NHL Season Preview: Part 1

The NHL season is upon us, so I figured that it would only make sense to do an NHL season preview during the few days leading up to the opener. The way it’s going to work is like this.

October 3rd (Today)- Northwest Division

October 4th- Central & Pacific Divisions

October 5th- Southeast & Atlantic Divisions

October 6th- Northeast Division & Full Season Preview for the Sabres

October 7th- Stanley Cup Reps & “The Fail For Nail” contenders

…and without further adieu, here’s my preview & projection of the Northwest Division.

*Each (#) denotes projected conference finish*

(#2)  1. Vancouver Canucks:

Top Forwards: Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond

Top Defensemen: Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Sami Salo

Goaltending: Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider

In a division where only the Avs significantly improved, there’s no other logical spot to put the reigning Western Conference champs than 1st place. These guys are pretty much bringing the same team back from last year, minus defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff who we all know signed with the Sabres.  That shouldn’t be much of a problem for the Canucks though since Ehrhoff was an offensive-defenseman and they do have guys on the blueline who are capable of stepping up and putting up points from the there. Also, note that this team was the best in the league for “Goals Against.”  Overall, these guys are deep at forward, have a very nice top-4 on defense, and play very good team defense, which is pretty much the same story as last year’s team who almost won the cup. They may end up being a quick out in the playoffs due their hangover from last year’s Stanley Cup appearance, but I don’t see this team suffering from it in the regular season.

(#8)  2. Colorado Avalanche

Top Forwards: Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk, Ryan O’Reilly,  Peter Mueller

Top Defensemen: Erik Johnson, Kyle Quincey, Jan Hejda, Ryan O’Byrne

Goaltending:  Semyon Varlamov, J.S. Giguere

Colorado improved quite a bit over the off-season in my opinion. No, they didn’t really go out and get any significant new pieces at forward or defense, but what they did do is shore up their awful goaltending situation by bringing in Varlamov and Giguere. Their forward core is young, talented, and anchored by two dynamic pivots in Stastny and Duchene. Colorado’s blueline could use some more top-end talent, but Erik Johnson, who was brought in via trade from St. Louis during last season is very good and Kyle Quincey is very underrated. I don’t see this team being a contender until the defense is shored-up a little more, but I like this forward group and the goaltending enough to put them in the playoffs. There’s usually some sort of shake-up in the playoff picture from year-to-year and I think this will be one of those “shake-up teams.”

(#12)  3. Minnesota Wild 

Top Forwards: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Top Defensemen:  Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz, Mike Lundin

Goaltenders: Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding

Even though the Wild upgraded their forward group a little bit by swapping out Martin Havlat for Heatley and Setoguchi during the summer, I think their team got worse since they also got rid of their top defenseman, Brett Burns in that swap.  The goaltending is superb as always with Backstrom and Harding holding down the fort and Minnesota’s team defense will keep them competitive during the season, but I’m still wondering if they will be able to score enough and more importantly now, how long will that blueline hold-up as the season wears on? Those four guys on defense are nice pieces, but they aren’t game-breakers.

(#14) 4. Calgary Flames

Top Forwards:  Jerome Iginla, Rene Bourque, Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak

Top Defensemen: Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester, Anton Babchuk, Cory Sarich

Goaltenders:  Miikka Kiprusoff, Henrik Karlsson

I think this is the year the Flames finally bottom-out, which is sad because I’m a big fan of Iginla and Kiprusoff and they certainly don’t deserve to be a part of that. Calgary’s had a gaping-hole a center for what seems like an eternity now. The fact that Olli Jokinen is their top center should tell you all you need to know. The Flames are hoping that rookie, Mikael Backlund will be able to step up and help out, but I don’t see that really happening this year. Overall, their forward group has a few gems, but it’s nowhere near good enough to contend.  On defense, they have a solid group, but unless Jay Bouwmeester actually steps up and stops being an albatross, this isn’t a playoff-calibur blueline, especially with losing Robyn Regehr over the off-season. There’s still some good news for Flames fans though. They are still better than Edmonton!

(#15)  5. Edmonton Oilers

Top Forwards: Jordan Eberle, Ryan Smyth, Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner

Top Defensemen:  Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid, Cam Barker

Goaltenders: Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubynk

What can I say about this team? Edmonton’s been a mess for years now and their plan has been to let the kids play and hope they can save the team. The problem is that despite having a few top picks in their lineup (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle), there hasn’t really been any veteran leadership in the locker room to help put those young guns on the right path, unless you count Shawn Horcoff. The Oilers did bring back Ryan Smyth though. He’s lost a couple of steps, but if he can help put their younger players on the right path, then the move will have been worth it. The biggest problem on this team is the defense and goaltending. That blueline is Charmin-soft and the goaltendings a big question-mark with an old Khabibulin as the starter and Dubnyk as the back-up. I can see this team lighting-up the scoreboard on somewhat of a regular basis, but even the most abysmal offenses will be able to generate goals without much trouble against these guys. The only kind of games these guys will win are high-scoring games.

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