The 2009 Stanley Cup party started with just two invitees from the Northwest Division, and neither of those guests stuck around for the lampshades-on-the-head, hey-I-wonder-if-you-can-mix-Tequila-and-Dr.-Pepper stage of the shindig.
A couple of years ago, arguments were made that the Northwest was the best division in the circuit and if the claim was dubious then — most balanced, most middle class, most wide open might have been better descriptions — it’s fairly preposterous now.
Yeah, all those never-say-die Flames fans can talk tough about things being different if only they weren’t so banged up late in the season and into the playoffs.
Yeah, the conspiracy-minded Canucks supporters who are disciples of Tony Gallagher’s preachings can mutter about the deck being stacked in the Chicago series by league officials and whistle-blowers who wanted the darling Blackhawks to advance.
And yeah, the folks in Edmonton , Denver and Twin Cities can hang their hats on whatever explanations they can come up with for perceived underachieving this past winter.
The bottom line is that for the seventh season in a row, the Cup will he handed to a club from another division. Only the teams who currently call the Northeast Division home (16 years) have gone longer between sips from the shiny smokestack. And yes, the geographically among you will note that those are the two congregations that contain all the Canadian teams.
But just because all the Northwest teams are on the golf course (it’s apparently some sort of law that a reference to golf must be made when discussing eliminated hockey teams) there’s no reason the fun, such as it is, can’t continue. So before all the summer wheeling and dealing alters the Flames, Canucks, Oilers, Wild and Avalanche as we know them, let’s engage in a completely pointless exercise and come up with an all-Northwest Division team.
This is the team we’d throw on the ice if there was some sort of weird high-stakes hockey tournament in July and our player pool was limited to the Calgary-Colorado-Edmonton-Minnesota-Vancouver quintet.
The rules are simple.
1) Any player who was on a Northwest Division roster at season’s end, regardless off their July 1 status, is eligible for selection.
2) A true attempt at team-building will be made. In other words, the fourth line won’t consist of one-dimensional types who believe they have a divine right to be on the first power-play unit.
3) An attempt will be made to respect positions, but only to a certain point. NHL coaches play fast and loose with left-wing/right-wing designations and centres are often slide over to one side or another, so why shouldn’t we be able to do it? The left side/right side considerations were largely ignored in terms of picking the blue-liners.
4) There’s a presumption full health for all the players at our disposal, so any medical misery during the past season or any pending surgeries this summer will be completely ignored.
5) If anyone disagrees with these picks, make your own goshdarn team. Heck, you’ll do that anyway.
OK, here goes:
First line (Marian Gaborik-Mikko Koivu-Jarome Iginla)
Remember the assumption of full health (a poor bet in Gaborik’s case if this were reality). Even though Iginla had a down year by his standards in 2008-09, he was still the division’s top point-getter. Gaborik has typically played right wing, but he’s a left-handed shot and so he gets the call on the port side. The inclusion of Koivu, who had a relatively modest 67 points this past season, may raise eyebrows but he’s an underrated two-way performer who would serve as the defensive conscience for the two wingers.
Second line (Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Ales Hemsky)
There’s a temptation to include one Sedin and not the other, just to see if the earth would start spinning in the other direction or some other dramatic consequence. This combination would have to be tested in action because there’s a chance the Sedin Synergy and Hemsky’s considerable talent may not be that great a match. It sure would be fun to find out though.
Third line (Michael Cammalleri-Daymond Langkow-Rene Bourque)
This is where it gets dicey. Part of the problem is that 63-year-old Owen Nolan was the third-highest scoring right-winger (by official NHL classifications anyway) in the division in 2008-09. Instead of calling on Buster, we move the versatile Bourque, who has played both wings in the big leagues, over to the right side.
Fourth line (Alex Burrows-Ryan Kesler-Ian Laperriere)
Pity the opposition that has to deal with this combination of pests and world-class chatterboxes. Burrows’ tendency to get out of control on occasion is a concern, but the wily Laperriere would surely be a positive influence. The battle-scarred Laperriere can also fight, kill penalties and is an extremely popular figure in the dressing room. This obviously isn’t your typical energy line, either — Kesler and Burrows combined for 110 points in 2008-09.
Apologies to Paul Stastny, who probably deserves to be on the team somewhere.
Willie Mitchell-Lubomir Visnovsky
Robyn Regehr-Denis Grebeshkov
Sheldon Souray-Dion Phaneuf
As far as the back end goes, the most important factor is ensuring that Phaneuf and Souray aren’t matched up against the opposition’s best players and that a significant amount of their ice time comes on the power play. Checking some of the advanced metrics, it’s very tempting to squeeze in a player such as Nick Schultz, Cory Sarich or Sami Salo (remember the health proviso). It will be very interesting to read the counter-arguments from those of you who have much more practice at sifting through all the numbers to use as a complement to the instinctual selection process.
Niklas Backstrom-Roberto Luongo
Miikka Kiprusoff may have gotten some mainstream support for Vezina consideration and Dwayne Roloson certainly deserves credit for his ironman run in the second half, but this isn’t close. The only debate is how you’d split up the workload between the two fellows.
So there you have it. Let the screaming begin.