2013 NHL Preview: The Northwest Division

Northwest Division

If the Central Division is the strongest in the West than the Northwest Division is the division who paid for the Central’s success. With four teams making the playoffs from the Central in 2011-12 the Northwest and Pacific were left to battle for the second half of the spots. It is fair to say that the Northwest lost this fight as only one team would make the playoffs from the division. It is an odd division to look at as there are a number of struggling teams and then one of the best teams in the NHL all within the same division. Last year the Vancouver Canucks would finish first in the division a year after losing the Stanley Cup. They were not just the best in the division but the best in the entire league as they left the rest of the teams in the division far behind. After the Canucks the talent and challenge drops off significantly as the division sees a number of teams that can be considered middle level at best. The Calgary Flames may be the best of the rest finishing in second place in the division last season. Still that wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs as they would extend their playoff drought to three years. The Colorado Avalanche are in much of the same situation but unlike the Flames are in the midst of rebuilding. This rebuilding has taken longer than expected and after signs of life in 2010-11 the 2011-12 season was a disappointment finishing in third in the division and out of the playoffs. The Minnesota Wild are also a team in the midst of a rebuild and seem to be inconsistent from year to year as they charge towards the playoffs but cannot make the postseason consistently. Then there is the Edmonton Oilers a team seemingly in perpetual rebuild as owners of multiple first overall draft picks. Despite the best prospects in the game the Oilers continue to finish at the bottom of the league every year. The Northwest division is one that has had plenty of success in the past but now is not their era. They will look to change that as they go into a shortened season in hopes of more than one team making the playoffs.

 

Calgary Flames:

Calgary-Flames-Logo

The debate continues in Calgary year after year as the organization continues on the same path every year. Last year GM Jay Feaster would guarantee a playoff berth but would not make good on the promise. The Flames would be in the playoff hunt but would finish just outside of the playoffs for the third straight year. The demand to trade Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff gets greater every year as many believe that he Flames just need to start from scratch. That is everyone except the Flames who believe they are only a few key pieces away from making the playoffs and challenging for a Stanley Cup. They continued this path for the 2013 season as they would add a few key pieces but they would keep the core intact. The Flames are looking for a few players that can add some value but they will continue to look to their two best players for leadership and to help the team win on the ice. The Flames are continuing to rely on their core players and for many that is not the path they need to take. The Flames have a team that can win but they are getting older and the rebuilding phase might need to start sooner rather than later as they will be fighting for a playoff spot once again this year. It will be a good fight for the Flames but in the end they may see themselves on the outside for the fourth year in a row and the demand for a rebuild will get even louder.

 

Strength:
Belief in the Core
– The belief in Iginla and Kiprusoff despite their age to many is a negative but the fact is these have been their two best players and the vote of confidence from management will let them play without thinking of their next team 

Weakness:
Goalie Age
– Miikka Kiprusoff is a good goalie but he is now 36 and needs to be managed like a veteran which means giving him time to rest between starts and the Flames have not done this as their star player has started to falter under the grind of the season 

Biggest Addition:
Roman Cervenka, C/LW (Free Agent)
– He was considered the best player not playing in the NHL last year and the Czech superstar will now get his shot at the best league in the world as he was brought in to provide secondary scoring but will he translate to the pro game 

Biggest Loss:
Olli Jokinen, C (Free Agent)
– Jokinen was a good reclamation project for the Flames and his loss leaves a bit of a hole in the veteran presence in the lineup even if he was beginning to get up in age he was still a producer on a team that loves its veteran players

 

Colorado Avalanche:

avalanchelogo

The Colorado Avalanche are like many of the teams in the division as they are still rebuilding a team in an attempt to compete. The Avs have been in this rebuild for a few years as they would win the Stanley Cup in 2001 and after that would try to retool over and over. They would not be successful in the retooling as they would remain out of the playoffs. After the retooling process the Avs began to try to rebuild through the draft and would take a number of young talented players to create a team. Last year these young talents had an impact but they could not bring the Avs into the playoffs as they remained on the outside. There will be nobody bigger in the Avalanche’s turnaround than Gabriel Landeskog in this rebuilding process as the team would name the 19-year-old the team captain before only his second season in the league. Landeskog was always considered the future leader of the Avs but making him the youngest captain in NHL history, he is a few months younger than Sidney Crosby was, will provide some growing pains. The Avalanche are all in with their young talent as the veterans are few and far between with only Milan Hejduk representing the old guard of the team. Colorado is one of the youngest teams in the league and for that reason there is little known about what they can accomplish. The team could be a good one as they try to compete for a playoff spot although they may remain out of the playoffs for another year.

 

Strength:
Stability
– There is no doubt that this team will be together for a while as all of the players are still under their entry-level contract or are locked up for the next few years as they are stable in the locker room and should create a good environment to play in

Weakness:
Inexperience
– They Avs may like their stability but they are still very young with the youngest captain in NHL history leading the way as they may struggle when things get intense not knowing how to deal with some key situation

Biggest Addition:
PA Parenteau, (Free Agent)
– Parenteau is a big offensive boost for the Avs although there are a lot of questions surrounding him as he had a great year last year but was the best player on a bad team and was in a contract year although if he can produce half of what he did last year it will be an upgrade

Biggest Loss:
Peter Mueller, RW/LW (Free Agent)
– He had plenty of promise when the Avs picked him up and he may still have a lot to do in the NHL but he will do it somewhere else as the Avalanche did not have the room to wait for him even if he becomes a great player

 

Edmonton Oilers:

oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are a team that seems to be constantly in a rebuilding phase with one of the best groups of young talent in the NHL. The Oilers are a team that has been at the bottom of the league for years but have received the best talent in the NHL Draft. The Oilers have received top picks in the draft and yet they have not translated to a lot of success on the ice. Last year the trend continued as the Oilers would finish in a lottery pick slot but their fortune wouldn’t be all bad. The Oilers would win the lottery and move up to the first pick in the draft where can’t miss prospect, Nail Yakupov, was waiting for them. Yakupov would join the young talent on the team that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle. It is a collection of the best young talent in the NHL and the Oilers continue to add to it every year. The latest addition after Yakupov was the best young player not drafted in Justin Schultz who played last year as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers in the NCAA. They have been in this position before with great young players and have yet to finish above 25th in the league. There will be one big positive though as the top line of this year’s NHL team has been playing in the AHL throughout the lockout. The Oilers have a lot of hope going into this season but it all will rely, once again, on how far their young players can carry them.

 

Strength:
Familiarity
– The fact that Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, and Eberle have played together all year in the AHL means that they are already ahead of everyone in the NHL which will mean that they will carry the team through this shortened schedule a step ahead of everyone else 

Weakness:
Defence
– The Oilers have had the good fortune of picking up great players but none of them have been defensive stars as they continue to load up on offensive talent and do not seem to concentrate on the defence although Justin Schultz is an improvement 

Biggest Addition:
Nail Yakupov, RW (Draft)
– He was the can’t miss prospect in the NHL Draft last year as a Russian superstar lighting up the OHL and the Oilers had the good fortune of picking him up only adding to the depth of young offensive talent that should have a good impact this year 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Oilers did not have much to give up in a year where they finished last in the division and so they did not get rid of any big role players instead focusing on adding more players to try to win in this shortened season

 

Minnesota Wild:

minnesota_wild_2001

The Minnesota Wild have not been a terrible team but are also not a dominating team as they continue to struggle to make an impact. Signing a number of big pieces including Danny Heatley in the 2011 offseason was the Wild’s attempt at getting back to winning. It did not entirely work though as the Wild struggled all season and finished in the third place in the division. Now the Wild have gone back to the free agent market to try to get back to winning once again. Minnesota made the biggest splash in the offseason before the lockout hit signing the biggest pair of free agents on the market. On the same day the Wild would sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to immediately improve their team.  The addition of Parise will add one more big playmaker to a good top line that includes Danny Heatley and Miika Koivu. Meanwhile the addition of Ryan Suter gives the Wild a top line shut down defender. These new additions need to play a big part in the team but they have not played together yet. They will not have a lot of time to get used to each other either as they have essentially been thrown into a playoff race without time to prepare for a playoff race. If this was a full season the Wild would be favorites to challenge for the top of the division. With a short season the story is a bit different as they could struggle to get a playoff spot this year.

 

Strength:
Offseason Overhaul
– The addition of two of the top prospects in the offseason does more for the team than improve the on ice performance as it shows that the management is behind the team 100% and wants to win which can only give the players confidence 

Weakness:
Shortened Season
– The Wild have made a lot of improvements on their roster but turnover is not good when there is only 48 games until the playoffs as these new additions will not have time to gel together as a team until it is too late 

Biggest Addition:
Zach Parise, LW (Free Agent)
– Really you can take your pick between Suter and Parise but the addition of another offensive weapon gives the Wild a very good front line that should be an offensive power in the NHL this year if they can gel quickly 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Wild did lose some people in the offseason but nobody that left wasn’t replaced by someone better as the Wild did a great job of replacing holes and none of those who left the team will not be missed

 

Vancouver Canucks:

vancouver-canucks

The Canucks are one of the best teams in the NHL and last year they proved that winning the President’s Trophy for the best record in the regular season. Then the Canucks moved into the playoffs looking to go back to the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row. They would fall short though losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the opening round of the playoffs. The Canucks would exit the playoffs after a great regular season with nothing to show for it for the second year in a row. Now they move on to a new season as they attempt to finally get that Stanley Cup win not only for themselves but for a country. The Canucks will have one big thing to deal with first though as they remain in the midst of a massive circus surrounding their All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo. He has been on the trading block for months now and no team has been able to pull the trigger on a deal. The circus will continue if he is not traded soon and that could mean more distractions than the Canucks need this year. It is clear that the Canucks have the talent to win but these distractions plus the fact that time is running out for an aging lineup means the Canucks have to win now. They have the ability and will likely win the weak division again but a Stanley Cup may not be in the cards for the best hope to break the Canadian drought.

 

Strength:
Defence
– Even though moving on from Roberto Luongo will be tough Cory Schneider is more than capable and the rest of the defence has been the backbone of the team as they start everything from the back-end of the rush 

Weakness:
Hope of a Nation
– The pressure is always big in a Canadian market but the Canucks are now the greatest hope for a Canadian team to break the 20 year Canadian Stanley Cup drought and the pressure of a nation can weigh highly on a team that seems to struggle in pressure situations 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Canucks made very little movement on the market throughout the short offseason as they spent most of their time looking for a trade partner and with a team that many believe is solid there is not much to add to the team

Biggest Loss:
Roberto Luongo, G (?)
– It isn’t official yet and it may not be official all year but the fact is that Luongo will no longer be a part of this team as even if he cannot be traded he will sit on the bench and play the backup role only starting a few games

 

Prediction:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Edmonton Oilers
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Colorado Avalanche
5. Calgary Flames

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