Vancouver Canucks: Regular-Season Dominance Has Come to an End
They will not win a third President's Trophy, they will not be guaranteed to win the Northwest Division, and they will not be guaranteed to finish as one of the league's top teams.
And the reason is not because the Canucks got worse. In fact, with the loss of Sami Salo and a few others and the addition of Jason Garrison, the Canucks are looking just about as good as in the years past.
The reason their regular season dominance will end, is because of how powerful the rest of the Northwest Division has become in the past week.
With 24 divisional regular season games each season, the strength of a team's division plays a large role in the final standings.
For example, last season the Canucks finished with the highest point total in the league for their second consecutive President's Trophy. It is not a coincidence that both years, the Northwest Division was the only one which had only one team advance to the playoffs.
In fact, since the NHL lockout in 2004/05, just once has the President's Trophy winning team come from the division with the highest average point total (in 2006/07 when the Buffalo Sabres finished atop the league).
Generally, the President's Trophy winning team has been the top team in one of the weaker divisions in the league.
Will the Canucks win a third straight President's Trophy?
So lets take a look at how the Northwest Division has improved this summer, starting with the Calgary Flames.
For the past few years, Calgary has been an aging team on the verge of a rebuild. This summer, however, while the Flames did lose Olli Jokinen, they added Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler and Lee Stempniak.
In addition, they re-signed Cory Sarich, and will have Mike Cammalleri (acquired midway through last season) in the lineup for the whole year. While the Flames are still a team on the verge of a rebuild, they have now increased their chances of reaching the playoffs for the time being.
Next up is the Colorado Avalanche. In Colorado, there was a ton of work to do with basically every player headed to free agency in one form or another. But now having re-signed the core of the team while adding the talented playmaker out of New York, P.A. Parenteau, they're looking better than ever. The only piece of the puzzle left is to re-sign Ryan O'Reilly.
Now, on to the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton made some significant improvements this summer by selecting Nail Yakupov first overall in the entry draft while winning the Justin Schultz sweepstakes. When you factor in that just about everyone on the roster has star potential and on the incline in their careers, they look all the more dangerous.
The fact that Edmonton finished 29th in the league last season was an anomaly caused by injuries. The reality of this team is that they could easily become the St. Louis Blues of the 2012/13 season and instantly become one of the league's top teams.
Who will win the Northwest Division next season?
And last but not least we have the Minnesota Wild, whom I'm sure everyone is aware of at this point. Yesterday, the Wild made a huge splash by signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to monstrous contracts.
With that addition, the re-signing of Josh Harding and the hopeful health of captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild could easily be one of the best teams in the league this season.
Because of each of these teams' improvements, the Canucks can not only count on a worse record during those 24 divisional games, but more competition in the Northwest as their point total falls and the others' rise.
While there is still time for Mike Gillis to change this with some big moves, as it stands right now, they can prepare for a much harder season upcoming.
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