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Free-agency analysis: Northwest Division

Tuesday, 06.29.2010 / 2:30 PM / NHL Free Agency 2010

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

No team in the Northwest Division has won the Stanley Cup since the Colorado Avalanche accomplished the feat in 2001, and only twice since then has it represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final (Calgary 2004, Edmonton 2006).

That's a statistic the division's five clubs hope to change next season. With the Entry Draft now behind them, general managers have their next big opportunity to improve their clubs on Thursday as the free agent market is set to open business.

Here's a closer look at the Northwest Division clubs and what might be expected from them:

Calgary Flames

Last season: 40-32-10, out of playoffs

GM Darryl Sutter has his work cut out for him after a disappointing 2009-10 season that saw the Flames miss the playoffs.

A handful of forwards are set to hit unrestricted free agency Thursday, including Jamal Mayers, Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom and Christopher Higgins. The fact that none of them have yet to re-sign with the Flames should be enough of an indication that Sutter is prepared to steer his team in another direction.

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 43-30-9, Lost in conference quarterfinal

Joe Sacco and the Avalanche shocked the hockey world last season with their remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, it's up to GM Greg Sherman to help the Avs take the next step.

Free-agent shopping is nothing new to Sherman, who arguably made the best signing last season when he inked goaltender Craig Anderson to a two-year deal worth $3.6 million. Anderson set a new franchise record last season by appearing in 71 games and won 38 of them while posting a 2.63 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.

With their goaltending set, the Avalanche may try to beef up their defense a bit. Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei are both unrestricted free agents, and Adam Foote is now 38-years-old. If Colorado could find a way to lure someone such as Zbynek Michalek, they would be a tough team to beat in 2010-11.

Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 27-47-8, out of playoffs

The Oilers were "rewarded" for their 62-point finish in 2009-10 with the No. 1 selection at this year's Entry Draft. They used it on the highly-talented Taylor Hall, who had 40 goals and 66 assists for the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) last season.

With the Oilers in complete rebuild mode, don't expect GM Steve Tambellini to be very active when the market opens Thursday. It will be interesting to see if he offers his son, Jeff, a contract. The 26-year-old scored had 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) in 36 games for the New York Islanders last season.

Defensively, both Jason Strudwick and Aaron Johnson are unrestricted free agents. Will Tambellini try to re-sign both, or will he let them walk? If Strudwick and Johnson test the market, the Oilers could go the free-agent route to bring in a blueliner.

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 38-36-8, out of playoffs

The Wild proved last summer they will use free agency to try to improve their club when they signed Martin Havlat to a six-year deal worth $30 million. Havlat had 18 goals and 36 assists in his first season with Minnesota, which failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 
This summer, though, might not be so busy. Minnesota already has four defensemen (Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz and Cam Barker) making at least $3 million per season. The Wild also have Clayton Stoner and Greg Zanon, as well as up-and-comers such as Marco Scandella, Tyler Cuma and Nate Prosser.

Up front, four players (Guillaume Latendresse, Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu and Antti Miettinen) reached the 20-goal plateau in 2009-10 -- a stat that probably needs to increase if the Wild plan on making the playoffs next season. Clearly, the club needs more from Havlat, who arrived after scoring 29 goals for the Chicago Blackhawks a season earlier.

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 49-28-5, Lost in conference semifinal

After finishing atop the Northwest Division, the Canucks were ousted in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by Chicago in six games. It was another disappointing end for the Canucks, who just can't seem to get over the hump in the spring.

So, what now? Well, GM Mike Gillis will likely try to find a replacement for Pavol Demitra, who was limited to only 28 games last season due to injury and found himself watching a portion of the aforementioned series against the Blackhawks. Willie Mitchell, a quality defenseman, is also set to hit free agency and has been battling the effects of post-concussion syndrome.

Don't be surprised to see Gillis make a strong push to sign defenseman Dan Hamhuis, a British Columbia native who has appeared in no fewer than 78 games for the Nashville Predators in each of the last six seasons. Hamhuis would be a tremendous addition for the Canucks both on and off the ice, and he surely would help Roberto Luongo improve off last season's numbers. Luongo's GAA was above 2.50 for the first time since 2005-06.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL


It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery