October 04 2011 08:07AM
Will the Canucks lead the league in offence again this year?
If this guy has a dominant season - they may.
(Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images North America)
CanucksArmy rolls out a short series where we preview the Northwest Division by position. Today we start up front and look at the forwards from each team:
The Vancouver Canucks were the league's highest scoring team last season, thanks to a potent power play and a career year from Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. The Oilers boast some young, exciting talent but were unable to score enough last year, especially on home ice. The Calgary Flames and their veteran lineup led the league in goals at home and were a potent force offensively all year. The Avalanche used to be able score with anybody, but continuing to do so this season after the incredible amount of turnover their roster has gone through could be an issue. As for the Wild.... Sorry, I passed out from boredom for a second, but yeah, as for the Wild - they've renovated their forward group entirely - could they be an offensive force this season? *suppresses laughter*
Though they missed the playoffs, scoring was not an issue for the Calgary Flames last season. They ranked tied for first at home and tied for seventh in total goals. To give you some further perspective, the Flames had identical stats in goals at home and on the road (and therefore, over all as well) as the Tampa Bay Lightning. And NOBODY thinks the Lightning had any trouble scoring.
Very quietly, Jarome Iginla was third in goal scoring last year. Not many people besides Flames fans know that. The Flames two biggest concerns right now are Jarome Iginla's health and Matt Stajan's ability to actually do something (beyond cashing cheques). If Iginla's back spasms continue to keep him out of the lineup, or if Matt Stajan continues to be as useful to the team as a replacement level bag of Dorritos, the Flames will be in trouble to start the year.
The Flames return largely the same forward-group as last season, with the notable addition of Lee Stempniak. The Flames will need both Iginla and Stajan, as well as Stempniak, to be on task this year if they hope to get back to the playoffs.
Poor Matt Duchene. His supporting cast is atrocious and it isn't getting any better this year. In fact it's going to be SOOOOOOOO much worse.
Last year, the Avs actually managed to score some goals, and were doing well to start the season. Despite their tail-spin in the last third of the year - they still managed to finish the season ranked middle of the pack in goals scored.
This season, however, they start this year without their highest scoring defenceman (JM Liles) and two of their breakout players in Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. And while noted Canucks-killer Milan Hejduk still has some gas in the tank, his best days are well behind him. Expect a huge drop in goal production from the Avs this year. They will certainly fall into the bottom third in goal output, if not the bottom five, and poor Matt Duchene is going to struggle to find any spark with this dull roster.
I admit that it must be exciting to be an Oilers fan right now. Not that being delusional and living in the past ever really gets old, but now Oilers fan have a huge talent pool on the verge of breaking out. The Oilers are loaded with young, explosive players ready to take over the league. They are exciting, full of skill, and will be a force in pretty short order.
The problem is ... They're still at least a couple of years away. They've got all that talent, but no real structure or formation to their game. I was lucky enough to watch the final preseason game between the Oilers and Canucks at Rogers Arena this past Saturday (thanks again to Nicole Van Zanten and the Canucks for Social Media Suite Night!). With both teams dressing their full complement of players (the Oilers have some injury concerns on defence already, so they were playing with some fill-ins), it's clear that the Oilers forwards are a class behind still. Not that they lack skill. Far from it. It's that they utterly lack direction and a game plan beyond the old: "score some goals, boys!".
When the Oilers all get on the same page, they will be a force night after night. But they aren't there yet. Fun to watch, but don't expect the Oilers forwards to rescue enough games this year to make the playoffs.
The Wild were a bottom-five team in goals-for last season. Their supposed solution to that problem was to trade away their second- and third-leading scorers and to walk away from their other third-leading scorer. Sounds like a recipe for success!
What the Wild did was acquire Devin Setoguchi and noted sniveler Dany Heatley. I suppose those are good additions, and I like Setoguchi a lot. But without much in the way of secondary scoring, the Wild are gonna be in serious trouble offensively. Assuming their top line is Heatley, Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu, they've got no production after that. Good luck, bottom nine Wild forwards. You're gonna need it.
They led the league in goals-for, power play output and had the league's highest and the fourth-highest scorer. They also had two players score over 40 goals (the only team in the league to boast that). The Canucks didn't lose any forwards that generated any irreplaceable offensive output. In fact, they now have a healthy Samuelsson and they acquired Marco Sturm, who is absolutely capable of scoring 20 goals, if he stays healthy.
The problem for the Canucks is that they start the year without Selke-winning Ryan Kesler and without Mason Raymond. While Sturm should be an adequate replacement for Raymond (and who knows when Raymond will be back... December? January? May?), the real question is in Cody Hodgson, who appears to have earned the second line center spot in Kesler's absence. Hodgson has been really good in pre-season, looking solid, steady and assured on the puck. But that was the pre-season.
Frankly, the success of the Canucks' start to the season may rest on his shoulders. If Hodgson can translate his pre-season game to the regular season, the Canucks will be poised to get back into the top five in goal scoring again. If it takes Hodgson some time to get adjusted, or if Kesler suffers any setbacks in his return, the Canucks offence will struggle.
The key for the Canucks is weathering the Kesler-less storm. If Hodgson can acquit himself well enough and prove he can play big-league, top-six minutes, then the Canucks will be soaring again on the scoresheet. If I'm a betting man, I'd putting cash on the Canucks putting up a bunch of goals again this year and possibly leading the league for the second straight season.