Northwest: Oilers look to improve grade in 2012-13

By Blake Benzel

 

Photo: The Edmonton Oilers' high-powered trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (L), Taylor Hall (C), and Jordan Eberle (R) could soon be joined by another highly talented forward when the team chooses first at the 2012 NHL Draft (courtesy of

Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

The 2011-12 NHL regular season has come and gone and most teams in the Northwest Division have been sent packing. With that in mind, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at every team in the division and see how their seasons' broke down.

Calgary Flames, 'C': It’s hard to tell whether the Flames disappointed or simply met expectations because they have a good team on paper. The Flames struggled with injuries for most of the season, losing key players like Mark Giordano, Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross for large chunks of time and still managed to finish ninth in the conference.

A big reason for that was the play of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff who, statistically, had his best season since the 2005-06 season. He was in the top 10 in just about every major statistical category, with the exception of goals-against average, where he finished just outside the top 10, and shutouts. Many nights, Kipper was the reason why the Flames either won games or had an opportunity to win games, and he was certainly a workhorse for the team, playing in 70 games.

As has seemed to be the case every season recently for the Flames, however, secondary scoring was a problem for the team. The team had just six players that had double digits in goals this season, and one of those was Cammalleri, who played just 28 games for the team. With 20 losses this season by one goal (either in regulation or overtime), that is going to be the one glaring statistic that haunts the Flames this offseason.

Colorado Avalanche, 'A+': There isn’t a person out there that expected the Avalanche to be this close to the playoffs this season. Yes, they finished in 11th and were seven points out of the race, but that minimizes how close they came to making the playoffs. Indeed, the Avalanche were in the race right up until the last few games of the season, and a big reason for that was the shrewd managerial decisions made by general manager Greg Sherman.

Trading for Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie gave the team an extra added dimension that helped them down the stretch, while Semyon Varlamov emerged as an elite goaltender late in the season.

Not only that, but Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog emerged as true offensive threats for the Avalanche, who sorely needed just that with down seasons for Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene. They’ve got the potential Calder Trophy candidate on their roster, as well as a potential Jack Adams candidate in Joe Sacco, which points to a season full of exceeding expectations in the Mile High City.

Edmonton Oilers, 'D': There’s no doubt that expectations were high for the Oilers this season – possibly unreasonably high – but, on paper, they certainly looked better than the second-worst record in the NHL. With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, their offense looked to be much improved over last season and their hopes rested on Nikolai Khabibulin having a rebound season to help pull them into playoff contention.

While the former happened, it wasn’t the great transformation that the team needed, nor was there a defensive turn-around, despite giving up 30 fewer goals this season than last.

The team also struggled with consistency, losing three or more games in a row 10 times during the season, while winning three or more games in a row just twice. That’s not exactly the recipe for a successful season, and that’s exactly why the Oilers ended up with yet another high lottery pick.

Minnesota Wild, 'C-': An early season surge raised expectations for the Wild through the roof, as the team charged to the top of the NHL thanks to timely scoring, strong defense and a strong system that masked the team’s weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, those weaknesses were woefully exposed after the team lost Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and captain Mikko Koivu to injuries for extended periods of time. Once injuries started to pile up, the Wild slowly slid down the standings and finished with the seventh-worst record in the league.

The truth of the Minnesota Wild, however, is somewhere in the middle. The team certainly was overachieving in a large way when they made their push to the top of the standings, but they were in no way as bad as they ended the season.

Vancouver Canucks, 'A': Truthfully, it’s really too soon to judge the Canucks’ season, as the only thing that will really make this year a success for them is if they end up parading the Stanley Cup down the streets of Vancouver. That being said, they did exactly what they were expected to do during the regular season.

The team rebounded nicely from a dismal start, dealt with some key injuries to Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin, dealt with a spotty season from Roberto Luongo and won the Presidents’ Trophy once again.

As much as an “incomplete” would probably be warranted for their season to date, the Canucks lived up to expectations during the regular season this year. Now it’s just a matter of living up to expectations in the post-season.

Northwest Division Notes

Flames prospect Sven Baertschi was named the WHL Player of the Week on Monday, while Krys Kolanos was named the AHL Player of the Week. … It appears as if both Daniel Sedin and Keith Ballard may be available for Vancouver’s first round series against the Los Angeles Kings. Both Sedin and Ballard were out of the lineup with concussions…The Edmonton Oilers have secured the first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft via their win in the draft lottery this evening. Oliers GM Steve Tambellini indicated to TSN that he wouldn't be opposed to moving the pick, but that nothing has been decided at this point.