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Sunday, October 17, 2010

NHL Preview: Northwest Division Defense

This is my metaphor for the Flames being their own worst enemy.  Amiright?

Vancouver Canucks
Defensemen
Alexander Edler - Christian Ehrhoff
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard

Goaltender
Roberto Luongo

With the exception of Alberts, all of these defensemen are sound, two-way players, maybe not having the flash of the forward lines but supplying a sturdy base for what those forwards create.  Ehrhoff was a pleasant surprise last year, and he has the ability to duplicate last season.  Edler has a very similar skill set to Ehrhoff, and is equally capable of doing what Ehrhoff's done.  Hamhuis was a savvy add, essentially taking Willie Mitchell's place and adding a bit of offense.  Bieksa's shot is underrated, and Keith Ballard would be top 4 on any other team in the league.  Luongo, of course, is a regular season stalwart, and there's little reason for him to regress.  Playoffs?  Don't talk to me about playoffs...we're just trying to win a game.

Colorado Avalanche
Defensemen
Scott Hannan - Kyle Quincey
Kyle Cumiskey - Jonas Holos
John-Michael Liles - Ryan Wilson

Goaltender
Craig Anderson

The Avs have an interesting blend of offensive and defensive defensemen, which worked just fine for them last year.  You essentially have to think of this group as including Adam Foote, who has slowed down and won't be playing every game.  Foote is more of a figurehead nowadays, kind of like Derian Hatcher's last year where he could be effective one moment, pylon-esque the next (though, to be fair, Hatcher was wearing orange in the end).  The biggest problem is physicality, which takes a pretty big hit (pun intended) if Foote is scratched.  Anderson was the big surprise last year, and I think there a quite a few who think he'll regress.  That rests squarely on this unit and the scoring, but I'd lean towards saying that this group can recapture the magic.

Calgary Flames
Defensemen
Robyn Regehr - Ian White
Jay Bouwmeester - Steve Staios
Mark Giordano - Cory Sarich

Goaltender
Miikka Kiprusoff

It was pretty close between the Flames and Oilers, but I have to give the Flames the edge because not even Oilers fans know who their main goalie will be this year.  Regehr and White go unappreciated in this unit, only occasionally noticed when one of them takes it off the dome.  I like them, though.  Bouwmeester can't possibly be as bad as he was last year, can he?  Kipper played above himself last year, so expect him to come back to earth a bit, but he's still a good goalie who can steal games.

Edmonton Oilers
Defensemen
Ryan Whitney - Kurtis Foster
Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Theo Peckham - Jim Vandermeer

Goaltender
Nikolai Khabibulin - Jeff Deslauriers

Buoyed by the solid player of 'Bulin early this year, the Oilers have shown flashes of talent that suggest good things for the future.  That being said, we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, as the defensive unit is not particularly good defensively and will yield a lot of opportunities for opponents.  What they're best at is generating offense, and at any given point Whitney, Foster, or Gilbert can lead a fairly potent powerplay.  Smid and Vandermeer are "hard hat" players that will go to work for the team, but they aren't enough to shut down some of the better offenses in the Northwest.  The goalie situation, regardless of how it looks right now, is constantly in flux, and without options that bode well for the next couple of years.

Minnesota Wild
Defensemen
Brent Burns - Greg Zanon
Nick Schultz - Marek Zidlicky
Cam Barker - Justin Falk

Goaltender
Niklas Backstrom

What kind of baffles me is that the personnel here is almost identical to the pre-Todd Richards years, despite the fact that Richards has tried to revamp and remove the previously defensive-minded Minnesota system.  Under Richards' tutelage, this group has looked out-of-place and outmatched at times.  Burns is a talented player when healthy, but even he looks lost out there.  Backstrom has also suffered with the shift, and in general I won't think highly of this unit until they get back to the old style.

The Northwest has a couple of very strong teams, one marginal team, and one that could surprise, and the defensive units reflect that.  While stifling defense is not characteristic of this division, don't be surprised to see at least one Vezina candidate come out of here.

Northwest Division Defense Rankings
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Calgary Flames
4. Edmonton Oilers
5. Minnesota Wild

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