North by Northwest

It’s been forever since the teams that populate the NW division won the Stanley. Vancouver and Minnesota have never won, Calgary and Edmonton have several generations of fans who weren’t alive when Stanley came to town and Colorado won it a few weeks before the Oilers drafted Hemsky.

It’s been awhile. I think the Northwest has a good chance to have a final four team this season and possibly make it to the final. After that, it will be in the hands of the Hockey Gods. Below I list the predicted spot in the division, the name of the team and then in brackets the predicted finish in the conference.

FIFTH: COLORADO AVALANCHE (14th)

They are now in full rebuild mode, not so different than the situation faced by the franchise when Joe Sakic was a rookie. Paul Stastny is worth the price of admission and some of their kids will surprise in a good way, but the Avs will be a lottery team in 2009-10. If you are a fan of this team, start reading about the draft immediately and for the rest of us each Colorado game we see will be a trade deadline scouting opportunity.

FOURTH: EDMONTON OILERS (11th)

The Edmonton Oilers brought the 2009-10 season on themselves. Unable to commit completely to a new coach, it appears they’ve decided to ask Pat Quinn if he can walk a tightrope better than Craig MacTavish. While other NHL teams who spend to the cap also make every effort to ice a playoff calibre team, the Oilers hedge and hum and haw until they’ve talked themselves into development all over hell’s half acre. The Oilers at center (after Horcoff) are one dimensional and undersized and their goaltender is quality but must stay healthy or leave the team with two rookies. It is a damn shame that a team with this much talent (Khabibulin, Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Penner, Hemsky, O’Sullivan, Comrie are a baker’s dozen) but there’s an entire required player type (two-way forward) that basically doesn’t exist on this roster. In-freaking-credible.

THIRD: MINNESOTA WILD (9th)

The big question this season involves Nick Backstrom: did Jacques Lemaire take the magic formula for goalie success with him? I suspect not, but the new, more open offense may mean some more scoring chances from prime areas this year. Martin Havlat is the team’s new gunslinger and there’s plenty of offensive talent on the roster. Defensively they’re a little thin compared to the best in the NW, but they have enough players with experience in all areas (and a wide range of skills) that I suspect they win 3rd in the division.

SECOND: CALGARY FLAMES (5th)

GM Sutter has done a nice job in the last two summers improving this club’s secondary scoring up front, and at this point it’s possible to imagine two useful lines in Calgary. Much has been made of JayBo’s arrival and the one major thing he can do is send Dion the Terrible farther down the depth chart. Regehr remains your basic nightmare and the de facto leader of a very effective D group. I’m going to assume the Flames deal for a goalie before the playoffs no matter how Kipper looks, but if he blows some games (that’s the only way Calgary loses to Edmonton in the season’s opening week) the timeline could move way up.

FIRST: VANCOUVER CANUCKS (1st)

I think the Vancouver Canucks have a very good shot at the Stanley this season. Their goaltender is as close to perfect as you can get without hanging a 72 by 48 plywood sheet in front of the net, their blueline is talented, flawed and will get help at the deadline and their forwards are in their prime (mostly), feature the Sedin piss-cutters and the emerging Ryan Kesler, and have the best depth we’ve seen in mushroom country in 15 years. They’ve even kept a talented Russian (Shirokov) who at 23 appears ready to help.

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