The Northwest Division is tough to predict in any season and especially difficult for 08-09.
All teams are still figuring out their rosters and there are none who are so strong that we can put them on top automatically.
My predictions for last season are here and was a pretty good estimate of the final standings. My order was Minnesota, Calgary, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton. The actual order was Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver.
There is some outstanding talent on the Colorado Avalanche. Paul Stastny, Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Wojtek Wolski up front, and Joe Sakic is back and hopefully healthy again. Peter Forsberg may come riding to the rescue and who knows Mats Sundin may join him after Christmas for all we know. However, their goaltending is the division’s biggest question mark and I’m not any kind of certain they’ve improved their defense. Betting against Joe Sakic at any time is a bad bet, but at his age and with his recent injury history I’m pretty comfortable picking the Avalanche to finish well out of the race for the playoffs.
The only thing more incredible than missing the playoffs with Luongo would be doing it again. New GM Mike Gillis has made some nice moves of the minor variety and has all kinds of options moving forward after this season. I don’t think they have enough depth (who are the top 4D? who are the top 6F’s?) and although they’ll be stronger than one year ago my guess is the Canucks finish outside the playoffs.
Their goalie, despite an outstanding run while a Flame, is approaching an age where many of the good-in-their-20′s stoppers begin to slide (call it the Dan Bouchard syndrome). It doesn’t mean Kipper won’t have a good year and it doesn’t mean he’s Tommy Salo, but the Flames can’t count on him like they have in the past. I like what Sutter did up front, giving the lines a logical look they haven’t had since their Stanley run. The blueline looks deep and simple (a good thing) and they have that nasty Regehr fellow plus the most famous one-dimensional player in the game (Dion DiMucci). Despite all this, the roster does look a little like it was put together with binder twine and pomade and would be my pick for the team that could collapse somewhere along the way, fire their coach and trade their UFA’s.
The big mover in this division are the Edmonton Oilers. There are two reasons: depth and skill. Edmonton has enough veterans sprinkled throughout the roster that they should be able to endure a number of injuries. They also have terrific skill, and in fact added in this area with the offseason pickups of Cole and Visnovsky. They are missing a veteran RH center and could use another veteran on the blue but this team begins the year fairly balanced in the key areas and should punish opponents with a splendid powerplay. A big step forward after Christmas by young Samwise Gagner could mean the Oilers win the division.
I’m probably the only hockey fan outside the land of 10,000 lakes who enjoys this team. They do things in a measured way even in the era of free agency. Their offseason pickups are all interesting, and they had a very nice July 1 (Zidlicky trade, signed Brunette). They have stars in Gaborik and Burns and Bouchard and Backstrom and the best supporting cast in the business. They never get outworked, their coach is just strange enough to get an edge with the refs once in awhile, and losing to the Wild will be routine once again for many teams.