Commentary

Northwest Division preview

Updated: September 15, 2011, 7:26 PM ET
By Tim Kavanagh | Special to ESPN.com

Vancouver Canucks

Additions: Marco Sturm, LW (Capitals); Matt Climie, G (Coyotes); Owen Nolan, RW (Swiss NLA)

Subtractions:: Christian Ehrhoff, D (Sabres); Tanner Glass, C (Jets); Raffi Torres, LW (Coyotes)

Depth Chart

First line: Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows
Second line: Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson
Third line: Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Steven Pinizzotto
Fourth line: Christopher Higgins, Manny Malhotra, Victor Oreskovich

First pairing: Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa
Second pairing: Sami Salo, Alexander Edler
Third pairing: Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts

Starting goalie: Roberto Luongo
Backup: Cory Schneider

Just missed: Marco Sturm, LW; Andrew Ebbett, C; Byron Bitz, RW; Cody Hodgson, C; Chris Tanev, D; Aaron Rome, D; Alexander Sulzer, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

[+] EnlargeSedin Twins
Jeff Vinnick/Getty ImagesThe high-scoring Sedin twins are fantasy hockey studs, plain and simple.

Much of the roster that carried Vancouver to the Stanley Cup finals will return, with the notable exception of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. There are a couple caveats, of course. Ryan Kesler could miss the start of the season after undergoing hip surgery this offseason. In addition, Mason Raymond might also miss the start of the season with his vertebrae injury sustained in the Stanley Cup finals. What all this means is that there could be some moving parts in the lineup at the outset of the season as these two get their legs back under themselves. … At this point, everyone in the galaxy knows about the top line of the Sedin twins with Alex Burrows, and there's no reason to think the Sedins won't be good for 90-100 (or more) points again this season. Burrows' performance in 2010-11 (48 points, 77 PIM, plus-26) is probably closer to what we should expect out of him this season as opposed to what he mustered a season prior (67 points, 121 PIM, plus-34). Still, he can fill the fantasy categories across the board, so that's certainly a plus. … It's no surprise when peering at last season's final statistics that most of the Canucks were on the plus side of the plus/minus category. With most of the strong defensive corps returning -- including backstop Roberto Luongo -- this is once again a team that can be targeted for help in that column.

Power Play

Kesler joins the Sedins on the Canucks' overloaded No. 1 power-play unit, in case you weren't already thoroughly sold on any of them as fantasy assets. But there are some other useful forwards on the team in this area, particularly Mikael Samuelsson, who netted five goals and 14 assists with the man-advantage in 2010-11. … The loss of Ehrhoff will be a big one on the blue line, but it also provides an opportunity for someone to step up. Samuelsson logged some minutes as a point man this past season, so he's an option, as is Sami Salo, if he can stay healthy. Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa are not the dynamite options that Ehrhoff was, but both have worked extensively on the power play in past seasons. One long shot is Alexander Sulzer. He has not been a power-play weapon in the past, per se, but he has some of the skills required (including a powerful shot from the point). If he makes the team out of camp -- no certainty, given the Canucks' depth -- he might get an opportunity.

Keep An Eye On

There are two feast-or-famine forwards for Vancouver this season: veteran Marco Sturm and 2008 No. 10-overall draft pick Cody Hodgson. Both have a shot to claim top-six spots with strong camp performances and give coach Alain Vigneault some tough decisions upon the return of Kesler and Raymond. If they don't, both will be relegated to fantasy irrelevance. … Cory Schneider's name was a popular one in the NHL rumor mill leading up to the trade deadline and again just prior to the draft. The reason? He appears to be ready to take his shot at being a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level, and Luongo is acting as a blockade in front of him. Schneider did himself a big favor over the course of the postseason, proving adept in a relief role when Luongo struggled. The Canucks may be under some additional pressure to deal Schneider at some point this season, as he'll hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Until then, he's one of the best backups worth owning in fantasy, as he can deliver the goods on Luongo's nights off.

Calgary Flames

Additions: Scott Hannan, D (Capitals); Chris Butler, D (Sabres); Lee Stempniak, RW (Coyotes); Clay Wilson, D (Sabres)

Subtractions:: Robyn Regehr, D (Sabres); Daymond Langkow, C (Coyotes); Ales Kotalik, RW (Sabres); Steve Staios, D (UFA)

Depth Chart

First line: Alex Tanguay, Mikael Backlund, Jarome Iginla
Second line: Rene Bourque, Brendan Morrison, Lee Stempniak
Third line: Curtis Glencross, Olli Jokinen, David Moss
Fourth line: Tom Kostopoulos, Matt Stajan, Tim Jackman

First pairing: Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester
Second pairing: Scott Hannan, Anton Babchuk
Third pairing: Chris Butler, Cory Sarich

Starting goalie: Miikka Kiprusoff
Backup: Henrik Karlsson

Just missed: Stefan Meyer, LW; Lance Bouma, C; Clay Wilson, D; T.J. Brodie, D; Brendan Mikkelson, D; Niklas Hagman, LW

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

[+] EnlargeTBD
Jean-Yves Ahern/US PresswireMikael Backlund has a nice opportunity to break out this season.

From 2009-10 to 2010-11, the Flames improved their goals-per-game average from 2.45 to 2.94, finishing seventh in the league in that regard last season. Much of this gain can be chalked up to improved play from their top gun -- Jarome Iginla scored 43 goals, his highest since 2007-08 -- but three others (Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay) eclipsed the 20-goal benchmark as well. At times, even their third trio -- the aptly named OMG line with Olli Jokinen, David Moss and Glencross -- was scoring on an equal pace to their top unit until an injury ended Moss' season. Mikael Backlund is the true lineup wild card, as he'll begin the season centering Tanguay and Iginla, with Morrison shelved (April ACL surgery). Call him a sleeper, though that term might not apply for much longer. … On defense, we've been waiting for Jay Bouwmeester to deliver on his vast potential in a Flames jersey, and it hasn't happened yet. Expectations have lowered accordingly, and now the pendulum may have swung in the opposite direction. Bouwmeester could be a steal if he's still there in the late rounds of your draft. … From a plus/minus standpoint, this is a reasonably strong team from which to fish for help, although this is largely dependent on Miikka Kiprusoff's continued durability. Newcomer Scott Hannan may be of particular use in the plus/minus category.

Power Play

The Flames' power play sputtered out of the gates in 2010-11 (11.8 percent success rate in 11 October contests) before becoming one of the more dangerous units down the stretch (27.5 percent in March, 29.4 in April). Upfront, the cupboard is a bit bare. Iginla led the team with 14 power-play goals in 2010-11, and that was about it, as the second-most power-play goals came from Bourque (six). … The defensemen are another story, as both Mark Giordano and Anton Babchuk can provide some added value here. In fact, more than 58 percent of Giordano's points in 2010-11 came with the man-advantage (compared to an average of around 46 percent for the top 20 defensemen last season). Both figure to be key contributors again.

Keep An Eye On

Defenseman Clay Wilson is an intriguing prospect. He has been wreaking havoc in the AHL the past two seasons -- 60 points in 75 games in 2009-10 , 48 points in 66 games last season -- and was chosen for the U.S. team in the IIHF World Championships this spring. If he makes the team out of camp, he has top-four potential. … One of these seasons, Miikka Kiprusoff is going to start wearing down. In the six seasons since the 2004-05 lockout, he has started 73, 74, 76, 76, 72 and 71 contests, respectively. The team liked Henrik Karlsson enough in limited time last season to re-sign him, so we'll see if they like him enough to have him start more than 10 games this season.

Edmonton Oilers

Additions: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C (draft); Ryan Smyth, LW (Kings); Eric Belanger, C (Coyotes); Ben Eager, LW (San Jose); Cam Barker, D (Wild); Andy Sutton, D (Ducks)

Subtractions:: Andrew Cogliano, C (Ducks); Kurtis Foster, D (Ducks); Sheldon Souray, D (Stars); Jim Vandermeer, D (Sharks)

Depth Chart

First line: Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky
Second line: Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle
Third line: Magnus Paajarvi, Eric Belanger, Linus Omark
Fourth line: Ben Eager, Gilbert Brule, Ryan Jones

First pairing: Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert
Second pairing: Ladislav Smid, Cam Barker
Third pairing: Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry

Starting goalie: Nikolai Khabibulin
Backup: Devan Dubnyk

Just missed: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C; Teemu Hartikainen, C; Chris Vande Velde, C; Darcy Hordichuk, LW; Andy Sutton, D; Alex Plante, D; Taylor Chorney, D

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 73 games the past four seasons.

As with a number of other teams, the Oilers' top two lines appear to be somewhat fluid. Do they keep all the veterans -- Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky -- together, with the kids -- Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle -- comprising the second unit? And where does No. 1-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fit in (if he even makes the roster)? Rising second-year players Hall and Eberle were both on pace for more than 50 points in their debut last season, so it's not crazy to peg them for 60-plus points provided they stay healthy. Gagner has shown flashes of being a skilled pivot in the past, but the former No. 6 overall pick has yet to put up a 50-point season in four tries. Perhaps he'll find the proper wingers this season to turn his potential into production. … Given the thin nature of their blue line and the uncertainty in goal, this is a team with forwards who are fantasy-relevant in spite of their plus/minus numbers. It's hard to see that changing abruptly in 2011-12.

Power Play

This team was not exactly a treasure trove of power-play production in 2010-11, but with promising youngsters littering the forward ranks -- and the return of Smyth, who had nine goals with the man-advantage in 2010-11 -- there's some reason for hope. The departed Kurtis Foster was the top-scoring defenseman for the Oilers on the power play last season, which leaves Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert and, to some extent, Cam Barker to pick up the slack in 2011-12. Look for Eberle to get some work on the point as well.

Keep An Eye On

The big debate as we scream toward the start of the season revolves around the immediate future of Nugent-Hopkins. Is he better served being tossed into the NHL mix as an 18-year-old or spending another season at Red Deer in the WHL? And more central to our consideration, if he does make the team, where does he fit into the Oilers' short-term plans? … In goal, Devan Dubnyk performed considerably better than Nikolai Khabibulin last season by any measure; his goals-against average was 2.71 to Khabibulin's 3.40, his save percentage advantage was .916 to .890, and he won 12 games in 33 starts compared to the Bulin Wall's 10 in 46. All of that being the case, there's no guarantee he's the choice to start, and in fact, the team website lists Khabibulin as the starter on the early preseason depth chart.

Minnesota Wild

Additions: Dany Heatley, RW (Sharks); Devin Setoguchi, RW (Sharks); Darroll Powe, LW (Flyers); Jeff Taffe, C (Blackhawks); Mike Lundin, D (Lightning)

Subtractions:: Martin Havlat, LW (Sharks); Brent Burns, D (Sharks); Andrew Brunette, LW (Blackhawks); Cam Barker, D (Oilers); Chuck Kobasew, RW (Avalanche); John Madden, C (UFA); Jose Theodore, G (Panthers)

Depth Chart

First line: Devin Setoguchi, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley
Second line: Guillaume Latendresse, Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Third line: Darroll Powe, Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck
Fourth line: Colton Gillies, Eric Nystrom, Brad Staubitz

First pairing: Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky
Second pairing: Greg Zanon, Mike Lundin
Third pairing: Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon

Starting goalie: Niklas Backstrom
Backup: Josh Harding

Just Missed: Mikael Granlund, C; Casey Wellman, C; Jeff Taffe, C; Cody Almond, C; Carson McMillan, RW; Charlie Coyle, RW; Marco Scandella, D; Nate Prosser, D; Justin Falk, D

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

Mikko Koivu
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMikko Koivu's offensive numbers should soar with Heatley and Setoguchi playing beside him.

The Wild's 206 goals in 2010-11 was the fifth-lowest in the NHL, so it's hardly a surprise that their two big moves this offseason involved acquiring some impressive firepower. New head coach Mike Yeo has indicated to the local media that he'll begin training camp with franchise center Mikko Koivu centering the two former 30-goal scoring Sharks -- Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi -- which could make for an incredibly dangerous trio. My early favorite for the line's nickname: Two Sharks and a Finn. … When healthy, Pierre-Marc Bouchard is capable of a 50- to 60-point season. With a concussion issue that sidelined him for 13 months apparently behind him, he could be poised for a productive campaign. … Of the fantasy-relevant players who skated a near-full season in 2010-11, only Koivu was above the zero line in plus/minus. A healthy Niklas Backstrom in the crease should help in that regard, though.

Power Play

Power play stalwarts Brent Burns and Andrew Brunette are gone, but the addition of Heatley and Setoguchi should lessen the blow somewhat. Meanwhile, Marek Zidlicky will continue to bolster his overall fantasy stock with a big role on the first unit, and the loss of Burns could mean some additional opportunities for youngster Jared Spurgeon, who tallied six power-play points in 2010-11.

Keep An Eye On

Nineteen-year-old Finnish native Mikael Granlund, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 draft, projects as a top-six forward in the NHL. There are just two questions: (1) Will he be able to make the team out of camp; and (2) Will he be able to pull off his magical moves in the NHL? There are no style points in fantasy, but not to worry: Granlund has no problem putting the biscuit in the basket in conventional ways as well. He's a name to stock away for the future if a debut is not in the cards in 2011-12.

Colorado Avalanche

Additions: Semyon Varlamov, G (Capitals); Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G (Maple Leafs); Gabriel Landeskog, LW (draft); Chuck Kobasew, RW (Wild); Joakim Lindstrom, RW (Swedish Elite League); Shane O'Brien, D (Predators); Jan Hejda, D (Blue Jackets)

Subtractions:: John-Michael Liles, D (Maple Leafs); Tomas Fleischmann, RW (Panthers); Adam Foote, D (retirement); Brian Elliott, G (Blues); Peter Budaj, G (Canadiens)

Depth Chart

First line: Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk
Second line: Peter Mueller, Paul Stastny, David Jones
Third line: T.J. Galiardi, Ryan O'Reilly, Joakim Lindstrom
Fourth line: Daniel Winnick, Jay McClement, Chuck Kobasew

First pairing: Erik Johnson, Kyle Quincey
Second pairing: Jan Hejda, Stefan Elliott
Third pairing: Shane O'Brien, Ryan O'Byrne

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov
Backup: Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Just missed: Joey Hishon, C; Brandon Yip, RW; Ryan Wilson, D; Kyle Cumiskey, D; Matt Hunwick, D; Tyson Barrie, D; Cedrick Desjardins, G

The Lineup and Plus/Minus Effect

[+] EnlargeTBD
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty ImagesYoung stars Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny have become offensive forces for the Avs.

The names Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are now quite famous around rinks worldwide -- and not just for their "Bang Bang Dance." Provided Stastny can remain healthy, this is a classic 1A/1B tandem down the middle and will be a strength of the franchise for seasons to come. Though both were well under the point-per-game mark in 2010-11, it would not be surprising to see them hit that threshold this campaign. The challenge for the Avs in training camp will be determining who lines up beside each man. We have a pretty good idea of which combination of four players that will be, but the permutation (where exactly they'll slot in) remains to be seen. Either way, No. 2 overall draft pick Gabriel Landeskog figures to get big minutes, and will have a real shot at winning the rookie points race. … This is a big season for former top-overall draft pick Erik Johnson. He'll certainly get the ice time to prove himself, but he has yet to deliver on a consistent basis at the professional level. … There's no other way to put this: The Avs were a brutal team from a plus/minus standpoint in 2010-11. The team leader was depth forward Greg Mauldin, who registered a plus-5 while averaging just 10 minutes per game in his 29 games. By swapping out Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj for Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, this will theoretically make the team much less toxic in that category.

Power Play

The "power-play quarterback" role on the top unit will belong to Johnson at the outset of the season, and this might be an area where he can finally live up to his draft pedigree. … Among the forwards, Hejduk has typically been a dynamo on the power play, and if Peter Mueller can return to form quickly after missing the entire 2010-11 season because of a concussion, he's another sniper who could reap sizable benefits on the man advantage.

Keep An Eye On

The Avs have a number of impressive young prospects, especially on defense. One is Stefan Elliott, who was the WHL's leading scorer with 81 points in 71 games last season and won the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the top defenseman in that junior league. Interestingly enough, the blue-liner who finished second was Tyson Barrie, who is also in the Avs' system. If they make the team out of camp, watch out. … The goaltending situation is far from resolved. Varlamov was pretty effective in the crease for the Washington Capitals when he was healthy, but therein lies his problem. Sitting behind him is Giguere, who might have something left in the tank at age 34. Waiting in the wings is 26-year-old Cedrick Desjardins, who has been impressive in the AHL and could make some noise if Varlamov or Giguere are hurt or ineffective.

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.