Vancouver has seemingly dominated the Northwest over the last year and a half, and once again may not have much company at the top. Colorado has a lot of talent but may take a step back, Calgary already has injury issues, while Minnesota and Edmonton have slim chances of making the playoffs. As I line it up right now, this is the worst division in hockey right now.
Without further ado, here’s a quick glance at the Northwest Division for 2010/11…
Vancouver Canucks For the second time in two years, the Canucks season ended in disappointing fashion courtesy of Chicago. GM Mike Gillis made it an emphasis to boost the defense this summer; and he did just that by adding Veterans Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to the mix. The offense returns all of their weapons from the second-highest scoring team in the league last year. The biggest reason, though, as to why I think the Canucks are the best in the West? Roberto Luongo no longer has the burden of the captaincy. Final prediction: 112 points; 1st Northwest, 1st West
Calgary Flames In recent seasons, the Flames traded away Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen because they weren’t the best fits internally. What better way, then, to start the rebound than to bring both of them back in free agency!? The offense has already suffered some injuries, while Miikka Kiprusoff will have to shoulder the load again in net. Defensively, Calgary is strong and has depth. However, the offense will be the focal point. If Jokinen and Tanguay can’t gel with Jarome Iginla off the bat, it could be another playoff miss in Cowtown. Final prediction: 89 points; 2nd Northwest, 10th West
Colorado Avalanche If it weren’t for the Coyotes, Joe Sacco’s Avalanche would have been the biggest surprise of the 2009/10 season. Craig Anderson excelled in his first season as starter, while the kids made a quick adjustment to winning in the NHL. Now comes the real challenge: expectations. The Avalanche are expected to be a playoff team this year – internally and across the league. It’s how the youngsters deal with the added pressure that will determine if they can make a return trip to the dance. Final prediction: 87 points; 3rd Northwest, 11th West
Minnesota Wild Rookie coach Todd Richards had a rough go of it in Year One. The Wild got off to a bumpy start and never could climb back into the playoffs (although they were lurking in the second half). GM Chuck Fletcher made a couple tweaks in the off-season, but most of the same group is back. The injury bug has already bitten this team (Josh Harding); and remember, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Niklas Backstrom are looking to rebound after injury-laden seasons. Minnesota will compete but lack the talent to be a playoff team. Final prediction: 81 points; 4th Northwest, 12th West
Edmonton Oilers Optimism: the belief that goodness pervades reality. There’s a lot of that in Edmonton these days, which is a quick 180-degree turn from last year’s disaster. Between top overall pick Taylor Hall and fellow phenoms Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers certainly have a bright future. This team was downright horrible last year as injuries bombarded them at the midway point. Now, under Tom Renney’s command, the Oilers will be a fun and energetic club to watch… no matter what their record is. Final prediction: 78 points; 5th Northwest, 13th West
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