We've wandered from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea. It's time now to come home and take a close look at the Northwest Division. Something to note, the Northwest Division has 3 of the top 4 payrolls in the NHL, 4 of the top 10, and has been considered the weakest division in hockey for the last couple of years. Interesting?
Prior postings in this series:
- NHL Franchise Lifecycle
- Southeast Division
- Central Division
- Atlantic Division
- Pacific Division
- Northeast Division
Western Conference - Northwest Division
Calgary Flames 2012-2013
Core Players: Jerome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Matt Stajan, Curtis Glencross, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Miikka Kiprusoff
Transitional Players: Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman, Lee Stempniak, Blake Comeau, Sven Baertschi
Geriatric Stars: Jerome Iginla, Miikka Kipprusoff, Alex Tanguay
Cap Space: $3.5M
Lifecycle Phase: Death's Door
Analysis: Just about half of Calgary's NHL roster is on some kind of No-Trade or No-Movement contract (5 forwards, 5 defensemen, and 1 goalie) and only three end after this season (including Iginla). Once again they do not have a first line play-making center to set up Iginla. They have many overpaid veterans, and just added two more for the amusement of the rest of the division in Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman. Jay Bouwmeester, a solid defensive defenseman, has two more years on an all-world-defenseman class contract. Their best players are also their oldest players. This does not speak well for their long term improvement.
Four UFA contracts come off the books after next season, but they will still be close to the cap (assuming they retain the services of Iginla). Calgary likely will not start the rebuild until 2014 at the earliest, so expect at least one more year of just missing the playoffs. Would it be safe to assume that GM Jay Feaster will be cut loose after this year? Do they really want the clown that perpetuated this mess orchestrating the rebuild? Avalanche fans hope so.
The best thing they could do for their franchise is put Kipper, Iginla, and Giordano on the block (assuming they consent) at the trade deadline. Pick up some solid prospects (including a young NHL goaltender), some low draft picks, and go for the first overall pick. It's not going to happen, but it should.
Colorado Avalanche 2012-2013
Core Players: Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson, Gabriel Landeskog, Semyon Varlamov
Transitional Players: Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk, P-A Parenteau, Steve Downie, Jamie McGinn
Geriatric Stars: Jean-Sebatian Giguere, Milan Hejduk
Cap Space: $16.1M
Lifecycle Phase: Contending
Analysis: This offseason and the trade deadline last year were both pretty active for Colorado. The Avs picked up some key young players and I think it signals that the rebuild is officially over. It's time to contend. It's time to make the playoffs on something other than a fluke. As MHH is fond of pointing out, the Avs are strong up the middle, solid on the blueline, and have a mix of youth, talent, and experience in net. The forward corps are significantly improved from this time last year with the additions of Paranteau, Downie, and McGinn. The cupboard is full of young goaltending and defensive prospects. Before the trade deadline passes, expect to see the Avs make a move for a top pairing defenseman from a team on the way down. Playoffs or bust. 6th seed.
How many noticed that I listed Duchene as Transitional? Yes, he was injured last year. Yes, he's the one player on the roster that makes the fans stand up every time he has the puck on the offensive side of the red line. But, he had a crappy year last year, injured or not, and he has not developed a complete 2-way game as a top centerman. He could make the jump this year, or he could be trade fodder (and he should bring a glorious return). He needs to pick his head up when he has the puck, and use those feet and hands to become a defensive force. It's possible, but he has to want it.
Edmonton Oilers 2012-2013
Core Players: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Whitney
Transitional Players: Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagne, Ales Hemsky
Geriatric Stars: Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Andy Sutton, Nikolai Khabibulin, Eric Belanger
Cap Space: $7.3M
Lifecycle Phase: Rebuilding
Analysis: Welcome to the land of the entry level contract. Only two players have No-Trade clauses. Almost half their team is up for contract renewal after the end of the coming season, including a number of their older players. They are light on cap space for a rebuilding team this year, but they will have plenty of flexibility going forward.
Edmonton has had the first overall pick for the last 3 drafts, and they have picked a center (RNH), a right wing (Yakupov), and a left wing (Hall). Quite conceivably they could have a "first overall" line of forwards. While they were squirreling away all of this offensive talent, they totally neglected their defense, which is suspect at best. Expect to see some trades either this year or next of quality forwards for defensive help. They won the Justin Schultz dating game. It's not clear what they have there, but he is a top prospect. Otherwise, they have , who can score when healthy, and a cast of castaways. Player movement prior to next year's draft will tell us where Edmonton is going.
Minnesota Wild 2012-2013
Core Players: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen, Niklas Backstrom
Transitional Players: Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Mikael Granlund, Josh Harding
Geriatric Stars: Niklas Backstrom
Cap Space: $1.4M
Lifecycle Phase: Contending
Analysis: Mortgaged to the hilt. This team has no cap space to speak of. Next year they unload only $15M in contracts, and chances are, these are players they might like to re-sign (only Bouchard, Cullen, and Backstrom are worth mentioning, but they represent most of the $15M). Minnesota won the UFA sweepstakes this year. There is no denying that Parise and Suter will make this team better. It is a very young team. Koivu is a center that any team would love to have, but after that, they're a bit thin. Mikael Granlund is probably their most intriguing player. His performance for Finland at recent international competitions has been very strong. It will be interesting to see how his game translates.
Quite honestly, this team is the most difficult to pick. Minnesota has been traditionally a strong defensive team. Outside of Suter, their defense this year looks suspect. You doubt this? Their likely No. 2 defender (Tom Gilbert) was picked up from Edmonton. They've been a total snooze on offense, but add Parise and Granlund to Koivu, Heatly, and Setoguchi and maybe you have to think about how to defend them.
Vancouver Canucks 2012-2013
Core Players: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kessler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis
Transitional Players: Jason Garrison, David Booth, Mason Raymond, Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo
Geriatric Stars: Roberto Luongo
Cap Space: $2.4M
Lifecycle Phase: Climax (trending to Past Prime)
Analysis: Want to find an older team? Just go to Capgeek and look for No-Trade clauses. Vancouver has 8 on the roster this year, and only one falls off next year. Their average age is high, but they have few downside players and very few kids. This team is at its prime. Unlike the Kings, they won't be getting much better. Their prospect pantry is thin from years of late picks and trading prospects for NHL roster players. Expect to see the Canucks decline apace with the Evil Twins. Vancouver will be limited by the cap this coming season, but next year about $16M in contracts expire, so they have more flexibility going forward. They'll be able to attract some free agents next year (like Garrison this year), but it will just be delaying the inevitable. Vancouver is on the same trajectory as San Jose, just about 3 years behind.
The Canucks will most likely win the Northwest again this year, and will be a contender for the President's Trophy. Don't expect them to go quietly in the first round this time as it is unlikely they will run into the Los Angeles Kings until later rounds, but it is unlikely they will make it to the Conference finals. There are just too many teams in the Western Conference that are built for the playoffs (Phoenix and St. Louis among them).