While every team in this division took a step backward, the Oilers got much better.
1. Edmonton Oilers (41-35-6)
The Oilers head into the 08-09 campaign with a better squad than they had in 2005-2006 when they made the Stanley Cup finals. Kevin Lowe stayed away from RFA sheets this summer and focused on the trade market. Lowe first brought in winger Erik Cole from the Carolina Hurricanes. Cole a potential 30-35 goal scorer will play on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Lowe also bolstered his blue line trading for Kings defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky and added depth with the addition of Gilbert Brule. Visnovsky will team with D Sheldon Souray who missed the majority of last season with a shoulder injury. A healthy Souray with the addition of Cole gives the Oilers the potential to boast one of the league‚Äôs top power play units. The Oilers could use a upgrade in goal but Dwayne Roloson is a serviceable goaltender and look for Mathieu Garon to establish himself as the Oilers #1. The Oilers will return to the playoffs and will be a team to watch this season.
D Steve Staios
2. Calgary Flames (42-30-10)
The Flames have three franchise players at three key positions: Forward Jarome Iginla ‚Äì Defense Dion Phaneuf – Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff. They will compete for a playoff spot again but have they done enough to be considered a Stanley cup contender? The Flames brought in forward Mike Cammalleri to bolster their scoring and are banking on Todd Bertuzzi finding his game. Don‚Äôt count on that although I think Bertuzzi will improve on his numbers from last season. The Flames need to add another top 6 winger. They have a plethora of defenseman and are currently looking to trade Adrian Aucoin for a top line winger. Daymond Langkow (30 goals) last season is a solid player but he is no sure thing to hit the 30 goal plateau again. I love this team defensively but they need another offensive threat to compete with the Red Wings and Stars.
3. Colorado Avalanche (44-31-7)
The Avalanche have a very strong group of forwards and the key to this season will be the health of their forwards. Ryan Smith, Marek Svatos, and Paul Stastny missed time last season and if the Avalanche can stay healthy they are as good as any team in the West at the forward position. Milan Hejduk needs to take his game to another level. Last season Hejduk had 29 goals but he should be in the 37-40 goal range. Many insiders feel he isn‚Äôt that interested any more. A player to watch offensively will be T.J. Hensick. Defensively the Avalanche have a good mix. John-Michael Liles, Adam Foote and Scott Hannan should have strong seasons but the Avalanche need Jordan Leopold to stay healthy and become the player he was in Calgary. Overall through, Colorado‚Äôs playoff chances will hinder on their goaltending. Peter Budaj is not a #1 goaltender but the Avalanche have the cap space ($5 million to improve at that position
Milan Hejduk ‚Äì Hejduk is already talking about retirement when his contract runs out and if the Avalanche fall out of the race they will look to move him
4. Minnesota Wild (44-28-10)
The Wild are the reining division champs but they have a lot of question marks heading into the season. The loss of Brian Rolston will hurt but the Marian Gaborik situation could make the Wild go from worst to first. Every time it seems like the Wild are close to signing Gaborik, it becomes more clear that he has his eyes set on elsewhere. The Wild will begin looking to trade Gaborik early in the season but with teams up against the cap the Wild might not be able to move Gaborik until the trade deadline. No Rolston, No Demitra and possibly no Gaborik is a major concern for the Wild. Defensively this team will be strong again. Marek Zidlicky is a great addition and bolsters the Wild‚Äôs blue line but where are the goals going to come from?
Marian Gaborik will be this year‚Äôs Marian Hossa
5. Vancouver Canucks (39-33-10)
Canucks GM Mike Gillis made a strong play for Marian Hossa and Mats Sundin. Hossa showed minimal interest and Mats Sundin wasn‚Äôt too enticed of the Canucks $10 million per season offer. The Canucks decided to part ways with captain Markus Naslund. His replacement Pavol Demitra (edge Naslund). Gillis had to settle for second tier players such as Steve Bernier who will put up solid numbers. The Sedin twins return and will be the anchors of the Canucks top line but the Canucks haven‚Äôt done much to improve their offense which ranked 23rd in the league last season. The reason the Canucks will stay in playoff contention is because of their strong blue line and goaltender Roberto Luongo. As good as Luongo is, he won‚Äôt be able to carry the Canucks to the post season.
D Mattias Ohlund ‚Äì Free agent as seasons end, Ohlund will be a hot commodity at the deadline. The Canucks in need of some scoring could look to move Ohlund or defenseman Kevin Beiksa
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