Now that the draft is behind us and the free-agency buzz has calmed to that of a hum, how do you think the Avalanche will fair against their division rivals? Let’s take a look at the other four Northwest Division clubs, with emphasis on the moves that I believe make the most impact on the division and competition.
CALGARY FLAMES – In an interesting move, the Flames sent D Robyn Regehr to the Buffalo Sabres. In the package deal that included RW Ales Kotalik and a 2nd round pick, they received C Chris Butler and D Paul Byron. More importantly, Calgary was able to clear up some breathing room under the salary cap. With that space, they were able to re-ink LW Alex Tanguay to a 5-year, $17.5 million dollar contract. By signing Tanguay before allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent, they kept their top line and number one power play unit together. Rumor has it that Jerome Iginla lobbied management pretty hard to keep Tanguay around. Good move for Calgary? Maybe. Bottom line – Calgary will continue to be competitive within the division, but until they’re able to shore up their blue line, they will not be able to compete with the likes of Vancouver.
EDMONTON OILERS – We all know about the Oilers and their first overall draft pick C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This kid will definitely be an impact player and this club is slowly putting together some amazing talent. Not only do they have a number of great young players (LW Taylor Hall and RW Jordan Eberle included), they were able to bring in some valuable veteran leadership through trades and free agency signings. Edmonton traded a couple of young players and 2 draft picks to get hometown favorite LW Ryan Smith back and they were also able to ink LW Ben Eager and D Cam Barker to free agent contracts. Bottom line – Edmonton will be able to rise out of the cellar of the Western Conference and will again be a team to watch. If they can solve their goaltending issues (Nikolai Khabibulin is WAY TOO OLD), they will once again be competitive.
MINNESOTA WILD – Evidently, the Wild are hoping that a change of environment will be exactly what RW Dany Heatly needs to get back to the top of the scoring charts. By sending RW Marty Havlat to the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota received Heatly – and his $8 million per year contract. I’m not so sure that this trade will pay dividends for them, but time will tell. In their only other news-worthy move, the Wild signed the scrappy, young C Darroll Powe through free agency. Throw him on the third line with RW Cal Clutterbuck and things become much more difficult for the opposition’s top lines. Bottom Line – Minnesota made a big mistake by letting LW Andrew Brunette hit free agency and sign with Chicago. I don’t see Heatly as a savior for them, but with their goaltending tandem of Backstom and Harding, anything is possible.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS – Well, when you are the defending Western Conference Champions, your only priority during the offseason is to keep what you have intact. They have accomplished that task by re-signing D Kevin Bieksa, D Sami Salo, D Andrew Alberts and LW Chris Higgins. Even though they traded away D Christian Erhoff and lost LW Tanner Glass and LW Raffi Torres, the Canucks were able to sign veteran LW Marco Sturm to a one year deal via free agency. Sturm will add valuable experience and leadership to the already powerful line-up. Bottom Line – Vancouver will be the cream of the crop once again next year. Their only fault, if you can even call it that, is the often-times shaky play of G Roberto Luongo. But, when you have the ability to plug in a Cory Schneider, you are definitely hard to beat.
Now that you know what to expect from the other Northwest Division teams, how well do you think the Avs will perform? Are they tough enough to give Vancouver a run for the division title? Let’s hear it, Avalanche fans!!!