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2012-2013 Season Preview

Wild count on big-ticket signings to fuel rebound

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

Exactly one week before Christmas 2011, the Minnesota Wild had the best record in the NHL at 20-8-5.

Fast forward to July 4, 2012, and the same club that finished the season at 35-36-11 was at the top of the NHL heap again -- for its twin signings of the most coveted free agents on the market, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.

Now they just need to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After its sensational start, Minnesota collapsed and missed the postseason for a fourth straight season, finishing 14 points out of the eighth seed in posting its worst record since 2001-02. The team was saddled with 395 man-games lost to injury and used an NHL-high 47 players last season as key cogs Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse and Greg Zanon spent time on the injured list.

The injuries were the biggest reason the Wild averaged a League-low 2.02 goals per game and they fueled an 11-28-7 finish that dropped them to 12th in the Western Conference.

"It was," general manager Chuck Fletcher said, "a tale of two seasons."

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With strong nucleus in place, Oilers offer hope

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Brian Hunter - NHL.com Staff Writer

New coach. New phenom. Is it the dawning of a new era for the Edmonton Oilers?

General manager Steve Tambellini certainly hopes so after selecting Russian wing Nail Yakupov with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on June 22 and hiring Ralph Krueger to be the 11th coach in franchise history five days later.

Along with the signing of defense prospect Justin Schultz as a free agent on July 1, those were the major offseason moves by the Oilers, who chose to stay the course with their rebuild rather than make a big trade or chase an established player on the open market.

Instead, Edmonton will look to a nucleus that includes No. 1 picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, up-and-comers Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk, and veterans including Ryan Smyth to snap a skid of three straight last-place finishes in the Northwest Division and six consecutive seasons missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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Schneider ready to take No. 1 job in Vancouver

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

Cory Schneider has been biding his time since being the Vancouver Canucks' first-round pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.

It appears his wait is over.

Despite winning the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back seasons and going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, the Canucks are expected to have a major change at arguably the most important position on the ice this season. Schneider, 26, likely will take over for Roberto Luongo as the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver after signing a three-year, $12 million contract this offseason.

The fate of Luongo, who is 33 and has 10 years left on his contract, is up in the air.

"Every chance I got to play in the past, I handled it as a No. 1," Schneider said when he signed his contract in June. "Every game in the NHL is pressure. Just being in the NHL is pressure. I don’t think the contract or the dollars or your role on the team adds more pressure."

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Can Hartley transform Flames into contenders?

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Brian Schiazza - NHL.com Staff Writer

When the Calgary Flames last took to the ice in 2011-12, they defeated the Anaheim Ducks to complete an eighth consecutive regular season with 90-plus points.

And as in the prior two seasons, the Flames failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hanging around the bottom playoff seeds in the grueling Western Conference only to just miss out has become all too familiar for Calgary. The team certainly was reminded of what may have been by watching former general manager and coach Darryl Sutter take the Los Angeles Kings, who finished five points ahead of the Flames for eighth place in the West, all the way to the Stanley Cup.

As a result, the Flames' 2012-13 season will be greeted with few, but concrete, changes engineered by general manager Jay Feaster.

Coach Brent Sutter and the organization parted almost immediately following a third playoff-free campaign under his command. Feaster's most significant move came one month later with the hiring of former Stanley Cup-winning coach Bob Hartley away from Swiss League champion Zurich on May 31.

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What key questions face Northwest Division teams?

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

NHL.com Staff

The wait for the 2012-13 season is nearly over. What questions do each NHL team need to answer to be successful, and do they have the resources to provide said responses? Well, let's take a division-by-division look at some of the key quandaries for each NHL franchise as the campaign beckons. Up next is the Northwest Division, where everyone has been chasing Vancouver in recent years, but some key additions for the other clubs could make this a race worth watching.

Flames CALGARY FLAMES

Though Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster has been at the helm for a short period of time, he is not eager to break up the team and start a rebuild. After three playoff-free seasons, 2012-13 will be pivotal for the Flames organization. All of the team's key figures will feel the pressure to end the Stanley Cup Playoff drought and put off any thoughts of a roster makeover.

1. Can Bob Hartley get this group into the playoffs?

The former Avalanche bench boss has not coached in the NHL since the first six games of the 2007-08 season with the Atlanta Thrashers (he's the only coach to get that franchise to the playoffs). Hartley inherits a team that played a grinding style of hockey under Brent Sutter, and one not rife with the immediate talent to fuel the up-tempo style he wants.

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1994-95 numbers provides some context for '12-13

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The race for the Stanley Cup is going to be a sprint instead of the usual marathon, with teams preparing for a 48-game season instead of the typical 82 games. Since 1941-42, the only other time the season has been this short was 1994-95, when teams also played a 48-game schedule following the end of a work stoppage.

With the shorter schedule and teams playing entirely within their conference, the importance of each game figures to be magnified. But just how much difference will there be between the shorter schedule and the regular 82-game version?

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Rookies Cervenka, Schultz can alter Northwest race

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. NHL.com takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Northwest Division squads:

Roman Cervenka, Calgary Flames -- Deemed top-six ready by Flames general manager Jay Feaster, this 27-year-old forward arrives in North America under some pressure. With Olli Jokinen now with the Winnipeg Jets, it might be up to Cervenka, who signed this summer after spending his entire professional career overseas, to dish the puck to likely Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.

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Avalanche poised to contend in Western Conference

Wednesday, 01.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer

With three weeks to play in the 2011-12 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche were in the mix for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Then, all of a sudden, they weren't.

Six losses in the final seven games meant the Avalanche missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season and fourth time in the past six.

However, the early summer didn't translate into a lost season. The Avalanche continued to develop a very strong core of young players in 2011-12, finishing with 88 points and a 41-35-6 record, 20 points higher than they finished 2010-11.

Gabriel Landeskog, 20 years old, won the Calder Trophy, and linemate Ryan O'Reilly, 21, led the Avalanche in assists (37) and points (55). Colorado's most productive defenseman, Erik Johnson, and its starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov, are 24.

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Columbus ready to erupt over Blue Jackets

Tuesday, 01.15.2013 / 10:40 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

From John Davidson's vantage point, Columbus has long been the National Hockey League's best-kept secret -- an underrated, underappreciated and undervalued hockey town that will awake ablaze with enthusiasm when the Blue Jackets get good.

Davidson even emphasizes the "when," because with the Blue Jackets new president of hockey operations, there is no "if."

"I've seen the building full before and I've seen them with enthusiasm," Davidson told NHL.com. "I've gone around Columbus and talked to a lot of people -- it's a real good sports town, a real good sports town, and they're just waiting. They're hungry. They want it."

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Crawford, Helm, Ellis look to make Central impact

Tuesday, 01.15.2013 / 3:00 AM / 2012-2013 Season Preview

Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

With the 2012-13 NHL season ready to begin, teams will be scrambling on a nightly basis to earn points and clinch a spot in what is primed to be a wild 48-game race to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A condensed schedule means more games in a short amount of time, and teams will be relying on every player on their roster to contribute. NHL.com takes a closer look at the players who will need to be major factors for Central Division squads:

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks -- Certainly, the Blackhawks have plenty of skill up front to provide offense. But will they have the goaltending necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup? That will be determined by Crawford, who had a 2.72 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage in 57 appearances last season. He struggled in the playoffs, allowing three or more goals five times in an opening-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

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Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets