44-28-10, 3rd in West; lost in first round to Avalanche
D Marc-Andre Bergeron, LW Andrew Brunette, RW Antti Miettinen, RW Owen Nolan, DMarek Zidlicky
RW Pavol Demitra, RW Mark Parrish, RW Brian Rolston
WHEN THE Wild setabout retooling in the off-season, the team's goal was not merely to duplicateits first-ever division championship—Minnesota would have had a strong shot atthat without changing much of anything—but rather to better itsone-round-and-out playoff showing of the past two seasons. "You can't befearful of change," general manager Doug Risebrough says. "I reallyfeel good about the team. Does that mean I know exactly how it's going to go,that I feel totally comfortable? No."
Among the playersMinnesota imported are soft-handed, concrete-footed left wing Andrew Brunette,a popular Wild player from 2001--02 through '03--04; veteran winger Owen Nolan,who still has an edge at age 36; and, most important, puck-moving defensemanMarek Zidlicky. They should compensate for the loss of offensive-mindedforwards Brian Rolston (31 goals last year) and Pavol Demitra (54 points) andyield Risebrough's desired fresh outlook.
The Wild's playofffortunes, though, will likely continue to revolve around two holdovers: rightwing Marian Gaborik, whose 42 goals led the team in 2007--08; and JacquesLemaire, the only head coach in Wild history. Lemaire, who can find a way towin a 2--1 game as well as any coach, will goad his talented team—defensemanBrent Burns and center Mikko Koivu are budding stars—to clamp down defensively.The explosive Gaborik needs to avoid the groin injuries that slowed him attimes in recent years. He is set to be a free agent next summer, and Lemaire,63, has intimated that this could be his final season.
Now, if those twoleave, Minnesota would really be in for a change.
41-35-6, 9th in West
LW Erik Cole, D Lubomir Visnovsky
D Matt Greene, D Joni Pitkanen, C Marty Reasoner, C Jarret Stoll, LW RaffiTorres
A 14-5-1 RUN toclose last season; an off-season buoyed by a new, happy-to-spend owner and theacquisition of big-minute players Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky; the healthyreturns of defenseman Sheldon Souray and forwards Shawn Horcoff (above) andEthan Moreau. Folks, there's excitement in Edmonton. "The level ofexpectation is probably higher than it's been since I've been here," saysHorcoff, an Oiler since 2000--01.
Coach CraigMacTavish even says that his players "fit the mold" of achampionship-caliber team. Edmonton's forwards, goosed by creative youngstersSam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano will be effective—and entertaining—as they pushthe puck up-ice. The defense promises to be more consistent than last year's.Yet journeyman goalie Mathieu Garon remains a question mark, and the Oilerscannot expect to replicate last year's uncanny 15--4 record in shootouts. Theseare indeed high times in Edmonton, but perhaps not quite as high as the teamwants to believe.
42-30-10, 7th in West; lost in first round to Sharks
RW Todd Bertuzzi, LW Rene Bourque, C Mike Cammalleri, RW Andre Roy
LW Kristian Huselius, RW Owen Nolan, LW Alex Tanguay, C Stephane Yelle
WHEN CALGARY gaveTodd Bertuzzi a one-year deal 10 days after he was bought out by Anaheim, itwas either a desperate measure or a worthy gamble. The Flames, up against thesalary cap, lost two productive forwards, Kristian Huselius and Alex Tanguay,and needed scoring. Bertuzzi came cheap and is being reunited with Flames coachMike Keenan, who helped get the power forward's career on track in Vancouver inthe late 1990s. "A lot of my success has come from him and how he usedme," Bertuzzi says.
Of course,Bertuzzi, 33, hasn't been the same after drawing a yearlong ban for his on-iceattack of Avalanche forward Steve Moore in 2004—Bertuzzi has 42 goals in 165games since his return; he had 46 in the 2002--03 season alone. He does, atleast, add intrigue to a bland team again headed up by superb right wing JaromeIginla, elite goalie Miikka Kiprusoff (above) and big-hitting defensemen DionPhaneuf and Robyn Regehr. That core is what makes Calgary a playoff threat.
44-31-7, 6th in West; lost in second round to Red Wings
Coach Tony Granato, G Andrew Raycroft, D Daniel Tjarnqvist, RW Darcy Tucker
LW Andrew Brunette, D Jeff Finger, Coach Joel Quenneville, D Kurt Sauer, G JoséThéodore
IT'S BEEN sixyears since Patrick Roy hung up his pads, and it's been six years that theAvalanche has been looking for a true No. 1 goalie. Last season Peter Budaj wasexpected to establish himself, but midway through he had lost his starting jobto the usually erratic José Théodore, who played surprisingly well inColorado's playoff push. Now Budaj is back in net despite middlingstatistics—2.57 GAA and .903 save percentage—that were worse when the pressurewas on: .750 save percentage in OT and a 4--9 record in shootouts. Colorado'sinsurance policy in the absence of Théodore, who went to Washington as a freeagent? Andrew Raycroft, who was booted out of Toronto after a .890 savepercentage over the past two years.
Old pros Joe Sakic(above), the Hall of Fame--bound 39-year-old center, and Adam Foote, 37, theleader of a decent defensive corps, could make the Avalanche respectable. Thegoaltending, though, could dash any hopes for the playoffs.
39-33-10, 11th in West
RW Steve Bernier, RW Pavol Demitra, LW Darcy Hordichuk, C Kyle Wellwood
C Trevor Linden, C Brendan Morrison, LW Markus Naslund
AT HISintroductory press conference last April new general manager Mike Gillisobserved of the disappointing Canucks, "There are a number of areas thatneed to be addressed." Yet it doesn't appear that Gillis, a first-timeG.M., has adequately addressed the shortcomings that resulted in Vancouver'sfinishing the season on a 1--7 skid and missing the playoffs. In particular,Vancouver still lacks scoring depth. Gillis did extend a standing offer to freeagent Mats Sundin, who at press time remained noncommittal about playing hockeythis season, and he lured free-agent center Pavol Demitra (15 goals, 54 pointswith the Wild) with the promise that the Canucks would open up on offense; lastseason coach Alain Vigneault emphasized defense with essentially the sameroster.
Young SteveBernier could thrive if he stays alongside Henrik (33) and Daniel Sedin (above)on the Canucks' top line, and Roberto Luongo is one of the league's finestgoaltenders, but, to borrow a phrase, there are still a number of areas thatneed to be addressed.
"Don't rule out any team. Who wins this dependspartly on injuries."
—MIKE KEENAN, Calgary coach
The Flames' winger is a perennial Hart Trophy candidate and was one of threeNHL players who scored more than 22% of his team's goals last season. He'sphysical, he's a leader, and just about everything good that happens on the icein Calgary revolves around him.
On the Spot
No Avalanche player earns more than the 32-year-old left wing, who got afive-year $31.25 million contract before last season. The return? Aninjury-plagued year that produced only 14 goals (including just two on thepower play) and 37 points in 55 games.
On the Verge
At 23 the 6'5", 219-pound Minnesota blueliner is coming off a fine 43-pointseason, and an annual trip to the All-Star Game may be in store for thistwo-way horse: He was named top defenseman while playing for Canada at theworld championships in May.
PIERRE McGUIRE'S IN THE CREASE
Expect Wild forward Mikko Koivu to be a Selke Trophyfinalist.... With the return of hard-shooting defenseman Sheldon Souray and theacquisition of world-class puck-mover Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers' powerplay, ranked 21st in the league last season, should be among the top 10.... InCalgary, Jarome Iginla could win the Rocket Richard trophy (his third)....Colorado will have to rely on team defense and a lot of heart for whatever itaccomplishes this season.... If the Canucks again have trouble scoring, coachAlain Vigneault may soon be out of a job.
JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES (GABORIK)
BACK IN FORM Healthy for the first time in years, Gaborik potted a career-high 42 goals last season.
DAVID E. KLUTHO (HORCOFF)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (KIPRUSOFF)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (SAKIC)
JEFF MCINTOSH/AP (SEDINS)
ANDY DEVLIN/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (IGINLA)
JEFF VINNICK/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (SMYTH)
GLENN JAMES/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (BURNS)