Thursday, January 17, 2013

NHL 2013 Preview: Northwest Division

5. Calgary Flames-One would think that with the fifth highest payroll in the league, Calgary would be destined to finish high up in this division, right? Wrong. The reason Calgary has such a high payroll, is they have brought in overrated players and massively overpaid them (Cammalleri-$6M, Bouwmeester-$6.68M, Wideman-$5.25M, Giordano-$4.02M), to prevent fans from thinking they are rebuilding. The fact is, Calgary should be rebuilding. They have a stale offense, overhyped defense, and a goaltender (Kiprusoff) who will eventually run out of gas from starting so many games a season. With all the other teams in this division getting better, Calgary has nowhere to go but last.

4. Colorado Avalanche-Colorado was probably the hardest team in this division to pick. They have some blossoming young stars (Landeskog, Duchene), but still have some question marks on the squad (Defense, goaltending). The Avs top defensive unit consists of Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda (Yikes!), and their #1 goaltender heading into the season is Semyon Varlamov. All these players have shown signs of brilliance, but they also have shown horrible stretches of play. Colorado doesnt get off to the best start in 2013, but they have a strong finish. But it only gets them a fourth place finish.

3. Edmonton Oilers-At long last, Edmonton gets out of the Northwest's basement. They had 11 players playing during the 119 day lockout, including their top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle (They played on the same line for Oklahoma City, too). Since they have had the #1 pick in the draft for the past decade (Slight exaggeration), Edmonton now has the best crop of young forwards, and now has the best defenseman prospect in all of hockey, when they signed Justin Schultz this summer. The Oilers however, still have a lack of depth at defenseman, and have a big question mark in net, handing over the reigns to Devan Dubnyk while letting Nikolai Khabibulin sit on the bench. Edmonton gets off to a fast start in 2013, but the leaders of the division will catch up and pass them eventually. But the question remains, can Edmonton hold on for a playoff spot?

2. Minnesota Wild-As we saw yesterday, Minnesota made a flurry of moves this offseason, capped off by the July 4th signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Even with Suter, the Wild will need increased production from D-Men Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella (When he recovers from injury), to stand a chance in this division. Minnesota has tremendous depth in the entire organization, so should someone go down with an injury, they have boatloads of talent to replace them. The Wild may not get off to a fast start, but they recover quickly and take second place in this division, and sneak their way into a playoff spot for the first time since 2008.

1. Vancouver Canucks-Despite injuries to Ryan Kesler and David Booth, this is still the team to beat in the Northwest. Perhaps the greatest strength for Vancouver this year, will be that they will have Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo sharing time between the pipes (Unless Luongo finally gets moved). Both are #1 goalies, and Vancouver will most definitely use this to their advantage. The Canucks went out and bolstered their blue line, by signing Jason Garrison away from Florida. Garrison gives the Defense a little more offensive punch. Up front Vancouver is still led by the Sedin twins, and they still are the best tandem in the league. Vancouver has to a work a bit more to earn it, but they still take the division.

Check back tomorrow for playoff predictions.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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