The Competition: Wrapup

We really are in the doldrums when the biggest news from hockey in the last week was the news that an assistant coach, Edmonton’s Craig Simpson, is leaving the Oilers’ bench to join Hockey Night in Canada full-time. As happy as that’s made Oilers fans who are suddenly dreaming of an effective power play with Craiggers out of the picture, it’s minor news from a hockey standpoint. For me, it’s great news because it’s part of what seems to be a long-overdue reimagining of HNIC. But more on that in a future entry, this is supposed to be a wrap of my The Competition series.

Nothing’s happened in recent weeks to change my mind about my predicted order of finish in the Northwest Division. For fun, I’ll add points predictions to the mix:

1. Calgary, 103
2. Colorado, 99
3. Vancouver, 97
4. Minnesota, 94
5. Edmonton, 83

But the whole thing, especially discussion of Backstrom and Roloson, did make me rethink the importance of the goaltenders in the whole equation. I’d rank the division’s starters in this order: Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberto Luongo, Dwayne Roloson, Nicklas Backstrom, Peter Budaj. Normally, that would be a pretty good starting point in overall divisional rankings; but after the Flames, there are some massive differences in talent from the crease out. Edmonton is the obvious first place to look; I still like Roloson as a quality No. 1 in the league, but he’s not so great that he can draw his team into the playoffs alone. Were Luongo or Kipper playing goal in Edmonton, I would have called them a playoff team. Budaj, on the other hand, hasn’t proven anything. But the Avs have done such a great job building a good young team in front of him that they can allow him the chance to develop into an elite guy.

While I’m busy ranking starting goalies, I thought it would be fun to rank top guys from each team at other positions in the conference as well. I’m not going to go into detail defending my choices here, but I’d love to debate these lists in the comments if anyone’s interested.


1. Jarome Iginla, Calgary
2. Joe Sakic, Colorado
2. Marian Gaborik, Minnesota
4. Henrik or Daniel Sedin, Vancouver (you tell me the difference)
5. Ales Hemsky, Edmonton

That’s a great group of players. Iginla, Sakic and Gaborik would be No. 1 guys on most teams in the league.


1. Robyn Regehr, Calgary
2. Kim Johnsson, Minnesota
3. Joni Pitkanen, Edmonton
4. Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver
5. Scott Hannan, Colorado

(That’s a major lack of super-elite two-way defencemen in the division, which is interesting; While Kiprusoff, Luongo, Iginla, Sakic and Gaborik are all Top 15 talent at their positions in the entire league, there’s no Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara or Nicklas Lidstrom to be found in the Northwest. Instead, each team — particularly Calgary and Vancouver — have build deep defence corps that rely on strength 1-6 instead of one or two studs.)


1. Jacques Lemaire, Minnesota
2. Joel Quenneville, Colorado
3. Craig MacTavish, Edmonton
4. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver
5. Mike Keenan, Calgary

And Keenan’s way, way back at No. 5 right now, cups and experience be damned. I’ve ranked the defending Jack Adams winner at No. 4, which says something about the quality of Lemaire, Quenneville and MacTavish.


1. Darryl Sutter, Calgary
2. Dave Nonis, Vancouver
3. Doug Risebrough, Minnesota
4. Francois Giguere, Colorado
5. Kevin Lowe, Edmonton

We all know Lowe’s gone into the tank, and Giguere’s made some questionable moves in his short tenure while benefiting from some nice drafting done before his time. Sutter’s successes still far outweigh his failures; Nonis remade the Canucks into contenders in a few short seasons, and Risebrough does what he does under the shackles of a perpetually tight budget.

The final analysis of this entire exercise is that outside of Edmonton, this is again a remarkably strong division. And I’m not even convinced that MacT won’t find a way to make the Oilers competitive every night — they have improved over last season and have guys with something to prove. Again, this will be a disadvantage in conference standings in the bonkers unbalanced schedule. Detroit will again have the advantage of playing weak-ass teams all the time; Columbus and Chicago still suck, St. Louis is just plucky and it looks like Nashville’s sold their way straight to the basement. Meanwhile, Anaheim and San Jose have the crappiest NHL lineup (Phoenix) and worst goaltending tandem (L.A.’s Dan Cloutier and Jason LaBarbera) to beat up on, while Dallas doesn’t look that deep going into the season.

But that’s OK. We’ll have better games to watch.

As a side-note, it was interesting to see which entries drew the most comments. Colorado and Edmonton both had active comment threads, while Minnesota and Vancouver drew flies. Vancouver I was most surprised with, especially since I basically called out the majority of their fans as morons. But the number of fan blogs I revisited or discovered in the process of writing made me realize how lucky we are to follow a team in a division full of passionate fans.


~ by duncan on August 10, 2007.

15 Responses to “The Competition: Wrapup”

  1. i always kinda think people underestimate minnesota, but it’s probably because they always underachieve. it still pains me, however, that risebrough was able to put that team together while pretty much singlehandedly dismantling the flames after the cup win, handicapping them for the better part of a decade (cliff fletcher played him like yahtzee).

    i have a lot more to say. as soon as i get some sleep.

  2. That was typical Flames hubris at the time — take a wildly inexperienced ex-Flame and give him the keys to the organization. Risebrough, of course, went and apprenticed with Glen Sather for a few years and became an effective NHL executive, while Calgary meandered along with the likes of Craig Button at the helm.

    Minnesota had a great year last year, aided greatly (as I’ve pointed out plenty) by the shootout. They’re no worse this year, and young players like Brent Burns are starting to emerge as good players. So maybe I am underestimating them.

  3. St. Louis is just plucky

    i am intensely curious about the blues this year. partly because i have a mole in the “show me” state and partly because i think they have scary potential. they’ll probably be average-to-good this year, but i say lookout in 08/09. they’ve got a pretty solid D (and eric johnson looks to be crackin’ the lineup this year) and don’t suck in net. that plus their forwards COULD surprise —i’ve made no secret about loving stempniak, paul kariya will look good in blue (and his brother is apparently fast with “good hockey sense”), and guys like jay mcclement and jamal mayers are workhorses. throw in andy murray and i think they’ll be leapfrogging teams in the central. yep.

  4. I gotta take issue with your list of defenders. Ohlund and Mitchell do more heavy lifting in Vancouver than Bieksa. Pitkanen over Phanuef? I like Joni, but he hasn’t done anything to put him ahead of Dion. Speaking of which, Kim Johnsson is decent, but I’d take Jordan Leopold over that guy any day. The Hannan and Regehr inclusions I agree with.

    As for Minnesota, they overachieved last year (rather than underachieved). They gained a lot of points from OT and S/O and Backstrom played ridiculously well the last 2 months or so. They can do as well or better this season if Backstrom is the real deal and the Slovaks stay healthy. Big IFs there.

    Lemaire will always ensure that the Wild win their fair share of 1 goal contests, but until they get some real depth up front and a genuine difference maker on the back-end, I dont see them being anymore than a middling squad.

  5. I wouldn’t rank Pitkanen over Phaneuf, but I was only taking one guy from each team for the purposes of this exercise. If I was doing a Top 5 in the division regardless of team, it would probably come out Regehr, Johnsson, Phaneuf, Pitkanen, Bieksa. (I say probably because I’ve thought about this for about five seconds.)

    I think Bieksa does more all-around and has more upside at this time than Ohlund or Mitchell, but I struggled big-time with who to pick there, and also considered Salo. Again, it’s the balance on the back-end that’s so good in Vancouver.

  6. Ahhh…fair enough.

    Bieksa hasn’t done it for long enough for me to put him above Ohlund. If he’s consistently good again this year, maybe he’s rankable…until then, I consider him behind the Canucks other vets.

  7. you guys gonna fistfight ?

  8. Very interesting post D. I agree 100% with your goaltending analysis, but Harding/Backstrom could really step it up. That’s perhaps a toss up. I think I would rank Hemsky above either single Sedin, though probably not as a tandem. Not sure Jarome is better than Joe Sakic yet, it’s close, but look at Sakic’s point total last year on a bad team while having an ‘off’ year. Incredible.

    I would also put MacT higher on the coaching list, because I think Lemaire has run out of creativity. Playing the trap isn’t necessarily good coaching strategy, in fact, I would argue using it year after year despite major lineup changes is almost lazy.

    Despite the fact I’ve argued almost every Oiler should be ranked higher, I can’t believe you’ve given them 83 points. I guess those OT/SO losses make an under .500 record almost impossible.

  9. Not sure Jarome is better than Joe Sakic yet

    As you say, it’s close, but on the strength of last season’s stats and the fact that Jarome is 7 years younger, I have to say that Iginla is, in fact, better than Sakic.

    Joe was on a bad team last year, true, but they were bad because they couldn’t keep pucks out of their not net – not because they couldn’t score: COL had the third most goals for in the league. Also, Jarome was on a 110 point pace before getting injured in Jan. And, even though he played 12 less games than Sakic, he scored 3 more points at ES.

  10. *own net, above

  11. I am biased, but agree that Iginla is not quite as good as Sakic, but they are very close (and I think both top 5 in the league)My only real beef is ranking Giguere so low. He actually hasn’t made many questionable deals, and inherited bad deals from LeCroix. The Avs biggest mistakes (Brisbois, Turgeon, and Theo) were all done before Giguere took over.

  12. I don’t know if Gaborik can be considered the Wild’s best player for one simple reason: health. He oozes talent, no question, but durability is as important as anything in the bigs. Demitra is a similar talent who plays more (though he did have a slightly off-year last year), and Rolston brings all kinds of intangibles to the team, as well as leading them in scoring.

  13. jibblescribbits: Tanguay-Leopold was horrible for the Avs, but the biggest problem with ranking Giguere is that he hasn’t been around long enough to judge. Hannan and Smyth seem like good signings, but it’s too early to tell. But, yeah, those Lacroix moves sucked, and put Giguere in a tough position at the start of his tenure.

    Mason: Alls I know is, when Gaborik is on the ice, I think pretty much all the time that he’s going to score. Fair enough on the injury front, but Gaborik’s the guy I’m going to remember 10 years from now.

  14. Wow u picked the flames at the top of nearly every category. Surprising, this bolg is LAME. Just like all the flames fans who never stop talking about how great they are

  15. Hahaha…agreed this IS the lamest bolg ever!

    I’m guessing the aptly named Hairy Palms would be far more even-minded in his no doubt insightful and nuanced assessments of NHL players.

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