G Vesa Toskala (Free Agent), F Brian McGrattan (Free Agent), D Andy Delmore (Free Agent)
Notable Quotables: "It wasn't just Olli, it was Olli and Tangs together that we felt was important. After discussing it with the players, Jarome, Olli and Alex, that's what they felt they missed, that playmaker with them and Tanguay is capable of that." — Calgary GM Darryl Sutter
Outlook: Calgary will need to burst out of the gate in October to show the moves worked and extend the the leash Sutter is on. If not, former Tampa Bay GM and current Flames assistant GM Jay Feaster is waiting in the wings and drastic changes may be necessary.
13th in West, 4th in Pacific in 2009-10
38-36-8 (84 pts.) — 15-7-2 vs. Northwest — missed playoffs (2nd straight season)
Minnesota made some moves in the off-season, but nothing that turned any heads.
Just their style.
The Wild picked up forwards Matt Cullen and John Madden — two players seemingly bred for Minnesota's brand of hockey (read: strong defensive forwards that backcheck just as furious as they attack the opposing goal). But are the 34 year-old Cullen and 37-year-old Madden the answer to a team that was five spots out of the playoff picture?
Owen Nolan and Derek Boogaard highlight the team's departures, but as Nolan's production drizzled off (45 points in 59 games in 2008-09, 33 points in 76 games last season) and Boogaard was there for mere enforcing, they haven't lost anything they didn't gain in Eric Nystrom and the aforementioned signings.
On the whole, they picked up a trio of players that will fit well into the lineup, but for the Wild to get back into the post-season, they'll need these additions to click as well as receive bounceback seasons from goalies Nicklas Backstrom and new backup Jose Theodore.
Notable Additions: F John Madden (Chicago), F Eric Nystrom (Calgary), F Matt Cullen (Ottawa), F Brad Staubitz (San Jose), Jose Theodore (Capitals)
Notable Subtractions: Derek Boogaard (NY Rangers), F Andrew Ebbett (Phoenix), F Andy Hilbert (NY Islanders), F Owen Nolan (Free Agent)
Notable Quotables: "It's not every day you can add a three-time Cup winner to your roster. John [Madden] will bring a lot to this team at both ends of the rink, and he will also bring a lot of character to the locker-room." — Wild GM Chuck Fletcher to the team's website
Outlook: Good additions, but will it be enough to improve a year to forget? Minnesota may have picked up solid veterans but seem to lack the stars of tomorrow.
15th in West, 5th in Pacific in 2009-10
27-47-8 (62 pts.) — 8-14-2 vs. Northwest — missed playoffs (4th straight season)
Speaking of stars of tomorrow — they're here, today, in Edmonton.
That's both a good and bad thing. The three youngsters that the Oilers have collected with their 2008, 2009, and 2010 first-round draft picks will make their debut on a team desperate for a glimmer of hope, and that's what this year will be. Jordan Eberle, Magnus-Paajarvi-Svensson and Taylor Hall may not get them into the post-season, but Edmonton fans and players will be spared the heart-wrenching drubbings endured last season.
That won't be credited fully to the newbies in the lineup. Starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin returns from injury and a brush with the law to take over for a pair of young goaltenders that were ill-prepared for the barrage they endured. Ales Hemsky will also be back following an injury-shortened season. One player who battled injury throughout the season who won't be back: Sheldon Souray.
Edmonton decided to go the "Wade Redden" route and placed Souray and his hefty contract on waivers before the season's start. It's yet to be seen what will become of the former power-play quarterback.
Notable Additions: F Taylor Hall (draft), F Jordan Eberle (AHL), F Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson (AHL), D Shawn Belle (Montreal), D Kurtis Foster (Tampa Bay), D Jim Vandermeer (Phoenix), F Colin Fraser (Chicago), head coach Tom Renney (Asst. Coach)
Notable Subtractions: F Ethan Moreau (Columbus), F Patrick O'Sullivan (Phoenix, Carolina), F Mike Comrie (Pittsburgh), F Fernando Pisani (Chicago), Ryan Potulny (Chicago), Robert Nilsson (Europe), head coach Pat Quinn
Notable Quotables: "Turnarounds take time. They take a large degree of patience. If you try to miss steps along the way or force it, it could certainly become detrimental. Having said that, you'd be amazed at how fast it can happen if everybody's on the same page and you are paying attention to the detail and what's required. In our situation, it's not about tweaking something. We're involved with some fundamental changes this year, and that's going to take some time." — head coach Tom Renney to NHL.com
Outlook: This season will be better and not only because things couldn't get much worse. The "fall for Hall" is over, it's a new era in Edmonton, but the key word this year will be patience. Tom Renney should prove to be the right man for the job in developing this very young team and keeping them focused.