NHL Preview Capsules: Northwest Division
LAST SEASON: 37-29-16, 90 points. Missed playoffs by finishing ninth in Western Conference.
COACH: Bob Hartley, first season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alex Tanguay, who played for Hartley a decade ago in Colorado, will be more familiar with the coach than his teammates. If he can click on the top line with Jarome Iginla, the Flames may have a puncher's chance.
OUTLOOK: Despite the addition of Cervenka, the Flames should be weak enough on defense to keep G Miikka Kiprusoff busy. If Tanguay and other forwards can click with Iginla, they may have a chance at catching lightning in a bottle, but in a tough division with the formidable Avalanche and Canucks, they would do well to nick the last playoff spot.
LAST SEASON: 41-35-6, 88 points. Missed postseason.
COACH: Joe Sacco, 4th season with Avalanche, 114-109-23.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche believe so highly in the 20-year-old that they made him the youngest captain in NHL history. Landeskog is coming off a stellar season in which he won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
OUTLOOK: The Avs will have plenty of scoring punch -- even more if they can sign restricted free-agent center Ryan O'Reilly -- but to return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons will largely depend on the play of goaltender Semyon Varlamov. He had a 2.59 goals-against average in his first season in Colorado after being acquired from Washington for a first-round pick. The Avs expect big things out of the young netminder.
LAST SEASON: 32-40-10, 74 points. Missed playoffs by finishing 14th in the Western Conference.
COACH: Ralph Krueger, 1st year.
LOST: D Cam Barker.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Yakupov was the first pick in the draft and will take his skillful shot to the second line with the slick-passing Ales Hemsky and steady center Sam Gagner. But Schultz could be a big help for the blue line, after signing with the Oilers this summer following a standout college career at Wisconsin.
OUTLOOK: Krueger was promoted this summer after spending the last two seasons as an assistant for the Oilers. The former Swiss national team coach has a tall task in front of him, to try to guide the team to the playoffs for the first time since the Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2006. He has plenty of emerging stars to help him, though, even if the lineup isn't that deep. Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall will lead the way, having signed huge contract extensions over the summer and recently earned alternate captain status. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first pick in the 2011 draft, will join them on a first line.
LAST SEASON: 35-36-11, 81 points.
COACH: Mike Yeo, 2nd season, 35-36-11.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Parise and Suter are the headliners, their identical 13-year, $98 million contracts serving as July 4 fireworks over the NHL free agent market, but the Finnish sensation Granlund is being given a spot on the second line before his 21st birthday. The ninth overall pick in the 2010 draft is so popular in his home country that paparazzi follow him around town. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound, slick-with-the-stick scorer spent the lockout playing for the Wild's AHL affiliate. He had 20 goals and 31 assists in 45 games last season for his club in Helsinki.
OUTLOOK: The Wild had the league's best record at 20-7-3 at the 30-game mark but nosedived down the stretch under the weight of myriad injuries. After signing Parise, bringing Granlund over and getting Pierre-Marc Bouchard back from another lengthy concussion absence, the Wild have unquestionably the deepest and most talented group of forwards in the franchise's 13-year history. Staying healthy in a fast-paced condensed season will be critical, of course, but the key to making the playoffs for the first time in five years is on the blue line, where veterans Suter and Tom Gilbert will need help from young players like Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner and Marco Scandella.
LAST SEASON: 51-22-9, 111 points. Lost to Los Angeles 4-1 in first round.
COACH: Alain Vigneault, 7TH SEASON, 287-155-50; 11th overall 396-273-54.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Cory Schneider. He replaced Roberto Luongo during last year's first-round exit and the 33-year-old goaltender seem to be on his way out. The 26-year-old Schneider signed a three-year, $12 million contract extension last summer.
OUTLOOK: The Canucks have perhaps more urgency than any other NHL team to win the Stanley Cup. Vancouver led the league in points the past two regular seasons. After being a win away from hoisting the Cup for the first time in 2011, the Canucks won only one postseason game last year against the Kings.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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