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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scottsdale Sees the Future 2: The Northwest Division

So, last time I was a bit wordy and perhaps too in depth in my analysis of the future of the Pacific division. The last thing I want is to come off as one of those boring biology teachers that you'd rather he put on a movie than listen to him talk. You know what I'm talking about. So going forward I'll keep it simple. I'll give you a blast of what works and what doesn't work for each team, and then spend the bulk of the time on my final thoughts and prediction. Ok? Lets go then.

Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginlas time is now or never. Approaching his mid thirties, his skills may not be diminished, but there are only so many times you can rebuild a team around your captain. With a proven goalie in Mikka Kiprusoff they can beat any team in the NHL, if the defense shows up. That defense will rely mostly on Jay Bouwmeester and Ian White to anchor the blue line, while the rest of the veterans and perhaps a prospect in T.J. Brodie will have to play more disciplined and consistent two way hockey. Offensively, Jokinen, Tanguay, and Hagman will all have to prove their aged and experienced worth while staying healthy. This team toes the line between being very dangerous and very disposable. Keep an eye on Curtis Glencross. If he playes a full season he could be the key supplement to the Flames top lines of offense.

Colorado Avalanche

They look better than they did last year, well a bit better. They squeezed into the playoffs only to fall to an eventually dominant San Jose Sharks team. But they showed promise in taking two games. Now they have two kids in Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene poised to have dominant sophomore years. Two 19 year olds leading a team of veterans with a stellar goalie in Craig Anderson playing in his prime is exciting to the Colorado fan faithfuls. Shades of 96' anyone. Perhaps a few, but not enough to convince this puck head they're a shoe in for the playoffs. Their blue line is the big questing mark. Foote needs to survive the season, Quincy and Hannan need to find a shred more discipline, and Cumisky and Liles need to excel and improve upon the good enough years they had in 09-10. Bottom line, they have a good chance of outscoring their opponents, but not winning unless the Defense can limit the shots Anderson sees. He's been great, but he's not Patrick Roy.

Edmonton Oilers

Anything is possible. In the real world this is true, while analysts and beat writers would like to bury them from the get go, promise and prospects not being enough, I say be wary. Anyone who loves hockey will love to watch Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall play for this team. If Head Coach Tom Renney can find a way to harness the energy of these kids and let it gel with second year star Sam Gagner, and proven vet scorer Shawn Horcoff, this team could be on an expedited path to the playoffs. I'm calling them my sleeper pick right now to make the 8th spot in the west. Next year that is. Why? Because I want it for them. They have role players in all the right places, veterans and youth mixed throughout, and only one serious unknown. Which Nikolai Khabibulin will you get this year, and for how long? Legal troubles aside, he's had health problems, and consistency issues playing for a losing team of late. But if he shows up, this could be the most surprising team in the NHL. So say we all.

Minnesota Wild

I don't understand this team. The state of Hockey has a team full of potential stars. This is simple to me. There are only three things that will put the Wild in the playoffs this year, and they need all three, not a combination of them. 1. Niklas Backstrom needs to stay healthy. He's 32, played 60 games last year, but there are no guarantees with an aging goaltender. 2. Cam Barker needs to have the breakout season of his career. I'm talking 75+ hits and 25+ points that he's very capable of, if the coaching staff finds a way to put him in position to do so. 3. Martin Havlat needs to have the season they signed him to have. Minor injuries set him back a few games and otherwise he had a disappointing output for a top line winger. He needs to play the perfect complement to Koivu's team leader to get them back into the playoffs. Don't hold your breath.

Vancouver Canucks.

Paper champions. A term thrown around all of sports about the ideal winners that are stacked with statistical talent but somehow can't get it done when it matter most. (i.e. Washington Capitals) So what's it gonna be this year boys? Another scoring title for a Sedin twin. An interchangeably tough and productive blue line that's depth is apparent. Roberto Luongo? They will make the playoffs. Print the tickets now. It will come down to coaching and training. Keep these guys healthy and focused and they will again go far. How far? Ask me in a few months.

So, in summation, this isn't an overly competitive division. I see a few teams fighting for the second spot under Vancouver and perhaps the 8th spot in the conference, but also providing perhaps one of the worst performances by default. In the end it will look like this:


I fear the Canucks for the first time in two years. They stayed as good, and if healthy will look better than last year.

So there. And if you should have the means or the time or the opportunity, please catch an Oiler game or two. You won't regret it.

Scott "Scottsdale" Amstadt
Blue Line Hockey Chicago
7-9pm CT Tuesdays