The Northwest looks just as tough as ever in 07-08. These teams beat tar out of each other in a way sports fans haven’t seen since the old days when the CFL west champ was decided by a 2-game total point system and allowed some poorer eastern teams to romp at the Grey Cup Game.
Think of the NW division as being akin to Dallas-Edmonton playoff series games every night and you have the level of intensity. For the most part, these teams have been close enough to even year in and year out that even losing one game might be the difference between the playoffs and the golf course. Seriously.
I’ve seen a few posts in the ether that have been critical of the blogosphere’s take on the Edmonton Oilers, but in this division they’d need another veteran top 4D, a veteran Pisani replacement and a few years experience from some of the young guns to contend. Not even a Marc Pouliot or a Kyle Brodziak has enough experience for the prominent role that awaits one of them. That’s how it looks from here, anyway.
What a crazy team. Dwayne Roloson, Sheldon Souray, Dick Tarnstrom, Steve Staios, Shawn Horcoff, Mathieu Garon, Marty Reasoner and Ethan Moreau are the veteran NHLers poised for another Cup run. Ales Hemsky, Joni Pitkanen, Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll are the quality NHL players years from their peak, and Dustin Penner is a guy who cashed in and should score 25 or more, which brings the total number of good NHL players to lucky 13. Add Geoff Sanderson if you like, it’s still too little by plenty in this division. Strong showings in TC by Cogliano, Nilsson, Gagner and Brodziak are offset by a devastating career threating condition suffered by Fernando Pisani.
They have some extreme strengths (the piss cutter Sedins, Bernie Parent) and some major weaknesses (who IS going to play on their secondary lines/pairings? I think Dunc Wilson is the backup goalie). They also have a big problem in that (unlike Colorado and Minnesota) the guys who emerged for Vancouver last year out of the blue aren’t young or about to step into the stratosphere (Pyatt, Bieska examples). They might miss the playoffs, but it won’t be because they’re a bad team. Need to improve depth before they make a SC run.
They’ll have to fix the goaltending if Budaj can’t handle the load and show better than he did a year ago. They had a nice summer, picking up Ryan Smyth and defender Scott Hannan, and they already had a few marginal types like Joe Sakic, Hejduk, Stastny, Wolski and lord knows who else. It’s a nice team and they could challenge for the division title if they can swing the Roloson deal early enough in the season.
I think you can make the case that the Flames are even more volatile this season than Edmonton, because Keenan can blow it up at any time. The GM in Calgary may be the one guy Keenan has worked for that he can’t get fired, but imo it’ll be a solid one-year match and the Flames will push for the division title. Quality goaltending, outstanding blueline depth and just enough offense to make you pay. A deadly combination and the veteran feel of this roster should bode well for a deep playoff run. I like the Sarich signing, and don’t write off Aucoin’s pickup either. Keenan has his guys who play well for him, and Aucoin could be that guy on this team. There is a marginal player on this team who is about to have a year no one (including him) expected possible. It is Mike Keenan’s one true gift.
The Wild are built for 07-08 and I think this is their season. I’ve read a few reports questioning their goaltending, but even if Backstrom falls back a bit that’s still an area of strength. Lemaire is a button down coach but this offense is diverse and stunning, led by Gaborik, Rolston and Demitra. Plus they have Bouchard and Koivi coming along and already playing at a high level. Their blueline is a nice mix of youth and experience and if they can get reasonable performances from Kim Johnsson and that Burns guy they should be fine.