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Calgary Flames - C

Key Acquisitions:
Owen Nolan, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich

Question Marks:
Offensive Production, Mike Keenan

One of the best defensive teams in the league got better and deeper on defense this off season. The additions of Cory Sarich and Adrian Aucoin make one of the best bluelines in the league better and solidifies the Flames as one of the contenders in the Northwest. Despite these improvements, however, the Flames still have not addressed their offense. Besides Iginla, Tanguay and Huselius, they have no one who can score on a consistent basis. Langkow has shown flashes, as has Lombardi, but they need these players to step up on a consistent basis to win games. Should he be healthy, Owen Nolan surely will help this team a great deal. Also, on top of this, there is Mike Keenan. This is a huge question mark for the team. Which Keenan will they get? The one who led the Rangers to a Cup? Or the one who was run out of town in Florida? And on top of that, how will the team react the first time Keenan challenges Iginla? I may be one of few, but something tells me that this team will implode under the reign of Keenan.

Overall, on paper, the team is solid and should make a solid run at the playoffs. Top to bottom, this is the most competitive division in the league, and it isn't a stretch to say that four teams could make the playoffs. Should Keenan mesh with this team, they will be a force to be reckoned with. Having said that, this is a team that is right on the cusp. Kipprusoff will keep them in every single game, just as he did against Detroit (In my opinion, he was the Conn Smythe winner. Calgary had no place taking that series to six games without him.) The big question mark is the coach. Calgary will finish fourth in the division, contending for the playoffs and the division title the whole season.

Colorado Avalanche - A

Key Acquisitions:
Scott Hannan, Ryan Smyth

Question Marks:
Starting Goaltending, Young Talent

The Avalanche have, no doubt, made the biggest splash of the Northwest this offseason, landing both coveted UFAs Scott Hannan and Ryan Smyth. These two acquisitions give the team, not only a combination of the best hockey hair in the league, but defensive depth and leadership respectively. Despite improving by great strides, there are still large question marks on their roster. Will Wotek Wolski and Paul Stastny continue to hit stride or will they hit their sophomore slump? Can Peter Budaj continue his improvement in net or will they have to revert back to Jose Theodore? This team now has a solid core to build on and should show marked improvement this year and contend for the division crown. But will Hannan and Smyth be enough? Smyth is a tremendous leader and a good player who brings more to the ice than just pure talent. Hannan was one of the most sought after players this off-season and is coming off of a strong year and a strong playoff performance. Both will add depth to the team, but will they be able to add any hardware to the trophy cases in Colorado?

In the ultra-competitive Northwest Division, the Avs have certainly emerged as front runners. Do these pick ups catapult them into the class of the Northwest Division? Don't count them out by any means, but don't crown them yet. Smyth is a tremendous player, but the largest knock on him is that he's elite because of his intangibles, not because of his skill. Hannan is a great pick up for their defense, but is he the shut down defenseman that the Avs haven't had since Adam Foote and Rob Blake? Only time will tell, but until then, my prediction is that the Avs will make the playoffs, but finish third in the division.

Edmonton Oilers - C

Key Acquisitions:
Joni Pitkinen, Geoff Sanderson, Sheldon Souray, Richard Tarnstrom

Question Marks:
Offensive Production from Forwards, Defensive Responsibility

The Oilers made up for a lack of involvement in the off season thus far by landing themselves Sheldon Souray. Souray will help their offense by leaps and bounds, but at what price? He had 64 points last year, yet was -28! This is a player who has a great offensive up side, but an abysmal downside. Dwayne Roloson is a great goalie, but a goalie can only do so much without good defense in front of them. Their offense will suffer this year as well, as Geoff Sanderson will not supply the point production the team lacks after losing Ryan Smyth. Unless Ales Hemsky is finally going to step up and actually shoot the puck or Fernando Pisani is ready to contribute as consistently as he did in the Oilers' Cup run, the Oilers look like they'll be struggling for offense once again. Nylander most definitely would have been a step in the right direction for the team, however I don't know that he would have been the solution, even if they had gotten him. On a team full of playmakers, another just isn't what they need. They need a player that will put the puck in the net and, as of right now, they don't have a player that can consistently do that.

Overall, the Oilers are slightly better than they were at the end of last season. That said, they still have a long way to go to get back to the playoffs, let alone the Cup finals. Keep in mind that the year they made the Cup run, they were the 8 seed. They were only a few points away from being bumped from the playoffs. All in all, despite the trades and signings, this is still the worst team in the Northwest. They will be better than they were at the end of last season, but they still haven't solved their inability to get the puck into the net and, until they do so, they'll be dead last. The Oilers finish 5th and miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Minnesota Wild - C

Key Acquisitions:
Eric Belanger, Sean Hill

Question Marks:
Offensive Production, Grit, Depth

The good news for the Wild is that, on the whole, the entire team that finished a close second in the Northwest Division and allowed the least goals in the NHL last year is back and in tact. The bad news? On a whole, the entire team that finished a close second in the Northwest Division and allowed the least goals in the NHL is back and in tact. The Wild chose to stand pat in Free Agency, going after role players, instead of looking to big name players to cement their roster. On a whole, this is a good plan. With Marian Gaborik fully healthy, the Wild are one of the best teams in the West, thus they didn't need a lot of big players. On the down side, if he's hurt, they're merely mediocre and don't have anyone to fill his shoes. Depth is one of their big question marks this season. Due in large part to their drafting philosophy (a lot of players who are still developing in juniors), the Wild are pretty picked over in Houston. Despite the additions of Belanger and Hill, grit is still a question mark for the Wild. The team will undoubtedly learn from their playoff experience last season, but will they make a marked improvement in this area?

Overall, the Wild is really the same team as last year with a few key additions. This is a team that will challenge for the division again and go deep into the playoffs this year. The Wild win the division and make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks - D

Key Acquisitions:
Aaron Miller, Curtis Sanford

Question Marks:
Offensive Production

The Canucks won the Division and finished 3rd in the West last year with little to no offense and fans should expect the same from this year's team. With the acquisition of Aaron Miller, the Canucks have one of the deepest defensive units in the NHL and, with the acquisition of Curtis Sanford can now offer Luongo some rest every once in a while. The big question mark remains can their offense produce? Luongo will give them a chance to win every single game, but it's a matter of whether or not they can seize that opportunity. Will Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison return to form? Or will the Canucks continue on their trend of scoring few goals, but giving up fewer? Being up against the cap as they are, it will be difficult for the 'Nucks to make any large moves to gain offensive firepower, but they should be able to count on some of their youngsters to step up into a secondary scoring role this year.

Just as the Wild, the 'Nucks are really the same team as last year. They should challenge for the division again and make the playoffs as well. The Canucks finish second in the division and make the playoffs.
Filed Under:   northwest   nhl   wild   canucks   avalanche   oilers   flames  
July 18, 2007 3:01 PM ET | Delete
Question Marks:Offensive Production you do realize flames were 7th in the NHL in offence last year??? People its time to get rid of the flames cant score, we did better than most teams did last season, talk bout offence with the nucks, and your team (minny) was 19th
July 18, 2007 4:56 PM ET | Delete
This is poorly written. You mention key acquistions, but you don't mention what the teams lost. Some of the teams did lose some valuable assets. The flames lost stuart and hamrlik. Eventhough I do think auckoin and sarich are an upgrade. For the oilers you say that souray will help there offense by leaps and bounds and then in the same paragraph you say the oilers offense will suffer this year. Which is it. obviousally it will suffer because they lost smyth from last year with no one to replace him and they weren't that good with him.
July 18, 2007 5:14 PM ET | Delete
There is no way that minnesota is going to finish ahead of colorado, you talk about questions marks for minny you should also add goaltending who knows if backstrom is the real deal he got his big contract and could just tank, plus the avalanche have way more depth, and leadership than minny so the avalanche will finish 1st-2nd in the division
July 18, 2007 5:32 PM ET | Delete
agree fully with tukie4 life, minny will not finish last in the division, but all 3: vancouver, calgary, colorado will be at the top of the NW. Calgary and Colorado will fight it out for the top... Colorado is an improved team now... Vancouver still is only Luongo... and Backstrom??? That will be a hit or miss and you will have to hope it wasnt a fluke last season. (remember Turek)....
July 18, 2007 5:35 PM ET | Delete
just read a bit more of it... and minny being #1 in the NW??? COMMON! they are not improved over last season and they finished 2nd in the division, and 2 of the teams below them have gotten better and as i said in goaltending for minny, it will be a hit or miss.. Open your eyes... Minny is not a #1 NW team, and just accept that, minny will fight for 3rd/4th in the division, not 1st
July 18, 2007 5:50 PM ET | Delete
Have a look at Calgary's offensive totals before talking about their "production problems. The only team in the western conference to score more goals and make the playoffs was Nashville. Anaheim and San Jose scored the same as the Flames.
July 18, 2007 6:12 PM ET | Delete
ok morrison and naslund will step up.. and u have to understand that its hard enough to score on luongo and now with our defense even better try to score two goals with us in consistent basis.. calgary downgraded and calgary fans know that.. would u rather have stuart/ hamrlik or aucoin/sarich.. and for minny.. are u kidding me.. backstrom will not repeat... colorado.. budaj is not good enough and theres no chemistry in edmonton... so far its going to be calgary and vancouver toughing it out... just hope that keenan is the right coach for u guys... and for ppl out there who dont think vancouver is good enough.. we almost beat anaheim with just luongo. three goals in overtime and we wouldve advanced.. our offense will get better.,.
July 18, 2007 6:16 PM ET | Delete
and one more thing.. Vancouver's only weakness right now is offense.. i mean.. looking at calgary.. 7th ranked offense, a power forward in Iginla, a norris candidate in Phaneuf and a Vezina goalie in Kipper and u still had to fight for a playoff spot.. theres obviously something wrong in ur system and u think keenan is going to help u.. sutter should just go back to coaching..
July 18, 2007 9:43 PM ET | Delete
Hey All. Homer post, that's all I'll say about that. And hey, this Keenan thing? I don't think it's so bad.It's obvious he's on a short leash - couldn't bring in his own asst. coaches, and just his whole demeanor with the press and public in the hockey fishbowl that is 'Calgary'. It's also pretty obvious that he has a metric ton of respect for Sutter, and I would hope he's a little humbled after what happened in Florida. I think it'll be ok, if the press can keep their noses out of it, and not try to 'manufacture' too much news.Worse comes to worse, and Keenan gets out of line, Daryl can just beat the tar out of him.
July 18, 2007 11:00 PM ET | Delete
1 Colorado 2 Calgary 3 Minnesota 4 Vancouver 5 Edmonton. Based on their rosters this is how they will finish. And none of them will win the Cup. Also, Roloson is overrated and I wouldn't be surprised to see Garon take his job by the end of the year.
July 18, 2007 11:30 PM ET | Delete
Colorado has the best skaters in the division, but they've no proven goaltending. They CAN'T win the division without .900 goaltending. Not possible. Calgary was an 8th place team last year, and I think they got worse. They definitely down-graded on defence, and they've got a coach that doesn't know his ass from a powerplay. Expect them to place bottom-third in PP and PK. Vancouver has as many holes in their forward corps as Edmonton. They just had better puck-movers and a goaltender that can carry a team. They've got a team full of third-line players. They're over-achievers, and they could just as easily lose this division as they could win it, if say, Luongo were to be hurt. They stand a chance at the division, but they're not contenders for the cup. Edmonton has more holes then a cheese-grater. With the roster they've got right now, they will probably finish last in the division. Then again, if they fill the holes, they could play with any team in this division. Unreliable defense is a figment of peoples imaginations. Minnesota: I'm not sure I like the Fernandez trade. I think they've got a few holes, but that they (like Edmonton) have a lot of question-marks. If things pan-out like they could, they could challenge for the division. AS IT STANDS NOW: 1) CALGARY2) COLORADO3) VANCOUVER4) MINNESOTA5) EDMONTONWHAT COULD CHANGE: Colorado could add a goaltender. I'm not sure about their cap-situation, but they could chance it with a Cujo type player. Calgary is a fairly balanced team, the only beneficial moves I can happening are for upgrades at forward. I just don't know if this corps is going to work.Vancouver needs to add somebody who can replace Naslund's offense, because at this point, he needs a Selanne like comeback to be a factor again. Maybe an upgrade at centre (ditching Morrison). They've got cap-issues, though. Edmonton needs two top-six forwards. A sniper for the left-wing on the first line, and a gritty right-winger with playmaking ability for the second line. If they can add 50-goals at forward, expect them to challenge for the division. They'd also need to add a first-line centre if they'd want to be serious contenders. Minnesota could probably use a gritty scorer. Maybe a power-forward who can really push other defenders around, and still put up 25-30 goals. Erik Cole might be able.
July 19, 2007 8:06 PM ET | Delete
It makes me giggle how people think Vancouver played over thier head when they pretty much sucked the first 2 months of the season because 14 new players were on thier roster. Vancouver just played a smart well diciplined game with great defence and well Louongo. With a healthy top six this year (cooke, mo, kesler and nazzy) all having goin issues. They will play the whole year as a team that has completly bought into the system. Aquiring one 40 goal man will put this team into contention if Nazzy and Mo can regain form.
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