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Western Conference: Northwest
Brian Cazeneuve
October 08, 2007
MINNESOTA WILD
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October 08, 2007

Western Conference: Northwest

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Darryl Sutter's decision to lure Mike Keenan back behind the bench gives the Flames the most hard-nosed G.M.-coach tandem in the NHL. That may be just the kick in the pants this underachieving team needs: Last year Calgary led the NHL in home wins with 30, but it had only 13 wins away from the Saddledome.

Keenan's arrival should be a hit with captain Jarome Iginla, the kind of talented leader Keenan had in Mark Messier when he coached his only Stanley Cup winner, the 1993-94 Rangers. Moreover, All-Star Miikka Kiprusoff is the type of consistent goalie whom Keenan (a.k.a. Captain Hook) can ride and ridicule without having to worry about his psyche.

For whipping boys, Keenan can look to forwards Alex Tanguay, who led the Flames with 59 assists but isn't physical and doesn't take criticism well, and Kristian Huselius (34 goals in 2006-07), whom Keenan, then the Panthers G.M., branded as too soft when he traded him to Calgary in December '05.

With four trips to the Cup finals and one championship, Keenan is a proven winner and a perfect partner in Sutter's bulldog act. Still, his presence won't be enough to get the Flames deep into the playoffs.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

LAST SEASON 49-26-7 (third in West); lost in conference semifinals to Anaheim

KEY ADDITIONS D Aaron Miller, RW Ryan Shannon

KEY LOSS C Bryan Smolinski

A subtle adjustment to his posture last fall may have turned around the season for goaltender Roberto Luongo and his team. Luongo's old stance--legs spread low and wide--limited his lateral mobility and kept him from seeing over traffic in front of him. So last November he began to stand taller in net. Weeks after the change, the Canucks began standing taller too. A game under .500 at Christmas, Vancouver finished the season on a 32-8-6 tear. Luongo was second in the NHL with 47 wins, fourth in save percentage (.921) and sixth in goals-against average (2.29).

It helps that Luongo may have the league's deepest group of defensemen playing in front of him, but he is the Canucks' meal ticket, a tireless worker whom coaches must often persuade to slow down in practice. "You always want to improve," Luongo says. "When you stay at the same level, people start passing you."

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