Monday, September 17, 2007

Predictions: Northwest Division

Since the 2007/08 season is almost upon us, it is time to begin making my regular season predictions. Last season, my predictions came the closest to reality among several bloggers and mainstream media members. Can I be as successful again? Only time will tell.

Here are my Northwest Division predictions:

1. Calgary Flames I think this is the most talented team in the division. They have first class goaltending in Miikka Kiprusoff, a very good (although rebuilt) defence core led by Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and newcomer Adrian Aucoin and some talented offensive players including Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius. Of course, I thought they were the most talented team in the Northwest Division last year when they finished third. The main difference this year is coaching. Jim Playfair was often outcoached by his opposition. This year, they have Mike Keenan as a coach. Keenan is a very good tactician who will not be outcoached and has a long track record of getting the most out of his teams (until they rebel against him and everything falls apart). Usually, he is able to get at least one year of exceeding expectation out of his team before the inevitable rebellion and this should be his year of pushing the Flames to success.

2. Vancouver Canucks This team had a great finish to last season with a 16-7-3 record from the beginning of February to the end of the season. They benefited from great goaltending of Roberto Luongo and a strong defence including Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell. Their offence did not measure up to their defence, but once they made Daniel and Henrik Sedin the go to guys (in place of Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison) the teams surge in the standings began. They still do not have a powerhouse offence (though it is quite likely Naslund and Morrison will have better seasons than they did in 06/079, but they will be one of the toughest teams to score against in the NHL.

3. Colorado Avalanche This is the western team that made the biggest free agent signings adding Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. They will join Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and youngsters Paul Stastny and Wojteck Wolski. This team should be back in the playoffs. Their main weakness is goaltending. Starter Peter Budaj is not a proven star and it has been many years since Jose Theodore put up a good season.

4. Minnesota Wild Jacques Lemaire has done wonders with this team keeping them competitive when Marian Gaborik has suffered injury, even in years where they had little else to depend upon. Over the last couple years they have added Pavol Demitra and Kim Johnsson and seen the development of Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, to make them a deeper, more complete team. Their weakness may be in goaltending. Though they always play a very good team defence and allow less quality shots than most teams, they will play the relatively unproved duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding (who have a career total of 51 NHL games played combined). I think the loss of Manny Fernandez will be a bigger one than most expect and will slow the climb of this team.

5. Edmonton Oilers It's amazing that as recently as 2006 this team made it to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. Everything has fallen apart since then. Their best two players at the time Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth are gone and not replaced. While they do have a good group of young forward prospects including Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, likely none are ready for a big jump to stardom yet. Their defence should be better at moving the puck with the additions of Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen and Dick Tarnstrom and their goaltending should be solid (though unspectacular) with Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon in goal, but they lack depth at forward. Ales Hemsky is probably the only possible game breaking scorer on their roster this year. To make matters worse, their first round pick is property of the Anaheim Ducks thanks to the ill-advised signing of Dustin Penner.

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