The NHL season gets underway Oct. 6 with three games scheduled. But before the puck drops on another exciting season, we’ll take one last look ahead at each of the divisions. Monday we previewd the Atlantic and Pacific, Tuesday we looked at the Central and Southeast and today we wrap it up with the Northeast and Northwest.
Top three fantasy options: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler.
Key additions: Marco Sturm, Andrew Ebbett, Dale Weise.
Key departures: Christian Ehrhoff, Raffi Torres, Tanner Glass, Jeff Tambellini.
Something to prove: They don’t come much streakier than Mikael Samuelsson, but sadly for the Canucks, last season most of them were cold ones rather than hot. After connecting for 30 goals in 2009-10, Samuelsson slipped to just 18. His point production was about the same, but the big Swede didn’t have as much success on the power play.
The big question: Can Ryan Kesler and the Canucks overcome the sense of despair of seeing their championship hopes fizzle after having the Stanley Cup within their grasp? The regular season shouldn’t be a problem, but the inability to close the deal in the playoffs continues to haunt this organization.
Outlook: The Canucks will easily win the weakest division in the NHL and, according to our 2011-12 Yearbook rankings, will be the Northwest’s only representative in the playoffs. Oh, there we go with that ‘P’ word again. The Canucks will ultimately be judged in the playoffs and whether or not they win the Stanley Cup. They would make things right in Vancouver by doing just that this season. The season will start for the Canucks in mid-April. The six months leading up to that will simply be a dress rehearsal. THN PREDICTION: First in West.
Top three fantasy options: Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk.
Key additions: Semyon Varlamov, J-S Giguere, Jan Hejda, Shane O’Brien, Chuck Kobasew, Joakim Lindstrom.
Key departures: John-Michael Liles, Brian Elliott, Tomas Fleischmann, Adam Foote, Petr Budaj.
Something to prove: Peter Mueller is taking an optimistic approach to the season because for the 23-year-old, it’ll be 18 months between games. Mueller missed all of last season with a concussion, but was on skates when camp opened. The team loved his form in 2009-10 when he had 20 points in 15 games after coming over from Phoenix.
The big question: With the Avs still building with youth, how long will it take for them to return to the playoffs and will their fans have the patience to wait out the process? The speed with which the team has become a “have-not” has been remarkable and their attendance has reflected it.
Outlook: The Avs are bigger on the blueline, better in the crease and chock full of young talent, but it likely won’t be enough to get what has become a moribund franchise into the playoffs this season. The good news for Colorado is its defensive game won’t be worse than it was last season when it finished 30th overall. A healthy and consistent Semyon Varlamov will be the most pivotal factor in deciding whether their defensive improvement is nominal or dramatic. THN PREDICTION: Ninth in West.
Top three fantasy options: Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Rene Bourque.
Key additions: Chris Butler, Scott Hannan, Lee Stempniak, Roman Horak, Paul Byron.
Key departures: Robyn Regehr, Adam Pardy, Freddy Modin, Ales Kotalik, Daymond Langkow.
Something to prove: After averaging 25 goals the previous three seasons as a second-liner, Niklas Hagman fell out of the lineup and landed on the waiver wire last year. The hard-working 31-year-old was snake-bitten around the net and scored just 11 times in 71 games. In a healthy Calgary lineup, Hagman sits no higher than 13th among forwards right now.
The big question: With the departure of Robyn Regehr, will Jay Bouwmeester finally begin to assert himself and take his place as a leader on the Flames defense? Don’t count on it, but if Bouwmeester has any opportunity to step up and have his production equal his paycheck, this is definitely it.
Outlook: Calgary has pretty much become ‘The Land the Playoffs Forgot.’ After losing their best defensive defenseman and not upgrading their roster in any meaningful way, can we realistically expect the Flames to suddenly become a post-season contender? If that’s going to be the case, their core players – yes, you Olli Jokinen and Bouwmeester – are going to have to play much better than they have. And the tandem of Miikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson will have to give Calgary stellar goaltending if the Flames have any hope of making the post-season. THN PREDICTION: 10th in West.
Top three fantasy options: Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Key additions: Mike Lundin, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Darroll Powe.
Key departures: Brent Burns, Jose Theodore, Antti Miettinen, Martin Havlat, Andrew Brunette, Cam Barker, James Sheppard, Patrick O’Sullivan.
Something to prove: Marek Zidlicky had five multiple-game stints where he was out of the lineup, including a shoulder injury and hamstring woes. As a result, he played just 46 games and his point-per-game production was the second-lowest of his seven NHL seasons. With Brent Burns traded, the Wild are counting on Zidlicky to shine offensively.
The big question: Will a rather no-name defense corps be able to make Minnesota fans forget about Burns? The Wild lack NHL experience in a big way on their blueline and will rely on the likes of Mike Lundin, Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner to develop into full-timers.
Outlook: The Wild are hoping that moving the chess pieces around – heck, the team flipped the board and sent them flying – will result in an earnest run for a playoff spot. But chances are it will result only in an offensive bump. San Jose refugees Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are sure to bury quite a few more pucks, but the defense corps took an enormous hit with the departure of Burns in the Setoguchi deal. Goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding will be busy. THN PREDICTION: 11th in West.
Top three fantasy options: Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle.
Key additions: Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Ryan Smyth, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Eric Belanger.
Key departures: Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer, Colin Fraser, Andrew Cogliano, Sheldon Souray.
Something to prove: Shawn Horcoff will never live up to his $5.5 million stipend, but it’s imperative the Oilers get a modicum of first-line minutes and production from the beleaguered 33-year-old. His goal totals have dropped each of the past three seasons, as has his time on ice. He’s the de facto No. 1 center right now with plenty of youth behind him.
The big question: Can 35-year-old Ryan Smyth recapture the magic he possessed when he was an iconic Edmonton Oiler or is it true you can never go home again? Smyth still has game and is a proud veteran, but with the Oilers expected to struggle (again), here’s hoping it doesn’t end badly.
Outlook: The Quebec Nordiques are the only team to have the No. 1 overall pick in three consecutive drafts (1989-1991) and we all know how that turned out. But the Oilers will almost certainly be a contender to match that trifecta unless they find a way to score a bushel more goals and get a whole lot better at stopping them. They upgraded their roster in the off-season to be sure, but their No. 1 center is still Horcoff. A healthy Ales Hemsky and a better Nikolai Khabibulin (or Devan Dubnyk) would help immeasurably. THN PREDICTION: 15th in West.