*DISCLAIMER* I am no expert at this sort of thing, and chances are I will be completely wrong with my predictions. If I am right though watch out because you will never hear the end of it. The Northwest division is a tough one to predict, none of the team’s lack the talent to be successful, especially with a shortened season. *
Only 9 more days until the start of the shortened 48 game regular season. Get ready for a sprint to the playoffs for all 30 teams. Some teams are better suited for such a sprint while others are in danger of falling flat on their faces. It is going to be very hard for anyone to accurately forecast where each team will finish, but I’ll give it a go. Let’s have a look…
The Vancouver Canucks
The Nucks won the division last year, only to lose to the eventual Cup champ LA Kings in the playoffs. They were however the only team in the NW to make the playoffs. The team hasn’t made many changes in the offseason but will attempt to bolster the blue line with the addition of Jason Garrison to replace Sami Salo. The forward group remains unchanged, the biggest question mark being the health of forward Ryan Kesler. In goal this season is supposed to belong to Corey Schneider, not incumbent Roberto Luongo who is rumored to be on his way to Toronto. If I am Canucks GM Mike Gillis I hold on to Loungo, having two good goalies is only going to help a team in a shortened season.
With Luongo most likely out the door either this week or very shortly in to the season (According to all reports) their season rides on the performance of an unproven starting goalie. I predict that Vancouver will once again win the division title, but not nearly by the same margin as last year in which they ran away with it finishing 21 points of second place Calgary.
The Calgary Flames
I dislike this team so much I can barely stand to even write about them. Trying to leave my objectiveness out of this though, as tough as it may be.
The forward group now has Sven Bartschi, Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka (I heard he may not come over from Europe, health issue maybe), Mikael Backlund and Lee Stempniak, all to go along with Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and of course captain Jarome Iginla. On defense they have minute muncher Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, and new comer Denis Wideman for their top 3. No changes to the goaltending duo with Henrik Karlsson backing up the aging Mika Kiprusoff. My guess is kipper plays at least 45 games.
They also have a new head coach in Bob Hartley, a surprising hiring in my opinion; I don’t think he’s cut out for NHL coaching but could be wrong. My prediction for the Flamers is for them to finish 3rd in the division this season. That is if they don’t fall apart down the stretch like they did last year. A shorter season could help this team out immensely.
The Colorado Avalanche
The Avs finished 3rd in the division last year, and missed the playoffs. Well, I don’t see them making the playoffs this year either. The goaltending situation for this team is one of concern. Simeon Varlamov and J.S Giguere are not IMO a tandem to have much confidence in. On defence they do have Erik Johnson and … and … Jan Hejda? The one thing about the D in Colorado is they are all huge averaging about 6’3”, talk about Mile High. The forward group stands out a bit, with the youngest captain in the NHL and last year’s Calder Trophy winner Gabe Landeskog, aging vet Milan Hejduk, Stastny, Duchene, and new comer P.A Parenteau. That group makes for a pretty good top 5 forwards, barring a sophomore slump from the new captain that is.
Even with the talented forwards in this group, I can’t see this team being able to string together enough wins in a tough western conference and I predict that because of questionable goaltending the Avs will struggle this season failing to make the playoffs and finishing last in the 5 team northwest division.
The Minnesota Wild
The Wild made the biggest splash in the offseason, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter for Bill Gates type money on the 3rd day of free agency. I’m sure all the fans in Minnesota are excited to see the 2 new stars play for them; in fact I’m quite interested in watching them adjust. Here’s the thing though, Minny fans are hockey crazy not unlike the fans here in Edmonton, and speaking from experience of trying to bring in the star local product never works. The pressure is too large on them and at least for the first while I see both struggling.
Minny’s first line with Koivu, Parise and Heatley or Setoguchi looks to be pretty solid, but secondary scoring has and will continue to be an issue for this team. The 3rd line of Clutterbuck, Brodziak and Powe are one of the best 3rd units in the league and can crash and bang with the best of them. Behind the blue line the top pairing is going to be Suter and by the looks of things ex-Oiler Tom Gilbert. That’s pretty sad really considering that Gilbert wasn’t top pairing when he left Edmonton, although he may be able to find some chemistry with Suter.
In goal the Wild have stalwart Niklas Backstrom, he should be as strong as usual for them, unfortunately now with the sad news of Josh Harding being diagnosed with M.S in the fall, there will be some question marks in the back-up role. Harding should be able to continue his career, but the problem with M.S is you just never know how long he will have before it affects his ability to stop pucks. I wish him all the best, and hope he can perform at an NHL level for a long time.
Prediction for the Minnesota Wild – 4th in the North West.
Last but not least – Your Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers, oh the Oilers. This year we have added 1st round pick Nail Yakupov and phenom denfenceman Justin Schultz to a line up already filled with top end talent. We want and need to see a break out year from this team, anything less than a playoff appearance in my mind will be a failure of a season. The thing is, the improvement from last in the division, and second to last in the conference to a playoff team is a HUGE leap.
The Oilers now, barring injury, should have a very potent top six forward group. The kid line of Nuge, Hall and Eberle, have some chemistry coming into the season already having played together last year and this year in OKC. Gagner, Hemsky and Yakupov should be able to provide the second line scoring we have so badly missed the last few seasons. The defense core still has a lot of question marks, but if Ryan Whitney is healthy, Petry and Smid continue to develop in to a shutdown second pairing and Justin Schultz can be successful in the NHL, then they might just be good enough to compete. I do, along with every other fan, media type and rumor monger, believe that the Oilers are going to try and add a veteran 5/6 d-man to replace injured Sutton.
In goal, well this is Devan Dubnyk’s year, he had good numbers last year on a bad team and with the improvements made in front of him this season I don’t see him not being successful. Khabibulin should be good for about 10 games in relief as well.
Should everything fall into place like I hope and believe it will, I predict that the Oilers will finish second in the conference behind the Vancouver Canucks and make the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons. Here’s hoping.
Thanks for reading.
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