Northwest review, part two

Jean Lefebvre
July 08 2009 10:30PM

northwestern-division

After touching on the off-season activities of the Wild and Avalanche in a previous entry, we now discuss those other three teams in the Northwest Division.

EDMONTON

During the Jaroslav Pouzar-Dave Lumley-Willy Lindstrom era in Edmonton (and whoever those other guys were), the Oilers were feared, detested and envied by Calgary fans. The mixture of the ingredients varied from Flames supporter to Flames supporter, but those pretty much were the underlying sentiments.

Over the past three years, however, through three playoff-less seasons in Edmonton and Pronger-gate, Vanek-gate, Penner-gate, Nylander-gate and Huggy Bear’s Wrestlemania, the Oilers were mostly ridiculed by Flames fans, at least for the 10-14 additional days Calgary managed to stay alive in each of those years.

Needless to say, Edmontonians bristled at the taunting and you would have thought things couldn’t get worse for the lovers of the Copper-and-Navy (formerly Orange-and-Blue) but now comes word that some small-l liberal Calgary fans are now actually pitying their northern counterparts and, well, that may be more than some Oilers fans can stand.

Yes, believe or not, some Flames fans admitted to feeling sorry for the Oilers when Dany Heatley became the latest NHLer to give Edmonton the old “Thanks but no thanks.” Of course, most of them got over that in a big hurry and the snickering and pointing quickly resumed. L’Affaire Heatley isn’t over of course, with two major questions remaining to be resolved.

  1. When and if Heatley realizes his other options either suck or are non-existent, will the persnickety winger finally agree to join the Oilers?
  2. Would Oilers rather have the malcontent mop-top on their roster or three guys who have experienced the uneasiness that comes with you’ve-been-traded-oh-no-you-haven’t-so-welcome-back- but-don’t-unpack-your-bags-just-yet?

On that latter point, a reasonably close parallel to what Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid must be feeling at the moment can be found on the 1992 New York Rangers. That’s the team that lost out on the Eric Lindros arbitration ruling, which means that John Vanbiesbrouck, Tony Amonte, Doug Weight and Alexei Kovalev all remained in Manhattan instead of going to Quebec City.

All of those guys continued to have productive careers (and a couple aren’t done yet) but it’s interesting to note that Vanbiesbrouck and Weight were both gone within a year of the aborted trade and Amonte was out of there a season after that.

Only Kovalev, who had yet played an NHL game at this point, remained with the Rangers for an appreciable length of time after the Lindros whiff.

All of which means that assessing Steve Tambellini’s summer work will be difficult until the Heatley smoke clears, and even maybe not until a quarter-season of regular-season action after that.

Sorting out the goaltending switcheroo involving Dwayne Roloson and Nikolai Khabibulin, who at some point in the past 18 months couldn’t be given away by their employers, is a bit of a head-scratcher, although time is certainly on the Oilers’ and Bulin Wall’s side. Also, Khabibulin has been a Flames-killer throughout his career, and that’s got to count for something in July when it’s still three months away from meaningful games.

After that, and with all due apologies to members of the Kyle Brodziak and Jason Strudwick families, things have been pretty quiet this summer at the building formerly known as Northlands Coliseum. Tambellini will keep pitching on the Heatley front no doubt, but otherwise too many of the improvement plans, most notably those concocted by fans, over-ambitiously start with “If we built a package around Robert Nilsson, maybe we could pry that young stud from (fill in the blank).”

KJR (Knee-Jerk Ruling): Pending further developments, a loser. Thanks to another summer of star snobbery, it’s been another trying off-season for Oilers fans, who now have to settle for in-house reasons to convince themselves sunnier days are ahead. Well, that and clinging to the old bromide about the best trades sometimes being the ones you don’t make.

VANCOUVER

It’s hard to make heads or tails out of the Canucks’ off-season doings, if only because we’re hopelessly distracted by all the conspiracy theories emanating from Tony Gallagher’s keyboard.

Actually, analyzing Vancouver’s summer doings is pretty straightforward. The reigning division champions managed to keep the Sedin twins on something less than the lifetime-plus-a-year contracts that had been rumoured, did the expected by waving good-bye to a proud but declining battler in Mattias Ohlund, signed Mikael Samuelsson to a slightly pricy deal and decided Andrew Raycroft – yikes! -- was their new backup goalie.

Perhaps the best summer news for Canucks fans is that all the chatter about Marian Gaborik buying a house in Vancouver turned out to be poppycock and that the oft-injured winger is now John Tortorella’s headache and not Alain Vigneault’s.

KJR: A winner, despite how things might look on paper. Ohlund spent more time on the ice than any Canucks player not named Willie Mitchell or Roberto Luongo in 2008-09, so his departure shouldn’t be written off cavalierly. But considering that his exit has been considered a foregone conclusion for some time and that the Sedins’ return was anything but, this should be considered a positive off-season on the Left Coast.

CALGARY

Similar to the Ohlund situation in Vancouver, the sting of Calgary losing Michael Cammalleri is lessened by the fact most clear-thinking Flames fans have seen this coming for a while. If it wasn’t painfully obvious when Cammalleri started popping goals like crazy and adding more and more loonies to his prospective new contract, the deal was sealed when the Flames committed a bunch of cash by trading the reasonably priced Matthew Lombardi for Olli Jokinen and his hefty deal.

On the flip side, the Flames landed big blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester and convinced him to accept a not-outrageous long-term deal. It says something about Bouwmeester’s reputation when most of the criticism of Calgary’s landing of the rangy rearguard was focused not on any shortcomings the player might have but on the financial corner into which the Flames have now theoretically painted themselves.

Fredrik Sjostrom gives the Flames another dependable winger with limited offensive upside and the return of Brandon Prust adds bite to the fourth line. But the biggest non-Bouwmeester newcomer is Brent Sutter, the new skipper who, in no particular order, is being asked to bring back defensive accountability to the Flames after the laissez-faire Keenan years, get former junior protégé Dion Phaneuf’s career back on track and, oh yeah, get the Flames past the first round.

Many of the Flames’ other off-season additions – Garth Murray, Jason Jaffray, Staffan Kronwall – likely qualify as bigger news for the good folks of Abbotsford, B.C., than those of Calgary.

One more thing, with the Flames seemingly having no room or money left for Todd Bertuzzi, the Flames will be a lot less entertaining next year. More technically sound, perhaps, but far less enjoyable now that Big Bert’s fancy passes and loop-de-loop skating are apparently headed elsewhere.

KJR: A winner thanks to Bouwmeester, but only if the Flames follow through on their vows to put an end to all the careless freewheeling. They have to give Miikka Kiprusoff the help he clearly needs because the goals figure to be much harder to come by.

Overview

Subject to reconsideration when we get closer to training camp (in fact, you can pretty much count on some flip-flopping) I don’t see any team having done enough (or too little) to change their Northwest standing by more than one position. In fact, an identical first-to-fifth finish -- Canucks-Flames-Wild-Oilers-Avs -- looks like a pretty decent bet.

That said, I wonder if anyone with a dissenting opinion could be convinced to post a comment below?

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#51 Rick
July 10 2009, 11:23AM
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Ryan wrote:

-It was a widely known fact that the Oilers would have hired Sutter as their first choice to replace MacT over Quinn and Renney. They had to resort to Quinn and Renney once they realized Sutter had no desire to coach in Edmonton.

Widely known by who?

Besides, what does it matter if the Oilers may or may not have been interested in him? The question is wether or not he improves the Flames.

Ryan wrote:

-The Devils were lucky to make the playoffs last year considering they were missing Brodeur for a significant portion of the season. The fact that he did get the Devils to the playoffs and the fact they SHOULD have beat Carolina - was the reason he was considered the top coach of the year…and again, the Oiler’s 1st choice as MacT’s replacement.

The Oilers have nothing to do with this so keep bringing them up?

Sutter seems like a capable coach but before you plan the parade route take a look at the Devil's record for the past 12 years and explain where coaching appeared to make any difference at all? Outside of Detroit there hasn't been a more consistant team in the league and if anything, hate to burst your bubble here, one of the only two times the Devils took a step back from the previous year was under Sutter's watch.

Maybe that is why 'ol Lou wasn't screaming from the hill tops when the Sutter's pulled the rug out from under him and left him with out a coach. Maybe Lou sees that he can get the same results no matter who the coach is.

Ryan wrote:

-Changing coaches 3-4 times if things aren’t working is much better than sticking with 1 coach for 8 seasons when the guy only got you to the playoffs 3 times.

Again with the Oilers reference, why are they relevant to the point?

The point, read it slowly, is figuring out if the problem in Calgary has been the coach or the mix of players. This is the 3rd time Darryl has hired the "right" coach to get them over the hump.

What does it tell you? Darryl's choices for coach are bad? In which case maybe it's fair to question Brent as his choice as well. Or that the mix of players is wrong, in which case it's fair to question if hiring Brent is going to make much difference anyways.

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#52 ScubaSteve
July 10 2009, 11:24AM
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Ryan wrote:

Furthermore, the timing was pretty close to when Brent publicly stated he had no desire to coach the Oilers and a few days later Quinn/Renney were hired. You can call it coincidence - I would look deeper though.

Yeah, I'm sure the Oil had it all planned out to hire Sutter, and then he told everyone he didn't want to, so Tambo made 2 quick calls to Quinn and Renney, and threw together a deal in a couple days.

Give your head a shake, they were talking to Quinn/Renney all along, I don't see them being the second choice.

and BTW who are your "sources"?

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#53 Thomas617
July 10 2009, 11:35AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Widely known fact? Hardly. It was speculation at best and even if Brent was available when Tambi made the decision there is no reason to believe that the Oilers would have taken Brent over Quinn.

Even if it wasn't a fact - it was funny to see the message boards light up as Oiler fans salivated at the chance of landing Brent as coach. They were definitely more interested in landing a coach who, recently, was considered the best in the league vs Quinn - who hasn't done anything at the NHL-level in quite some time.

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#54 Archaeologuy
July 10 2009, 12:44PM
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@ Thomas617: Of course the Oilers and their fans were interested. You cant tell me, though, that Tambellini was more interested in Sutter than Quinn. I think the personal connections alone would have made Quinn more desireable to Tambi. Never mind his amazing ability to coach competitive teams over a long NHL career.

I'm not saying Quinn will be better than Sutter, but to claim that the Oilers chose Quinn as a runner up to Sutter is patheticly incorrect.

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