Sunday, August 8, 2010

An Outsider’s Look Outside

Good day loyal reader(s). I’ve been asked by the head honchos of this fine publication to put together an offseason wrap-up and I’m glad to oblige herein. This task was outsourced not because of any deficiency on their parts but because I am grossly unqualified to do anything else on this site, being *gasp* not a Leafs fan.

You may be wondering what a non-Leafs fan is doing writing on a Leafs blog. If so, you’re a nosy little punk and should mind your own b...

Sorry, that was rude. I’m at little testy on this particular off-season because, in addition to not being a Leafs fan, I AM an Oilers fan. It wasn’t a good season for my boys either but that’s no excuse for me to fly off the handle. We still cool?

Good. Because I’m going to need you with me here, this is going to get complicated. You see, gentle reader, despite what the CBC would have you believe, there are teams in the NHL besides the Leafs. 29 of them. Some of them had good offseasons, some of them had bad offseasons, and some of them (New Jersey) have yet to find out from Arbitrator Richard Bloch what kind of offseason they had. 5 of these teams exist as part of a largely unknown entity (at least from Ontario-East) know as…

The Western Conference – Northwest Division

Edmonton Oilers
Incoming via UFA/TradeColin Fraser, Kurtis Foster, Steve MacIntyre, Jim Vandermeer

Top Draft PicksTaylor Hall (1), Tyler Pitlick (31)

Yeah, I’m starting with the Oilers, sue me. That’s not because they had the best offseason (far from it) but because objectively I think it was one of the more interesting. Much has happened and much remains uncertain, like signing RFAs Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, whether or not the rookies Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark will make the team, what will happen with Sheldon Souray, and whether or not the starting goalie will be getting passed around an Arizona jail like Rubles when the season starts.

This is going to be another long season for Oiler fans. The front office has not moved to address some key problems (penalty killers, veteran centres) that have plagued the team since the glorious ’06 Cup run ended. As many as three rookies (Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi) are in position to break camp with the club and, as skilled as they are, rookies will always have growing pains. This is another lottery team and, if all breaks right, the team will pick up franchise defenceman Adam Larsson in the 2011 draft.

Calgary Flames
Incoming via UFA/Trade
Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen, Raitis Ivanans, Tim Jackman

Top Draft PicksMaxwell Reinhart (64)

AnalysisBOOOOOO!! (Sorry, that was reflex.)

The Flames have had a rather quiet offseason, bringing back a couple of former flames (har!) and sitting around the draft table watching other teams actually work. The talk around the Flames this offseason is all about their inevitable decline and the shallowness of their prospect depth. Putting aside my hatred for the moment, I have to say that the additions of Tanguay and Jokinen, while surprising, do make the team better offensively. They won’t be an easy team to play against with the additional hired muscle, and Bouwmeester is due for a bounce-back season. They probably have a good shot at the playoffs and maybe even the division title.

…but after that, they’re screwed.

Vancouver Canucks
Incoming via UFA/TradeDan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Manny Malholtra

Top Draft PicksPatrick McNally (115)

Showing the Flames exactly how to sit on your hands at the draft table, the Canucks traded their first rounder and more to the Panthers in the Ballard deal and didn’t pick until late in the 4th round. Pairing Ballard with Dan Hamhuis and adding third line centre Manny Malholtra to a team that boasts Roberto Luongo on the back end means the Canucks will be tough to score on. The Sedins and the emerging Ryan Kesler will handle the offensive workload and it’s likely that will be enough to see the Canucks walk away with the division crown again.

A couple prospects are knocking at the door in positions of depth (Cody Hodgson, Cory Schneider) and it will be interesting to see if they get traded or forced into the lineup this season.

Minnesota Wild
Incoming via UFA/TradeMatt Cullen, John Madden

Top Draft PicksMikael Granlund (9), Brett Bulmer (39)

AnalysisNothing exciting from our friends in the State of Hockey, but that’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect over the past decade. When the dust settles from the 2010 draft (3-5 years from now), I doubt there will be more than two forwards better than Granlund. Chuck Fletcher has gone back to Minnesota roots with a couple of defensively-responsible forward pickups and you can bet coach Todd Richards has a mandate to slow things down after a rather disastrous attempt to shake off the shackles of the Jacques Lemaire era in 2009-10. Leaf fans, this is one team in the west you can be forgiven if you don’t make an effort to watch.

Colorado Avalanche
Incoming via UFA/TradeNone

Top Draft PicksJoey Hishon (17), Calvin Pickard (49)

By pre-draft rankings, Hishon was a bit of a reach at 17 but Pickard was something of a steal at 49 so I suppose it balances out. The Avs clearly have a gameplan that includes another labour disruption in the NHL after the 2011-12 season because they only have one player signed beyond then – Paul Stastny. Familiar Avs Foote, Hannan and Hejduk are all UFAs after this season and the team is due for a letdown after (let’s be honest) getting lucky last year and making the playoffs. A lot of pucks hit Craig Anderson that won’t this year, and a bottom-7 finish in the west will be enough to make the Avs undergo a massive Habs-style spending spree within the next two offseasons. Alex Semin and Simon Gagne would look pretty nice alongside Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, wouldn’t they?

Projected Division Standings
1. Vancouver
2. Calgary
3. Minnesota
4. Colorado
5. Edmonton

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