LAST SEASON46-25-11, third in West; lost in first round to Anaheim
KEY ADDITIONS Coach Jim Playfair, LW Jeff Friesen, LW Alex Tanguay, C AndreiTaratuhkin, D Andrei Zyuzin
KEY LOSSES Coach Darryl Sutter, RW Shean Donovan, D Jordan Leopold
Darryl Sutterprefers to operate in a high-comfort, low-risk environment. To wit: WhenSutter, the Flames G.M., gave up his coaching duties this summer, he handed thereins to assistant Jim Playfair; Sutter's roster includes six former FloridaPanthers, the team for which his brother Duane is director of playerdevelopment; and in July, Sutter signed free-agent forward Jeff Friesen fromSan Jose, where Sutter had previously coached him (and Miikka Kiprusoff, theFlames' all-world goaltender).
So it's a bigdeal that Sutter's best off-season acquisition was former Avalanche forwardAlex Tanguay, with whom Sutter had no previous ties (beyond the fact thatTanguay was a boil in Sutter's backside for six seasons, with 25 points in 28games against Sutter-coached teams). Tanguay doesn't fit the Sutter prototype;he isn't especially physical and often overpasses. But putting Tanguay on theleft side of a line that has All-Star Jarome Iginla on the right will make lifeeasy for anyone plugged into the center spot, and Tanguay (a four-time 25-goalscorer) adds needed punch to a team that was 28th in goals scored (218) lastyear.
Playfair is moretactful than Sutter, who frequently offered subtle criticisms of Iginla afterlosses, saying, for example, "Our best players weren't our best playerstonight." But don't expect the new coach to stray from Sutter'sdefense-first strategy, not even with Tanguay in the fold. (The Flames alloweda league-low 200 goals in 2005--06.) "Darryl and I are differentpersonalities," Playfair says, "but our belief in how the game shouldbe played is really similar." That is, with minimal risk.
LAST SEASON38-36-8, 11th in West
KEY ADDITIONS D Keith Carney, LW Pavol Demitra, D Kim Johnsson, RW MarkParrish, RW Branko Radivojevic
KEY LOSSES C Marc Chouinard, D Alex Henry, D Filip Kuba, C Randy Robitaille, DDaniel Tjarnqvist, RW Kyle Wanvig, D Andrei Zyuzin
In one dizzyingsummer the Wild went from spendthrifts to big spenders. This was G.M. DougRisebrough's plan since the franchise's first season in 2000--01: Put togethera young team, wait to see which players would become cornerstones and maintainenough spending flexibility to be able to fill all the remaining holes. Butfans had become impatient with the conservative approach of a club that,despite selling out every home game every season, still had a postlockoutpayroll of only $25 million. Even All-Star right wing Marian Gaborik wasthreatening to take the team to arbitration if it didn't give him his fairshare.
So Risebroughfinally 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 MarkParrish plus defensemen Keith Carney and Kim Johnsson, then signing Gaborik toa three-year extension. The team's '06--07 payroll will count $41.8 millionagainst the cap.
Now there isgreat optimism heading into the season. But like division rival Calgary,Minnesota is not about to become a freewheeling offensive club. "If wedon't buy into the team concept," Risebrough says, "we'll neverwin." That's more like the conservative G.M. that Wild fans know.
LAST SEASON41-28-13, eighth in West; lost in Stanley Cup finals to Carolina
KEY ADDITIONS D Jan Hejda, RW Joffrey Lupul, RW Petr Sykora, D DanielTjarnqvist
KEY LOSSES D Chris Pronger, D Jaroslav Spacek
No other team hasa bigger question mark than the Oilers do in goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Sure,other goalies have had breakout playoff runs that surpassed anything they'ddone that regular season--a 23-year-old Ken Dryden played only six games beforebackstopping the Canadiens to the 1971 Stanley Cup, and a 20-year-old PatrickRoy, also with Montreal, dropped his goals-against average by 1.43 in the 1986postseason--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 NHLteams, 97.) Last year Roloson, who broke into the NHL in 1996 and had been aNo. 1 goalie for only two of his eight seasons, became Edmonton's starter inMarch after he was acquired from the Wild for a first-round pick. Roloson hadsix career playoff wins before he went 12--5 last spring and carried the Oilersto the finals--only to suffer a sprained right knee in Game 1 and miss the restof the series.
Was Roloson'smasterly postseason performance an anomaly? With All-Star defenseman ChrisPronger now in Anaheim, Edmonton will quickly find out. The Oilers should sneakinto the playoffs again as a No. 8 seed, but this time they won't have enoughto repeat their postseason run.
LAST SEASON42-32-8, ninth in West
KEY ADDITIONS Coach Alain Vigneault, C Jan Bulis, D Lukas Krajicek, G RobertoLuongo, D Willie Mitchell
KEY LOSSES Coach Marc Crawford, D Bryan Allen, D Nolan Baumgartner, RW ToddBertuzzi, RW Anson Carter, G Dan Cloutier, D Ed Jovanovski, LW Jarkko Ruutu
Memo to AlainVigneault: Name tags might help. After failing to make the playoffs for thefirst time since 2000, the Canucks brought in 14 players, hired a new coachingstaff and changed the team's defensive philosophy. Vancouver will now use ateam concept that incorporates the forwards into the defensive scheme. "I'mnot going to take away from our strengths," says Vigneault. "We've gotgreat 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 prizeacquisition from the Panthers, in a five-player trade, who is still developinginto an elite netminder. This year Luongo--like the Canucks--gets a freshstart.
LAST SEASON43-30-9, 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 theNHL 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 inLos Angeles and Alex Tanguay in Calgary. Also on the way out is the franchise's11-season streak of reaching the playoffs. At 37, captain Joe Sakic is still ascoring threat and one of the game's class acts. Right wing Milan Hejduk is afirst-class sniper, but he scored only 24 times in '05--06 as he was slow torecover 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, theview isn't so good.
His 1.69 goals-against average in the prelockoutseason was a modern-day standard that isn't likely to be challenged for awhile. But considering the NHL's subsequent rules changes, the 29-year-oldnetminder's performance last year (2.07 GAA, 10 shutouts, .923 save percentage)might have been even better.
On the Verge
Anyone who can score 28 goals as a 22-year-old on anAnaheim ice that resembles the surface of the moon should deliver even morewith a year of seasoning and a switch to a clean sheet in Edmonton. And Lupulwill get plenty of chances to produce on the power play, something he didn'tget last season.
On the Spot
Nobody wants to say that the Swede hasn't been thesame 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-icebodyguard Todd Bertuzzi now in Florida, Naslund must show he can compete atboth ends.
PIERRE MCGUIRE'S IN THE CREASE
THE FLAMES' secret offensive weapon is speedy centerMatthew Lombardi, 24, a former scoring leader in the minors who appears healthyafter battling postconcussion syndrome over the past two years.... The Wild ismore talented offensively than it has ever been. Coach Jacques Lemaire, who hasmade his career preaching defense, will have to alter his game plan to takeadvantage of scorers such as Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish.... The Oilers arecounting heavily on two young players--defenseman Ladislav Smid, to play thekey minutes opened up by the loss of Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Pronger, andcenter Rob Schremp, who could become the team's best pure scorer.... Themillion-dollar question in Vancouver: Can Mattias Ohlund handle the load as theteam's No. 1 defenseman?... The Avalanche's only hope for the playoffs is forgoalie José Théodore to regain his MVP form of 2001--02. Not likely.
GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES
IGGY'S POP Iginla's production should pick up with Tanguay riding on the other wing.
DAVID E. KLUTHO (ROLOSON)
ONE-HIT WONDER? Roloson hopes to prove his playoff performance wasn't an aberration.
RON LEBLANC/WIREIMAGE.COM (KIPRUSOFF)
ANDY DEVLIN (LUPUL)
LOU CAPOZZOLA (NASLUND)