2011-12 Northwest Div. Preview
Teams listed in order of predicted finish.
*Denotes playoff qualifier
The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, figure to be double trouble again for opposing goalies. Center Ryan Kesler emerged as a full-fledged star last season. The Canucks did lose talented defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to free agency, and a pair of key forwards (Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond) must regain their form after serious injuries. But a good group of depth forwards along with Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider in goal mean the Canucks should get another shot at the Cup that got away.
Calgary still has a fine goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff, an ultra-reliable superstar in Jarome Iginla (43 goals), one of the league's better young power forwards in Rene Bourque, and a defense that still has a couple of bold-face names (Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano). Still, it's hard to see how the Flames will be much better than last season's 94-point outfit -- and easy to see how they might finish a few points worse.
While most analysts thought the Avs might make just a pure cash outlay for a needed new goalie on the free-agent market, Sherman pulled off the biggest trade of July 1 for the talented but oft-injured 23-year-old Semyon Varlamov. While the Russian netminder's career numbers with Washington were pretty good (30-13-12, 2.39 goals-against average, .917 save percentage), he's never had a fully healthy season in the NHL and there were some questions in Washington about his commitment to fitness. He's been entrusted with the starter's job in Denver, however, and almost anything can be considered a step up from what was the NHL's worst goaltending last season. (Colorado allowed 3.5 goals per game.) The defense also looks bigger and tougher than the creampuff unit of 2010-11, but any thoughts of a Stanley Cup coming back to the Mile High City are probably still miles away from reality.
Minnesota has missed the playoffs three years running, and ranked 26th last season by scoring only 2.48 goals per-game. It has finished last in average shots on goal for the past three seasons. So GM Chuck Fletcher went out and got Dany Heatley, the suddenly well-traveled star who won't bore anyone with stingy defense. Though he's coming off a mediocre scoring season, his 26 goals and 64 points would have led the Wild. The cost for Heatley, forward Martin Havlat, may not seem too terrible, but Havlat did produce 62 points last season. The addition of another Shark, Devin Setoguchi, will have a positive impact on the offense, but the defense may have taken a major hit with the loss of Brent Burns. Still, if nothing else, the Wild has a fresher look and goalie Niklas Backstrom should have a big year.
The defense still looks like a mess, and while young goalie Devan Dubnyk could turn into a fine performer, it'll be too much to ask him to cover for the porous group in front of him. But this team should surprise in some respects. With all that young talent up front, the Oilers could be very tough for opposing defenses.