North West Preview

Why the Northwest Division is truly the Toughest

With the lockout occupying the minds of hockey fans everywhere, everyone forgets about some of the events from this last summer.  Those events may have changed the landscape of the NHL and created a new super power in the divisions.  With two of the biggest and most questionable contracts ever given out, the Minnesota Wild jumped from a defensive and boring team in the bottom of the Western Conference to a potential top contender.  While the Edmonton Oilers saw all of their amazing youngsters get to play together in the AHL.  Vancouver is still the team they have been the last few years with the exception of a potential Luongo trade.  Finally the Colorado Avalanche has had a chance to grow and have the potential to compete with their youth just like the Oilers.  Finally, Calgary might be the most questionable team with an aging Iginla leading the way.  Calgary might be headed toward a youth movement like the Avs and Oilers and it may take a while before they compete in this tough division.    What this all means is a division full of potential and the capabilities to have four teams make the playoffs during this shortened season. 

As a hockey fan, I am really excited to see these five teams battle it out in the most important games on the upcoming schedule.  With the shortened season, division games will be the most important games a team will play.  This will make it extremely hard for all four teams to make the playoffs having to battle it out with each other.  If anyone out there knows someone who has decided to stop watching hockey or is new to the sport, this division will be the first stop for some of the best hockey.  Each team has a plethora of stars and youth, which should make for a high tempo, hard hitting, and exciting brand of hockey.  I know the NHL likes to market its favorites off on national TV the most, but I think marketing teams like Pittsburgh this year might be a mistake with the kind of hockey capable of being played in the West and most of all the Northwest Division.  Top to bottom, each team has star players, good goaltending, and good depth that most teams elsewhere lack.

Minnesota

With the addition of Suter and Parise, the Wild have helped both sides of the puck and could result in quite the jump in number of wins.  The wild have always played a defensive style of hockey, which some find boring, but with both additions to the team the Wild have added a lot more goals to the roster.  They will be the most interesting to watch to see if the players make a difference or if the two moves could be the biggest busts since some of the other outrageously long deals that have been made. 

Prediciton
Wild Finish second in the North West and make the playoffs in a fourth or fifth seed

Colorado

Colorado will be quite the enigma until the season starts due to the lockout and seeing how each playing has grown.  Only five Avs played during the lockout, so several players will have to get back up to speed quickly and it could determine whether the Avs make it back into the playoffs.  Ryan O’Reilly is still unsigned and will be priority number one come this weekend when camp starts.  Colorado could be a player if the youth gets going quickly and fast out of the gate.

Prediction
Avs finish fourth and squeak into the playoffs near the 8th spot or they may miss out

Vancouver

Vancouver has been the toast of the division for a few years now, not to mention making the finals just two seasons ago.  The team hasn’t lost a ton and still carries the Sedans’ that are probably the most lethal combo in the league.  Not to mention a rising star in goaltender Cory Schneider, this team is ready to make a run.  The big question is the status of Roberto Luongo and where he might end up.  The big news for the Canucks is they have a highly sought after asset in Luongo that could lead to the Canucks to getting better up front.  This makes Vancouver the favorite to win the Northwest

Prediction
Vancouver wins the division and has another shot at the President’s trophy

Edmonton

This team will be the one that has the most upside, but also the most risk.  The amount of youth on the team will have everyone watching to see if the youngsters take the next step and take the team to new levels.  The biggest advantage that the Oilers have is that most of the key players stuck around and were able to play in the AHL together, so the chemistry is already there.  Hall, Eberle, RNH, and rookie Nail Yakupov all have to come in their own for Edmonton to succeed.  The good news is there are a few veterans to help out and resigning Ryan Smyth was a good step in the right way to help out the group of youngsters.  The biggest question the Oilers have that may stop them from succeeding will be between the pipes.  It will be interesting to see if Devon Dubnyk can become a regular starter with success and if not will veteran starter Nikolai Khabibulin will have to step back in for maybe the last time of his career. 

Prediction
Oilers finish third and make the playoffs in the 7th or 6th seed

Calgary

Calgary is the one team in the division that looks like it may be going into rebuild mode potentially if this season goes bad.  A new coach in Ex-Avalanche coach Bob Hartley, Who some thought was wrongly fired a few seasons after taking the team to a cup, will look to turn things around.  Cornerstone players Iginla and Kipprusoff continue to lead the team on both ends, but how much longer can these two keep it up.  New additions Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman look to contribute for their new team and could possibly make a splash on the roster.  However it may be too little in a division that is getting leaps better every day it seems.  Look for Calgary to be looking to the future rather than the present, but a shortened 48 game season allows any team to make a run.

Prediction
Flames finish last in the division and will have a lottery pick, with the new rules about the top pick the Flames could jump start a rebuild with a top pick.