Northwest Division Preview: Who Will Dominate and Who Will Smoulder?
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We are getting close to the one-month countdown to the start of the NHL season.
Here is a look at how the teams in the Northwest Division spent their summer and what they will be bringing to the table this season.
Let’s start in Edmonton, the epitome of youthful skill, where the Oilers had the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft for the third year in a row.
The selection of Russian dynamo Nail Yakupov, coupled with the recent re-signing of both Jordan Eberle and 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall will give the Oilers two young gun scoring lines that will frustrate opposing goaltenders for the foreseeable future.
The only weak spot in Edmonton is in net, where Devin Dubnyk will have to do his best to not let the puck in too many times so his team can score more than the other guys. Winning every game 7-5 is still winning, right?
The complete opposite can be found in Vancouver. The Canucks are fast becoming the definition of consistency, with an excellent balance of talent and experience to carry them to success.
The Vancouver Canucks are coming off a trip to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 and a President’s Trophy in 2012. Although they dealt with goaltending issues last season, those seem to have been handled, and I expect to see Cory Schneider in the Vancouver net for the majority of this season.
The Canucks lost some of their gritty style of play that gave them success in the 2011 playoffs, but were still able to dominate the NHL. If they can put the finesse style that won them the President’s Trophy with a hard checking style, forget the division, they could be contending for another run at the Cup.
If there was a trophy for winning the offseason, it would go to Minnesota. The Wild had a good core of players last year, but injuries eventually led to an early end to their season.
The addition of the two hottest free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter, will make the Wild better all over the ice. Both players play an all-around game and are equally talented at lighting the lamp at one end and keeping the puck out of the net at the other.
Depth was a real issue in Minnesota last season. If the Wild can stay healthy, they can challenge for home ice in the playoffs.
Hockey fans in Colorado have discovered that life is not all Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy and Stanley Cup parades.
In their first five years in Colorado, the Avs won two Cups. In the 10 years since, they have steadily declined from contender to playoff team to “boy, I sure hope we get in this year.”
Who will win the Northwest Division?
It’s hard to pin blame on anything or anyone for the decline, so let’s do the popular move and blame the NHL. Their ridiculous idea of giving worse teams higher draft picks has completely crippled good teams like the Avalanche. How dare they.
The Flames are dealing with a crisis of conscience. The divide between whether or not they should support old loyalties at the risk of declining talent may come back to bite them, especially since the rest of the division seems to have figured out how to balance youthful skill and aged experience.
Exhibits A and B are aging stars Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff. While they both might have enough left in the tank for a few more years, the lack of a contingency plan for the future is starting to raise eyebrows in Cowtown.
Unless the Flames have some master plan they have so far hidden from the world, they will be hard pressed to finish even close to the playoffs this season.
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