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Northwest teams have tough decisions

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

Oilers' General Manager Kevin Lowe and his

fellow Northwest division GM's will have to
decide whether to roll the dice at the trade
deadline, which was unkind to them last year.

The NHL’s annual swap meet is almost upon us, the last chance for teams to tinker if they’re largely happy, make big changes if they’re not, and sell assets if the playoffs seem hopelessly distant.

It’s been a season with tons of rumors, but precious few deals actually consummated. Tuesday will be the day for teams to make things happen, or to decide they will enter the playoffs with the hands they’re already holding.

For a couple reasons, the trading deadline may be becoming something less than the circus it was in years past.

For one, teams now must take the salary cap into consideration, because of the long-term ramifications that come from adding a big salary to the payroll. Additionally, the teams that made big moves at last year’s trading deadline got minimal returns from the moves they made.

Bill Guerin did nothing for the Sharks, who lost in the second round. Guerin then joined the Islanders as a free agent.

Ryan Smyth was dealt by the Oilers to the Islanders, who were eliminated in the first round. Smyth then signed with the Avalanche.

The Thrashers picked up Keith Tkachuk, only to get swept in the first round by the Rangers, and Tkachuk promptly returned to the Blues.

Peter Forsberg did little to help the Predators, who lost in the first round, and he isn’t expected to play in the League this season.

What will the Northwest Division teams do at this year’s deadline? To some extent, the best barometer might be to take a look at what their biggest moves were one year ago:

Oilers -- They failed to reach a contract agreement with heart-and-soul forward Ryan Smyth and dealt him to the Islanders. They picked up 23-year-old right wing Robert Nilsson, a developing player who has played for the Oilers all season. They also picked up 20-year-old prospect Ryan O’Marra, a center who has played in the minors this season. And they used an Islanders’ first-round draft choice on defenseman Alex Plante. Smyth, as mentioned, left the Islanders after the season, signing with the Avalanche.

Canucks -- The Canucks sought help in the form of veteran center Bryan Smolinski. He was a minimal contributor for Vancouver, which was eliminated in the second round of last spring’s playoffs. Smolinski headed to the Canadiens as a free agent after the season. To get Smolinski from the Blackhawks, the Canucks sent a second-round pick to Chicago, which used it to draft center Akim Aliu.

Flames -- The Flames made a big splash, picking up defenseman Brad Stuart and center Wayne Primeau from the Bruins for defenseman Andrew Ference and right wing Chuck Kobasew. The Flames were eliminated in the first round last season. Stuart ended up in Los Angeles this season. Primeau has had difficulty getting in the Calgary lineup at times. Ference has played regularly for the Bruins this season. Kobasew also is a Bruins regular and is on his way to his best NHL season.

Avalanche -- They didn’t do much, and they missed the playoffs by one point. They picked up minor-league goalie Michael Wall from Anaheim for Brad May, who remains with the Ducks. And they acquired enforcer Scott Parker from the Sharks for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft.

Wild -- Like the Avalanche, the Wild were largely on the sideline. They acquired depth center Dominic Moore from the Penguins for a third-round choice in 2007 that Pittsburgh used on center Casey Pierro-Zabotel. The Wild lost in the first round of last year’s playoffs to the Ducks. And they lost Moore on waivers to the Maple Leafs last month.

Flames tragedy -- Center Mickey Renaud, the junior hockey player who collapsed and died Monday at home in Tecumseh, Ontario, was the Flames’ fourth-round draft choice last year. Renaud, 19, was the captain of the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.

“He was a guy that had a goal in mind and knew that a big part of it was his commitment to fitness,” Flames pro scout Tom Webster told The Canadian Press. “He was going to give himself every chance possible to play (in the NHL).”

Who’s hot -- Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon, quietly having a very good season, stopped 28 shots to beat the Sharks in San Jose, 3-2, on Feb. 14. It was only his second win in 11 career games against the Sharks. … Stephane Veilleux of the Wild scored two goals on Feb. 14 in a 5-4 shootout win at Vancouver. The Canucks’ Alex Edler had three points in the same game. For Veilleux, a left wing, the goals were his first since Nov. 28 against Phoenix. Veilleux’s drought was 33 games. … Henrik Sedin picked up three assists as the Canucks downed the Oilers, 4-2, on Feb. 16. … Marian Gaborik scored twice, including the winner with 4.4 seconds left in overtime, as the Wild defeated Nashville, 5-4, on Feb. 17. Gaborik also had an assist. … Daniel Sedin had two points, the second of which was the overtime winner in a key 3-2 victory over Minnesota on Feb. 19. … Dion Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla had two goals apiece as the Flames beat Phoenix, 4-1, the same night.

Shootout summary -- The Canucks’ 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota on Feb. 14 marked the eighth time in a 16-game span that Vancouver went to the shootout. The Canucks won half of those shootouts.

Trevor Linden was the Canucks’ only scorer in the shootout against the Wild. Alex Edler and Ryan Shannon were unsuccessful against Niklas Backstrom of the Wild. Meanwhile, after Marian Gaborik was stopped, Brent Burns and Mikko Koivu beat Roberto Luongo to give Minnesota the victory.

Northwest goaltender shootout rankings:

    W    L  ShotsAg GA %
Mathieu Garon, Oilers 8 0 26 2 .923
Dwayne Roloson, Oilers 4 3 30 6 .800
Roberto Luongo, Canucks 5 7 48 13 .720
Jose Theodore, Avalanche 2 1 12 4 .667
Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames 3 3 17 6 .647

Top 5 Northwest division shootout artists (min. 3 attempts):

  Goals Attempts %
Kristian Huselius, Flames 4 5 80.0
Shawn Horcoff, Oilers 5 7 71.4
Trevor Linden, Canucks 5 9 55.6
Ales Hemsky, Oilers 5 13 38.5
Sam Gagner, Oilers 5 14 35.7

Bottom 5 Northwest division shootout artists by percentage (min. 3 attempts):

  Goals Attempts %
Brendan Morrison, Canucks 0 3 0
Marty Reasoner, Oilers 0 3 0
Dion Phaneuf, Flames 0 3 0
Ryan Kesler, Canucks 1 9 11.1
Taylor Pyatt, Canucks 1 8 12.5

Tenth weekly Northwest shootout standings:

    W    L    PTS 
Oilers 12 3 24
Canucks 5 8 10
Avalanche 3 2 6
Flames 3 3 6
Wild 3 3 6

Jarret Stoll

Rumor Mill -- The assumption all along has been that the Oilers will be sellers at the trade deadline. Not so fast, according to The Edmonton Sun, which suggested that the Oilers might look at picking up a forward such as the Canadiens’ Michael Ryder. … Then again, The Ottawa Sun listed the Oilers’ Jarret Stoll as a possible pickup for the Senators. It makes more sense for the Oilers to be sellers, considering they are playoff long shots. … The Canucks reportedly had a scout at a recent game involving the Lightning. They could be interested in Vinny Prospal. … Alex Tanguay’s no-trade clause is a major hang-up that cannot be ignored, given all the rumors involving the Flames’ forward. … Based on what a scout told The Denver Post, the Avalanche might be willing to part with forward Andrew Brunette.

The week ahead -- With the trade deadline Tuesday, it will be interesting to see how the various teams fare in the face of possibly imminent changes.

There are no easy games for the Flames this week. It starts Friday night at home against the Red Wings, followed by a visit 48 hours later to Minnesota. The Flames and Wild are jockeying for the division lead. Two days after that, the Flames host the Avalanche in another divisional battle.

Tough times ahead for the Avalanche. Their game at Phoenix on Friday begins a five-game road trip. The trip continues Sunday in Edmonton, and the Avalanche will spend the trade deadline playing Tuesday at Calgary.

After three days off, the Wild play three times in four days –- at home against the Flames, followed by the start of a Southeast Division trip with games at Washington on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Decimated by injuries to the defense corps, the Canucks are fighting to make the playoffs. This will be a big week. They are at Nashville on Thursday, followed by home games Saturday against the Red Wings and Wednesday against the Avalanche.

The Oilers are the one division team almost certain to miss the playoffs. The visit Dallas on Friday, then host the Avalanche on Sunday and the Red Wings on deadline day.

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