Senshot’s special tribute to netminder continues. After examining the Pacific Division yesterday, we move north to check in on the Northwest Division. This group has more elite goalies as well as a couple of great tandems, even though one is not expected to be intact by the time the season starts. A quick look at each unit:
Calgary Flames (Mikka Kiprusoff, Henrik Karlsson)
At age 35, you would expect that Mikka Kiprusoff would start to show signs of aging. However, he is coming off his 7th consecutive season playing 70 or more games and his numbers were as good as ever last season. Unfortunately, his 35 wins weren’t enough to help the Flames get to the post-season, which they have now missed for three straight years. Karlsson missed some time with injury, but both he and prospect-turned career minor leaguer Leland Irving have had the misfortune of playing behind Kiprusoff and therefore not been able to see much NHL action to prove their mettle.
Calgary was tied for 13th in goals against last season.
Colorado Avalanche (Semyon Varlamov, JS Giguere)
After giving up on Craig Anderson and then Brian Elliott in a matter of months at the end of the 2010-11. Season, the Avs reloaded prior to last season, giving up a first round pick for Varlamov and signing veteran Giguere to back him up. However, it was the veteran who outplayed the youngster for much of the season, and had much better numbers behind a young Avalanche team. After a shaky start to the season by Varlamov, it essentially became a platoon situation in Denver, and as the saying goes, if you have 2 #1s, you don’t really have a #1. The Avalanche missed the playoffs by 7 points, so the circumstances didn’t really work.
The Avalanche finished 16th in goals against last season.
Edmonton Oilers (Nikolai Khabibulin, Devan Dubnyk)
Over the first couple of months of the season, Khabibulin was the story of the league, as he propelled the Oilers to one of the best records in the league. That didn’t last, and the Oilers once again fell to the depths of the NHL standings. During the course of that plummet, backup Dubnyk saw more and more duty and seems to have the inside track for the starting role in the coming season. Does DD have what it takes to be a true NHL starter? Entering his fourth season in Edmonton, it is put up or shut up time as the Oilers brass need to know if he can be the backstop for a young dynamic team to grow up with.
The Oilers were 23rd in goals against last season.
Minnesota Wild (Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding)
Backstrom numbers were down this past season as nagging lower body injuries forced him to miss games on three occasions. This resulted on his failing to reach the 20 win plateau for the first time in his career. Harding was expected to be a sought after goalie in the off-season, but the Wild locked him up as he seems ready to wait for the 34 year old veteran Backstrom to complete his time in the crease. Harding set a career high with 30 starts but is entering his 7th year with the Wild and had only played in 117 games and is already 28 years old. The duo had Minny in top spot overall as late as November, but they ended up missing the playoffs.
The Wild tied for 13th in goals against in 2011 -12.
Vancouver Canucks (Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider)
With two legitimate stars in their crease, the Canucks have a dilemma on their hands. Luongo has been a Vezina finalist as late as 2010, but is the whipping boy for the failure to win the Cup during his tenure. Does Vancouver trade his extensive contract (10 years, $53+M remaining) and hand the reins over to Schneider, or should they keep both players despite the fact there isn’t enough games to satisfy both. On talent alone, and despite what has transpired in Vancouver Luongo is still a top 5 goalie league-wide, this sounds would be hands down the #1 ranked tandem in the league. How long they stay together remains to be seen, as the smart money is on Luongo having a new address before the new season begins.
The Canucks were 4th in goals against last season.
So there is the synopsis, but how would you rank the tandems in the Northwest Division as they stand today? Here is my ranking:
5. Edmonton Oilers – Dubnyk has to prove he is a #1
4. Colorado Avalanche – If Giguere starts as often as he did last season, the Avs are in trouble between the pipes
3. Calgary Flames – Kipper isn’t getting any younger, and the heirs apparent haven’t got much experience
2. Minnesota Wild – Harding’s patience will pay off as he contributes to a Wild resurgence, but Backstrom will enjoy a couple more years in the brighter spotlight brought around by Parise and Suter.
1. Vancouver Canucks – Perhaps with an asterisk, because a Schneider-Eddie Lack combo is much less impressive than the current duo.
If you missed yesterday’s look at the Pacific Division, you can check it out HERE.
Check back tomorrow when I look at the Central Division.