The Northwest division is often looked upon as the weakest link in the Western Conference. Save for the Vancouver Canucks, the Northwest is largely beaten down and trod upon by all who dare face them. The hay days of the Edmonton Oilers have long since past, the Calgary Flames cling desperately to shades of hope, the Colorado Avalanche are approaching the level of embarrassment when compared to their former selves, and the Minnesota Wild are... well... there, too.
It is not often you hear fans of opposing Western Conference teams say something along the lines of "Man, they play the (fill in any Northwest Team) tonight. They better play their tails off, or they're going to get worked." Even the mighty Canucks don't really strike fear in the hearts of their opponents.
Such is the life cycle of the NHL, though. For a few years, one division seems to have better teams than everyone else, and then their glory fades, leaving the division to become the forgotten step sibling in the corner, drooling on themselves and wondering why they don't get invited to the NHL ball.
Meanwhile, divisions such as the Northwest retool and rebuild... well, except the Flames; they just continue to throw money at the problem hoping one day the cap will just go away. The Avalanche are a young team, growing and learning the game together. Edmonton has picked first overall two years in a row, which tends to work out five or six years down the road. The Wild are finally starting to get how the system works and are stock piling picks while trading for players that (gasp) play offensive hockey*.
While teams in the Northwest, sans Calgary, continue to retool and rebuild, the Canucks have built themselves a team that will remain competitive for at least the near future. The Nucks are still the team to beat in the Northwest, with the rest of the division left searching for their table scraps.
It should be an interesting year in what is likely the last year of the Northwest Division's existence. With NHL realignment a foregone conclusion, the division will be either dismantled or redesigned to fit the new structure of the league. One last chance for the teams to beat on each other for six games a year. One last chance for the players to exact one last taste of revenge before being shipped off to play the Columbus Blue Jackets.
All of the teams made moves to improve over last year's roster. Wait, no, scratch that. The Canucks and Wild made moves to improve themselves. The Oilers dumped Kurtis Foster and signed Cam Barker, the Avs traded away a lottery pick for Semyon Varlamov, and the Flames signed nearly the exact same group of over-priced contracts they had last season.
Judging just on the attempts to improve, the division looks to be a runaway for the Canucks, yet again, and the Wild hoping a newly found offensive flare and new head coach can make the difference. Colorado and Edmonton still have some growing up to do, and Calgary needs to figure out their identity and hope for the best.
No matter what happens, you can count on plenty of bad blood among the contenders. There is bad blood somewhere between each of these teams, and with just this season remaining before being realigned, the time to act on that is now.
*offer does not apply to anyone watching from markets in the Eastern conference. In substitute, we offer the trap happy, boring Minnesota Wild that seems to still exist in your collective memory.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.