The Vancouver Canucks have won the Northwest Division three years running (2008-2009, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011), and they are sure to make it four this 2011-2012 season.
Last season, the Northwest Division was the only division to only send one representative to the playoffs.
The other four teams in the Northwest Division are either actively rebuilding, or are in denial about having to rebuild.
2010-2011 Final Standings:
- Vancouver Canucks: 117 points
- Calgary Flames: 94 points
- Minnesota Wild: 86 points
- Colorado Avalanche: 68 points
- Edmonton Oilers: 62 points
The Calgary Flames finished strong last season, but took a step back over the summer. They lost one of their best defenders in Robyn Regehr, and have yet to really replace him.
Their two main players, Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff, are both 34 and overworked, without a lot of support. Brendan Morrison is their top centre based on last year's performance, and as much as I liked him as a Canuck, I have to point out that this time last year he was reduced to playing on a tryout contract.
The Flames are in a downward spiral, and management is deluded if they think the Flames don't need to be torn down and rebuilt. They will be lucky to match last year's performance.
The Minnesota Wild got better in their trades with San Jose (or at least more balanced). Devon Setoguchi will be an able replacement for Martin Havlat, and Dany Heatley...well, he could be good if he wanted to.
However, Heatley seems to have lost his motivation some time around 2008. Who knows, maybe being reduced to a marginal player in the Western Conference Finals, and then being run out of San Jose might be enough to wake him up out of his self-imposed funk. But I wouldn't count on it.
The Wild will be improved, but not enough to be a serious threat to the Canucks for the Northwest title—though they might squeak into the playoffs.
The Colorado Avalanche took a big step backwards last year, but they appear poised to improve and rebound back to their 2009-2010 playoff form.
The Avalanche management didn't delude themselves into thinking the team would improve by itself, and while it was expensive, they actively went out to acquire better defence and a new goalie to go along with their core of good young forwards.
Look for the Avs to compete with the Wild for second place in the division, but I don't see them being a playoff team this year unless Semyon Varlamov has a breakout season.
The theme of the Edmonton Oilers is: not now, but soon. The Oilers won't be a playoff team this season, but they should be in 2012-2013. They should also be Stanley Cup contenders in a few years, but for the time being, they will have to settle for not picking first overall again.
The Oilers should have a marked improvement over last year's 62 points, but they won't come close to challenging the Vancouver this year.
The Canucks, on the other hand, ran away with the President's Trophy last year, and while they are missing Christian Ehrhoff's 50 points, they are otherwise the same team this year.
The pathetic state of the Northwest Division, once the strongest division in hockey just a decade ago, will ensure that the Canucks once again walk away with the division title, even if the gap has decreased this year.