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Northwest
Brian Cazeneuve
October 02, 2006
Calgary Flames
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October 02, 2006

Northwest

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Calgary Flames

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

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.

Minnesota Wild

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.

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