In Part two of my analysis of the NHL's Northwest division offseason moves, we look at the two remaining teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche. To see part one of this feature, use this link.
The Colorado Avalanche
The Av's were relatively quiet in the offseason and have several looming questions heading into the ‘09 campaign including the uncertainty of returning veterans, a new coach (well returning new coach), and questions in goal.
The Avalanche finished off the ‘08 season with a strong run that they rode into the playoffs, but age and depth eventually caught up with them against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Detroit Red Wings.
Colorado is still waiting to see if unrestricted free agent Joe Sakic will be returning as well as the always injured Peter Forsberg who continues to suffer from foot problems. The Avs also lost Andrew Brunette to the Wild, which takes a significant punch out of their offense.
When one looks at the current roster heading into this season, you can't help but wonder if the young talent in the mile high city is enough to keep them in playoff contention this year.
The Avalanche parted with free agent goaltender Jose Theodore and will head into October with Peter Budaj as their starter, who has talent but lacks experience and will be backed up by Andrew Raycroft, who has been struggling in Toronto for the past couple of seasons.
Prediction: Fourth in the Division, 10th in the Conference, 87 points.
The Minnesota Wild
The Wild were tops in the Northwest last year and had high hopes heading into the playoffs only to be surprised (or should we say shocked) by the more experienced Colorado Avalanche in six games and now face a significant task of rebuilding their line up to stay in the hunt in their division and the conference.
Minnesota entered the offseason with a whopping 10 free agents and have already lost offensive threats Brian Rolston and Pavol Demita to free agency, which hurts a team that is challenged to put up goals.
The Wild added the aging Owen Nolan to the lineup from the Calgary Flames who should fit into the tough, tight checking system demanded by long time coach Jacques Lemaire and the addition of Andrew Brunette from the Avalanche should also help.
The Wild can lay claim to one of the best young goaltenders in the league in Niklas Backstrom, who will keep the Wild competitive in those frequent 2-1 games.
Clearly, the Wild are a much different team going into this season—not only in personnel but also in attitude.
Their tight trapping defensive system broke down against the Avalanche in the playoffs where intensity and experience can count for far more then discipline.
With numerous new faces in the lineup, they should still be a team in contention but likely won't be as strong as they were last year as it will take a while for new players to learn the Minnesota trap.
Prediction: Second in Division, seventh in Conference. 95 Points, First Round Elimination.
Getting Ready for 08...
The Northwest will likely continue to be a strong division and will benefit this year from the new schedule format that robbed all five teams of precious points in head to head divisional games.
In contrast, teams like Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings, may see a point reduction now that they won't have as many opportunities to beat up on the weaker teams in their Division such as the St Louis and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Final Standing Predictions
Edmonton Oilers: 98 Points
Minnesota Wild: 95 points
Calgary Flames: 93 Points
Colorado Avalanche: 87 Points
Vancouver Canucks: 81 Points
Please only post your comment if you have something literate or intelligent to say. As an open forum, everyone is entitled to their opinion including both the author and those that add their thoughts to the story - but simply writing " you're stupid " really only serves to makes you look foolish. Predictions, editorials and opinion features are just that - and clealy if you are say a Vancouver fan, you are not going to be happy with anyone predicting a last place finish - but express yourself with why you disagree - rather than simply insulting others who have taken the time to add to the discussion.
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