NHL Free Agent Preview: Northwest Division

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Calgary Flames

Cap Space – $6.8 million

UFAs – Craig Conroy, C; Christopher Higgins, LW; Jamal Mayers, RW; Brian McGrattan, RW; Garth Murray, C; Eric Nystrom, C; Colin Stuart, LW; Vesa Toskala, G

RFAs – Kris Chucko, RW; Matt Keetley, G; Matt Pelech, D; Brett Sutter, LW; Ian White, D

Needs – Stop us when you’ve heard this before, but Jarome Iginla could really use a center to play with. If Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr bounce back, the blueline will be OK, but assuming Toskala walks, the search for a competent backup is back on in Calgary.

Ready for the big time –
Mikael Backlund played 23 games to close out the year and the young Swede found the net just once. Now that he’s got his feet wet, the Flames will expect Backlund to squeeze more offense out of his ample talent.

Colorado Avalanche

Cap Space – $29.4 million

UFAs – Brett Clark, D; Chris Durno, LW; Matt Hendricks, RW; Ruslan Salei, D; Marek Svatos, LW; Darcy Tucker, LW; Brian Willsie, RW; Stephane Yelle, C

RFAs – Peter Mueller, LW; Wes O’Neill, D; Chris Stewart, RW; Derek Peltier, D; Kyle Quincey, D; Brandon Yip, RW

Needs – Defense. The stock of young players up front is impressive, but the strong play of goalie Craig Anderson – a great signing from last summer – often masked the fact Colorado’s ‘D’ core was too easily overwhelmed.

Ready for the big time – Despite some openings on the blueline, you have to think rearguard Kevin Shattenkirk will get some American League seasoning before making the jump. But one player with pro experience ready to make the leap full-time is left winger Ryan Stoa.

Edmonton Oilers

Cap Space – $15.1 million

UFAs – Dean Arsene, D; Mike Comrie, C; Aaron Johnson, D; Fernando Pisani, RW; Ryan Stone, LW; Jason Strudwick, D

RFAs –
Gilbert Brule, RW; Andrew Cogliano, C; Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, G; Devan Dubnyk, G; Colin Fraser, C; Sam Gagner, C; Jean-Francois Jacques, LW; Ryan O’Marra, C; Theo Peckham, D; Ryan Potulny, C; Marc Pouliot, C; Liam Reddox, LW

Needs – The Oilers need size up front, as too many of their players are cut from the small-and-speedy mold. When you finish last overall, a lot of areas are begging for help, so a blueline upgrade would go a long way, too. Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid are decent puckmovers, but none of them make much of a physical impression.

Ready for the big time – Who else but the No. 1 overall pick in the draft? Taylor Hall is a dynamic goal-scorer who’s expected to lead Edmonton for years to come. He won’t be asked to shoulder the entire load in Year 1, but clearly some magic is expected from the only two-time Memorial Cup MVP in the tournament’s history.

Minnesota Wild

Cap Space – $11.5 million

UFAs – Derek Boogaard, LW; Wade Dubielewicz, G; Andrew Ebbett, C; Shane Hnidy, D; Owen Nolan, RW; John Scott, D; Jaime Sifers, D; Nathan Smith, C; Petr Sykora, RW

RFAs – Josh Harding, G; Guillaume Latendresse, LW; Anton Khudobin, G; Nate Prosser, D; Roman Voloshenko, LW

Needs – Minnesota remains a goal-starved region and if the open market doesn’t yield any more offense, the Wild will have to start thinking about parlaying its relative depth on the blueline into some forwards with touch.

Ready for the big time – Colton Gillies…for real this time. The rugged left winger played 45 games with the Wild in 2008-09 before spending all of last year in the AHL with Houston after the new management regime decided it was better for his development. He’s not going to light it up, but he won’t take nights off, either.

Vancouver Canucks

Cap Space – $9.9 million

UFAs – Pavol Demitra, LW; Ryan Johnson, C; Brad Lukowich, D; Willie Mitchell, D; Lawrence Nycholat, D; Matt Pettinger, LW; Andrew Raycroft, G; Yan Stastny, LW; Kyle Wellwood, C

RFAs –
Mike Funk, D; Tanner Glass, LW; Jannik Hansen, RW; Shane O’Brien, D; Mason Raymond, LW

Needs – The forward crew is solid, so the focus is on the back end. Even with the addition of Keith Ballard from Florida, Vancouver could use a boost on the blueline. It’s expected veteran Willie Mitchell will walk and he’s been a very steady presence when healthy the past few years.

Ready for the big time –
Goalie Cory Schneider has been ready to make the jump for some time now, but big Roberto Luongo has been blocking the way. Luongo had some struggles in the playoffs last year, so you have to think the door is more open than ever for Schneider to steal some playing time.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

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