The Northwest is one of the most interesting divisions this year, and probably the most improved across the board of any in the league. Here is how I see it shaking out:
2011/2012 Rank: 9 (5 points out)
In- Dennis Wideman, Roman Cervenka, Jiri Hudler
Out -Olli Jokinen, David Moss, Scott Hannan, Brendan Morrison
The Calgary Flames remind me of the pre-Brian Burke Toronto Maple Leafs - a team with false hope of making the playoffs that will continue to end up on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. And that is exactly where I see this team finishing next season. They should have traded Iginla and/or Kipprusoff in one of the last 2 seasons, but instead of cleaning the slate and starting the re-build, they keep signing overpriced unrestricted free agents and handing out no-trade clauses like candy on Halloween. That being said, Calgary does not have a terrible lineup, just an aging core that is on the decline. They do have some nice depth up front, but the gaping hole right now is at the center position with the loss of Olli Jokinen. All signs point to Cammalleri starting the year at center because their only other capable top 6 center is Roman Cervenka - and no one can predict how he will make the transition from the KHL (though in the past, most have struggled). Kipprusoff will take the team on his back once again, although his time is running out as a top goaltender. On D, Calgary will be anchored by Jay Bouwmeester and Giordano, but will have to count on some youngsters in Brodie and Butler to perform well if they are to contend for a spot. I think they come up short once again, and for their fan's sake I hope they ship out some pieces at the deadline and focus on the future.
Why they'll make it - Iginla, Kipper & Tanguay refuse to decline, Sven Baertschi has a strong rookie campaign, Bob Hartley gets team to buy in to his system
Why they'll miss - Serious lack of depth at center position, best players continue to decline
2011/2012 Rank: 11 (7 points out)
In - PA Parenteau, John Mitchell, Greg Zanon
Out - Jay McClement, Peter Mueller, Kevin Porter
The Colorado Avalanche finished out their season on a high as they stayed in contention for the last playoff spot in the West until the last week of the season (a spot that was eventually taken by the Cup winning L.A. Kings). They hope to continue that late season success in the upcoming year. The Avs were ranked 25th in the league last year for goals per game, a stat that should improve with a full season of Jamie McGinn, Steve Downie and the addition of PA Parenteau on the wing. On the back end, the Avs are riddled with defensive defenseman, making the Zanon signing a little curious. With the lack of puck moving defensemen after Erik Johnson, look for Stefan Elliott or Tyson Barrie to impress and possibly earn a spot out of camp. It will be hard for John Mitchell to replicate what Jay McClement brought to the ice, but in a fourth line role the effect should be minimal. Between the pipes, the Avs will counting on Semyon Varlamov to continue his strong play post all star break and at the World Championship, where he won gold for Russia posting a 8-0 record with a 1.77 GAA and .939sv%. With the youngest roster and lowest payroll last season, all signs point to the Avalanche improving on their finish last year.
Why they'll make it- Gabriel Landeskog breakout year, Matt Duchene bounce back year
Why they'll miss -Shallow defense, young players inconsistent play
2011/2012 Rank: 14 (21 points out)
In - Justin Schultz, Nail Yakupov
Out - N/A
The only thing the Oiler's have won lately is the draft lottery the last three years. These three 1st overall picks have given them an abundance of young talent at the forward position. However, that is only one part of a hockey team. Although the Oiler's had an amazing start to the year, they crashed and burned down the stretch which began with a horrendous road trip after the Christmas break. Not surprisingly, this stretch coincided with an injury to star rookie Ryan Nugent - Hopkins. The Oiler's will go as far as their offense will take them, as their all around team defense and goaltending remain far below average. The development of their youngsters should lead to an improvement in the standings, but I think that it will be another rough year for Oilers fans. While they will show flashes of brilliance, Nail Yakupov is, so far, an unproven commodity in the NHL; and him, Nugent - Hopkins and Hall all have an injury history. If one or all go down at any given time, they do not have the overall depth in their roster to carry the weight. The Oiler's have a very bright future, but until they shore up their D and goaltending, they will continue to finish out of a playoff position.
Why they'll make it - Offense stays healthy, and more than one of they're young stars have a breakout year. Dubnyk and defense play consistently solid.
Why they'll miss - Inconsistent youngsters, Nugent-Hopkins sophomore slump, lack of skill on D and depth up front.
2011/2012 Rank: 12 (14 points out)
In - Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell
Out - Guilamme Latendresse, Erik Christensen
The Minnesota Wild landed to two biggest names on the free agent market in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, making them the most improved team (on paper) heading into next season. Both players will have an immediate impact on the Wild's success - I mean how many times do you get to add a number one defenseman and top line winger without giving up any assets? Perhaps more importantly, I think the Parise signing will provide a huge boost to the profile of Mikko Koivu. Already a premier 2-way center, being on a line between Parise and Heatley will finally give him quality wingers and people will begin to recognize just how good this guy is. The success of the Wild will rely on the play of their defense. After Ryan Suter, there are few to none established names and the play of these young, unrecognizable players will dictate where the Wild finish in the standings. Health will also be of huge concern for the Wild this season. After starting the year in first place in the West come December, injuries to Koivu, Bouchard and Backstrom contributed to a slide out of playoff contention. Top prospect Mikael Granlund will also be counted upon to have a strong rookie campaign and provide secondary scoring.
Why they'll make it - Top players play like they can, avoid injury bug
Why they'll miss - Lack of depth on defense, lack of secondary scoring
2011/2012 Rank: 1 (President's Trophy Winners)
In - Jason Garrison
Out - Aaron Rome, Sami Salo
The back-to-back President Trophy Winner Vancouver Canucks have another exciting season to look forward to. They did not lose any significant parts of their lineup and Garrison may prove to be an upgrade on Salo on the blueline (especially when it comes to durability). Up front, the Canucks will continue to be led by the Sedin twins, and although their best seasons are behind them, they should still produce near a point per game pace. Ryan Kesler's absence early in the year may lead to a slow start, but it's likely that Mike Gillis is not finished tweaking his roster. There are rumours abound that the Canucks are on Shane Doan's short list and there has been more than enough speculation about a Luongo trade in the near future. It will be interesting how these two scenarios play out, as I believe the Canucks would really benefit from adding more leadership and scoring (Doan) and another skilled defenseman to help them rebound from a disappointing playoffs.
Why they'll make it - Consistency, staying the course, solid depth at all positions
Why they'll miss - Luongo trade happens, Scheider can't handle the pressure
The standings in the Northwest will be:
With the top 3 all making the playoffs.