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Northwest Notes: A look at free agency

by Roger Phillips / Vancouver Canucks
The Bridgestone 2010 NHL Winter Classic has arrived, the Olympics are next month and the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in April. Still, it's never too early to take a brief look at what lies ahead in free agency.

In the Northwest Division, this might already be of prime interest to followers of the Oilers, who have been spiraling out of playoff contention. But soon enough (six months from now) every team will be dealing with who to keep and who to let walk.

Here's a look at upcoming unrestricted free agents in the Northwest Division.

Calgary Flames -- Third-leading scorer Olli Jokinen has failed to match his previous production since joining the Flames. ... Second-leading scorer Rene Bourque, when healthy, has been effective and had a hat trick this week against the Oilers. ... Craig Conroy turns 39 in 2010. ... Eric Nystrom is another role player, but he's only 26.

2011-12 sneak peak: Curtis Glencross, Fredrik Sjostrom, Mark Giordano.

Colorado Avalanche --
Aging role player Darcy Tucker has struggled. ... Talented Marek Svatos has the worst plus/minus on the team.  ... Adam Foote, 38, is one of the last remaining links to past Avalanche success. ... Peter Budaj has been supplanted in goal by Craig Anderson.

2011-12 sneak peak: Milan Hejduk, Scott Hannan, Craig Anderson.

Edmonton Oilers -- Fernando Pisani has been beset by his ongoing battle with colitis. ... Mike Comrie also has been ailing and his production has been minimal in limited ice time.

2011-12 sneak peak: Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios.

Minnesota Wild -- Though 37, Owen Nolan remains productive. ... Eric Belanger provides some second-line punch. ... Enforcer Derek Boogard averages less than 7 minutes a game when in the lineup. ... Andrew Ebbett has helped since his arrival earlier in the season. ... Defenseman Kim Johnsson is the team's leader in average ice time and fellow blue liner Marek Zidlicky is right behind him.

2011-12 sneak peak: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew.

Vancouver Canucks -- Ailing Pavol Demitra has yet to play this season. ... Kyle Wellwood has been a healthy scratch at times. ... Ryan Johnson is a role player. ... Willie Mitchell is a key player on the blue line. ... Mathieu Schneider has been waived and likely won't be back.

2011-12 sneak peak: Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff.

Home for the holidays -- Canucks wing Mason Raymond grew up outside Calgary. And this week, his game continued to mature in Calgary, though it didn't please anyone at the Pengrowth Saddledome other than the friends and family who saw the 24-year-old record his first career hat trick in a 5-1 rout of the Flames.

It took an odd goal against one of the NHL's best goalies for Raymond to achieve the feat. His second goal of the night was a center-ice dump-in flipped from the side boards. Somehow, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff lost sight of the puck and it skipped past him.

"It was a weird one." Raymond told the Vancouver Sun. "I was just picking it up in the neutral zone and I actually didn't get the first puck in and pulled it out of the pile and just flipped it real high. I knew when it was in mid-air Kipper didn't see it. He was kind of looking around and I thought to myself, 'This has got a chance.' And sure enough it bounced down. I still don't know exactly how it went in. It bounced in and I'll take those ones."

Raymond was a second-round draft choice in 2005. In his first two NHL seasons entering this year, he scored only 20 goals in 121 games. This year, he's on pace for 35. The hat trick was the latest bright spot in what is becoming a memorable year for the native of Cochrane, Alberta.

"It's exciting, it's something I will always remember being from Cochrane just outside here," Raymond told the Sun. "To do it in front of family and friends is something special. It's something I will remember and cherish for sure. This was a big night for myself and the club."

On the outside -- It seemed reasonable to suppose that at least one of Calgary's top three defensemen would make the Canadian Olympic roster. After all, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr aren’t chopped liver. But they aren't Olympians, either, at least not in 2010.

Team Canada was announced Wednesday and the three talented defensemen were passed over in favor of Dan Boyle (Sharks), Drew Doughty (Kings), Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (Blackhawks), Scott Niedermayer (Ducks), Chris Pronger (Flyers) and Shea Weber (Nashville).

"They are very good players, I'm not saying they are not good players," Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman told CTV/TSN when asked about the three Flames defensemen. "You try to take the seven best players that are playing well this year."

Jarome Iginla is the only Flame on the roster.

"I'm very excited about it," Iginla told the Calgary Herald. "It's a big honor. They had a lot of tough decisions. A lot of great players didn't make it."

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was the only other Northwest Division player to make the Canadian roster.

Vancouver bound -- By February, the Oilers may not have much to look forward to other than a long summer. But defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky can look forward to appearing in his third Olympics for Slovakia. Visnovsky was named to the team this week, and it's a squad that should not be overlooked. Their team includes two Marians -- Gaborik and Hossa -- as well as former NHLer Ziggy Palffy.

"We have good veteran players, but we don't have young players," Visnovksy told the Edmonton Journal. "It's an interesting situation because this will be maybe the last chance for the veterans to do something for Slovakia."

Slovakia finished fifth in 2006 and 13th in 2002.

Visnovsky insists he is not looking ahead to the Olympics. Rather, he said he is concentrating on helping the Oilers turn things around. Lately, they've taken a freefall to the bottom of the Western Conference.

"(The Olympics are) a month and a half away," he told the Journal. "We have lots of (NHL) games to play before then."

Go figure -- Claude Lemieux made a brief comeback last season with the Sharks, but he'll always be best remembered for his days with the Avalanche and some epic battles with the Red Wings when those teams had the best rivalry in hockey.

Lemieux is still on the ice even in the aftermath of his long NHL career. But these days, he is doing something unlikely: figure skating.

Lemieux was one of the stars on CBC television's "Battle of the Blades," a figure-skating version of the United States' popular "Dancing with the Stars."

"Battle of the Blades" pairs former NHL players with figure skaters. Among the ex-NHL players who were featured were Bob Probert, Glenn Anderson, Tie Domi and Ron Duguay. Guest judges included Kelly Hrudey and Don Cherry.

Lemieux and partner Shae-Lynn Bourne came up just short to champions Craig Simpson and Jamie Sale'. In an interview on the Canadian show Q TV, Lemieux said he hopes he shed a little of his villainous hockey image.
"To say that I did not hope that viewers and fans would get to know me in a different way would be lying," he said on Q.

In fact, he wasn't making a joke. Lemieux said the fallout from his infamous hit on Detroit's Kris Draper detracted from winning the 1996 Stanley Cup for Colorado.

"That was the low point," he said in the television interview. "It should have been the highest point in my career. But it was the low point of my career. It was really a tough time. It was all because of this split second."

Owen still goin' -- Owen Nolan of the Wild will turn 38 in February, and though he's not the offensive threat he was when he scored 44 goals for the Sharks a decade ago, he's still a very valuable player for the Wild.

Nolan remains a player who on any given night has a chance to contribute a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight. He's tied for third on the Wild with 9 goals, and contributed a goal and some fisticuffs in a recent victory over the Oilers.

Edmonton is coached by Pat Quinn, who used to coach Nolan in Toronto. And Quinn realizes as well as anyone that Nolan remains a valuable player.

"He's a warrior, boy," Quinn told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "What surprises is that he had a very serious (knee) injury and he's come back from that and he's a leader here -- very important to their team. His efforts don't surprise me at all."

Nolan's contributions have been crucial as the Wild adjusts to a new coach, a new style and new players.

"He shows his teammates what we need to do to have success," coach Todd Richards told the Pioneer Press. "He'll stand up for his teammates and stand up for himself."
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