North by Northwest

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.

FIFTH: EDMONTON OILERS

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.

DEFINING STATEMENT: Matt Greene is vital to this team.
FOURTH: VANCOUVER CANUCKS

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.

DEFINING STATEMENT: “No depth” is a criminal reason to miss the playoffs.
THIRD: COLORADO AVALANCHE

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.

DEFINING STATEMENT: Veterans throughout the roster, stunning youth sprinkled in.

SECOND: CALGARY FLAMES

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.

DEFINING STATEMENT: Hockey’s Billy Martin may bring Calgary a Stanley.
FIRST: MINNESOTA WILD

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.

DEFINING STATEMENT: Lemaire’s teams were hard to play against before Boogaard.

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20 Responses to "North by Northwest"

  1. Whippy says:

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone predict the Wild for the NW title this year, but I just can’t wrap my head around it. Gaborik hasn’t played more than 65 games since 02-03, their defense is anchored by Kim Johnsson and their goaltending is being taken care of by a guy who had an excellent season last year, but that season was also his rookie campaign and he is 29. If he falters, they don’t have Fernandez to back him up anymore.

    What am I missing?

  2. Lowetide says:

    Whippy: The Wild change goalies like the Red Sox used to change centerfielders, but just like the BoSox they always had a good one. The Wild made room for Harding because he’s ready, I suspect he’ll do well as a backup.

    As for the D, well Burns looks to be a player to me and he has some NHL experience now, and added some experience in Carney and Skoula a year ago. Johnsson I’ll give you, he was poor and they need him to be better.

  3. kurri_17 says:

    So LT, what do you see the Oil getting out of Colorado, given their place as a northwest opponent? There will be a premium, could it rise as high as Wolski to give Colorado Roloson and maybe a good prospect and a real chance at the cup?

  4. Lowetide says:

    I doubt they’d move a roster player on the way to the playoffs, but their 1st next summer will have value, plus Hensick and Stoa are supposed to be very good.

  5. Vic Ferrari says:

    I like Minnesota as well, probably partly because I think that they aren’t getting enough love from Oiler fans and sports show pundits this year. They are one of the reasons that the NW is so tough.

    They also got jobbed by the goalpost gods last year … hit iron 54 times, were only save by the posts 35 times. If you think that’s a random thing, then you have to think that they will bounce back in this regard, just like CGY and VAN did last season.

  6. doritogrande says:

    LT, I like your idea of Hensick. He played with Cogliano and Rohlfs for the last two seasons, led his NCAA team in scoring for god knows how long. He’s also tiny as hell, making him perfect for the Oilers.

    That being said I’d prefer Shattenkirk, but I doubt they’d give on him this soon.

  7. PDO says:

    LT:

    I agree… but one note. I made the post at PJO’s blog (well, mine as well now, how’s that for a shameless plug? ;)), but…

    Colorado is my pick for the division. I stand by it.

    After that, I see Minnesota, Calgary and Vancouver, in that order. I also see one huge similarly between these three teams. If any of Gaborik, Kiprusoff or Luongo goes down they are screwed. Beyond screwed. Season is over.

    Gaborik only played 48 games last year… but Minnesota was 33-9-1-5 with Gaborik in the lineup and 15-17-3 without him.

    Someone will get hit by the injuries…. it was the Oilers last year, and I’d bet that one of those three teams hit the injury muck this year.

    I think the question is: are the Oilers good enough to overcome a Luongo-less Vancouver?

    Cause…

    I think they are.

  8. Bank Shot says:

    That Nick Shultz guy is also a pretty under-rated part of the Wild’s D.

    I could definitely see Bouchard or Koivu breaking out, reinforcing an already strong team.

    Just watched the Avs tonight. Man they looked scary offensively. Stacked first line of Smyth-Sakic-Hejduk, and a second line of Hlinka-Stastny-Brunette that scored a few points. Hlinka will probably be just another drop in the endless stream of Avs rookies (although he’s like 31) that steps into the league and scores 50-60+ points.

    Maybe my hate for the Flames is just overpowering my judgement, but I see them finishing no better then 3rd or 4th in the division.

    Their top six probably overacheived a bit last season, and they’ve got nothing for scoring in the bottom six.

    Plus, the over/under on Adrian Oh’Groin having a relapse is about 15 games.

  9. Dennis says:

    Took part in a 21 team draft last night, 10 players apiece, and I naile d Hlinka in the 10th round.

    I’d been reading the Colorado dailies for some Rockies coverage and I started reading their hockey stuff as well. This guy won the scoring title in the CEL last year and supposedly has solid written all over him. Two assists tonight and I was trying to watch the Cubs and hockey games at the same time but I did notice he had at least one PK shift.

    Nice thinking ahead on a Roli move, LT. I think the Ana 1st rounder is gonna be a more advantagous pick than a lot of other guys do but I’d still like to get another 1st rounder given that everyone says the ’08 draft is stacked

  10. Bank Shot says:

    Colorado got scored on during Hlinka’s PK shift. :P It wasn’t his fault though. Budaj just let I think Jokinen jam it right through him from a bad angle.

    Hlinka does look like a player. Soft hands.

    He not only won the scoring championship. He ran away with it. 57 points in 46 games.

    Next closest was 57 points in 52 games with only three players in the league breaking a point per game. The other two besides Hlinka played on the same team.

  11. dawgbone says:

    I guess I’m the only one who thinks the Flames have way more questions than answers heading into the season.

    They nearly completely collapsed down the stretch, including losing to basically an AHL team in their last game.

    They laid down and died against Detroit, and they didn’t look good at all in the pre-season. Hell, it wasn’t even the first regular season game and Keenan was smacking around his players like little red headed stepchildren.

    2 years ago, adding Aucoin and Sarich might have been a move that on paper takes them over the top. But now? I think the Flames are worse this year than last year, and they’ve added a coach whose tactics haven’t worked in well over a decade.

  12. Mr DeBakey says:

    Its so nice to come here and read a reasonable discussion.

    This morning,
    while eating my Puffed Wheat
    I read J Ireland’s NHL predictions.
    She thinks all five NW teams make the play-offs.

    Sweet!

  13. Black Dog says:

    I’m with dawgbone – I think the Flames will make the playoffs but I would not be surprised to see a collapse like Philly’s – except they have Kiprusoff to prevent this, I guess. Phaneuf is overrated (top pairing D – I doubt it) and Aucoin is a mess.

    Minnesota, Jersey, Dallas – the players (and coaches at least in Jersey) change but the song remains the same.

  14. godot10 says:

    It is pretty close to mathematically impossible for all five of the teams in the NW to make the playoffs each of the other divisions have one or two teams that are likely to really suck.

    The Oilers are a young team. All I really want this year is for them to have reasonable success, and be fun to watch. It is a building year.

    As with Colorado last year, the playoffs will be hard to achieve….

  15. MetroGnome says:

    I wish I could claim the Flames are being unfairly besmirched in the comments here…

    but I honestly think the questions raised about them are fair ones. It’s going to be an interesting year, one way or the other.

  16. alan says:

    I like Minnesota as well, probably partly because I think that they aren’t getting enough love from Oiler fans and sports show pundits this year. They are one of the reasons that the NW is so tough.

    No kidding. Last night Jason Gregor on the TEAM said something like “…the Oilers always play well against the good teams, but they really need to make sure that they show up against the really bad teams this year like the Columbuses and Minnesotas of the world”

  17. Dennis says:

    Rafalski and Gomez are out and for fucksakes, NJ’s gonna fall sometime, aren’t they? Those 16 combined games against NYR/Pit shouldn’t do them any favours.

    I’d expect Van to fall off before Cgy would, unless young Raymond and Shannon do a reall good job at fleshing out their year forward corps.

    Plus, I know Luongo’s the best in the world now and they’re geared to low-scoring games but can they keep winning all those one goal contests>

  18. Bank Shot says:

    I’d expect Van to fall off before Cgy would, unless young Raymond and Shannon do a reall good job at fleshing out their year forward corps.

    Well Raymond is starting with the Sedins apparently. I’m not sure that fixes anything.

    Raymond will probably score like hell, but Pyatt probably drops off.

  19. Master Lok says:

    My Northwest prediction:
    1. Colorado
    2. Vancouver
    3. Edmonton
    4. Minnesota
    5. Calgary

  20. James Mirtle says:

    Bah, the people who don’t like Minnesota’s defencemen don’t watch the Wild play. This team led the league with just 191 goals against, and the Johnsson-Schultz pairing is awfully tough to score on.

    Burns is only 22 and is one of those kids that I’m always thinking ‘who is that?’ when I watch their games. An amazing skater for a guy who’s 6-foot-4, he could easily have 40-45 points this season and play the big minutes.

    It’s a quick, puck-moving blue line (aside from Carney) that will get a nice boost when Sean Hill comes in in a depth role. I don’t know if it was the juice or not, but he had a nice season last year.

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