2008 Northwest Division Preview Jayson Pharoah
CALGARY FLAMES Roster Movement The Flames were fairly active this off season. First they acquired left wing/center Mike Cammalleri from the LA Kings and a 2008 second-round pick in exchange for a 2008 first-round pick and a 2009 second-round pick. Just a few minutes later they dealt Alex Tanguay and a 2008 fifth-round pick to the Montreal Canadians for, ironically a 2008 first-rounder and a 2008 second-round pick. They acquired restricted free agent Ren Bourque from the Chicago Blackhawks, promptly re-signed him to a new two-year deal, and made up with defenceman Mark Giordano and signed him to a new three-year contract (after the defenceman played in Russia last season). In the free agent market the Flames inked winger Todd Bertuzzi and tough guy Andre Roy. Bertuzzi and Iginla reportedly had great chemistry on the same line at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Roy should pick up plenty of penalty minutes. Coach Mike Keenan loves to play his enforcers. The Flames should be part of the dogfight for top spot in the Northwest. Preliminary Line Combinations Mike Cammalleri-Daymond Langkow-Jarome Iginla Ren Bourque-Matthew Lombardi-Todd BertuzziCurtis Glencross-Craig Conroy-David MossEric Nystrom-Wayne Primeau-Andre Roy Robyn Regher-Dion PhaneufMark Giordano-Cory Sarich James Vandermeer-Adrian AucoinGoaltenders Mikka Kiprusoff Curtis McElhinneyProbable First Power-Play Unit Bertuzzi-Langkow-Iginla-Cammalleri-Phaneuf Battle For Jobs Calgary is fairly deep on the wings and the blue-line. Look for Marcus Nilson to push Eric Nystrom for playing time. On defense, Anders Eriksson should give James Vandermeer a good run for minutes, but expect Vandermeer to come out on top of that battle. Injuries Defenceman Rhett Warrener continues to recover from an injured ankl, but other than that the Flames have a good bill of health going into training camp. Player to Watch Although it will be interesting to see if Mikka Kiprusoff can rebound from an average season by his standards, the player to keep an eye on will be Mike Cammalleri. The 5'9" winger recorded 80 points with the LA Kings two seasons ago. An injury last year forced him to miss a quarter of the season. He now moves to a market that cares about hockey and he gets to play with Jarome Iginla. His speed should create many opportunities for the Flames' captain to cash in on. Destined to get back to the 80 point plateau, Cammalleri will be worth an early to mid-round pick and should be an essential selection for anyone who drafts Iginla in their pool. COLORADO AVALANCHE Roster Movement The biggest news out of Colorado this off-season was the non renewal of head coach Joel Quenneville's contract. Instead, the club chose to go back in time and promote assistant coach Tony Granato to bench boss. Granato was the head coach of the Avs from 2002 to 2004 before being asked to step down into the assistant coaching role when Quenneville arrived. Granato is known for his fine work with younger players. This bodes well for young stars Paul Stastny, Marek Svatos, and Wojtek Wolski. The Avs did very little to bolster their roster during the off-season. They re-signed Jean-Michael Liles and Adam Foote to new deals and picked up Toronto castaways Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. They lost goaltender Jose Theodore to free agency, which will more than likely hurt the club because Peter Budaj hasn't been able to carry a full work load. That means Raycroft will see a fair amount of action. But will he still be plagued by the confidence issues that haunted him last year? Peter Forsberg has not confirmed what he'll be doing next year and the Avs are still waiting to hear from captain Joe Sakic about whether he is going to return for a 20th season. The club is still $8.2 million under the cap but Sakic will find it hard to be optimistic about the Avs' roster heading into training camp. Colorado is desperately thin at center and if Sakic doesn't return, they will struggle at that position. Preliminary Line CombinationsWojtek Wolski-Paul Statsny-Milan Hejduk Ryan Smith-Tyler Arnason-Marek SvatosDarcy Tucker-Cody McCormick-Chris StewartIan Laperriere-T.J. Hensick-Brian WillsieAdam Foote-Jean-Michael Liles Scott Hannan-Ruslan SaleiBrett Clark-Jordan LeopoldGoaltendersPeter BudajAndrew RaycroftProbable First Power-Play Unit Wolski-Statsny-Hejduk-Liles-Svatos Battle For Jobs Colorado has a glutton of third and fourth line right wingers. This should be the year Chris Stewart sticks at the NHL level and starts a productive career. As far as fantasy value goes, there really isn't a battle on this roster worth keeping an eye on. Key Injuries The good news for Avs' fans is that Colorado is coming into training camp relatively healthy. Player to Watch While it's obvious that Stastny will be the points leader on this team, barring an injury, Wolski is the most intriguing. He showed an abundance of skill during his rookie season in 2006-07 (50 points, 13.3 shooting percentage), but instead of improving on the numbers from that year, he almost mirrored them in 2007-08 (48 points, 11.4 shooting percetnage). With a new head coach and even more pressure to be a team leader, poolies who expected a sophomore breakout season from Wolski could very well reap those numbers in this, his third season. EDMONTON OILERSRoster Movement Instead of changing the roster via free agency, Edmonton Oilers General Manager (now President of Hockey Operations) Kevin Lowe decided to shake things up with some trades. Gone are forwards Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres as well as defencemen Joni Pitkanen and Matt Greene. In return, the Oilers acquired defenceman Lubomir Visnovski from the Kings, winger Erik Cole from the Hurricanes, and center Gilbert Brule from Columbus. Lowe then locked up number one center Shawn Horcoff with a contract extension that runs through to the 2014-2015 season. Goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers also signed a new two-year contract and should challenge veteran Dwayne Roloson for the second spot on the goaltender depth chart. If they can keep the momentum from the end of last year, the Oilers will be in a position to make a run for the top spot of the Northwest Division this season. Preliminary Line CombinationsErik Cole-Shawn Horcoff-Ales HemskyDustin Penner-Sam Gagner-Andrew CoglianoRobert Nilsson-Kyle Brodziak-Fernando PisaniEthan Moreau-Gilbert Brulet-Zack Stotini Sheldon Souray-Lubomir Visnovski Denis Grebeshkov-Tom GilbertLadislav Smid-Steve StaiosGoaltendersMathieu GaronDwayne Roloson/Jeff Drouin-Deslauiers Probable First Power-Play Unit Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky-Souray-Visnovski Battle For Jobs A very intriguing competition for the number two goaltender spot on the depth chart should commence in training camp. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers has been very impressive for the Oilers' AHL team in Springfield, posting a 2.90 GAA last season with a solid .912 save percentage. With Roloson battling father time, one has to wonder when Edmonton will start the next growth phase for their 2006 second-round selection. Key Injuries Horcoff seems to be on the road to recovery from shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the last two months of the season. He said it feels good and he's looking to improve on the great start he had last year. All's quiet so far on the news front with regard to Souray's recovery from his own shoulder surgery but that is probably a good thing. Expect both to be fit when they arrive in training camp. Player to Watch How well will Horcoff and Souray perform coming back from shoulder surgery? Can Cole stay healthy and be a regular in the lineup? If Cole can avoid major injury, will Hemsky sniff the 100 point mark? A player everyone should keep an eye on is Sam Gagner. After an impressive rookie season the 19-year old is poised for an ever better sophomore year. Last season Gagner scored 13 goals and registered 39 assists in 79 games. Expect the speedy Gagne to improve those numbers this year, centering a line between Penner and Cogliano. MINNESOTA WILD Roster Movement The Minnesota Wild added some fresh faces to their roster but lost two key veterans during the off-season. The biggest addition Wild general manager Doug Risebrough made was defenceman Marek Zidlicky, formerly of the Nashville Predators. Along with another newcomer on the blue-line in Marc Andre Bergeron, Minnesota can wheel out a very strong defensive corps in front of goaltenders Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. The question is, where's the offense? Gone are Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra. To replace them Risebrough signed Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan, two forwards who are nearing the end of their careers and shouldn't be considered upgrades. While the re-signing of Pierre-Marc Bouchard was important for the future, the team still doesn't have a solid second line that can contribute night in and night out on the scoresheet. It will be interesting to see how far the defense can carry this team. The Wild are walking a fine line between returning as the number three seed in the playoffs and dusting off the golf clubs after the first week of April. Veteran forward Mark Parrish became a cap casualty and was recently released. Preliminary Line CombinationsAndrew Brunette-Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Marion Gaborik Stephane Veilleux-Mikko Koivu-Antti MiettinenPetr Kalus-Eric Belanger-Owen NolanBenoit Pouliot-James Sheppard-Craig WellerBrent Burns-Marek ZidlickyMarc-Andre Bergeron-Kim JohnssonKurtis Foster-Nick Shultz GoaltendersNiklas BackstromJosh HardingProbable First Power-Play Unit Brunette-Bouchard-Gaborik-Burns-Zidlicky Battle For Jobs The Wild have stockpiled defencemen and will have an interesting decision to make during the pre-season. Foster, Schultz, and Martin Skoula will all battle it out for the fifth and sixth spots on the depth chart. Last season Foster tallied seven goals and 12 assists in 56 games, scoring three power-play goals and bagging two game winners. Schultz logged solid ice time last season, averaging 20 minutes per game. He had 15 points in 81 games, with a plus-nine rating. Skoula is the oldest of the three at 28. Although he played 80 games last season he was a shaky minus-16. Foster and Schultz should get the jobs barring injuries. Key Injuries Minnesota looks healthy heading into training camp. Player to Watch Now that the club has re-signed Bouchard they should be focusing on Gaborik next. It will be interesting to see how the 26-year-old winger handles the loss of Rolston and Demitra. There will be a lot of pressure on him to produce offensive success so the team can repeat as division champs. Poolies should be cautious and not over-value Gaborik's 83 point season last year. While he'll still put up solid numbers this season it's recommended to treat him like a 65-80 point player and select him accordingly in your draft. VANCOUVER CANUCKSRoster Movement The Vancouver Canucks are looking forward. They made this very clear when they chose not to re-sign 14-year veteran Markus Naslund for the kind of money the New York Rangers were willing to pay him. The 35-year-old winger has seen his offensive output slowly decrease over the past four seasons. Although last season's 25 goals and 30 assists were respectable, they were a far cry from the 104 season he posted back in 2002-03. With the retirement of Trevor Linden the Canucks became a lot younger, although they still signed a veteran when they agreed to a deal with free agent Pavol Demitra. Demitra scored 19 goals and added 39 assists last season with Minnesota. Although he'll likely start the season on the first line, Demitra can be a solid second-line player along with Steve Bernier. The Canucks acquired Bernier from Buffalo and then promptly signed the restricted free agent to a new contract after the St. Louis Blues tendered an offer sheet for him. Vancouver is still waiting to hear from Mats Sundin on their two-year, $20 million offer, but in the meantime, they added former Maple Leaf Kyle Wellwood, in hoping he can stay injury free. Preliminary Line CombinationsDaniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Pavol DemitraTaylor Pyatt-Ryan Kesler-Steve BernierAlex Burrows-Kyle Wellwood-Matt Petinger Mason Raymond-Ryan Johnson-Darcy HordichukMattias Ohlund-Sami SaloWillie Mitchell-Kevin BieksaAlexander Edler-Lukas KrajicekGoaltendersRoberto LuongoCurtis SanfordProbable First Power-Play Unit Sedin-Sedin-Demitra-Ohlund-Salo Battle For Jobs On a team that is pretty thin at most positions, there shouldn't be too many position battles. Something to keep an eye on will be the progression of defenceman Alexander Edler up the depth chart. Edler played very well last year when the Vancouver blueline was in the infirmary. He scored eight goals and contributed 12 assists over 75 games and posted a dependable plus-six plus/minus rating. He logged a very good amount of ice time on both the special teams units. The Canucks along with the Wild can boast the deepest defensive corps in the division. It will be interesting to see if Edler will earn more ice time and improve on his point totals from a year ago. Key Injuries Vancouver will go into training camp fairly healthy. Player to Watch This should actually be plural. It's now or never for the Sedin twins. With Naslund gone, they will be the face of this club along with Luongo. Last season Daniel scored 29 goals, netting 12 of them on the power play. Bu he couldn't have done it without his brother Henrik who had 61 assists and led the team with 76 points, two more than Daniel's 74. They each had a plus-six rating. Both of these players have the potential to hit the 100 point plateau and the Canucks will need them to if they have any hopes of making the playoffs.
Northwest Divison Preview
2008 Northwest Division Preview Jayson Pharoah