Georgian Bay Sports Fan

commentary & opinions on the sports and political scene

WESTERN CONFERENCE – Northwest Division

1st – Vancouver Canucks

Coach Alain Vigneault is touted as one of the best coaches in the league, but did he get outcoached in last year’s finals or was it his big guns that didn’t produce?  They’ve retained the same core from last year and men for man are the best in the league on paper.  They’ll miss Ehrhoff on the PP.  Many think they need to get tougher as Boston showed them in the Cup finals, which they probably do…..but we think Boston exposed the Sundins inability to play through tough man to man coverage.  Luongo was an all-star all season until the playoffs where he became very average, and if it wasn’t for Cory Schneider Vancouver might have been in some trouble early.  1st in goals per game, PP goals, PP %, face-offs and goals against per game they are the class of the division and the conference.

2nd – Minnesota Wild

Coach Mike Yeo knows what it takes to win, apprenticing with the Pittsburgh Penguins as special teams coach….but it’s easy to be a good coach when you have that kind of roster.  In Minny he has the most underrated center in the league in Mikko Koivu .  Dan Heatley comes into town and hopefully has lost the chip off his shoulder….with the right attitude he could be a great pick up.

They lost defenseman Burns, who we thinks was overrated, and picked up Charlie Coyle former Rookie of the Year when he was with Boston U., and he’s going to be an all-star.  The blue line needs some help but is stable with every member being on the right side of the plus minus column last season.  Niklas Backstrom in net is just awesome and keeps them in every game.  Look for them under Yeo to surprise this year.

3rd – Calgary Flames

Coach Brent Sutter is the main reason this seniors group will stay competitive this year.  He’s a no-nonsense guy who demands dedication to defense and gets it.  Jerome Iginla is a proven leader, Tanguay and Bourque should produce nicely again this year.  If they are not in the hunt by mid-season look for them to dismantle and begin a long, long rebuild.  They are hamstrung with twelve no trade contracts thanks to brother Daryl Sutter before Jey Meisters replaced him as GM.  They’ll have to eat a lot of contract money to have any hope of moving players.  Mikka Kiprusoff will have to spectacular and usually is.  They’ll miss Regehr on the blue line a little, but either addition of Chris Butler or Derek Smith should pick up the slack.

4th – Edmonton Oilers

Coach Tom Renney was a pioneer of the trade in the 90’s, and rates alongside Roger Neilson as a strategist and teacher.  This 2012 though and the attitudes of players have changed, no longer is the coach the center of the hockey universe.  This team is chocked full of young superstars….Eberle, Gagner, Hall, Hemsky, Paajarvi and they have a great core of role players to work with the kids.  They have great scoring depth and speed to burn.  The blue line is weak, special teams awful and the goaltending of Khabibulin and Dubnyk suspect.  29th in PK %, 25th in PP goals, 27th in PP %, last in faceoff %, 27th in goals per game, 27th in save % and 28th in goals against.  The team is too good on paper for those kind of numbers, and unfortunately falls on Renney to start treating these guys like needed in today’s game.  Look for Renney to be replaced if they get out to a slow start, if that happens they’ll move up past Calgary.  Uber wealthy owner Daryl Katz doesn’t help matters by sticking his hand in now and again and treating the team like a play toy. Note to Katz…not respectful showing up with your son at the trade table on draft day.

 

5th – Colorado Avalanche

Coach Joe Sacco went from Coach of the Year finalist to a guy with 3 out of 4 losing seasons ( 2 in AHL), so it occurs to us that his system doesn’t work at either level.  He gives his players a lot of freedom on the ice and at times they look confused on defence because of it.  They allowed almost 20 more goals than any other NHL team last year, and their blue line staff isn’t near as bad on paper as that.  GM Greg Sherman made one of the worst trades in recent history giving up Stewart and Shattenkirk to St. Louis for Erik Johnson.  Johnson had just 29 pts on defence last year and was -13 on a pretty good team….Shattenkirk will be an outstanding player.  They’ve brought Joe Sakic back as a “special consultant”, undermining Shermans authority and probably giving Sacco some concern.  Varlamov and Giguere in net are an average at best tandem and won’t help the stats of 30th in PK % and save %, 29th in shut outs and 30th in goals against.  Look for Sacco to be out by Christmas, but it won’t help much.

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