A little comparison shopping for hockey fans of the Northwest Division…
Someone suggested to me the other day that the Oilers were going to win the Division this year. Ummm, I love the Oilers, but no, not with this line-up. They definitely will not win the Division, and likely won’t make the playoffs. It’s not that the Oilers are a bad team – This division is actually extremely balanced, with four of five teams having solid playoff potential. Four of five teams also have team balance; a combination of offensive skill, youth, experience, and defensive ability. The Flames, Oilers, Canucks and Wild could all be in the playoff hunt this year.
And now it’s time for a little completely unscientific team analysis by yours truly.
Calgary Flames – Prediction: 1st in Northwest Division
You have to love the Flames chances this season, not only at making the playoffs or winning the Division, but for actually challenging for the Stanley Cup. What makes them special? Jarome Iginla for starters. He is the Mark Messier of his generation; someone who can score, hit, fight, and kick his teammate’s ass when required. In previous years, Iggy was standing alone in Calgary, but not anymore. On offense, he has Jokinen, Langkow, and Rene Bourque. Good ol’ Rene…he’s from my home town, you know. He’s an Iginla style player, with a rocket shot and some size. Call him Iginla-lite. Give him a healthy season, and he’ll give you 30 goals this year.
On the defensive end, can you imagine trying to skate in against Phaneuf and Bouwmeester? They might be the best defensive pairing in the league. And if they don’t scare you, imagine your body getting crushed by Regehr or Sarich. The only little concern with the Flames is in respect to forward line depth. Their Top 6 forwards and Top 4 D-men can go against any team in the league. If The Kipper is on his game, the Flames are going to win and win often. All hail the Flaming C.
Vancouver Canucks – Prediction: 2nd in the Northwest Division
I am not a fan of the Sedin sisters, Daniel and Henrick. It isn’t because they are bad players; actually they are quite amazing. They just seem to light up my Oilers too often for my liking. If the ‘Nucks stay healthy this season, they will challenge the Flames, as they added some key pieces over the off-season. I particularly like the addition of two-way forward Mikael Samuelsson. What really scares me about the Canucks is the amount of young talent they are assembling: Bernier 24, Kesler 24, Raymond 23, Edler 23, and Hogdson 19…will he make the team this season? The Canucks have depth and balance. The offense is good, defense is good, and goaltending is great.
The only thing that could derail the Canuck express this season? The resigning of Mats Sundin. Enjoy the ride in Vancouver; my guess is finishing sixth in the Western Conference, and a first-round battle with the Calgary Flames.
Edmonton Oilers – Prediction: 3rd in the Northwest Division
You all know Forrest Gump, right? “Life is like a box of chocolates…” The Oilers this year could be a wonderful and delicious chocolate covered almond. Or they could end up being the horrible strawberry-flavored cream that most people throw out the window so the birds can eat it. This season, you never know what you’re gonna get.
I do believe Quinn and Renney will create four specific forward lines and defensive combinations that they will play rigidly for the first 20 games, to assess the players on the team. What could follow are a huge amount of line changes and player moves. In order to compete with Calgary and Vancouver, Edmonton needs to have scoring from everyone, they need to keep injuries to a minimum, and they have to get immediately better on special teams.
On the plus side, the Oilers have the best puck moving six-man defensive crew in the league; they have tons of speed from their forwards, and The Bulin Wall is an improvement from Roloson, who was extremely overrated. But there are two ugly negatives when it comes to the Oilers: First, they are small, and tend to get pushed around by other teams. Second, they do not have a pure scorer. Calgary has Iggy and Ollie; Vancouver has the Sedins. Edmonton? The prettiest playmaker in Ales Hemsky, but no finishers. For this reason, Jordan Eberle, a pure scorer in junior, will get a serious chance in training camp to make the team.
Minnesota Wild – Prediction: 4th in the Northwest Division
You can not predict success in Minnie by looking at their roster. They have a great goaltender in Backstrom, an excellent top 4 defense with Johnsson, Burns, Schultz and Zidlicky…but who’s going to score goals for this team? Martin Havlat is a great offensive player during the three games each season he is not injured. Bouchard and Koivu are decent enough players, but yikes, the offense is pretty thin in Minnie.
The only way the Wild have a chance to make the playoffs this year is if they play the trap, and turn their arena into The House of Pain. In the words of Don Cherry, “hit, or fight, or do something.” They don’t have much in the way of young talent coming through the system, and older players like Nolan and Brunette over-achieved last season.
This season should be the beginning of the downward spiral in Minnie…but at least if they play terrible, there will be an excuse to get rid of their hideous green uniforms and replace them with something less ugly. The funny thing with the Wild: Every season, I think they are going to be terrible, and every season, they manage to be a decent team. Why is that? How do they do that?
Colorado Avalanche – Prediction: 5th in the Northwest Division
Let me start by saying that Paul Stastny is one of my favorite players in the NHL. Give this guy linemates of equal quality, and he’d be a 100 point player. He’s that good.
Colorado is in full rebuild mode now, and that’s okay. In some ways, I wish the Oilers went to full rebuild mode, instead of the annual mediocre-fest us Oiler fans endure. They have lots of young talent who will be given a chance to play regularly, and they will be in prime position to challenge for a top 3 draft pick next June. Could Matt Duchene make the team this year? Absolutely. And in a few seasons, he and Stastny will be scary together on the powerplay. Kyle Quincey is a great addition from LA, and Wolski is going to just keep getting better.