Oh....that's right....it's finally here. The final frontier (....of pre-season predictaculars...not space exploration...which would definitely be more exciting but unfortunately due to cut backs in the budget my space exploration plans have been pushed back a year or two.....damn casino).
Mr. Glen and I have been getting you primed, and pumped for the upcoming 2007-2008 NHL Season and this my friends is the final chapter before the season starts. Yes I'm aware that Anaheim and Los Angeles already started the season in Europe but it doesn't count because it happened on the other side of the pond. So here it is, our predictions for the greatest division in hockey.
The Northwest division has been the best division in the NHL for a few years now and I see that trend continuing this year. Let's start things off with my least favourite team in the division, Minnesota.
Minnesota's biggest strength has always been defense with a great counter-attack lead by Marian Goborik and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Wild made very few changes in the off season so they remain pretty much status quo but this team will still be very competitive. If Mikko Koivu continues to improve and Pavol Demitra can play a strong season offense will not be an issue.
I hate Colorado. I hate them for many reasons but two of the most prominent are this. Firstly, they signed Ryan Smyth who I absolutely love, and secondly Glen loved this team in highschool and since they're not a Canadian team he was taunted and jeered at until my throat hurt. Last year the Avs missed the playoffs which prompted a few changes. The largest and most heart breaking (for me at least) change was the signing of Ryan Smyth which is very smart on the part of Colorado. Their biggest challenge will be in goal where the two contenders are Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj and with a $5.5 Million contract Colorado is hoping to see Theodore return to his Hart Trophy winning form.
I'm not sure if Glen remembers this or not but before the beginning of last season I predicted big things from Vancouver for no other reason than the addition of Roberto Luongo, because yes, he is that good. I thought if he could play as well as he did in front of a crap team like Florida then imagine what he could do playing in front of a less crap team in Vancouver. Fortunately I was right and the Canucks won their division and this year should be another good year for Vancouver. The off season changes mostly amounted to simple tinkering but the additions of Aaron Miller and Brad Isbister should fit nicely. As the only Western Canadian team not to make the finals in the last 3 years Vancouver will be making a big push this year and they will be tough.
Last season was one to be forgotten for Edmonton. Injuries and under achievement took their toll on the Oilers. Kevin Lower, the Oiler's GM is not one to accept defeat and in that light he was quite busy this off season. His biggest addition was Sheldon Souray from my beloved Canadiens. I will allow it though as I happen to like Edmonton. Kevin Lowe is still trying to find a replacement for Chris Pronger and the additions of Souray and Joni Pitkanen will definitely help and is certainly an improvement from last season. This could be a long year for Edmonton though if they don't do anything to help their anemic offense.
Calgary came out of no where when they made their way to within one win of the Stanley Cup and ever since expectations have been very high for the Flames but they have failed to live up to them. This year the expectations are no different and with the hiring of Mike Keenan if the expectations are not met consequences will follow. Last year it was playing on the road that killed the Flames as their exceptional home record was cancelled out by their embarrassing road record. With Keenan behind the bench and Mikka Kiprusoff in goal this team will be very exciting to watch and anything less than a birth in the finals will be a disappointment.
This is how I see the Northwest division looking when the dust settles:
1. Calgary Flames
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Colorado Avalanche
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Edmonton Oilers
I hope you've enjoyed our Pre-season Predictacular and we look forward to a great season. Over to you Glen.
It began with a division full of Canadian teams, and so it shall end. We kicked this series off with the Northeast division and now here we are with its Western Canadian counterpart, the home of the Flames, Oilers and Canucks...ohh and the Avalance and Wild as well, the dreaded Northwest. This division is certainly the most well matched and balanced division in the NHL.
This division really is the one that always goes under the microscope whenever you talk about schedule reform. In reality all of these teams could make the playoffs (note: the Oilers won't but they would be an interesting long shot...), and it is a shame that given the fact that they play each other so many times, while the Central Division's powerhouses get off easy, that they really all won't make the playoffs. On the other hand though, the games between any of these 5 teams are always loaded with emotion and are really a testament to what good hockey should be. So should we rob ourselves of so many guaranteed great games?
The biggest victims of the scheduling imbalance last season where probably the Minnesota Wild. After slumping mid-season they ended up finishing 1 point behind Vancouver in the race for the division title and so therefore had to have a first round date with the Anaheim Ducks, yeah fat chance there. After making the wrong choice by keeping Fernandez over Roloson back in 2006, they redeemed themselves by keeping Backstrom over Fernandez in 2007, and shipping old Manny off to bean town where his stats will certainly get inflated. Other then that, the Wild haven't done much in the off-season, but in reality they didn't need to. They have a solid young nucleus and a great system in place. Assuming that Gaborik plays at least 70 games for a change this season they should avoid that mid-season slump that they were faced with last year and I could see them finishing in the Top 5 of the Conference this season.
Leading onto the other American team without an s in their name, we have my former favourite team, the Colorado Avalanche. Now I used to be a Nordiques fan, and well I followed them to Colorado, and delighted when they acquired Roy and won the Cup that first season. But then over the next few years that Nords loyalty faded and I realigned my loyalty to my other favourite team the Senators. Anyway, the Avs have really gone above and beyond this off-season in acquirind Ryan Smyth. While I really wanted him to go back to Edmonton, a Smyth-Sakic duo is something to be excited about. This is also a team that consistently drafts well and proved so last year with Stastny and Wolski doing wonders in their first seasons. I would be shocked if both of these guys did not do better this season and rose to even higher heights.
Speaking of Smyth, his original team, the Edmonton Oilers, is a real wild card this season. They made some interesting acquisitions by getting Souray, Pittkanen, Sanderson, and Penner, and the face of their team is dramatically different than it was even a year ago, let alone back in 2006 when they were in the Finals. I am excited to see the progress that Sam Ganger makes, and if he has any trouble adjusting to the big leagues. While I think that this team will certainly be the odd one left out of this division come spring, I think that they will be a fun one to watch along the way.
The other Alberta team, the Calgary Flames, are a different story all together. Last year they were early season favourites who massively underachieved both through the season and in the playoffs. I just don't see that being an option this year under Mike Keenan. Say what you will about Iron Mike, but the man produces results, especially in his first couple of years with a new team. I think that the physical Flames are a perfect fit for Keenan and he should take them to great heights. A trip to the Conference Finals, and maybe even the Cup Finals would not be entirely out of the question for this team.
Lastly we have the Canucks. I hate to say it, but last year Troy was right. I just did not think that there was enough room in the playoffs for all three Western Canadian teams, and I had no idea that the Oilers would choke as badly as they did. While Vancouver should be proud that they won their division last year, the reality is that they did not win it, Calgary lost it. Like I said, I just don't see that happening again. The Canucks have a solid team with a spectacular goalie, . Either way, Luongo is clearly good enough to get them to the playoffs, but I doubt that he alone is good enough to take them far. Their offense is really week and I hope that they do something to address that in the season. I see them finishing somewhere in the 6-8 range this year.
So my last predicted divisional standings are....
1. Calgary Flames
2. Minnesota Wild
3. Colorado Avalanche
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Edmonton Oilers
So yes, this is the end, my only friend, the end, and like all ending this one leads to a beginning, as the regular season starts for the 28 teams that didn't start in England on Wednesday, I hope that you all enjoy what should be an interesting 82 games this year!
Until next time,