As always, the NHL summer was an eventful one, with the rich becoming richer, and the poor becoming poorer, at least for the most part. Every team made at least one move on the ice, while several others made moves off the ice. Over the next week, I will examine each team’s movement (players primarily) to see who really improved, who got worse, and who stayed pretty much where they were. Today, part 5 of 6, the Northwest Division:
Team: Calgary Flames
Points (Rk): 75 (12)
In: Matt Davidson, Josh Green, Krzysztof Oliwa, Jesse Wallin, Steven Reinprecht, Rhett Warrener
Out: Craig Berube, Dave Lowry, Darcy Verot, Scott Nichol, Blake Sloan, Levente Szuper, Mike Martin, Mike Mottau, Rick Mrozik, Ryan Christie, Jean-François Damphousse, Dave Huntzicker, Shaun Sutter, Jan Vodrazka, Chris Drury, Steve Begin, Bob Boughner
Comments: Calgary Coach/GM Darryl Sutter has been very busy this summer, re-signing roughly 20 free agents. He also has addressed a need that plagued the Flames last season, that being a lack of depth. Green, Oliwa and Wallin bring some much needed experience and grit to the table, something they lacked at times this past season, and are missing even more with the trade of Bob Boughner to Carolina. Last season, the Flames had the 2nd fewest goals in the Western Conference (only Nashville had fewer) and that won’t likely change with the departure of Chris Drury. Acquiring Reinprecht gives the team a quality 2nd line centre to replace Drury but beyond that, there’s not much in the current system to supply the offence. A rebound season from star Jarome Iginla and a full season out of sophomore Chuck Kobasew will help to compensate for the loss of Drury and others. On defence, the Flames have some good veteran talent in Warrener and Denis Gauthier, with up-and-comers Toni Lydman, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold. Goals allowed will not be as big a concern this season with the continued improvement of the defence corps and a rebound season from Roman Turek. The Flames will likely miss the playoffs again this season, but they’re certainly on the right track to getting there in the near future.
Next Steps: Calgary desperately needs to acquire another top-6 forward to complement Iginla, Reinprecht, Conroy and Gelinas. Beyond those 4, offensive abilities are less than average for the other forwards which could prove to be a big problem yet again for the Flames this season.
Team: Colorado Avalanche
Points (Rk): 105(3)
In: Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Andrei Nikolishin, Karlis Skrastins, Peter Worrell, Travis Brigley, Jim Cummins, Gavin Morgan, Colin Forbes
Out: Bryan Marchment, Brent Thompson, Greg deVries, Jeff Shantz, Eric Bertrand, Steve Brule, Jeff Paul, Dale Clarke, Bryan Muir, Jeff Shantz, K.C. Timmons, Mike Keane, Scott Parker, Eric Messier, Vaclav Nedorost, Serge Aubin, Brian Willsie
Comments: The Avalanche certainly have made many headlines this season, with the signings of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, as well as announcing the retirement of Patrick Roy (although this was a surprise to no one). Colorado made even more headlines when they were rumoured to be dealing Roy amongst others to Montreal for José Theodore and others, but those rumors were quickly put to rest. Up front, the Avalanche have the most explosive top-6 in the NHL in Forsberg, Sakic, Kariya, Selanne, Hedjuk and Tanguay, as well as adding a quality 3rd liner in Nikolishin and a solid enforcer in Worrell. Needless to say, scoring goals will not be a problem for the Avs this season. On defence, the team has taken a small hit, losing Greg deVries and Bryan Marchment to free agency. To replace him, the team acquired Karlis Skrastins to join Foote, Blake, Morris and Skoula giving the team a solid top-5. In goal lies most likely the biggest question mark in the entire league. Currently, David Aebischer is the No.1 goalie, with Phillipe Sauve taking over as backup. No one denies that Aebischer is a quality NHL goalie, but the question with him is can he handle 55-65 games per season? As for Sauve, many say he’s NHL ready, but do the Avalanche think so? Only time will tell.
Next Steps: This one is obvious, acquire a proven No.1 goaltender. Aebischer will be ready soon, but many feel he’s not ready both physically and mentally to handle the pressure of being the top goalie for a contending team like the Avalanche.
Team: Edmonton Oilers
Points (Rk): 92(8)
In: Rocky Thompson, Dan Smith, Kenton Smith, Jamie Wright
Out: Jiri Dopita, Daniel Cleary, Todd Marchant, Brian Leetch, Brian Swanson, Jussi Markkanen, Kari Haakana
Comments: The Oilers have stayed the same for the most part so far this summer, their only significant loss being Todd Marchant who signed with Columbus. Depth players like Cleary and Swanson can easily be replaced, and the team already has a replacement for Markkanen in youngster Ty Conklin, who will back up Tommy Salo this season. The team still has Mike Comrie, Ryan Smyth and Mike York to lead the offence, along with trade deadline acquisitions Radek Dvorak and Brad Isbister, as well as developing youngsters Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky for a supporting cast. Rookies Raffi Torres, Jani Rita and Jarret Stoll are expected to be regulars for this upcoming season. Despite dealing away Janne Ninnimaa at the trading deadline, the team still is in decent shape on the blueline. Eric Brewer is quickly developing into a solid blueliner, and will have help from solid defensive defencemen Jason Smith, Cory Cross and Steve Staios. Youngsters Scott Ferguson, Alexei Semenov, Marc-André Bergeron and Bobby Allen will also see time up with the Oilers on defence this season. In goal, the team is set with Salo as the number 1 netminder, with Conklin backing him up.
Next Steps: GM Kevin Lowe has yet to re-sign centre Mike Comrie, and he has reportedly asked for a trade. Lowe will either have to sign him or trade him; Edmonton can’t afford to go deep into the season without him or his replacement(s). Also, since the Oilers franchise now has its own farm team, they need to bring in a few more players to fill the roster in Toronto (the location of their farm team, the Roadrunners.)
Team: Minnesota Wild
Points (Rk): 95(6)
In: Marc Chouinard, Jason Beckett, Chris Bala, Matt Zultek, Alexandre Daigle, Matt DeWolf, Alex Henry
Out: Cliff Ronning, David Cullen, Dieter Kochan, Rastislav Pavlikovsky, Jean-Guy Trudel, Ladislav Benysek, Derek Gustafson, Jay Henderson, Lubomir Sekeras, Tony Virta, Curtis Murphy
Comments: The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to Minnesota’s offseason, one with very little fanfare. The Wild have kept practically all of the key components of last season’s conference final run; the only notable player leaving is veteran Cliff Ronning. Team management contends that Ronning’s loss will not be too catastrophic, as they feel players from within their organization can make up for his scoring. One thing they won’t be able to compensate for will be his leadership on a very young team. Veterans like Brad Bombardir and Sergei Zholtok will be expected to take on more of a leadership role this season. Like last (and every other season in this franchise’s history), offence will be limited, particularly with the loss of third-leading scorer Ronning. However, the continued emergence of Marian Gaborik (currently un-signed), as well as steadily improving Pascal Dupuis (currently un-signed), Richard Park and Pierre-Marc Bouchard will take care of his loss. Andrew Brunette, Zholtok and Wes Walz also are expected to produce, giving the team at least two lines capable of producing. Trust me on this however, you won’t confuse Minnesota’s top-6 with Colorado’s top-6. On defence, there are no household name players, but this crew always gets the job done. Bombardir, Andrei Zyuzin, Willie Mitchell and Nick Schultz comprise the top-4, and after that, it’s really anyone’s guess who gets the other 2 spots. With veterans Ladislav Benysek and Lubomir Sekeras released, it is expected that Brad Brown will see more icetime and the versatile Jason Marshall will only play defence, but something could change between now and training camp. In goal, the team is solid with Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez between the pipes, both are capable of playing 40-50 games this season comprising the league’s only “1A/1B” tandem.
Next Steps: Despite this team’s success last season, there are a couple of minor, but noticeable weaknesses. One is an obvious one, lack of offence. It couldn’t hurt to acquire a solid two-way forward who can play in his own end, but at the same time contribute 15-20 goals to a team who scored just 198 goals last season. Another thing that could help would be to get another veteran defenceman, one who can play 14-16 minutes per game and give depth d-men Brown and Marshall an easier role to handle. Another big concern is that Gaborik and Dupuis have yet to sign a contract, the Wild cannot afford to let these two sit out for any long period of time.
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Points (Rk): 104(4)
In: Dallas Eakins, Martin Grenier, Johan Hedberg, Jiri Slegr, Magnus Arvedson, Mike Keane, Jason Lehoux
Out: Martin Brochu, Trevor Letowski, Murray Baron, Trent Klatt, Herbert Vasiljevs, John Craighead, Regan Darby, Darrell Hay, Chris Herperger, Denis Martynyuk, Bryan Helmer, Peter Skudra, Nolan Baumgartner, Darren Langdon
Comments: After a solid 2002-03 season, the Canucks did very little to improve or subtract from the team, GM Brian Burke believing the core doesn’t need to be tinkered with. A couple of surprises occurred recently, the first being the signing of 1st round pick Ryan Kesler. However, the team has assigned him to the minors for seasoning. The second surprise, although to some it’s a relief, was the acquisition of goalie Johan Hedberg from Pittsburgh. Hedberg is a quality goalie and should push Dan Cloutier for the #1 job. Currently, offence is a concern, at least beyond the front line. Last year’s top unit in Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi return, but after them, there is a large drop-off. The Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik) have shown flashes that they can be offensive threats, but are also extremely inconsistent. The newly acquired Magnus Arvedson should help, while Trevor Linden can still produce offensively, but age is starting to catch up with him. The team hopes Matt Cooke can produce similar numbers to last season (17-25-42). Rookie Jason King will likely be counted on to produce, although he will likely end up seeing 4th line time, or be in the press box. The team is set defensively, with Ed Jovanovski (A.K.A. JovoCop) returning to lead a solid corps. Mattias Ohlund is finally healthy, and should be able to put up the numbers he has in the past. Sami Salo, Brent Sopel and Marek Malik are all solid two-way d-men as well, and should complement Jovanovski and Ohlund nicely. Bryan Allen should finally get a full-time job as the number 6 defenceman, while Jiri Slegr should slide into the 7th spot. Cloutier and Hedberg will man the nets this season; both feel they are rightfully the top goalie in the organization, so one has to wonder how the Canucks are going to work this one out. As it stands, it’s currently Cloutier’s job to lose.
Next Steps: Since the team is set in goal and on defence, Vancouver can focus on pursuing a goal-scoring forward. There are a lot of forwards on the team who are solid defensively, so the Canucks can afford to move one to get a player who can score some goals. If something happens to a member of their top line, the Canucks will be in a heap of trouble in a hurry.