Previewing the Flames, Wild, Oilers, Avalanche & Canucks for the 2008-2009 NHL season
There are less than two weeks to go before the opening regular season game; it’s time for some divisional breakdowns, analysis and predictions. The NHL has six divisions all filled with five teams doing whatever it takes to win the division, make the playoffs and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.
Without further adieu, the Northwest Division.
The Wild look really good on paper, yet again. With only five players under six feet tall, Minnesota does not get pushed around very easily on a day to day basis. Their gritty play combined with their break-out speed make for a dangerous style in today’s NHL. Marian Gaborik should have another great season with at least his traditional point a game average with almost everyone else focusing on defence.
Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra both left during the offseason which means others have to help Gaborik score goals. Andrew Brunette is putting on a Wild jersey again and both he and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have to be key secondary scorers for this team to have any chance in this division.
Now Calgary really made a few splashes into trying to improve the team this offseason. Jarome Iginla really helped encourage the franchise to bring in Todd Bertuzzi to Flame-land with their history. “Big Bert” and “Iggy” have showed chemistry on the ice before in international play which means this may actually work and get Bertuzzi’s career back on track. The Flames also signed Rene Bourque and Mike Cammalleri to add to the theme of hardworking offensive threats.
Overall, Calgary does seem like the best team in the division. Their defence is led by Dion Phaneuf’s aggressive style and when Mikka Kiprusoff is on his game, he is nearly impossible to beat. No one should be surprised to see the Flames finishing with over 100 points.
There is good news and bad news for the Avalanche. The good news is that Joe Sakic is going to play another season and this team is loaded with young talent. The bad news is that this team cannot stay healthy. Colorado cannot win games if Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny and Sakic are on the bench hurt. The Av’s did bring in Darcy Tucker to give the team a much needed intensity factor but he is certainly no game-breaker.
With Jose Theodore’s departure, the team now looks to Peter Budaj to protect the net. Only time will tell if he can handle being a #1 goalie and for Colorado’s sake, he better since they have the league’s worst back-up goalie in Andrew Raycroft. If this team can stay healthy, they are contenders.
What the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Edmonton Oilers? Youth? Lack of size? Speed? Yah, me too. The Oilers have 14 players under the age of 25 and most of them are now being looked upon to take over the team. They are a very excellent counter-attacking team and will be the best shoot-out team in the league. Sheldon Souray says he is healthy and ready to play which is music to Coach MacTavish’s ears. Edmonton really needs his punishing presence on the blue-line as well as his rocket from the blue-line on the power play.
They will be one of the best teams to watch and will also be one of those teams battling it out for the final playoff spot. Edmonton’s future is looking great but until they get a confident goalie, it will be hard to take the team seriously. We will also see if Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano suffer from the sophomore curse (players are famous for underachieving in their second professional year).
And then there’s the lonely Canucks. Can they really be better than last year without Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Trevor Linden? They did bring in Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier for offensive reasons and Kyle Wellwood for some unknown reason. This franchise is expecting the Sedin twins to glamorously take the team on their backs and win games. Not going to happen.
It really is a shame that the best goalie in the league is stuck on this team. Roberto Loungo wants nothing more and deserves nothing less than a playoff opportunity. Too bad the team in front of him will be the worst in the Northwest Division for the second straight year.
Over/under compared to last season's overall points:
Vancouver finished with 88 points. They need a lot of luck to survive; under.
Colorado finished with 95 points. Way too many reoccurring injuries; under.
Calgary finished with 94 points. With the new secondary scorers; over.
Minnesota finished with 98 points. Definite contenders and will be earn over 90 points; under.
Edmonton finished with 88 points. Will feed on slower, bigger teams; a tiny bit over.
Predicted 2008-2009 Northwest Division Standings:
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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