Offseason assessment: Northwest Division
The Western champion Canucks were the only team to make the playoffs last season, but the Flames, Wild, Avs and Oilers all hope to close the gap.
NHL.com is here to take you on a tour of all six divisions, providing a breakdown of every team, including their additions, subtractions and up-and-comers.
Here is a look at the Northwest Division:
Vancouver is still getting over the disappointment of losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but the Canucks remain, without question, the favorite to win the division. Calgary, Minnesota and Colorado feel they're closer to being playoff contenders after falling short last season. Meanwhile, Edmonton added another major piece to its rebuild by drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first in the 2011 Entry Draft.
Here is the entire breakdown of the division:
Additions: Marco Sturm, LW; Alexander Sulzer, D; Mark Mancari, RW; Andrew Ebbett, C; Mike Duco, RW; Steve Pinizzotto, RW
Subtractions: Christian Ehrhoff, D; Raffi Torres, LW; Jeff Tambellini, LW; Tanner Glass, LW
Up-and-comers: Chris Tanev, D; Cody Hodgson, C; Eddie Lack, G; Yann Sauve, D
General manager Mike Gillis hasn't done much this offseason except sign Sturm as a depth forward to replace Torres and add a couple of guys that might be targeted for the Chicago Wolves, Vancouver's new AHL affiliate. The big loss is Ehrhoff (Buffalo), but his departure opens the door for Tanev to compete for a regular spot in the Canucks' top six.
In fact, Vancouver's defensive depth, a key to its success last season, is still strong, especially because Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo chose to re-sign with the club prior to July 1. The blue line will be even better if Keith Ballard has a bounce-back season and finds a way to play his way out of coach Alain Vigneault's doghouse.
The Canucks will be shorthanded up front until Mason Raymond returns from the devastating back injury he suffered in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. If Mikael Samuelsson returns to form after having sports hernia surgery in the middle of the playoffs, then Vancouver should be able to survive with a second line of Ryan Kesler centering Samuelsson and either Chris Higgins or Sturm.
With Henrik Sedin, Kesler, Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre, the Canucks' center depth is strong. Where that leaves Hodgson is a mystery. He could play on the wing in the bottom six, but with Sturm or Higgins, Jannik Hansen and Victor Oreskovich already in place before Raymond returns, there is only one spot left and Hodgson could be one of several players vying for it.
Additions: Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, RW; Chris Butler, D
Subtractions: Robyn Regehr, D; Ales Kotalik, RW; Adam Pardy, D; Steve Staios, D
Up-and-comers: Paul Byron, C; T.J. Brodie, D; Greg Nemisz, C; Lance Bouma, C; Max Reinhart, C
The Flames fell short of the playoffs last season, but not before putting up a fight to at least get into the deep race in the Western Conference. Calgary went 16-3-3 from Jan. 21 to March 9, giving the organization confidence that Jay Feaster was the right man to reside in the general manager's office. He clearly believes the players from last season deserve another crack at it this season.
Feaster has done some tinkering with the roster, most notably trading Regehr, Kotalik and a draft pick to Buffalo in exchange for Butler and Byron. However, for the most part he's been busy re-signing his own players, including defenseman Anton Babchuk, center Brendan Morrison, left wings Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross, and backup goalie Henrik Karlsson.
Calgary could have a few positions up for grabs in training camp, so it's not impossible to think that any one of Byron, Nemisz, Bouma and/or Reinhart could make the opening night roster. Brodie will likely compete for a spot on the blue line, though he'll get pushed by Brendan Mikkelson and Brett Carson.
Additions: Dany Heatley, RW; Darroll Powe, C/W; Devin Setoguchi, RW; Mike Lundin, D
Subtractions: Martin Havlat, RW; Andrew Brunette, LW; Brent Burns, D; Antti Miettinen, RW; Cam Barker, D; John Madden, C; Jose Theodore, G; Chuck Kobasew, RW
Up-and-comers: Casey Wellman, C; Colton Gillies, LW; Marco Scandella, D; Justin Falk, D; Tyler Cuma, D; Mikael Granlund, C; Charlie Coyle, C
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher has had a busy offseason that started with the firing of coach Todd Richards and the hiring of Mike Yeo as his replacement. Fletcher pulled off two blockbuster trades with San Jose general manager Doug Wilson, swapping out Burns and Havlat for Heatley and Setoguchi in separate deals.
The goal was to improve the Wild's anemic offense, which ranked 26th last season with just 203 goals (2.48 per game). Heatley is a former 50-goal scorer and Setoguchi has scored at least 20 in three straight seasons, topping out at 31 in 2008-09.
Fletcher also pried Coyle away from San Jose in the Burns-Setoguchi deal. Coyle is a first-round draft pick currently playing for Boston University. He could be an impact player in the NHL when his collegiate career is over.
As a result of trading away Burns, the trio of Scandella, Falk and Cuma will be given the chance to make the opening night roster. Fletcher wouldn't have traded away Burns if he didn't like the depth he already had on defense. Falk and Scandella each played in at least 20 games with the Wild last season. Lundin was signed to assure them of some added defensive depth.
Additions: Semyon Varlamov, G; Jan Hejda, D; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G; Chuck Kobasew, RW; Shane O'Brien, D; Joakim Lindstrom, C
Subtractions: John-Michael Liles, D; Brian Elliott, G; Peter Budaj, G; Tomas Fleischmann, C/W; Philippe Dupuis, C; Adam Foote, D
Up-and-comers: Gabriel Landeskog, LW; Duncan Siemens, D; Stefan Elliott, D; Tyson Barrie, D; Cameron Gaunce, D; Joey Hishon, C; Jonas Holos, D; Calvin Pickard, G
The Avalanche overhauled their back end this offseason after yielding an NHL-worst 287 goals last season. They got bigger on defense with the additions of Hejda and O'Brien, and stronger in net with the acquisition of Varlamov through a trade and Giguere through free agency.
Hejda and O'Brien join a blue line that already had Erik Johnson, Ryan O'Byrne and Kyle Quincey. They're all at least 6-foot-2, with O'Byrne topping out at 6-foot-5 and Hejda and Johnson each measuring in at 6-foot-4. There is some speculation that Elliott and/or Barrie will make the roster out of training camp, but they'll have competition considering the Avs have seven defensemen signed and that doesn’t include Kyle Cumiskey, who remains a restricted free agent.
Colorado also had problems scoring last season (221 goals, 18th in NHL), but is hoping to correct those from within.
Matt Duchene should build on his impressive sophomore season, in which he had 67 points. Landeskog, the No. 2 pick in this summer's Entry Draft, could be an immediate start playing on the left side of Duchene. The offense should be even more potent if Peter Mueller, who missed all of last season with concussion problems, returns healthy.
Additions: Eric Belanger, C; Ryan Smyth, LW; Ben Eager, LW; Darcy Hordichuk, LW; Cam Barker, D; Andy Sutton, D; Yann Danis, G
Subtractions: Andrew Cogliano, C; Kurtis Foster, D; Colin Fraser, C; Zack Stortini, RW; Jason Strudwick, D; Steve MacIntyre, LW; Jim Vandermeer, D; Jean-Francois Jacques, LW
Up-and-comers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C; Jeff Petry, D; Linus Omark, LW; Teemu Hartikainen, LW; Alex Plante, D; Colton Teubert, D
Despite being the No. 1 pick, Nugent-Hopkins is not guaranteed a roster spot on this Oilers team mainly because general manager Steve Tambellini has provided the club depth at the center position with Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Belanger and Gilbert Brule. If Nugent-Hopkins doesn't make the club, it'll be the first time in 20 years that a forward drafted No. 1 didn't jump straight to the NHL.
To make playing Nugent-Hopkins worthwhile, Oilers coach Tom Renney would have to play him on the first or second line. That means he'd have to knock either Gagner or Horcoff out of the top six. It's not impossible, and Tambellini even opened a roster spot for Nugent-Hopkins by trading Cogliano to Anaheim.
The Oilers have obviously had issues up and down their lineup for two seasons, and Tambellini feels he addressed some by bringing Smyth back and adding Eager to the fourth line as well as Sutton and Barker to the blue line. Sutton or Barker will likely be a second-pair defenseman along with Ladislav Smid, who re-upped for two more seasons this summer.
No matter what the veterans do, the success or failure of Edmonton's 2011-12 season will be measured in the development of its young core. Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle and Omark are all coming off promising rookie seasons. If Nugent-Hopkins can effectively join in that core at the NHL level this season, the Oilers will be a step closer to becoming a contender again.