Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Northwest Division Recap

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vancouver Canucks – 54-19-9 record – 262 GF – 185 GA
With a league-leading 117 points to their credit, the Canucks were the class of the NHL this year. Their goal differential of 77 was also tops in the league, thanks mainly to the Jennings Trophy-winning duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider between the pipes. Up front, the Vancouver attack was unsurprisingly led by Daniel and Henrik Sedin with major contributions from two-way standout Ryan Kesler. The occasional marker from a deep corps of defensemen made this club a force to be reckoned with all season.

Breakout Player of the Season: There's no question Daniel Sedin had already established himself as an NHL star prior to the season, however the goal-scoring Swede had recently been overshadowed by his playmaking brother who took home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies last year. Lost amidst Henrik's monster 2009-10 season was the fact that Daniel's injury-shortened campaign was nearly as impressive on a per-game basis. After staying healthy for an entire year, he took the opportunity in 2010-11 to announce his presence as one of the league's elites by scoring 41 goals and 63 assists for 104 points while registering a plus-30 rating. From a fantasy standpoint, Daniel is definitely the more lucrative twin to own.

Biggest Bust of the Season: Expectations were high for Mason Raymond entering the season due to a combination of his 25 goal, 53 point showing last year and his blazing speed. Sadly, Raymond disappointed many a fantasy owner. The 25 year-old found the back of the net just 15 times in 70 contests as he bounced around between the second and third lines for the Canucks. He should be on everyone's list of potential bounce-back candidates next year.

Calgary Flames – 41-29-12 record – 250 GF – 237 GA
After a miserable start to the season, the veteran-laden Flames shocked everyone by getting up off the mat and putting together an impressive second half surge that brought the team to the doorstep of playoff hockey. In the end, the Flames did not qualify for the postseason, but it certainly wasn't due to a lack of effort. Jarome Iginla had a monstrous campaign that saw him score 43 goals and register 43 assists. Sidekick Alex Tanguay rebounded nicely from a lost 2009-10 season to post 69 points and restore faith in his NHL career. Between the pipes, the ever-reliable Miikka Kiprusoff returned with another solid if unspectacular season. It's safe to assume the goaltender who registered the .933 save percentage and 1.70 GAA in 2003-04 will not be heard from again, but what's left is a pretty solid goalkeeper, nonetheless.

Breakout Player of the Season: Although he doesn't make headlines for his paycheck, as does another Flames' defenseman, Mark Giordano has established himself as one of the league's more reliable blueliners, thanks to a lethal combination of offense (43 points) and toughness (67 penalty minutes, 193 blocked shots). By the mid-way point of the season, Jay Bouwmeester had been replaced on the Flames' power play for good and fantasy owners should expect Giordano to remain a mainstay with the man advantage next year.

Biggest Bust of the Season: After he was acquired from the Maple Leafs during the 2009-10 season, there were hopes that Matt Stajans would be able to serve as the primary playmaker for Jarome Iginla, but those dreams were dashed once the center recorded only nine goals and 38 assists in 103 games in Calgary. Now that he has failed in an extended tryout as a top line player, Stajan can go back to being the useful secondary scorer he should have been all along.

Minnesota Wild– 39-35-8 record – 206 GF – 233 GA
Despite some great stretches of play throughout the campaign, the Minnesota Wild revealed themselves to be below the required standard for postseason play. They finished the season having given up 27 goals more than they scored. The Wild actually can't complain about their top scorers. Leaders Martin Havlat and Mikko Koivu each performed to expectations by registering 68 points for the campaign. Nor can they pin the blame on goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who amassed a .920 save percentage in 51 appearances. Where the team ultimately went wrong was in its lack of secondary scoring. In games where opponents managed to lock down its leading scorers, Minnesota was unable to generate goals from other sources.

Breakout Player of the Season: In his follow-up to an unimpressive, injury-plagued 2009-10 season, Brent Burns surprised everyone by enjoying his greatest NHL season to date. With 17 goals, 19 assists and 98 penalty minutes, Burns finished the season as one of the best blueliners in the entire league. While it's difficult to predict a repeat in 2011-12, he certainly has the skill set to enjoy a similarly productive season.

Biggest Bust of the Season: While Burns was busy turning heads with his impressive showing, fellow rearguard Cam Barker couldn't manage to work his way out of coach Todd Richards' doghouse. The former third overall selection from the 2004 NHL Entry Draft possesses a solid offensive pedigree, but those skills were nowhere to be seen as he scuffled on his way to five points and a minus-10 rating in 52 games. On the bright side, the price will never be lower if you're planning to acquire Barker on the cheap.

Colorado Avalanche– 30-44-8 record – 227 GF – 288 GA
The Avalanche finished the season with the second-lowest point total in the NHL, behind only their division rival Edmonton Oilers, but what sticks out is the manner in which they ended the season. The team was engaged in a battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference around the NHL All-Star break, but finished the campaign by winning only five of their final 33 contests. Lost in the team's second-half decline were a few bright spots, notably the emergence of sophomore forward Matt Duchene (67 points) and the rejuvenation of blueliner John-Michael Liles (46). The team's major weakness was between the pipes, Craig Anderson (traded to Ottawa during the season), Peter Budaj and Brian Elliott (acquired from the Senators for Anderson) combined to allow 288 goals, 19 more than the next worst team. If the Avs don't find alternatives in goal before next season, the club figures to find themselves in some high-scoring affairs.

Breakout Player of the Season: The aforementioned Duchene lived up to expectations in his second NHL season by leading the Avalanche in goals, assists and shots on goal. His minus-eight rating doesn't appear to be anything special, but it actually ranks among the better marks on the team. If you're looking for a reason to expect even more out of Duchene next season, consider the fact that he registered only 15 power-play points in 2010-11, a number with a lot of room for improvement.

Biggest Bust of the Season: Normally, a season in which a player notches 57 points in 74 games is hard to consider a disappointment, but when that player is U.S.-Olympian Paul Stastny, it's fair to expect more. Blessed with soft hands and great ice vision, Stastny is known for his playmaking abilities, so his total of 35 assists pales in comparison to the 59 he notched in 2009-10. We're expecting a bounce back next season, but with virtually the same supporting cast in tow, it's difficult to predict a return to his point-per-game ways of two years ago.

Edmonton Oilers – 25-45-12 record – 193 GF – 269 GA
Although the team finished in the NHL's basement this season, the future in Edmonton appears much brighter than that in Colorado. Of course, the presence of youngsters Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have something to do with that. Despite losses that piled atop one another as the season progressed, the Oilers showed a certain electricity in the second half of the year and provided a glimpse of what the future may hold. Outside the exciting trio of youngsters, the Oilers also received encouraging production from defenseman Ryan Whitney, whose season was cut short by injury, and Devan Dubnyk, who proved he could handle playing at the NHL level.

Breakout Player of the Season: With the glut of dynamic young forwards in the Oilers' system, it would be easy to overlook Linus Omark's play this past season. In 51 games, the Swedish-born left winger recorded 27 points and proved that he deserves the chance to stick at the NHL level. Due to his mid-season call-up, he may fly under the radar at draft tables next fall, but keep him in mind during the later stages of your draft

Biggest Bust of the Season: Now that he has three full seasons under his belt, it's time to admit that Andrew Cogliano may not develop into the offensive standout many expected him to be when he was a first round selection in the 2005 Entry Draft. His 11 goal, 24 assist performance from the past season is in line with his previous two campaigns and he has never exhibited the ability to turn his blazing speed into quality scoring opportunities. With a new wave of Oilers ready to become the offensive centerpieces for the franchise, Cogliano should settle in as a secondary player on future Edmonton teams.

Kevin Brown is fantasy hockey writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @kbrownroto.
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