NHL Preview: 2009-10
Western Conference: Northwest
That the Flames have been thoroughly Sutterized means the team has zero tolerance for flamboyance on the ice and places a heavy emphasis on defense and fundamental hockey. "That's your security blanket," Brent says. "During tough times in the year, which everybody has, you fall back on your structure."
To return to the Sutters' native Alberta, Brent escaped the final year of his coaching contract in New Jersey, where his highly structured system helped the Devils become the league's fourth-best defensive club. In Calgary, where the team played less rigidly under coach Mike Keenan last season and allowed the eighth-most goals in the league, Brent has even better defensive talent to work with. The Flames signed two-way standout Jay Bouwmeester, a former Panther who averaged 14 goals over the last three seasons and hasn't missed a game since the lockout. He'll join Dion Phaneuf, the Norris Trophy runner-up two years ago, and 6' 3", 227-pound Robyn Regehr on what may be the Western Conference's most punishing defense.
To fit Bouwmeester under the salary cap for five years at $6.68 million a season, Calgary parted with 39-goal scorer Mike Cammalleri. That leaves Captain Jarome Iginla, who had 89 points last season, as the only returnee who scored more than 60 points in 2008-09. If former Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff is on his game, the Flames, who went 27-10-4 at the Saddledome last season, could find themselves playing more than their share of first-goal-wins games.
That's just the way the Sutters like it.
By wrapping up his big-ticket items over the summer, Canucks G.M. Mike Gillis ensured that the team's foundation was solid for years. In June he traveled to Sweden to sign identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who had identical team-leading point totals (82), to identical contracts: five years and $30.5 million apiece. Last month Gillis signed goalie Roberto Luongo to a front-loaded 12-year, $64 million extension (he'll make $10 million in 2010-11).
That left little money to import talent, so the Sedins will again need strong offensive support from Alex Burrows (28 goals) and Ryan Kesler (26), scrappy forwards who had breakout seasons in 2008-09.
Luongo has been a workhorse, averaging more than 69 games and a 2.52 goals-against average over the last six seasons, although last year he missed nearly two months with a groin injury. This season, with the potential to be Team Canada's starting goaltender in the Olympics and the Canucks determined to push deeper into the playoffs, Luongo may have to push himself harder than he ever has before.
After missing the playoffs for a third straight year, Edmonton had an even more uncomfortable off-season. Try as they might to acquire disgruntled winger Dany Heatley from Ottawa, the Oilers couldn't get him to waive his no-trade clause. Worse, someone leaked the names of forwards Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano and defenseman Ladislav Smid as the players Edmonton would have sent to Ottawa for Heatley. New coach Pat Quinn could have used Heatley's firepower. Edmonton was the only team in the conference without a 25-goal scorer, and its most formidable offensive weapon is a defenseman -- Sheldon Souray, whose booming shot helped him tie for the club lead with 23 goals, including a team-high 12 on the power play. The acquisition of free-agent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, 36, is small solace; he replaces the solid Dwayne Roloson, who went to the Islanders. For a club that finished below average in offense, defense, power play, penalty killing, shots and shots allowed, there's little reason to believe they will be any better this season.
From the Wild's NHL debut in 2000-01 through the end of the '08-09 season the team had three constants: G.M. Doug Risebrough, coach Jacques Lemaire and star forward Marian Gaborik. Now they're all gone. New G.M. Chuck Fletcher and first-year coach Todd Richards have promised to ramp up the approach of a team that lived and died by trying to score early and then trapping opponents into submission. Last year Minnesota took the fewest shots per game (27.5) in the league, had the NHL's second-best penalty kill (87.6%) and won 28 of 30 games it led after two periods. In other words, games were decided early in the land of the not-so-Wild.
A new (read: up-tempo) style will rely largely on scorers on the back end of their careers, such as 37-year-old winger Owen Nolan (25 goals) and 36-year-old winger Andrew Brunette (22). Imported sniper Martin Havlat has plenty of giddyap, but before last season he had a long history of injuries, including three shoulder surgeries. The tempo may increase in Minnesota, but postseason prospects won't improve.
Things were so bad in Colorado last spring that when Patrick Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie who wants to become an NHL coach, was offered the Avalanche job in May, he chose to stay behind the bench of his junior team, the Quebec Remparts. The snickerer says Roy may have stayed with the better team. Colorado finished last in the NHL, with 190 goals -- and that was when it had 26-goal scorer Ryan Smyth, who was traded to Los Angeles -- and last in the conference in goals allowed, with 257.
The Avalanche hopes the future lies with 18-year-old center Matt Duchene, the No. 3 pick in the June draft, who could become the franchise's first impact teenager since 19-year-old Joe Sakic broke in with the then Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89. If Duchene emerges as expected, he and Paul Stastny (above, 36 points in 45 games last season) could serve the team well at center for a decade or more. For the new tandem of G.M. Greg Sherman and coach Joe Sacco, however, it will take years before they can even dream about recapturing the glory days when Sakic and Roy won Cups in Denver.
Throwback: Jarome Iginla
On the Spot: Shawn Horcoff
The Edmonton center's six-year, $33 million contract -- serious coin for a guy who had 53 points in 80 games last season -- begins this year. He's a vocal member of the NHLPA, but it's time for his stick to do some talking.
On the Verge: Craig Anderson
The Avalanche goalie may not win even 30 games this season, but after going 23-13-6 with a .928 save percentage in part-time duty with a so-so Florida team for the past two years, he's ready to establish himself as a solid No. 1.
-- Brian CazeneuvePierre McGuire's In the Crease
Two players to watch in Calgary are former Western Hockey League stars Dustin Boyd and Nigel Dawes, who may find their way under coach Brent Sutter's watch.... Vancouver defenseman Alex Edler, 23, will take on increasing responsibility with Mattias Öhlund gone, and could become a dominant player.... The Wild's new management team needs to find a way to get forwards James Sheppard and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to compete at the same high level as first-line center Mikko Koivu.... Keys to the Oilers: Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, forwards who must be more determined to score. If they're not, it won't matter how wide-open coach Pat Quinn has Edmonton play.
This article appears in the October 5, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
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