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2010/2011 Divisional Previews, Part One – Northwest Division

09/03/10

Welcome to Black & Blue & Gold’s 2010/2011 NHL preview series! Each Friday will see a new segment published, starting today with my opening installment focusing on the Northwest Division.

What I’m going to do is zero in on key additions and subtractions to the roster, highlight top prospects, and ruminate on some possible storylines for each team. I’ll have them in order of how I think they’ll finish.

Let’s get to it already and see how I think the Wild, Canucks, Flames, Oilers, and Avs will do!

Vancouver Canucks

Key Additions: Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard
Key Subtractions: Steve Bernier, Pavol Demitra, Willie Mitchell

Top Prospects: Cody Hodgson

Observations & Storylines: I believe Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres will do wonders for Vancouver’s forward depth while Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard will bolster the defense in front of Luongo. Speaking of Luongo, will he continue to serve as the Canucks’ beleaguered captain or will he relinquish it to someone who is actually authorized to wear the “C”? Lastly, maybe Cody Hodgson will make the team and finally give his mates some honest-to-goodness distributed scoring. Vancouver is the most loaded team in the division on all fronts and would need to suffer a wretched collapse to not repeat as division champion.

Colorado Avalanche

Key Additions: Peter Mueller (technically traded for him in 09/10, but only played 15 games)
Key Subtractions: Marek Svatos, Darcy Tucker

Top Prospects: Kevin Shattenkirk

Observations & Storylines: Can Craig Anderson pull off another miracle in goal with an army of kids in front of him? I think so, yes. I can’t explain it, but my gut says Paul Statsny and Matt Duchene can lead the Avalanche into the playoffs again with Ando in net. Will Colorado’s motley defense hold up again? It’s got to, if they don’t want to throw Anderson to the wolves. And how about their $20M in cap space? It’s enough to go nuts at the deadline that’s for sure, but it’s a little weird with training camp starting up in two weeks with that much spare change. Like I said, I can’t explain why I think they’ll do well, but I think they can finish second in the division.

Calgary Flames

Key Additions: Olli Jokinen
Key Subtractions: None (meaning no one of consequence, IMO)

Top Prospects: Mikael Backlund, Greg Nemisz

Observations & Storylines: The Flames have the pieces to kick butt, but they don’t. Why not? I think it has to do with former Panthers and current Flames Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester. Both men are spectacularly talented, but it seems the time spent playing in a hockey wasteland such as Florida has rendered them unable to cope with the pressure of performing in a real hockey town. Will Iginla be able to bounce back after a disappoint season? Honestly, I think Iggy’s career may be on the downswing. Too many years of carrying the team single-handedly can do it. He’s never truly had top line talent to play with, and it’s crippled the scoring depth in Calgary because of it. Kipprusoff is looking like he’s on the decline as well. One or two additions to the forward corps could help turn around the Flames, but maybe a change behind the bench would be more beneficial. The Flames should contend for the division title and finish second at worst, but I can’t see them doing either.

Edmonton Oilers

Key Additions: Taylor Hall, Kurtis Foster
Key Subtractions: Mike Comrie

Top Prospects: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, Toni Rajala

Observations & Storylines: Look out, NHL, because Hall, Paajarvi-Svenson, and Eberle are ready to take the league by storm. Seriously, these three kids have oodles of talent and every chance to rip it up as rookies together. They also give the Oilers serious forward depth, adding enough firepower up front to help take the load off the defense and goaltending. Speaking of, the Oilers have shoddy-at-best goaltending. I have a feeling a lot will come together for this team regardless of what happens to Khabibulin. I think they’ll tie with the Flames for third in the division, but lose out due to a tie-breaker. If Edmonton’s wunderkind trio can live up to expectations, they’re going to be a force for years.

Minnesota Wild

Key Additions: John Madden
Key Subtractions: John Scott, Owen Nolan, Derek Boogaard

Top Prospects: Tyler Cuma

Observations & Storylines: The Wild have an offensive-minded coach, a permanent captain, and little roster turnover. I see this as doing little to help them improve, and honestly don’t see much success coming their way. I’m absolutely perplexed by Mikko Koivu’s contract, both the amount and structure of it. How does a guy who is an over-achieving third line center on a better team get the money he’s making? No flippin’ clue. I also think that Backstrom’s failures as a goaltender are due to his being exposed without a trap system aiding him and his struggles will continue. I see the Wild finishing last in their division.

Well, there’s part one all finished up. Check back at noon next Friday to have a look at my second preview, detailing my thoughts on the Pacific Division. Also, I’ll be starting my top ten lists, taking a gander at the best the NHL has to offer at every position. Keep an eye out for those to begin next week.

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