"Gee, I dunno, Dan. Minny looks pretty okay this year."
Not known as the the strongest division in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks often beat up on the weaker Northwest Division teams to earn a bunch of points and win the West. How was the West won? By being a pretty good team in a pretty weak division with a guy named Henrik and his clone Daniel. Swedish twins? I thought it was just a legend.
Calgary barely missed the playoffs despite finishing with a decent 37-29-16 record.
Colorado's youth almost ended a playoff drought but fell short.
Minnesota stole the free agency show and looks to jump into the playoffs for the first time in four years and the fourth time in franchise history.
Vancouver won a second consecutive President's Trophy but failed to perform in the postseason...again.
The arrival of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Minnesota shakes up the division significantly. The Canucks look to continue dominance in the Northwest and should, despite a much, much stronger team in Minnesota.
Will Jarome Iginla have another crack at a Stanley Cup before retiring?
The Flames finished only five points behind the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and out of the playoffs.
Jarome Iginla leads the way up front with Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay and a (hopefully) healthy Mike Cammalleri. Olli Jokinen left for Winnipeg. (Calgary to Winnipeg. Yikes.). The Flames added a scoring threat in Jiri Hudler to help compensate for the loss of Jokinen's playmaking abilities.
The Flames added veteran defender Dennis Wideman on the back end and expect T.J. Brodie to earn a permanent spot on the blueline.
Miikka Kiprusoff finished with decent numbers in net despite less than stellar help. The 35-year-old needs to shoulder another heavy workload this season.
The Flames boast a pretty good, blue-collar type of offense. The team improved the defense by adding Wideman. Consistency is the key in Calgary. The Flames forwards need to score more often and Miikka Kiprusoff needs to play more consistently in net for Calgary to push into the playoffs.
Members of the Avalanche celebrate a goal in Winnipeg.
Colorado tried to make a push for the playoffs last season but fell short.
The Avalanche added P.A. Parenteau to a young group of forwards featuring Paul Statsny, Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Duchene and Gabrielle Landeskog and veteran Milan Hejduk.
Colorado added some experience on the blue line with Greg "The Cannon" Zanon to complement a young defensive core featuring Erik Johnson and Shawn Hunwick.
Semyon Varlamov hopes to rebound after an average year and Jean-Sebastien Giguere provides valuable experience as a capable backup.
Colorado hopes Parenteau helps Duchene's numbers and the rest of the young Avalanche players continue to develop. The defense lacks a true shutdown man. Semyon Varlamov needs to show more consistency and an ability to steal games for Colorado.
Rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (#93) evades a Detroit Red Wing while Taylor Hall (#4) looks on.
Edmonton finished 29th in the entire NHL but managed to win the draft lottery and the rights to the highly touted Nail Yakupov.
Yakupov joins an potential laden group of front already featuring two other former first overall picks in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a plethora of other first-round draft picks. The offense also features veterans like Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky.
Edmonton changed nothing on defense from last year.
Another first-round draft pick in Devan Dubnyk looks to emerge as a consistent NHL starter in goal.
The Oilers hope a series of high draft picks start to perform (see Pittsburgh Penguins). The front lines of Edmonton boast incredible potential, but need to start delivering. The defense needs upgraded and Dubnyk needs to prove himself as a capable NHL starter.
Newly added Ryan Suter and Zach Parise hope to push Minnesota into the playoffs.
Well, well, well. The new-look Minnesota Wild hope to end a string of postseason misses with the big additions of hometown boy Zach Parise and the other gem of free agency in Ryan Suter.
Parise joins Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi up front. Minnesota scored the fewest goals in the NHL last season and hopes the scoring touch and playmaking ability of Parise help boost the totals.
Ryan Suter looks to anchor a very young defensive crew along with homegrown Tom Gilbert*.
Goaltending remains a question for the Wild. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding both play well at times, but neither appears to be a legitimate NHL starter.
The Wild do not become the automatic favorite to win the Stanley Cup with the additions of Parise and Suter. The team lacks a consistent, game-changing goaltender and much scoring depth outside of the top forwards.
* Hockey fans and casual readers: check out the book "Blades of Glory" by John Rosengren. The book follows a high school hockey team in Minnesota (captained by Tom Gilbert) and their quest for a state championship.
It appears Cory Schneider is the man in Vancouver.
The Canucks played a relatively short season despite finishing with the best record in the NHL. The team expects a bit of an identity change, trying to trade Roberto Luongo and stick with Cory Schneider in net.
The Canucks boast one of the better offenses in the NHL. The Sedin twins lead the way with Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows, but the offense showed some inconsistency in the postseason last season.
The team failed to re-sign veteran puckmover Sami Salo but added Jason Garisson, a 16-goal scorer from the blue line last season.
The biggest controversy for the Canucks is in net. The team believes Cory Schneider to be a legitimate NHL starter (the verdict is still out) and looks to move Roberto Luongo. Expect the return to be big for the veteran goaltender, adding to an already deep team.
Moving Luongo should provide the shakeup the Canucks need. If—and that's a big if—Cory Schneider is ready to start in the NHL, there should be little concern for Vancouver fans.
Are the Wild good enough to overpower the Canucks?
The Canucks remain atop the Northwest Division. The additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter help the Wild make a run at the Stanley Cup. The Flames barely miss the postseason again along with the Avalanche, and the Oilers will wait another year or three before the youth rises.
1. Vancouver Canucks (Playoffs)
2. Minnesota Wild (Playoffs)
3. Calgary Flames (Out Of Playoffs)
4. Colorado Avalanche (Out Of Playoffs)
5. Edmonton Oilers (Out Of Playoffs)