Up next, I looked at the Northwest Division (one of the toughest to pick)
The Minnesota Wild had a good year last year, perhaps overachieving a little bit. Mainly they were able to take advantage of Edmonton when they were on their spiral down towards the basement of the Northwest Division. The Wild were 6 - 2 against Edmonton and 4 of the wins came after March 1st. They also did surprisingly well against Vancouver laster year. But this upcoming year will be a different story. They dealt Fernandez and kept Backstrom, its a bit of a risk since Backstrom has only played 41 NHL games (46 if you include the playoffs). One thing is for sure: the Wild will play defense first... like two other teams in the same division (Calgary and Vancouver) makes for some very boring hockey at times. The Minnesota Wild will not get 100 points this year and its hard to say if Backstrom can backstop the team to a playoff birth.
Last season the Vancouver Canucks suddenly became a strong defensive team. They had the best penalty kill in the league last year, however they may have a hard time this year if they try to play an all out defensive system for the entire year. (Also makes for boring TV). It can take a lot out of a team to play that style game in and game out. Basically this season will be all about Luongo and how far he can take them. The Sedin twins will put up their numbers as per usual and we'll have to wait and see about what Naslund (60 pts or 80 pts) comes to play next season. As long as the team is committed to playing team defense and let Luongo be the show, the Vancouver Canucks should be near the top of the Northwest Division.
The Calgary Flames will try once again to implement their gritty "In Your Face" defense. The question is have they lost too many good and gritty defenceman. Also can Phaneuf play without Hamrlik, in the past he has proven that he can't. The Flames have added more talent over the last few years but have refused to change their style of play to reflect their new personal. I think the Fames could be much better if they focussed on a more offensive system, however with Sutter and now Keenan their, look for a renewed emphasis on team defense. If you are a Flames fan, you should be worried because the Flames showed last season that they could consistently beat bad teams, however they could not beat the good teams. (ie, Colorado, Nashville, San Jose) Meaning if they do make the playoffs, they wont go far. Look for the Calgary Flames to be playing catchup to both Colorado and Vancouver.
The Colorado Avalanche missed the post season last year by 1 point. Colorado could have put up a better fight against the Red Wings then Calgary did in the first round of last years playoffs. Although watching Calgary self destruct in game 5 was priceless. But anyways, Colorado will not need 15 wins in the last 20 games of the season to make the playoffs this year as they did last year. Colorado, with the addition of Ryan Smyth, have a very potent offenses in the NHL. Look for the Avalanche to be scoring lots of goals this... and they made need to if Théodore and unproven Budaj are in the net.
I have never witnessed a team fall so far so fast. 2 - 18 in the last 20 games??? The Oilers were in first place in the Division around Christmas time last year and then the injuries came, followed by the Smyth trade and then more injuries. WOW is all I can say. But this year look to be different. They got rid of Perterson, got pikenin, Souray and Penner. The Oilers said all last year that they needed a puck moving defencemen and now they have them. So the Oilers have improved on the backend, and for the most part are in the same situation upfront that they were in at the beginning of last year... (lots of potential) If the Oiler forwards rebound from last year then the Oilers should be able to compete the the rest to the Division. If they can't, the Burke will look like a genius.
Northwest Projected Results
1. Colorado Avalanche
2. Vancouver Canucks
4. Edmonton Oilers
5. Minnesota Wild
This will be the hardest Division to predict, especially 2 through 5. The two teams that missed the playoffs (Colorado and Edmonton) have probably improved the most. Colorado didn't need to change much in order to make the playoffs this year, but they added Smyth and Hannon. The Avalanche will get more then 100 pts this season and be the clear number one in the Northwest. The Oilers made huge changes in hopes of getting back into the playoffs. I think they are one more forward away from the playoffs. Vancouver will be fine this year... its Calgary and Minnesota who's season could go south very quick.