LAST SEASON: 46-25-11, third in West; lost in first round to Anaheim KEY ADDITIONS: Coach Jim Playfair, LW Jeff Friesen, LW Alex Tanguay, C Andrei Taratuhkin, D Andrei Zyuzin KEY LOSSES: Coach Darryl Sutter, RW Shean Donovan, D Jordan Leopold
Iginla's production should pick up with Tanguay riding on the other wing.
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Darryl Sutter prefers to operate in a high-comfort, low-risk environment. To wit: When Sutter, the Flames G.M., gave up his coaching duties this summer, he handed the reins to assistant Jim Playfair; Sutter's roster includes six former Florida Panthers, the team for which his brother Duane is director of player development; and in July, Sutter signed free-agent forward Jeff Friesen from San Jose, where Sutter had previously coached him (and Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames' all-world goaltender).
So it's a big deal that Sutter's best off-season acquisition was former Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay, with whom Sutter had no previous ties (beyond the fact that Tanguay was a boil in Sutter's backside for six seasons, with 25 points in 28 games against Sutter-coached teams). Tanguay doesn't fit the Sutter prototype; he isn't especially physical and often overpasses. But putting Tanguay on the left side of a line that has All-Star Jarome Iginla on the right will make life easy for anyone plugged into the center spot, and Tanguay (a four-time 25-goal scorer) adds needed punch to a team that was 28th in goals scored (218) last year.
Playfair is more tactful than Sutter, who frequently offered subtle criticisms of Iginla after losses, saying, for example, "Our best players weren't our best players tonight." But don't expect the new coach to stray from Sutter's defense-first strategy, not even with Tanguay in the fold. (The Flames allowed a league-low 200 goals in 2005-06.) "Darryl and I are different personalities," Playfair says, "but our belief in how the game should be played is really similar." That is, with minimal risk.
LAST SEASON: 38-36-8, 11th in West KEY ADDITIONS: D Keith Carney, LW Pavol Demitra, D Kim Johnsson, RW Mark Parrish, RW Branko Radivojevic KEY LOSSES: C Marc Chouinard, D Alex Henry, D Filip Kuba, C Randy Robitaille, D Daniel Tjarnqvist, RW Kyle Wanvig, D Andrei Zyuzin
In one dizzying summer the Wild went from spendthrifts to big spenders. This was G.M. Doug Risebrough's plan since the franchise's first season in 2000-01: Put together a young team, wait to see which players would become cornerstones and maintain enough spending flexibility to be able to fill all the remaining holes. But fans had become impatient with the conservative approach of a club that, despite selling out every home game every season, still had a postlockout payroll of only $25 million. Even All-Star right wing Marian Gaborik was threatening to take the team to arbitration if it didn't give him his fair share.
So Risebrough finally went on a shopping spree. From June 24 through July 5 he committed to $64.85 million in long-term deals, acquiring forwards Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish plus defensemen Keith Carney and Kim Johnsson, then signing Gaborik to a three-year extension. The team's '06-07 payroll will count $41.8 million against the cap.
Now there is great optimism heading into the season. But like division rival Calgary, Minnesota is not about to become a freewheeling offensive club. "If we don't buy into the team concept," Risebrough says, "we'll never win." That's more like the conservative G.M. that Wild fans know.
LAST SEASON: 41-28-13, eighth in West; lost in Stanley Cup finals to Carolina KEY ADDITIONS: D Jan Hejda, RW Joffrey Lupul, RW Petr Sykora, D Daniel Tjarnqvist KEY LOSSES: D Chris Pronger, D Jaroslav Spacek
Roloson hopes to prove his playoff performance wasn't an aberration.
David E. Klutho/SI
No other team has a bigger question mark than the Oilers do in goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Sure, other goalies have had breakout playoff runs that surpassed anything they'd done that regular season -- a 23-year-old Ken Dryden played only six games before backstopping the Canadiens to the 1971 Stanley Cup, and a 20-year-old Patrick Roy, also with Montreal, dropped his goals-against average by 1.43 in the 1986 postseason -- but how often has that keeper been a 36-year-old career backup? (Roloson has won almost as many games in the AHL, 90, as he has with four NHL teams, 97.) Last year Roloson, who broke into the NHL in 1996 and had been a No. 1 goalie for only two of his eight seasons, became Edmonton's starter in March after he was acquired from the Wild for a first-round pick. Roloson had six career playoff wins before he went 12-5 last spring and carried the Oilers to the finals -- only to suffer a sprained right knee in Game 1 and miss the rest of the series.
Was Roloson's masterly postseason performance an anomaly? With All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger now in Anaheim, Edmonton will quickly find out. The Oilers should sneak into the playoffs again as a No. 8 seed, but this time they won't have enough to repeat their postseason run.
LAST SEASON: 42-32-8, ninth in West KEY ADDITIONS: Coach Alain Vigneault, C Jan Bulis, D Lukas Krajicek, G Roberto Luongo, D Willie Mitchell KEY LOSSES: Coach Marc Crawford, D Bryan Allen, D Nolan Baumgartner, RW Todd Bertuzzi, RW Anson Carter, G Dan Cloutier, D Ed Jovanovski, LW Jarkko Ruutu
Memo to Alain Vigneault: Name tags might help. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the Canucks brought in 14 players, hired a new coaching staff and changed the team's defensive philosophy. Vancouver will now use a team concept that incorporates the forwards into the defensive scheme. "I'm not going to take away from our strengths," says Vigneault. "We've got great offensive talent, but I want us to be sound in our zone." Of course, the new system includes a new goalie, 27-year-old Roberto Luongo, a prize acquisition from the Panthers, in a five-player trade, who is still developing into an elite netminder. This year Luongo -- like the Canucks -- gets a fresh start.
LAST SEASON: 43-30-9, seventh in West; lost in second round to Anaheim KEY ADDITIONS: C Tyler Arnason,D Jordan Leopold, RW Mark Rycroft KEY LOSSES: D Rob Blake, RW Dan Hinote, LW Alex Tanguay
Look around the NHL at the talent the Avalanche have given up: Peter Forsberg in Philadelphia, Adam Foote in Columbus, Paul Kariya in Nashville and, this season, Rob Blake in Los Angeles and Alex Tanguay in Calgary. Also on the way out is the franchise's 11-season streak of reaching the playoffs. At 37, captain Joe Sakic is still a scoring threat and one of the game's class acts. Right wing Milan Hejduk is a first-class sniper, but he scored only 24 times in '05-06 as he was slow to recover from knee surgery. Jordan Leopold was a nice addition to the defense, but he isn't as well-rounded as Blake. Looking around the Pepsi Center, the view isn't so good. -- Brian Cazeneuve
MVP: MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF, G, Flames
His 1.69 goals-against average in the prelockout season was a modern-day standard that isn't likely to be challenged for a while. But considering the NHL's subsequent rules changes, the 29-year-old netminder's performance last year (2.07 GAA, 10 shutouts, .923 save percentage) might have been even better.
On the Verge: JOFFREY LUPUL, RW, Oilers
Anyone who can score 28 goals as a 22-year-old on an Anaheim ice that resembles the surface of the moon should deliver even more with a year of seasoning and a switch to a clean sheet in Edmonton. And Lupul will get plenty of chances to produce on the power play, something he didn't get last season.
On the Spot: MARKUS NASLUND, LW, Canucks
Nobody wants to say that the Swede hasn't been the same since he took a crushing hit from Colorado's Steve Moore in February 2004, but Naslund went from plus-24 that season to minus-19 last year. With on-ice bodyguard Todd Bertuzzi now in Florida, Naslund must show he can compete at both ends.