Commentary

2008-09 Northwest Division fantasy preview

Updated: October 3, 2008, 10:46 AM ET
By Jim Wilkie | Special to ESPN.com

Key additions: Todd Bertuzzi, LW/RW (free agency); Michael Cammalleri, LW (trade); Rene Bourque, LW (trade); Curtis Glencross, LW (free agency).

Key losses: Kristian Huselius, LW (free agency); Curtis Joseph, G (free agency); Owen Nolan, RW (free agency); Alex Tanguay, LW (trade); Stephane Yelle, C (free agency)

Calgary Flames depth chart
Left wing Center Right wing
Line 1 Todd Bertuzzi Daymond Langkow Jarome Iginla
Line 2 Rene Bourque Matthew Lombardi Michael Cammalleri
Line 3 Curtis Glencross Craig Conroy Dustin Boyd
Line 4 Eric Nystrom Wayne Primeau Brandon Prust
David Moss Jamie Lundmark Andre Roy
Defenseman Defenseman
First Pairing Dion Phaneuf Adrian Aucoin
Second Pairing Robyn Regehr Cory Sarich
Third Pairing Jim Vandermeer Anders Eriksson
Mark Giordano Rhett Warrener
First power-play unit
Forwards Todd Bertuzzi Mike Cammalleri Jarome Iginla
Point men Dion Phaneuf Adrian Aucoin
Goalies
Starter Miikka Kiprusoff
Backup Curtis McElhinney
Third string Leland Irving

Sleeper: Rene Bourque, LW -- The additions of Cammalleri and Bertuzzi got all the attention in the offseason, but Bourque will make his mark as the type of gritty player coach Mike Keenan loves. Bourque had just 10 goals and 14 assists in 62 games for the Blackhawks last season, but he'll be a top-six forward on the Flames if he keeps banging like he has in the preseason. His size (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) and physical style will earn him more minutes when Bertuzzi inevitably ends up on the injured list.

Bust: Todd Bertuzzi, LW -- As previously mentioned, Bertuzzi is damaged goods, and worth only a late pick in fantasy drafts. The Flames are the fourth team to take a chance on him in hopes that he can score at the once-high pace he set in Vancouver before the lockout, but the only thing he has consistently done since then is disappoint. Back injuries have forced him into becoming a perimeter player who isn't as rugged as he once was. His penchant for bad penalties does boost his PIM totals around the century mark, but he's a defensive liability who will drag down plus-minus.

Fantasy outlook:

After fantasy studs Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf, the Flames have plenty of uncertainty after losing skilled players Alex Tanguay and Kristian Huselius in the offseason. Daymond Langkow will again produce good numbers as the No. 1 center, Adrian Aucoin is a reliable point producer on defense, and Cammalleri should be energized by leaving the lowly Kings and motivated by a contract that expires after this season.

Beyond that, the supporting cast has a lot to prove. Matthew Lombardi, 26, needs to produce more to show he deserves to be the second-line center. If not, rookie Mikael Backlund, 19, or Dustin Boyd, 22, are primed to take his spot. Adding Bertuzzi, Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Andre Roy boosted Calgary's toughness, but it remains to be seen if they can finish plays around the net. Bertuzzi will be given every opportunity to play on the left wing with Langkow and Iginla, but Cammalleri seems a more logical option because of his unselfishness.

Miikka Kiprusoff has slid from an elite-level goaltender to the second tier after his save percentage (.907) fell and his goals-against average (2.69) rose for the third consecutive season. Those are still good numbers, though, and the workhorse can be counted on for 30-plus victories, but we still have our doubts as to whether the Kipper can regain his old form.


Key additions: Darcy Tucker, RW (free agency); Andrew Raycroft, G (free agency); Per Ledin, LW (first-year player, though not officially a rookie).

Key losses: Jose Theodore, G (free agency); Peter Forsberg, C (in limbo while he tests his troublesome feet); Andrew Brunette, LW (free agency); Jeff Finger, D (free agency); Kurt Sauer, D (free agency).

Colorado Avalanche depth chart
Left wing Center Right wing
Line 1 Wojtek Wolski Paul Stastny Milan Hejduk
Line 2 Ryan Smyth Joe Sakic Marek Svatos
Line 3 Darcy Tucker Tyler Arnason David Jones
Line 4 Cody McLeod Ben Guite Ian Laperriere
Per Ledin T.J. Hensick Scott Parker
Defenseman Defenseman
First Pairing Adam Foote John-Michael Liles
Second Pairing Scott Hannan Ruslan Salei
Third Pairing Jordan Leopold Brett Clark
Kyle Cumiskey Daniel Tjarnqvist
First power-play unit
Forwards Ryan Smyth Paul Stastny Joe Sakic
Point men John-Michael Liles Adam Foote
Goalies
Starter Peter Budaj
Backup Andrew Raycroft
Third string Jason Bacashihua

Sleeper: Jordan Leopold, D -- The oft-injured Leopold has had a strong training camp and preseason. If he can shake the injury bug, which has caused him to miss 106 games in his two seasons with the Avalanche, the 2002 Hobey Baker Award winner might finally realize his potential. If all goes well, he'll get quality time on the power play and can be a nice late-round pick in fantasy as an extra defenseman.

Bust: Peter Budaj, G -- He's the No. 1 goalie by default after Theodore signed with the Capitals in the offseason. Budaj, 26, lost the top job last season, so he's going to have to make a big leap in progress to win the Avs' confidence. His 2.57 goals-against average last season wasn't bad, but his .903 save percentage ranked 33rd in the NHL. A repeat of those numbers will give backup Andrew Raycroft a chance to resurrect his career after imploding last season in Toronto (2-9-5 record, 3.92 GAA and .876 save percentage).

Fantasy outlook:

Considering the just-mentioned outlook in net, it might be a tough season in Colorado. The decent top-six defensemen of Foote, Liles, Hannan, Clark, Salei and Leopold can do only so much to help Budaj and Raycroft.

The offense is going to need to make up for the mediocre goaltending, but the Avalanche didn't make any offseason additions that promise to improve their scoring. While Tucker is a gritty veteran, the talk is that he's wearing down after years of punishment on his body. Pesky Swedish newcomer Ledin promises to get under opponents' skin but won't make much of an impact on the score sheet.

Fortunately for the Avalanche, captain Joe Sakic decided not to retire and will try to make up for a disappointing 2007-08 season in which he missed 38 games. His fantasy stock might have slid a little, but you can't go wrong with the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer in your lineup. His linemate, Ryan Smyth, also missed 27 games because of injuries, which will hurt his draft stock. But the most valuable Avalanche player for fantasy owners is center Paul Stastny, who had 24 goals and 47 assists in 66 games last season. He's 22, entering the final year of his contract and getting top-line duty between Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk.


Key additions: Erik Cole, LW (trade); Lubomir Visnovsky, D (trade); Gilbert Brule, C (trade).

Key losses: Jarret Stoll, C (trade); Joni Pitkanen, D (trade); Curtis Glencross, LW (free agency); Raffi Torres, LW.

Edmonton Oilers depth chart
Left wing Center Right wing
Line 1 Erik Cole Shawn Horcoff Ales Hemsky
Line 2 Robert Nilsson Andrew Cogliano Sam Gagner
Line 3 Dustin Penner Fernando Pisani Ethan Moreau
Line 4 Gilbert Brule Kyle Brodziak Zack Stortini
Rob Schremp Marc-Antoine Pouliot Ryan Potulny
Defenseman Defenseman
First Pairing Lubomir Visnovsky Ladislav Smid
Second Pairing Tom Gilbert Sheldon Souray
Third Pairing Steve Staios Denis Grebeshkov
Mathieu Roy Jason Strudwick
First power-play unit
Forwards Erik Cole Shawn Horcoff Alex Hemsky
Point men Lubomir Visnovsky Sheldon Souray
Goalies
Starter Mathieu Garon
Backup Dwayne Roloson
Third string Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers

Sleeper: Robert Nilsson, LW -- The least productive member of the Kid Line can't be overlooked in fantasy drafts. Nilsson, 23, is the oldest of the trio (with Sam Gagner, 19, and Andrew Cogliano, 21) and less prone to fall into a sophomore slump. Although Gagner had more points (49) and Cogliano had more goals (18), Nilsson's plus-8 was the best of the three, and he says he's feeling the fastest he has ever felt in his career.

Bust: Dustin Penner, LW -- Penner falls from the first line to third line because of Cole's arrival and coach Craig MacTavish's insistence on keeping the Kid Line intact. It's good for the Oilers, but bad for fantasy owners who expect another 20-goal season. Penner has accepted his demotion and his new role as a grinder, but MacTavish says he expects a drop in Penner's goal output.

Fantasy outlook:

Edmonton has become a sexy pick to make the playoffs and perhaps win the Northwest Division because of the acquisitions of Cole and Visnovsky and the expected improvement of the Kid Line. A healthy Shawn Horcoff and Sheldon Souray will also help the Oilers make those predictions come true.

The underrated Horcoff is one of the fittest players in the league, and he'll get back around the point-per-game numbers he was averaging before his season was cut short by a knee injury. Adding big power forward Cole, along with slick RW Ales Hemsky, creates a dangerous top line. Throw in the expected improvement of the Kid Line and a checking line (Penner, Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau) with some scoring ability, and you have a potent group of forwards.

Visnovsky is the puck-moving defenseman the Oilers have missed since trading away Chris Pronger. As a big part of the offense, he and Souray figure to see a boost in point totals, while Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov could be worthy fantasy picks for depth on defense.

Edmonton's major uncertainty is goaltending. Mathieu Garon, 30, took over the No. 1 job from Dwayne Roloson, 38, and the hottest hand will get the most starts this season. They'll be hard-pressed to improve upon Edmonton's fifth-worst goals-allowed total (251) last season. The Oilers will be happy winning games 7-5 and 6-4, but fantasy owners won't be if they expect Garon or Roloson to rank with the upper echelon of NHL goalies. Losing good faceoff men Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner also will increase opponents' scoring chances.


Key additions: Andrew Brunette, LW (free agency); Antti Miettinen, RW (free agency); Owen Nolan, RW (free agency); Marek Zidlicky, D (trade); Marc-Andre Bergeron, D (trade).

Key losses: Brian Rolston, LW (free agency); Pavol Demitra, C (free agency); Aaron Voros, LW (free agency); Mark Parrish, LW (buyout); Sean Hill, D (free agency); Keith Carney, D (free agency); Todd Fedoruk, LW (free agency).

Minnesota Wild depth chart
Left wing Center Right wing
Line 1 Pierre-Marc Bouchard Mikko Koivu Marian Gaborik
Line 2 Andrew Brunette James Sheppard Owen Nolan
Line 3 Stephane Veilleux Eric Belanger Antti Miettinen
Line 4 Derek Boogaard Benoit Pouliot Craig Weller
Peter Kalus Corey Locke Danny Irmen
Defenseman Defenseman
First Pairing Brent Burns Nick Schultz
Second Pairing Kim Johnsson Marek Zidlicky
Third Pairing Martin Skoula Kurtis Foster
Marc-Andre Bergeron Tomas Mojzis
First power-play unit
Forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard Mikko Koivu Marian Gaborik
Point men Brent Burns Marek Zidlicky
Goalies
Starter Niklas Backstrom
Backup Josh Harding
Third string Nolan Schaefer

Sleeper: James Sheppard, C -- Sheppard, 20, had four goals and 15 assists as a checking center in his rookie season but will get the opportunity to step up to the second line in his second year. The ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft will get competition from veteran Eric Belanger, 30, and rookie Benoit Pouliot, 21, though.

Bust: Eric Belanger, C -- Belanger had a quick start that made him a good fantasy free-agent pickup for depth but a liability for anyone who hung on to him the rest of the season. He had just one goal and four assists in 25 games after the All-Star break. The Wild are trying to give youngsters Sheppard and Pouliot more opportunities, and it will come at Belanger's expense.

Fantasy outlook:

The Wild's season, and the next two or three seasons to come, hinge on whether the team can sign RW Marian Gaborik to a long-term contract extension by the end of October. If talks break down, the Wild will look for a trade that will not bring anyone as talented and can't make the same kind of impact as the slick Slovakian. They already lost 62 goals by letting Brian Rolston, Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish go; throw in Gaborik's 42 goals and that could be 47 percent of last year's scoring production sent packing.

But if Gaborik stays, and stays healthy for a change, he'll likely top his career highs in goals, assists (41), points (83) and plus-minus (plus-17) set last season while boosting the output of linemates Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikko Koivu. Andrew Brunette returns after three productive years in Colorado, but he's due for a decline without Joe Sakic setting him up. He and free-agent acquisitions Owen Nolan and Antti Miettinen combined for 50 goals last season, so look for the usual stifling defensive hockey of coach Jacques Lemaire.

Minnesota should expect more scoring from its defense, however, with the continued improvement of Brent Burns (15 goals, 28 assists) and the additions of Marek Zidlicky (five goals, 38 assists) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (nine goals, 10 assists). Niklas Backstrom, 30, will back them up with solid goaltending and should post similar totals to last season's 33 wins, 2.31 GAA and .920 save percentage. However, he's in the last year of his contract and can't afford to slip and let Josh Harding, 24, take significantly more starts than the 25 he had last season.


Key additions: Pavol Demitra, C/RW (free agency); Steve Bernier, RW (trade); Ryan Johnson, C (free agency); Kyle Wellwood, C (waivers); Jason Krog, C (free agency); Darcy Hordichuk, LW (free agency); Rob Davison, D (free agency).

Key losses: Markus Naslund, LW (free agency); Brendan Morrison, C (free agency); Trevor Linden (retired); Luc Bourdon, D (deceased); Aaron Miller (free agency).

Vancouver Canucks depth chart
Left wing Center Right wing
Line 1 Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Steve Bernier
Line 2 Mason Raymond Pavol Demitra Taylor Pyatt
Line 3 Alexandre Burrows Ryan Kesler Cody Hodgson
Line 4 Darcy Hordichuk Ryan Johnson Matt Pettinger
Jeff Cowan Kyle Wellwood Jannik Hansen
Defenseman Defenseman
First Pairing Mattias Ohlund Alexander Edler
Second Pairing Sami Salo Lukas Krajicek
Third Pairing Willie Mitchell Kevin Bieksa
Rob Davison Lawrence Nycholat
First power-play unit
Forwards Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Steve Bernier
Point men Kevin Bieksa Sami Salo
Goalies
Starter Roberto Luongo
Backup Curtis Sanford
Third string Cory Schneider

Sleeper: Mason Raymond, LW -- After notching nine goals and 12 assists in 49 games as a rookie, the speedy winger is poised for a bigger contribution. Raymond, 23, didn't click consistently when he had a chance to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin last season, but he appears to have found good chemistry on a line with Pavol Demitra's good speed and hands and with Taylor Pyatt's physical style around the net.

Bust: Kyle Wellwood, C -- Wellwood has already been singled out by coach Alain Vigneault for coming to camp in poor shape. Lack of fitness was one of the reasons Toronto dumped him, and if he doesn't show more dedication, he could find himself out of the NHL soon. He's a gifted player, but this start shows he doesn't deserve anything more than fourth-line duty right now, and he won't be very effective with those kinds of minutes and linemates with lesser skill levels.

Fantasy outlook:

By failing so far to lure free agent Mats Sundin with a two-year, $20 million offer, it looks as if the Canucks will again struggle to score goals. Despite the departure of former captain Naslund and one-time No. 1 center Brendan Morrison, the additions of Demitra and Bernier should at least make that a wash since the ex-Canucks registered subpar seasons. If Bernier can mesh with the Sedins, and if Demitra's second line clicks, then there's every reason to expect an improvement from last season's seventh-worst 213 goals. Demitra, who has been playing the point on the power play in the preseason, should improve upon his 15 goals and 39 assists if he stays healthy. Center Ryan Kesler, 24, combined with pesky Alexandre Burrows, 27, to be great third-line checkers with some scoring touch. Kesler should surpass 20 goals again and might earn some second-line duty.

Fourth-line center Ryan Johnson will help greatly on faceoffs and enable a better puck-possession game, especially if the Canucks' defense can stay healthy. Vancouver's blue line suffered a horrible rash of injuries last season with the top four of Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell missing a combined 106 games. Salo sounds determined to return to form and launch his dangerous shot more often, which could make him a steal in fantasy drafts. Lukas Krajicek and Alexander Edler combine to make a formidable starting six that has been given the green light to jump into the play even more and make up for the well-documented scoring problems up front.

Of course, they can afford to gamble with one of the best goalies in the world, Roberto Luongo, covering their back. His 35 wins, 2.38 GAA and .917 save percentage was an "off" year for him, but something no fantasy owner should dismiss. He didn't use it as an excuse, but his wife's difficult pregnancy in Florida had to hurt his focus. Wife and baby are fine and back in Vancouver now, leaving the Luongos, Canucks and fantasy owners feeling more secure.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor/writer for ESPN.com.