Commentary

Northwest Division preview

Updated: September 21, 2010, 1:30 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

Calgary Flames

Additions: Alex Tanguay, LW (Lightning); Olli Jokinen, C (Rangers); Ryan Stone, C (Oilers); Raitis Ivanans, D (Kings); Tim Jackman, RW (Islanders)

Subtractions: Christopher Higgins, LW (Panthers); Eric Nystrom, LW (Wild)

Depth chart

First line: Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen, Jarome Iginla
Second line: Rene Bourque, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman
Third line: Curtis Glencross, Daymond Langkow, Ales Kotalik
Fourth line: Ryan Stone, Mikael Backlund, Tim Jackman

First pairing: Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano
Second pairing: Robyn Regehr, Ian White
Third pairing: Cory Sarich, Steve Staios

Starting goalie: Miikka Kiprusoff
Backup: Henrik Karlsson

Just missed: Greg Nemisz, Adam Pardy, David Moss, Raitis Ivanans, Craig Conroy

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Jarome Iginla
Jeff Vinnick/Getty ImagesJarome Iginla has been the Flames' top point-getter every season since 2000-01.

The return of Olli Jokinen to Calgary left hockey fans across the world scratching their heads, as the chemistry between he and franchise cornerstone Jarome Iginla was close to non-existent prior to his being shipped off to the New York Rangers. That said, the addition of Alex Tanguay made a ton of sense, as he had a career-high in points in 2006-07 in Calgary. Aside from that top trio, there could be some movement between the other lines, depending on the health of Daymond Langkow (he's recovering from a fractured vertebrae in his neck) and the development of Mikael Backlund, one of the team's top prospects. & Calgary gave up the fifth fewest goals in 2009-10, so that half of the plus/minus ratio was copacetic. It's the other half that was the problem, as the Flames scored the second-fewest goals in the league, with only the Boston Bruins more impotent last season. Unless some new scoring capability is unleashed, this is not a team to target for help in that category.

Power Play

The success of the Flames' power play this season will come down to the top line finding quick chemistry and Jay Bouwmeester getting his groove back. After netting nine power play goals for the Florida Panthers in 2008-09, Bouwmeester scored only once with the man advantage this past season in Calgary. Giordano flies under the radar a bit, but he was the team's second-leading scorer on the power play last season, and should retain a primary role this season.

Keep An Eye On

The Flames have two hugely talented youngsters in Backlund and Greg Nemisz, the latter of whom may not be quite ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet after scoring 70 points for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in 2009-10. The ceiling for Backlund will be raised based upon which line he winds up on, but he's got the skills to be a top-six forward. & Craig Conroy was brought back to the team on a one-year, two-way contract, and is essentially a Langkow insurance policy. Should the latter not be ready to start the season, Conroy could find himself skating some quality minutes with some very good teammates. Conroy is a very cheap source of points early on if he gets that chance.

Colorado Avalanche

Additions: Daniel Winnik, LW (Coyotes)

Subtractions: T.J. Hensick, C (Blues); Ruslan Salei, D (Red Wings); Brett Clark, D (Lightning)

Depth chart

First line: T.J. Galiardi, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart
Second line: Peter Mueller, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk
Third line: David Jones, Ryan O'Reilly, Brandon Yip
Fourth line: Cody McLeod, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Stoa

First pairing: Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey
Second pairing: Kyle Cumiskey, John-Michael Liles
Third pairing: Adam Foote, Ryan Wilson

Starting goalie: Craig Anderson
Backup: Peter Budaj

Just missed: Justin Mercier, Kevin Porter, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jonas Holos

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Peter Mueller
Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIPeter Mueller's lone 20-goal season came as a rookie in 2007-08.

The Avalanche are trending upward, and doing so by developing their young talent. To that end, the top trio is set at two positions with Paul Stastny and Chris Stewart (who signed a two-year extension on Sept. 4); while David Jones and T.J. Galiardi will duke it out in camp (not literally & we hope) to figure out who winds up skating alongside the other two. The second line is a nice source of production, too, as Mueller scored 20 points in 15 regular-season games following his trade from the Phoenix Coyotes. & The Avalanche were a bit better-than-average as a team when it came to goal differential, but there weren't any standouts in that ratio on an individual basis. In fact, the ratios for the top-line forwards diminished their overall value a touch, as Stastny finished at a plus-2 in spite of a 79-point campaign, while Stewart was a plus-4 with 64 points. Don't expect anything fantastic out of that stat column this season, either.

Power Play

The Avs make use of the always exciting, four-forward configuration as their top power-play unit -- Stastny joins the second-line trio with John-Michael Liles on D -- although their success rate in 2009-10 was middle of the pack (No. 15 in the league at 18.1 percent). & Kyle Quincey and Kyle Cumiskey should squeeze in some ice time with the man advantage, especially if one of the Liles trades (rumored seemingly since the dawn of time) comes to fruition.

Keep An Eye On

Craig Anderson had a wonderful season in his first campaign as a true No. 1. In 71 starts, Anderson had 38 wins, finishing with a 2.63 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. The possible load-lightening by coach Joe Sacco could decrease Anderson's value, although Peter Budaj is best kept far away from your active fantasy roster. & The battle to skate on the top line with Stastny and Stewart will yield us a nice fantasy sleeper in either Jones or Galiardi. & Depending on how other teams match up with the Avs, the second line could be a great source of production as well; while we're not going to forecast that Mueller will continue his torrid pace from the end of last season, he's a nice name to keep in mind as a second or third LW option.

Edmonton Oilers

Additions: Kurtis Foster, D (Lightning)

Subtractions: Mike Comrie, C (Penguins); Fernando Pisani, RW (Blackhawks); Marc Pouliot, C (Lightning); Ryan Stone, C (Flames)

Depth chart

First line: Dustin Penner, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky
Second line: Taylor Hall, Shawn Horcoff, Jordan Eberle
Third line: Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Gilbert Brule, Andrew Cogliano
Fourth line: Ryan Jones, Colin Fraser, Zack Stortini

Sheldon Souray, Ryan Whitney
Second pairing: Tom Gilbert, Kurtis Foster
Third pairing: Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer

Starting goalie: Nikolai Khabibulin
Backup: Jeff Deslauriers

Just missed: Devan Dubnyk, Jean-Francois Jacques, Linus Omark, Jason Strudwick

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Sam Gagner
Andy Devlin/Getty Images2007 first-round pick Sam Gagner has yet to crack the 50-point barrier despite playing an average of 74 games each of the past three seasons.

Oilers coach Tom Renney is a noted line tinkerer, and that trend will probably continue in 2009-10, given that we know very little about how well some of the youngsters will adjust to playing with the big boys. Well, that and the fact that Sam Gagner has been stuck in his development after a promising rookie campaign in 2007-08. If Gagner can prove to be the pivot the team needs on the top line and veteran Shawn Horcoff can build up some chemistry with two rookie wingers, the Oilers may actually have something for us in fantasy land. & After Nikolai Khabibulin went down last season, the duo of Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk shared the load in goal, and it was a jailbreak, as the trio combined to allow the league's most goals. Khabibulin's health and off-ice issues present a lot of uncertainty, but the team's roster upheaval should help out in front of whoever is in net: David Staples of the Edmonton Journal compiled a list of the team's most egregious mistake-makers in 2009-10, and the vast majority will not be with the team this season. That said, don't expect miracles. Anyone from this team that's roster-worthy will be so because of other categories.

Power Play

The Oil have one of the league's best cannons at the point in Sheldon Souray; however, his health is an issue (he's missed more than 100 games during his three-year stay in Edmonton); and he could be playing elsewhere in the near future. Not to worry, though, as Kurtis Foster brings a blistering shot with him from Tampa Bay. & Up front, Renney will have a few options, but expect to see Penner and Hemsky heavily involved on the first unit.

Keep An Eye On

Well, who to choose among the youngsters? While everyone's seen and heard a lot about Hall, he's still very green, and the jump from juniors straight to the NHL could be a bumpy one depending on how much this team leans on him. 2008 first-rounder Eberle got some work in the AHL over the past two seasons, and he's going to be hard to keep off the roster. Likewise, Paajarvi-Svensson (get used to pronouncing his name, the kid's gonna be a good one) has been in the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) for the past two seasons, and the jump from there is easier than Hall's. It won't be surprising to see two or more Oilers near the top of the rookie scoring race this season. & There was a time that Gilbert Brule was a good enough prospect to be drafted fifth overall, and he enjoyed his best statistical output in 2009-10, with 37 points (believe it or not, that was good for third on the team). Just 23 years old, Brule could very well be trending upward. He's worth drafting in deep leagues, and monitoring on the waiver wire in standard ones.

Minnesota Wild

Additions: Matt Cullen, C (Senators); John Madden, C (Blackhawks); Eric Nystrom, LW (Flames); Brad Staubitz, D (Sharks)

Subtractions: Derek Boogaard, LW (Rangers); Andy Hilbert, C (Islanders); Andrew Ebbett, C (Coyotes)

Depth chart

First line: Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen
Second line: Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, Guillaume Latendresse
Third line: Casey Wellman, Kyle Brodziak, Chuck Kobasew
Fourth line: Eric Nystrom, John Madden, Cal Clutterbuck

First pairing: Brent Burns, Nick Schultz
Second pairing: Marek Zidlicky, Greg Zanon
Third pairing: Cam Barker, Clayton Stoner

Starting goalie: Niklas Backstrom
Backup: Josh Harding

Just missed: James Sheppard, Brad Staubitz, Anton Khudobin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (out indefinitely)

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Martin Havlat
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireMartin Havlat's 0.73 points per game represented his poorest production since his sophomore season of 2001-02.

With the signing of Matt Cullen and John Madden this offseason, the Wild are very strong up the middle, and this will help their defensive game, as the philosophical shift away from the trap yielded less than altogether positive results in 2009-10. Having Cam Barker around for a full season should help those ratios, too. & The long-standing knock on Martin Havlat has been that even though he's a point-per-game player, he routinely misses many games per season. The Wild got 73 games out of Havlat in 2009-10, but only 54 points. He's a great candidate for a bounce-back season, as Cullen is a major upgrade at center. ... It's a make-or-break year for former first-rounder James Sheppard. If he makes the team out of camp, he should be considered in deeper leagues, as he's got the pedigree at lower levels, he just hasn't put everything together on the big stage yet.

Power Play

The Wild had the league's 10th-best power play last season in their first campaign under Todd Richards, although the scoring breakdown was quite top-heavy with Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Havlat and Marek Zidlicky well ahead of everyone else. The addition of Cullen -- who can play the point with the man advantage -- means that we might see two productive units this season. & That would be good news for Brent Burns, whose power-play scoring output went from 19 to 14 to 11 over the past three seasons.

Keep An Eye On

Pierre-Marc Bouchard is working his way back from a concussion after missing all but one game of the 2009-10 season. At his best under the Jacques Lemaire trap regime, he produced around .75 points per game. Under the new playing style, we could see him push closer to the all-important point-per-game pace, especially if he can develop chemistry with Brodziak and Kobasew. & In goal, this season will be about redemption for Backstrom, who was overdrafted last season, even though we all knew what would happen with the change in playing style. Now that the team has adjusted to Richards' more offensive-oriented approach -- and brought in some defensive help, of course -- Backstrom is a low-risk target, considering where he can be drafted.

Vancouver Canucks

Additions: Dan Hamhuis, D (Predators); Raffi Torres, LW (Buffalo); Keith Ballard, D (Panthers); Manny Malhotra, C (Sharks); Victor Oreskevich, RW (Panthers)

Subtractions: Kyle Wellwood, C (UFA); Pavol Demitra, RW (KHL); Steve Bernier, RW (Panthers); Andrew Raycroft, G (Stars); Michael Grabner, RW (Panthers)

Depth chart

First line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alexandre Burrows
Second line: Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson
Third line: Raffi Torres, Manny Malhotra, Cody Hodgson
Fourth line: Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, Jannik Hansen

First pairing: Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard
Second pairing: Christian Erhoff, Alexander Edler
Third pairing: Kevin Bieksa, Shane O'Brien

Starting goalie: Roberto Luongo
Backup: Cory Schneider

Just missed: Victor Oreskevich, Alexandre Bolduc, Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome, Sami Salo (out until Dec./Jan.)

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Daniel Sedin #22 and Henrik Sedin
Rich Lam/Getty ImagesThe annual "who will play with the Sedin twins?" search is on. The winner gets a big boost in fantasy value.

The Sedins have a natural chemistry that goes beyond any other pairing in the league, and whoever winds up on the other wing will enjoy a significant statistical bump. Alexandre Burrows was that man for 2009-10, and he'll eventually reprise that role in 2010-11, but he'll be out until November at the earliest while he rehabilitates from surgery on his labrum. The decision to see who replaces him is one of the most important ones on the ice and in our fantasy world as well. The second line showed some good chemistry last season, and should provide a nice dose of secondary scoring. & As a team in 2009-10, the Canucks had a plus-50 goal differential, good for third in the league, and they put four players in the top 10 in individual plus/minus (only the Washington Capitals had more, with five). With the additions of stout rearguards Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard this offseason -- and Roberto Luongo still in goal -- there's little reason to believe this team won't be a great source of plus/minus help once again.

Power Play

Vancouver benefits from having two able rearguards to man the point on the power play, with Christian Erhoff and Alexander Edler. Dan Hamhuis was stuck behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in Nashville, and will get some time as well. Up front, just as there are two efficient scoring lines at even strength, the Canucks can skate out two very dangerous lines of forwards on the power play. To illustrate this, the team finished sixth in the league (20.9 percent) in 2009-10; while their top two power play scorers (Henrik Sedin and Kesler) finished in the No. 19 and No. 25 slots, respectively, while playing on different power-play lines. There's room for Torres to get involved here, both before Burrows comes back and afterward. The man has made his living grinding in front of the net, and coach Alain Vigneault will give him ample opportunities to continue that vocation.

Keep An Eye On

As mentioned above, the decision on who will replace Burrows at the season's outset is a huge one. The knee-jerk answer is to have the similarly scrappy Torres take over; however, as we've repeatedly seen, sometimes the most logical fit doesn't work out due to chemistry issues. It's possible Vigneault experiments with using Samuelsson in that spot, too. Either way, a massive upgrade in production is in store for whomever is chosen. & The defensive unit has an injury to a key member of its own, as veteran Sami Salo tore his Achilles tendon playing floorball this offseason, and he won't be back until midway through the season. File Salo's name away for midseason waiver wire work, as he's been quite productive in the past. & There's been talk of getting Schneider -- one of the league's top goaltending prospects -- some extra work, particularly toward the beginning of the season, to showcase him for a trade. There's two sides to that situation; first, it reduces the output of Luongo. Second, Schneider is certainly worth a late-round pick, both as a handcuff and a possible starter elsewhere by season's end. With Luongo's lifetime contract keeping him in Vancouver, Schneider will have to be moved in order to reach his full potential.

Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com

Tim Kavanagh

Fantasy and Insider
Tim Kavanagh is an associate editor for ESPN Fantasy and Insider, with specific responsibility for NHL and fantasy hockey coverage in addition to other sports.