Having completed part one of my team by team speculation in the South East division, for part two I figured I would jump across the continent and hit the North West division.
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The North West is arguably the tightest division in terms of competition in the league. There are only 13 points as of tonight separating first through firth in the division, a lead any of the four teams likely think they can overcome, or in Calgary's case hold on to, with a few key moves from now until the deadline.
So without further adieu, here is what I think each team in the North East division will likely look to doing in the near future.
Calgary Flames - Buyers
Goals against, while not so much of late, has been a bit of a problem for the Flames this season. They have struggled at key points in many games this season, in keeping their opponents of the score sheet. Still, they find themselves atop their ultra-competitive division by a comfortable nine points (comfortable by division standards that is).
At last check, the Flames had a little over 2.5 million in cap space this season, meaning there is a vast number of possibilities the team could, and perhaps should, consider. The team has seen some success from the top line, as well as a few break out players, one of which being Rene Bourque.
Calgary has very little to complain about when it comes to goal scoring. In fact, as of tonight they sit 4th in the conference in goals scored. With little room for improvement in this area, and a team defense that, on paper, resembles that of a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender, especially the top two defensive pairings, one can't help but ponder what the Flames could possible need come deadline day '09.
One thing that I am certain they will entertain the thought of is bringing in a true-blooded puck moving defenseman. With their top five point producers all in the minus category, it also seems true that they make look for another hard nosed defenseman who knows how to shut down a top-tier offense that they may face in the playoffs. In addition to this, a gritty defensive minded forward, and a more experienced back-up goaltender in case the catastrophic should occur, will likely be on Calgary's wish list.
The likeliness of moving Mikael Backlund seems quite low, as he is as close to an untouchable as Calgary has that isn't playing on the top two lines in the big leagues, but if someone, say Toronto, demanded him as a part of the package in bringing in Kaberle, Calgary's front office would indeed have a large decision on their plate. Outside of Backlund, the Flames have very little, in terms of desirable top end prospects, so it will be difficult for them to pull the trigger on this deal, but at the same time, other teams are going to want some sort of favourable return for their shipment as well. That being said, the Flames can always explore the option of draft picks for depth players. For instance, a package of picks would likely fetch them a Steve Montador from Anaheim, especially if the Ducks are on the outside looking in on a playoff spot come deadline day. Montador could be a large part of someone's playoff picture and could fit the mold of a player the Flames desire with his +11 and 110 PIMs.
All in all, I expect the Flames to be relatively conservative on deadline day, especially as far as moving any players under contract out. As far as bringing players in, I doubt anything resembling a block buster will occur, but I wont be shocked if a depth move or two are made in an effort to improve on overall team defense.
Minnesota Wild - Buyers
The Minnesota Wild are currently sitting in 7th in the Western Conference. They are however, a mere 4 points up on 14th in the conference! That means they are in, what promises to be, one of the best dog-fights we have ever seen, in the stretch leading to the playoffs, along with the eight other teams that fall in the other spots to 14th in the conference. An interesting note to add is that they are also a mere two points removed from fifth in the conference. Put simply, there are four playoff spots, assuming the top four don't decide to falter and join the dog fight, available to ten teams, separated by 6 points. That is only a three win difference that could make or break a team in that conference!
The Wild have to be one team, that is favoured in the dropping out category of the race. They have suffered a number of key injuries all year to players like Kurtis Foster, and most notably Marion Gaborik, among others, but are still dead in the middle of an epic battle to gain entry to the first round of the playoffs.
They have one of the best team defenses in the league allowing a near-minuscule 116 goals to this point in the schedule.
Unfortunately, the Wild find themselves in the position of having their franchise superstar sitting on the Injured Reserve list, with trade rumours swirling around him, while this race is going on.
They will however, in my eyes, be a team who sees the potential for dropping out of this race, in the very near future (before the deadline arrives) and make a move to bolster their offense.
Look for the Wild to add a top six scoring forward to the team, and although they would love to add a top four puck moving defenseman, they had best reconsider, as to not upset the team chemistry in their own end. The argument can be made that even a player like Ovechkin wouldn't thrive offensively in a climate that focuses on defense to the extent that the system in Minnesota does, but if the opportunity came along for the Wild to scoop up a player, who can play reliably in his own end when called upon, but can still put points up on the board with the game on the line, I expect them to jump at the chance.
They have a very young team, so a veteran leader in the makings of Keith Tkachuk might be on their radar. Possessing a few prospects they could offer up, including Benoit Pouliot, who is a restricted free agent at seasons end anyways, might come in handy in the near future.
Edmonton Oilers - Buyers
The Oilers recently suffered a setback in their playoff aspirations with the injury to their defensive puck moving specialist Lubomir Visnovsky. Being listed as out indefinitely, and personally having not heard any time frame for return, I view this as a potentially fatal blow if he is out for any period exceed 3-4 weeks. This may be a shock to some, but with how tight the West is, and the team only sitting in the eighth spot by the slimmest of margins (one point), their playoff life is very much in question at this point.
The Oilers, like the Wild, are likely to act sooner, rather than later to stabilize their playoff aspirations. The team's needs are relatively few. They could use a player to play on the top line and ride shot gun with Hemsky, but it is not a need, by any definition. The teams greatest need comes on the back end, not only in finding a puck moving defenseman to replace Visnovsky if he is out for an extended period, but to add a stabilizing force to shut down the highly potent offenses that will undoubtedly be headed their way between now and the time the last few playoff positions are determined.
In addition to this, the Oilers have a gaping hole to fill in the backup goaltending role, that if anything happened to Roloson, they'd be headed for a disaster. Yes, that is what Sabourin is in place for, but with Sabourin being as unproven at the NHL level as he remains, I personally wouldn't be surprised to see them target a player like Vesa Toskala, who's confidence is shook right now, and could potentially benefit from a change of scenery. A mid to late round draft pick or two would easily pry him away from Toronto.
As for the need on defense, I will be shocked if the team doesn't attempt to acquire a second pairing defensive defenseman for a combination of mid round draft picks or one of their better forward prospects.
Vancouver Canucks - Buyers
When the Canucks signed veteran center Mats Sundin, they surely hoped he would be playing better than he is at this point, and that he would have led the Canucks on a charge, at the very least, out of the dog-fight that is the Western Conference, if not into first in their division. Having Roberto Luongo injured for the extended period he was, surely didn't help the Canucks in positioning themselves in a playoff spot, but the fact that his return has been shaky at best certainly isn't helping matters at this point.
Currently trailing the Oilers by one point in the West, I still have the feeling that there is little to no urgency at this point to alter this roster. The team played most of the year without Sundin, and a large portion without Luongo, so you have to think that they will be given a few more weeks to prove their worth, but if around the deadline, the team hasn't brought themselves into a playoff spot, I expect the team to be making some additions to help bolster the team.
The teams offense, one of their trademark weaker points in recent years, has shown a large improvement with the new players brought aboard to do so. However, it appears to have had an adverse effect on team defense, with the team struggling in their own end to gel as a group on most nights allowing chances that even a stellar Luongo couldn't stop, let alone the more average version of Luongo that has played of late.
Expect the Canucks to go looking for a two-way forward, perhaps someone like Dominic Moore or Kyle Calder should be on their radar, both players who can play offensive and defensive games fairly well. In addition, I wouldn't be shocked to see them peddle one of their prized prospects in Hodgson or Hansen if it meant bringing in a top-tier defensive defenseman like Chris Pronger, who's name has made its way around the rumour-block of late.
Colorado Avalanche - Sellers
The Avalanche have been a victim of their own demise in a sense. The team is not overly young, and they have paid for it in the number of injuries to what would be considered key 'seasoned' players who are on the other side of the hill when it comes to their playing careers.
Signing Leaf's cast-aways Andrew Raycroft and Darcy Tucker, surely had to be viewed as steps in the wrong direction for a team who was already on the wrong end of the average age per player chart in what is becoming and ever-increasingly young man's league.
In my eyes, the Avalanche are the team on the outside looking in on the playoffs, unless the team were to involve themselves into a massive, late-season overhaul with many new faces filling roles currently occupied by established vets. In reality they are more likely to go the other route, and plan ahead for next season, and so forth.
Expect them to try to gauge interest in almost every player on their current roster. Given their overall lack of depth in young and emerging high talent prospects, I would be shocked if we didn't see at least a couple moves to bring in a couple of draft picks for the first three rounds or prospects projected to be top 6 forwards or top 4 defensemen.
Players likely to be peddled include; Tucker, Arnason, Laperriere, Clark and Salei. Interest in these players is likely to vary depending on who you ask, but would surely be a start in what is looking to be an inevitable rebuild in Colorado that appears to be approaching faster than, well, an Avalanche!
So now that I've done the South East and North West, I'll be thinking about which division to write about next for a couple of days. As always, your comments are appreciated, good or bad. Thanks to those who posted comments on my last entry, it makes it more fun for all of us. I'm thinking North East for my next division. If you have thoughts on this blog or the suggestions for the next, feel free to comment.
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