2011-12 NHL Preview: Northwest Division

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

2010-11 Result: 54-19-9, 117 points; 1st in West; Lost in Stanley Cup final to Boston in seven games

Who’s in: W Marco Sturm, W Andrew Ebbett

Who’s out: D Christian Ehrhoff, W Jeff Tambellini, W Tanner Glass

Big question: Can the ‘Nucks make it back to the Cup Finals, and win?

Outlook: After a disappointing Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in last year’s cup final, the organization went into the off-season with the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality. They lost Ehrhoff to the Buffalo Sabres via free agency, but look to youngster Chris Tanev to step in on the blue-line. Vancouver will need to overcome injuries to forwards Ryan Kesler (hip), Mason Raymond (back) and Mikael Samuelsson (abdominals) to start the season, but with its depth the team should be able to cope.

One player to keep an eye on is forward Cody Hodgson, who finally gets his chance on the opening-night roster after being the 10th overall pick in 2008. He will play big minutes and is expected to contribute right away, and may prove to be the biggest addition to a squad that was one win away from winning Lord Stanley’s mug.


CALGARY FLAMES

2010-11 Result: 41-29-12, 94 points; 10th in West; missed the playoffs

Who’s in: W Lee Stempniak, D Scott Hannan, D Chris Butler

Who’s out: C Daymond Langkow, D Robyn Regehr, D Adam Pardy, W Fredrik Modin, W Ales Kotalik

Big question: Did the Flames do enough in the off-season to contend for a playoff position in the tough West?

Outlook: GM Jay Feaster’s first off-season was a highly uneventful one, though he added two solid defenders in Hannan and Butler. Hannan is strong in his own end and displays great leadership qualities, while Butler has the ability to play an effective role on the power play.

The acquisitions probably won’t be enough in an increasingly-difficult Western Conference. The Flames are still feeling the effects of getting fleeced by Toronto general manager Brian Burke, who coerced former GM Darryl Sutter into trading Dion Phaneuf to the Leafs for four players; Niklas Hagman, two players whom are no longer with the team, and Matt Stajan, who is in danger of being sent to the minors before the season opens Thursday.

 

LISTEN NOW: The Observer’s Ryan Fines discusses the Northwest division

 


MINNESOTA WILD

2010-11 Result: 39-35-8, 86 points; 12th in West; missed the playoffs

Who’s in: W Dany Heatley, W Devin Setoguchi, C Darroll Powe, D Mike Lundin

Who’s out: D Brent Burns, W Martin Havlat, W Andrew Brunnette, D Cam Barker, W Chuck Kobasew, C Patrick O’Sullivan, G Jose Theodore

Big question: Could the addition of two major goal scorers vault the Wild into contention?

Outlook: The Wild pulled off a pair of moves with the San Jose Sharks this summer that may have changed the forecast in Minnesota. In comes two-time 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, who has netted 20 goals in each of his three full seasons with the Sharks. The two will be counted on to energize a historically anemic Wild offence that definitely has the potential to erupt.

But in order to swing the Setoguchi trade, the Wild gave up their top defender in Brent Burns. Though they received a nice crop of prospects in return, the blue-line is left relatively bare in his absence. Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz will be forced to anchor the group, and it may be too much for them to handle.


COLORADO AVALANCHE

2010-11 Result: 30-44-8, 68 points; 14th in West; missed the playoffs

Who’s in: G Semyon Varlamov, D Shane O’Brien, D Jan Hejda, W Chuck Kobasew, G Jean-Sebastian Giguere

Who’s out: D John-Michael Liles, D Adam Foote, W Tomas Fleischmann, C Philippe Dupuis, G Peter Budaj, G Brian Elliott

Big question: One year removed from a playoff appearance, was last season a bump in the road for the young, dynamic Avs?

Outlook: Colorado is hoping their biggest acquisition came in the form of second overall pick Gabriel Landeskog, an 18-year-old power forward from the Kitchener Rangers. The Swede has already worked his way up to the second line, where he will be leaned upon to guide the Avs back into playoff contention.

The deciding factor for this season could reside in the crease, as the team cleared house and brought in Varlamov and Giguere. They hope the veteran Giguere can help tutor the 23-year-old Varlamov into to becoming a legitimate No. 1 netminder after spending the last three years in Washington’s goaltending carousel. With just 78 career starts (19 of which came in the playoffs) under his belt, a lot lies on the unproven shoulders of the youngster.


EDMONTON OILERS

2010-11 Result: 25-45-12, 62 points; 15th in West; did not qualify for playoffs

Who’s in: W Ryan Smyth, W Ben Eager, D Cam Barker, C Eric Belanger, W Darcy Horichuk, D Andy Sutton

Who’s out: C Andrew Cogliano, D Sheldon Souray, C Colin Fraser, D Kurtis Foster, D Jim Vandermeer, W Steve McIntyre, W JF Jacques

Big question: Will having a year of experience help this incredibly young squad get out of the basement?

Outlook: Two straight last-place finishes have helped the Oilers stock the roster with incredible talent. Taylor Hall and this year’s top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both appear certain to have very bright careers ahead of them. Add in all the other high draft choices in the past couple of seasons and this organization’s future looks bright.

No one should be surprised if the returning Smyth makes all the difference in this youthful locker room. ‘Captain Canada’ admittedly bleeds blue and orange, and his passion for the Oilers organization should trickle down to the impressionable youngsters.