Summer preview: Northwest Division - LA Kings Insider

Last night was a tough one for the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, but they’re still in good shape in the Stanley Cup Finals. How are the Canucks, and the rest of the Northwest Division teams, looking this summer? Here’s a team-by-team looking, starting with how they finished this season…

1. Vancouver Canucks, 117 points (1st in Western Conference)
2. Calgary Flames, 94 points (10th in Western Conference)
3. Minnesota Wild, 86 points (12th in Western Conference)
4. Colorado Avalanche, 68 points (14th in Western Conference)
5. Edmonton Oilers, 62 points (15th in Western Conference)

CALGARY FLAMES
Hanging around?: There is some hope here for the Flames, who almost made a late-season charge to the playoffs after a dreadful start. The Flames had little trouble scoring goals this season and, apparently having decided to hold onto Jarome Iginla, rather than explore trade options, will return most of their forwards, plus defensemen Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano, the latter having been smartly locked up to a contract extension during the season.
Saying goodbye?: Alex Tanguay, a 22-goal scorer, is an unrestricted free agent, but otherwise the Flames aren’t looking at significant losses. Veteran forward Brendan Morrison is a UFA, as are defensemen Anton Babchuk and Brett Carson, but those two are not critical parts of the team and, besides, the Flames could stand to have something of a rebuild on defense, given that they ranked 11th in the conference in goals allowed.
Draft card: By all accounts, Darryl Sutter didn’t exactly leave the cupboard full of prospects when he was fired. The Flames were built to win now, and it doesn’t seem that they will be able to do a lot of short-term rebuilding from within. Tim Erixon, American-born son of former Swedish defenseman Jan Erixon, provides something of a hope on defense, but Tim Erixon is only 20 and has yet to play professionally on North American soil.
(Restricted free agents: John Armstrong, C; Gord Baldwin, D; Hugo Carpentier, C; Leland irving, G; Josh Meyers, D; Brendan Mikkelson, D; Matt Pelech, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Anton Babchuk, D; Brett Carson, D; Kris Chucko, RW; Craig Conroy, C; Cam Cunning, LW; Henrik Karlsson, G; Matt Keetley, G; Staffan Kronwall, D; Fredrik Modin, LW; Brendan Morrison, C; Adam Pardy, D; Steve Staios, D; Ryan Stone, C; Alex Tanguay, LW.)

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Hanging around?: The Avalanche surprisingly regressed this season, despite some deep talent at forward and defense. Colorado is strong down the middle with enters Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene, and veteran 20-goal scorer Milan Hejduk decided to return rather than retire. Colorado hopes young 20-goal scorer Peter Mueller will finally be able to return from concussion symptoms, and that young defensemen Erik Johnson and Kyle Quincey can enjoy bounce-back seasons.
Saying goodbye?: What will they do in goal? Brian Elliott, acquired via midseason trade, was mostly terrible in Colorado, and veteran goalie Peter Budaj is an unrestricted free agent, as is veteran backup John Grahame. Is Colorado ready to commit to Elliott. Beyond that, Tomas Fleeischmann is a UFA, but his loss wouldn’t really be felt, given that he was a midseason acquisition who played only 22 games for Colorado before suffering a season-ending injury.
Draft card: Calvin Pickard has been the best in-house goalie prospect, but had a surprisingly rough season in the WHL, with a 3.36 goals-against average. Colorado has another strong forward prospect in Joey Hishon, but the depth is on defense, with Stefan Elliott, Cameron Gaunce and others. Given that the Avalanche allowed the most goals in the Western Conference this season, more defense can’t hurt, even if it is used for trade bait to acquire some help in goal.
(Restricted free agents: Kyle Cumiskey, D; Philippe Dupuis, C; Brian Elliott, G; Tom Fritsche, LW; TJ Galiardi, LW; Matt Hunwick, D; David Jones, RW; Raymond Macias, D; Justin Mercier, F; Ryan O’Byrne, D; Kevin Porter, C; Harrison Reed, RW; Ryan Stoa, C; Ryan Wilson, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Jason Bacashihua, G; Shawn Belle, D; Peter Budaj, G; Tomas Fleischmann, LW/RW; Adam Foote, D; Peter Forsberg, C; John Grahame, G; David Koci, LW/D; David Liffiton, D; Greg Mauldin, RW; Julian Talbot, C; David Van Der Gulik, RW; Ben Walter, C.)

EDMONTON OILERS
Hanging around?: This is a young team, one built for the future, so not surprisingly almost all of the key pieces are in place for next season. The Oilers decided to hold onto Ales Hemsky at the trade deadline, so at age 27 he’s the “old hand” among a top-nine group of forwards led by Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner. The Oilers are more experienced on the back end. In goal, they can choose between young Devan Dubnyk and veteran Nikolai Khabibulin.
Saying goodbye?: The Oilers’ biggest off-ice challenge, in the next couple years, will be to keep all these young players under contract. The challenge isn’t all that significant this summer, given that the restricted free agents are mostly complementary players, including centers Andrew Cogliano and Ryan O’Marra. On defense, veteran Jim Vandermeer is an unrestricted free agent while Theo Peckham and Ladislav Smid are restricted free agents.
Draft card: Fans in Edmonton have been patient for the last couple years, and even though it was a tough season on the ice, they’re starting to see the fruits of the build-from-within strategy. Most of the young forwards are now in place, but the Oilers still have the ability to bring along a couple top defensive prospects, including Martin Marincin and Jeff Petry. Both players have good offensive potential, and Petry already got a 35-game taste of the NHL this season.
(Restricted free agents: Jordan Bendfeld, D; Taylor Chorney, D; Andrew Cogliano, C; Jean-Francois Jacques, LW; Matt Marquardt, LW; Kevin Montgomery, D; Ryan O’Marra, C; Theo Peckham, D; Bryan Pitton, G; Liam Reddox, LW; Ladislav Smid, D; Zack Stortini, C.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Jeff Deslauriers, G; Martin Gerber, G; Alexandre Giroux, C; Steve MacIntyre, F; Brad Moran, C; Ben Ondrus, RW; Richard Petiot, D; Gregory Stewart, LW; Jason Strudwick, D; Jim Vandermeer, D.)

MINNESOTA WILD
Hanging around?: There is some good news for the Wild. They were a decent defensive team this season, and have goalie Niklas Backstrom and all six top defensemen — most notably Brent Burns and Greg Zanon — under contract for at least one more season, and all of the defensemen are 31 or under. Up front, the Wild’s only returning 20-goal scorer is Martin Havlat, who totaled 22 goals for $5 million but did manage to stay healthy for a second consecutive season.
Saying goodbye?: The Wild scored the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference this season, so perhaps a makeover at forward isn’t the worst thing in the world. Antti Miettinen, a 16-goal scorer, is a restricted free agent, as is 37-year-old Andrew Brunette, who was relatively productive with 18 goals. Backup goalie Jose Theodore is a UFA as well, but Minnesota has a handful of goalie prospects under contract, one of whom might be able to step into that role.
Draft card: If the Wild are looking for some immediate in-house help up front, it’s not really there. Jon DiSalvatore was a 28-goal scorer in the AHL this season, but Mikael Granlund, arguably Minnesota’s top forward prospect, wasn’t drafted until last year, is 19 and has yet to play on North American soil. Matthew Hackett was solid in 45 games in the AHL this season and could be ready to back up Backstrom in goal.
(Restricted free agents: Justin Falk, D; Colton Gillies, LW; Maxim Noreau, D; Patrick O’Sullivan, LW; Jarod Palmer, F; Jeff Penner, D; Nate Prosser, D; James Sheppard, C; Casey Wellman, C.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Drew Bagnall, D; Andrew Brunette, LW; Jean-Michel Daoust, RW; Robbie Earl, LW; Jamie Fraser, D; Josh Harding, G; Chuck Kobasew, RW; John Madden, C; Antti Miettinen, LW; Jed Ortmeyer, RW; Jose Theodore, G.)

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Hanging around?: The core pieces are not going anywhere. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are locked up through 2014, Ryan Kesler is locked up through 2016, Alexandre Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler still have multiple years left and Roberto Luongo might spend the next decade in Vancouver. As insurance, backup goalie Cory Schneider is still under contract, and so are complementary players such as Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond and Keith Ballard.
Saying goodbye?: The Canucks have been a grittier team this season, and that’s what they risk losing a bit of this summer. Bottom-six forwards such as Tanner Glass and Raffi Torres, and defensemen such as Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, helped give the Canucks some bite this season. All will be unrestricted free agents this summer, and it’s unlikely that the Canucks will be able to keep that group intact. Depth winger Christopher Higgins is also a UFA.
Draft card: It’s quite possible that Cody Hodgson, who got a taste of the NHL with eight games this season, will be ready to step in and fill one of those bottom-six roles. He’s known to be a strong two-way player, and that would help. Otherwise, the Canucks aren’t going to get a lot of immediate help, but that’s OK, because they’re built to win now. Darren Archibald and Prab Rai had 40-goal seasons in the OHL and WHL, respectively.
(Restricted free agents: Mario Bliznak, C; Jannik Hansen, RW; Maxim Lapierre, C; Victor Oreskovich, RW; MacGregor Sharp, C; Sergei Shirokov, RW; Lee Sweatt, F.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Andrew Alberts, D; Jonas Andersson, LW; Nolan Baumgartner, D; Kevin Bieksa, D; Alexandre Bolduc, C; Guillaume Desbiens, RW; Christian Ehrhoff, D; Tanner Glass, LW; Chris Higgins, LW; Nathan Paetsch, D; Andrew Peters, LW; Rick Rypien, C; Sami Salo, D; Jeff Tambellini, LW; Raffi Torres, LW; Tyler Weiman, G.)