(Now we’ll take a look at the division the Canucks win every year in a cakewalk and managed to feature exactly one playoff team last year.)
#1 Vancouver (111) Calgary (90) Colorado (88) Minnesota (81) Anaheim (80)
New guys: Jason Garrison (I wanted him), Cam Barker (you’re all horrible people for making fun), Jim Vandermeer (?) and Derek Joslin.
Gone: Samuel Pahlsson (yup, that one), Sami Salo (one ball joke) and Aaron Rome.
Not yet gone: Roberto Luongo
Young players to keep an eye on: There really isn’t a whole lot here. With injuries to guys like Ryan Kesler and David Booth, hulking winger Zach Kassian will get a shot to play in the Vancouver top six. Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton scares the shit out of me – but at least it looks like he’s at least another season away from leaving Rosemont. Should Kesler or Booth miss more time than expected, puny 5’8 center Jordan Schroeder could be called upon to fill the void. Due to all the injuries, 2011 1st round pick Niklas Jensen will get a shot to make the roster out of camp, but that appears to be a long shot.
Outlook: Think a team with Barker and Vandermeer can’t make the playoffs? Think again. Edmonton and Minnesota aren’t pushovers anymore, sure, but the Northwest still belongs to the Canucks. Their depth looks questionable, but as soon as it *really* starts to hurt, they can pull the trigger on a Luongo deal and probably improve multiple spots. Garrison should more than make up for the loss of Sami Salo and I can’t imagine the Sedin’s letting this team nose-dive. As much as you don’t want to hear this, it looks like Vancouver probably gets home ice for at least the opening round.
New guys: Nail Yakupov (clearly a cancer in the dressing room) , Justin Schultz (this guy could have played anywhere in the NHL and chose Edmonton), and Mark Fistric (became an Oiler just the other day).
Gone: Taylor Chorney.
Young players to keep an eye on: All of them. Yakupov, Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the list just goes on and on. All of these damn guys are probably going to be superstars (if they aren’t already) and constitute a fine young core for Edmonton. How the hell they plan on paying all these #1 picks in the future is beyond me – but that’s their problem. Should injury strike their defense, 6’3 Swede Oscar Klefbom (a fine hockey name) could see his first NHL action. 2011 2nd rounder David Musil would be another option here.
Outlook: Is this team closer to the ’07-’08 Blackhawks or the ’08-’09 Blackhawks? It’s impossible to say. Some analysts have suggested that the lockout could benefit younger teams. If that’s the case, then the Oil should be in decent sharp – even with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. In my view, the weakest area on this team is the blue line. Yes, Schultz is a great young prospect, but this isn’t a unit many teams are going to fear as they move into the Oilers zone. The offensive potential is pretty much unlimited. If the trio of #1 overall picks click right away, those defensive problems may not matter much. Edmonton is one of the tougher teams to judge this year. Could go either way. Sorry, total cop-out.
New guys: Zach Parise (now sporting a Mr. Monopoly monocle at all times) , Ryan Suter (ditto Parise), Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.
Gone: Guillaume Latendresse, Erik Christensen and Mike Lundin.
Young players to watch: The Wild have a pool of prospects that should make any Blackhawks fan who supports realignment strongly reconsider. They are stocked pretty much everywhere. Center-icemen Mikael Backlund and Charlie Coyle, along with defenseman Jonis Brodin and Matthew Dumba, are elite prospects. While it’s unlikely any of them except Backlund (and maybe Dumba) see time in the NHL this year, all are worth keeping an eye on in the future. Guys that have seen NHL time like Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker could be called upon again if needed. Mario Lucia, Zach Phillips, Johan Larsen and Matt Hackett round out their prospect poll. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying.
Outlook: As good as this team may one day be, expectations are probably set a little too high for this season. While you can’t blame Minnesota fans for being excited with the arrival of Parise and
Konopka Suter, there are still a lot of question about this teams defensive depth and nobody knows how quickly this semi-overhauled roster will take to gel. The improvements are impossible to ignore, but this is still a team that looks scarier for what they might one day become – as opposed to what they currently are.
*We should mention that their owner, Craig Leipold, was a big driver of this lockout on the owners side. So fuck him and his team. Hating Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.
New guys: PA Parenteau (the rare player who wants to leave the Islanders), Greg Zanon and John Mitchell.
Gone: Peter Mueller (getting a second chance with Dale Tallon) and Jay McClement.
Young players to keep an eye on: Colorado’s defense is a disaster, so guys like Ty Barrie, Stefan Elliott and/or Duncan Siemens could get a look once this team is out of the playoff race – which will probably be about three weeks from now. Often injured prospect Joey Hishon may finally get a look if they can’t lure back Ryan O’Reilly from Russia. Mark Olver went to Northern Michigan University, which makes him awesome.
Outlook: This team sucks and will be even suckier if they can’t re-sign O’Reilly. Sure, Gabriel Landeskog is a monster and they have a number of talented forwards, but like we mentioned already, that defense is just terrible. The goaltending behind it is almost as bad. Not a playoff team. Moving on.
New guys: Sven Bartschi (remember this name), Roman Cervenka, Dennis Wideman (contain your laughter) and Jiri Hudler (condolences to Hudler on the recent passing of his father).
Gone: Olli Jokinen (obligatory waffle gif), David Moss and Scott Hannan.
Not gone because Jay Feaster is delusional: Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.
Young players to keep an eye on: Bartschi and Markus Granlund (coming over from Finland). The Flames also drafted John Gaudreau, but he’s a few years away. T.J. Brodie is an option on the blue line if they don’t want to torture themselves with Anton Babchuk and Corey Sarich.
Outlook: This team has some talent, yes, but still drag around entirely too much dead weight. The guys over at Hockeenight are always making fun of Flames for giving out no-trade clauses to any and all comers – and its’s completely true! It’s like this roster was carefully booby trapped to guard against any and all rebuilding efforts. Even if they wanted to give up the chasing the dragon and start over, they couldn’t do it.
Oh, and Mike Cammalleri is still a douche.
Western Conference playoff picks:
Los Angeles-St.Louis-Vancouver-Chicago-Phoenix-Detroit-Minnesota-San Jose
(That concludes the Western Conference portion of our season preview. We’ll be back in the next day or so with a look at the East.)