Commentary

Northwest Division preview

A look at every Northwest Division team from the fantasy perspective

Updated: September 24, 2009, 4:42 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Calgary Flames

Additions: Jay Bouwmeester, D (Florida); Nigel Dawes, LW (NY Rangers); Anton Stralman, D (Toronto)

Subtractions: Mike Cammalleri, LW (Montreal); Todd Bertuzzi, RW (Detroit); Jordan Leopold, D (Florida); Jim Vandermeer, D (Phoenix)

Depth Chart

First line: Rene Bourque, Olli Jokinen, Jarome Iginla
Second line: Nigel Dawes, Daymond Langkow, Dustin Boyd
Third line: Curtis Glencross, Mikael Backlund, David Moss
Fourth line: Eric Nystrom, Craig Conroy, Fredrik Sjostrom

First pairing: Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester
Second pairing: Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich
Third pairing: Mark Giordano, Adam Pardy

Top goalie: Miikka Kiprusoff
Backup: Curtis McElhinney

Just Missed: Theo Fleury, RW; Brandon Prust, LW; Brian McGrattan, RW; Jamie Lundmark, C; Anton Stralman, D; Staffan Kronwall, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Jarome Iginla
Gerry Thomas/NHLI/Getty ImagesJarome Iginla will get scoring help from Olli Jokinen this season.

These are not the New Jersey Devils, and new head coach Brent Sutter is not going to turn the Flames into a defense-first team. Sure, there will be a focus on defense that was completely absent during Mike Keenan's reign, but it's not like you'll see Miikka Kiprusoff turn into Martin Brodeur; a 2.80 goals-against average and .910 save percentage are still Kipper's ceiling. … Plus/minus could be a big area of improvement for the Flames, though, after Dion Phaneuf was the poster boy for the team's troubles last season with a minus-11. Sutter will instill enough presence of mind in the team's own end that the top offensive players should finish better than plus-10.

Power Play

Although Coach Sutter did not use two defensemen on the power play in New Jersey, he didn't have two defensemen like Dion Phaneuf and Jay Bouwmeester. Look for both players to man the blue line on the man advantage, with Olli Jokinen finding great chemistry with Bouwmeester, his former power-play partner in Florida. Jarome Iginla and Rene Bourque likely will round out the unit. … Both the Flames' power play and the Sutter-coached power play in New Jersey were simply average for conversion rate last season. But don't forget that in 2007-08, Jokinen and Bouwmeester were the stars for the Panthers' power play that finished sixth in the league. This should be a unit to fear this season.

Keep An Eye On

People have to start realizing that Kiprusoff is fantasy poison. Unless coach Brent Sutter can return the Flames to being a defensive stalwart, Kipper needs to be avoided by fantasy owners. Picture, if you will, a fantasy baseball league that has only two roster spots for pitchers and only counts saves, ERA and WHIP as categories. Sure, Brian Fuentes would have helped you win the saves category this season, but he would virtually assure you of finishing near the bottom in both ERA and WHIP. Kiprusoff represents the same problem to fantasy hockey owners; his wins just aren't worth a damaging goals-against average and save percentage. He plays so many games, it's near impossible to recover from the poor ratios. … Mikael Backlund needs to be monitored closely as the season approaches. Rene Bourque is pegged as the winger for Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla because of the lack of other options. But Backlund has been practicing on the wing and could be a dark horse to complete the trio. There is no question he has the skill, but with only half a season of hockey in North America under his belt, Backlund might be due to start in the AHL. … If Backlund is in the AHL, it might be because Nigel Dawes won the role on the top line. Dawes possesses the speed that would complement Iginla and Jokinen more than Bourque's more physical presence. … How do you handle Theo Fleury if he makes the team? Of course he becomes a late-round gamble. Any player who used to put up 30 goals and more than 100 penalty minutes a season deserves some attention. Even if the goals get cut in half, there is value in his PIMs.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Flames players.

Colorado Avalanche

Additions: Craig Anderson, G (Florida); Tom Preissing, D (Los Angeles); Kyle Quincey, D (Los Angeles)

Subtractions: Ryan Smyth, LW (Los Angeles); Joe Sakic, C (retired); Andrew Raycroft, G (Vancouver); Ian Laperriere, C (Philadelphia)

Depth Chart

First line: Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk
Second line: Cody McLeod, T.J. Hensick, Marek Svatos
Third line: Darcy Tucker, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart
Fourth line: David Koci, Matt Hendricks, David Jones

First pairing: John-Michael Liles, Scott Hannan
Second pairing: Adam Foote, Brett Clark
Third pairing: Kyle Quincey, Ruslan Salei

Top goalie: Craig Anderson
Backup: Peter Budaj

Just Missed: Tom Preissing, D; Ray Macias, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Milan Hejduk
Michael Martin/NHLI/Getty ImagesMilan Hejduk's posted an ugly minus-19 in 2008-09.

The Avalanche don't look to be much improved on defense, as the only additions (Quincey and Preissing) are more known for their offensive contributions. That means new head coach Joe Sacco will still watch more goals flow into the Avs' net than are going into the opponents' nets. A good indicator of how bad it was last season is that Milan Hejduk finished with a negative plus/minus for the first time in his career -- and it was minus-19. Expect more of the same this season; despite hopes of Craig Anderson's heroics, the Avalanche are in for another troubled year.

Power Play

While we don't know for sure how coach Joe Sacco will work the power play, he ran a traditional man advantage while coaching the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, so expect John-Michael Liles, Wojtek Wolski, Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny and Kyle Quincey to dominate the power play, though Quincey could be replaced by Tom Preissing should the latter have more chemistry with Liles. Actually, the Avs' power play has been in the bottom five in the NHL in conversion rate over the past two seasons, so it's possible Quincey and Preissing could both advance past Liles on the depth chart.

Keep An Eye On

With only enough talent to put together one strong line of offense, it's important to note who is leading the charge in Colorado. While we are confident Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk will open the season there, injuries and ineffectiveness could juggle things at some point. It's also not clear if Sacco likes to play with the lines as they are. The bottom line here is that Colorado is unlikely to ice more than three quality fantasy forwards, so Matt Duchene, T.J. Hensick and/or Chris Stewart would need an opportunity on the first line to really matter. … Deep leagues should still watch the aforementioned players, plus Matt Hendricks and Ray Macias, as Sacco coached most of them for a full season in the AHL. There are a couple examples in recent years of AHL coaches being promoted and knowing how to use players they had a previous relationship with (Brian Elliott in Ottawa and Mike Green in Washington come to mind)

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Avalanche players.

Edmonton Oilers

Additions: Nikolai Khabibulin, G (Chicago)

Subtractions: Dwayne Roloson, G (NY Islanders); Ales Kotalik, RW (NY Rangers)

Depth Chart

First line: Patrick O'Sullivan, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky
Second line: Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano
Third line: Ethan Moreau, Mike Comrie, Dustin Penner
Fourth line: Fernando Pisani, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Rob Schremp

First pairing: Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky
Second pairing: Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov
Third pairing: Steve Staios, Ladislav Smid

Top goalie: Nikolai Khabibulin
Backup: Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers

Just Missed: Zack Stortini, RW; Jason Strudwick, D; Chris Minard, LW; Gilbert Brule, C; Ryan Potulny, C

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Sheldon Souray
Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty ImagesSheldon Souray was second on the Oilers in scoring last season despite being a defenseman.

Since coach Pat Quinn brings a reputation for relying on veterans, it might seem Edmonton's young prospects are out of the Craig MacTavish frying pan and into the fire. While Quinn might lean toward the older players, the current situation in Edmonton dictates that he must promote some youth or be doomed to fail. Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and even a prodigal Mike Comrie have taken this team only so far. While a young coach might have featured more of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Rob Schremp, Gilbert Brule, Marc Pouliot, Ryan Potulny and Chris Minard, Quinn will have to learn to love, or at least live with, at least a handful of said players. While we don't expect his decision to decide fantasy championships, some of these young guys do have the skill to be a real star if coaxed properly. … Edmonton actually has some sleeper potential for plus/minus this season. After finishing poorly in goal differential the past couple seasons, the team has a new game-changing goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin. The defensive corps is stalwart, and Quinn has a history of coaching decent two-way hockey. Don't expect the top lines and defensemen to jump toward plus-20, but they won't be as detrimental as they seem at first glance.

Power Play

Quinn actually has a history of running fairly potent power plays, and with some work, this Edmonton unit could make a jump above the 17 percent conversion rate that they have fallen short of the past two campaigns. … Dustin Penner should be back on radar screens because of Quinn as well. In his last season as an NHL head coach, Quinn transformed Darcy Tucker into a fantasy star by using his physical play at the net on the power play, and Tucker turned the opportunity into 18 power-play goals. Penner plays a similar game to Tucker and might find himself in a similar role in front of the opponent's net on the man advantage.

Keep An Eye On

So many young players that need to be watched for a breakout, but Rob Schremp leads the group when it comes to potential. He has the enticing mix of being a huge scorer in junior hockey, not having been challenged enough in the AHL and not being given a fair shake at the NHL level. … The sky is the limit for a healthy Khabibulin in Edmonton. If he plays like he did last year in Chicago, he will be a top-10 goaltender in fantasy. Given the above-average defense and strong coaching expected, the Bulin Wall is definitely someone to own.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Oilers players.

Minnesota Wild

Additions: Martin Havlat, LW (Chicago); Petr Sykora, RW (Minnesota); Greg Zanon, D (Nashville)

Subtractions: Marian Gaborik, RW (NY Rangers); Kurtis Foster, D (Tampa Bay)

Depth Chart

First line: Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu, Petr Sykora
Second line: Andrew Brunette, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Owen Nolan
Third line: Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard, Antti Miettinen
Fourth line: Derek Boogaard, Eric Belanger, Cal Clutterbuck

First pairing: Kim Johnsson, Brent Burns
Second pairing: Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz
Third pairing: Greg Zanon, Shane Hnidy

Top goalie: Niklas Backstrom
Backup: Josh Harding

Just Missed: Colton Gillies, C; Kyle Brodziak, C; John Scott, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Mikko Koivu
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMikko Koivu's offensive numbers should soar following the team's coaching change.

No longer will the "trap" be in effect in Minnesota. No longer will the Wild simply be content to hang on to a one-goal lead for a period. No longer will Minnesota's forwards fear going in for a breakaway while also being concerned with covering their opponent on the way back. Coach Jacques Lemaire is moving back to New Jersey, and the Wild will see former San Jose assistant Todd Richards take the helm. Promising a bigger focus on offense, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Wild play a style similar to the one that Richards helped the Sharks develop last season.

Power Play

Look for the Wild to develop one heck of a power play. Richards was in charge of San Jose's power play last season, and it finished third-best in the league with a 24.2 percent conversion rate. Richards got a good mix of Sharks players involved, with eight skaters finishing with 20 or more power-play points. The Wild's Kim Johnsson and Brent Burns deserve special attention as late fantasy selections because a Richards revival of the power play might bring both players back to respectable levels. Mikko Koivu, Martin Havlat, Petr Sykora and Owen Nolan will also have big years on the man advantage under Richards' tutelage.

Keep An Eye On

James Sheppard hopes to shed the restraints that Lemaire kept on him over his first two NHL seasons. Sheppard was a high-scoring center in junior hockey but became a checking forward under Lemaire. If given the opportunity, he could rekindle his scoring ways. … Petr Sykora landed in the right place by signing with the Wild. Whether on the first line with Mikko Koivu or the second unit, Sykora should easily dial up 25 goals and close to 60 points.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Wild players.

Vancouver Canucks

Additions: Mathieu Schneider, D (Montreal); Christian Ehrhoff, D (San Jose); Andrew Raycroft, G (Colorado); Mikael Samuelsson, RW (Detroit)

Subtractions: Mats Sundin, C (free agent); Taylor Pyatt, RW (Phoenix); Mattias Ohlund, D (Tampa Bay)

Depth Chart

First line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alexandre Burrows
Second line: Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Pavol Demitra
Third line: Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier
Fourth line: Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson, Jannik Hansen

First pairing: Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo
Second pairing: Mathieu Schneider, Alexander Edler
Third pairing: Christian Ehrhoff, Willie Mitchell

Top goalie: Roberto Luongo
Backup: Andrew Raycroft

Just Missed: Cody Hodgson, C; Sergei Shirokov, LW; Michael Grabner, RW; Shane O'Brien, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin
Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty ImagesThe Sedin twins had a combined 164 points in 2008-09; appropriately, they each had 82.

Coach Alain Vigneault still has a strong lineup to work with, but there are a few decisions that must be made. First off, many think Mikael Samuelsson has long-term potential with the Sedin Twins. Not true. As we have seen in recent years, it takes a certain kind of player to jibe with Daniel and Henrik, and you could argue the only two to truly click with the brothers have been Anson Carter and more recently Alexandre Burrows. Burrows is still around and looking to continue his run with the Sedins, and someone like Samuelsson, with a low shooting percentage, won't last long next to them. … With Roberto Luongo and a beefed-up defense, the Canucks should be a decent source of plus/minus, with the top line finishing better than plus-20, and some of the defense also in that range. Look for whoever plays with Ryan Kesler to also manage a quality goal differential, thanks to Kesler's responsibility in his own zone.

Power Play

The power-play point will be a crowded place in Vancouver, with five defensemen all proven capable of handling duties as the quarterback. Sami Salo is the easiest to rule out as he likely will get hurt at some point, and Christian Ehrhoff is the least adept of the group. But Kevin Bieksa, Mathieu Schneider and Alexander Edler all make a strong case for running the man advantage.

Keep An Eye On

Cody Hodgson will have to earn some responsibility and ice time to have fantasy relevance, but if he does get opportunities, look out. The reigning CHL Player of the Year is one of the best forward prospects yet to play in the NHL, and he could very well earn a small role to begin the season, and then parlay it into something more. … Lost in the argument over whether Mikael Samuelsson or Alexandre Burrows will play alongside the Twins is the fact that rookie Sergei Shirokov might surprise and win the role out of training camp. … Mathieu Schneider might open the season on the injured reserve as he recovers from shoulder surgery. That could give Hodgson, Shirokov or Michael Grabner the chance to be on the roster at the very beginning. Watch the rookies closely out of the gate.

Click here for complete projections and profiles of Canucks players.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year award winner. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.