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THN Free Agency Preview: Northwest Division

Could Marian Gaborik make the switch from Minnesota to Vancouver? (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Could Marian Gaborik make the switch from Minnesota to Vancouver? (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

CALGARY FLAMES

Cap space - $11.3 million

UFAs – Adrian Aucoin, D; Todd Bertuzzi, LW; Jay Bouwmeester, D; Mike Cammalleri, LW; Jamie Lundmark, C/RW.

RFAs – None.

Needs – The Flames stand to lose their top two left wingers to unrestricted free agency in Cammalleri and Bertuzzi and if they manage to sign Bouwmeester before July 1, they won’t have much cap space left in order to prevent it.

The Flames are actually a little thin on both wings. If they can’t sign Bouwmeester, they’ll need a puck-moving defenseman and someone to play the point along with Dion Phaneuf on the power play.

Ready for the big time –
The Flames would like to move top prospect Mikael Backlund into their lineup next season, but he might not be ready for the rigors of the NHL after one up-and-down season of junior hockey. Brett Sutter has played two seasons in the American League and can fill a defensive forward role either at left wing or center.

 

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Cap space - $11.9 million


UFAs – Tyler Arnason, C; Ben Guite, C; Ian Laperriere, RW; Lawrence Nycholat, D; Andrew Raycroft, G; Joe Sakic, C; Daniel Tjarnqvist, D; Brian Willsie, LW.

RFAs – David Jones, RW; Cody McCormick, C; Cody McLeod, LW.

Needs –
They are many, particularly if Sakic retires as expected. The Avalanche is so thin at so many positions, it’s difficult where to start.

In goal, Raycroft was a disaster and Petr Budaj proved he can’t be consistent enough to be a No. 1 goalie. In a division that features Miikka Kiprusoff, Niklas Backstrom and Roberto Luongo, the Avs need a significant upgrade if they hope to compete. That’s precisely why they’re pushing so hard for Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson.

Their defense corps is old and expensive; they need help both down the middle and must replace the toughness Laperriere brought them if he signs elsewhere.

Ready for the big time -
Third overall pick Matt Duchene will push for full-time employment right away and given the Avs’ situation, he should get it. T.J. Galiardi was hindered by injury through most of last season, but finished the season as the Avs’ No. 1 center because of the injuries to Sakic and Paul Stastny. Most indications are that top defensive prospect Kevin Shattenkirk will return to Boston University for his junior season.

EDMONTON OILERS
Cap space - $13.9 million

UFAs – Ales Kotalik, RW; Dwayne Roloson, G; Dany Sabourin, G; Jason Strudwick, D.

RFAs – Denis Grebeshkov, D; Liam Reddox, LW; Rob Schremp, C; Ladislav Smid, D.

Needs – The Oilers are in fairly good shape when it comes to free agency, but they do need to address their No. 1 goaltending situation either by re-signing Roloson or getting someone to replace him.

As always, the Oilers should be looking for offense, both at forward and at the back end. Should hometown product Jay Bouwmeester become available, watch for the Oilers to make another off-season attempt at attracting the big-name free agent. With Dustin Penner turning out to be a disaster, the Oilers are thin on offensive players on the left side.

Ready for the big time – Defenseman Theo Peckham has played two years in the minors and finished the season on the Oilers roster. Fellow defenseman Taylor Chorney, though, is the one the Oilers are most excited about after a promising rookie season in Springfield. Should they sign Schremp, they’ll do so hoping he’ll be consistent enough to be a permanent fixture in the lineup.

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MINNESOTA WILD
Cap space - $13.1 million

UFAs – Marc-Andre Bergeron, D; Kurtis Foster, D; Marian Gaborik, RW; Krys Kolanos, C; Martin Skoula, D; Stephane Veilleux, LW.

RFAs – Josh Harding, G; Peter Olvecky, C; Dan Fritsche, RW; Kyle Brodziak C/RW.

Needs – Already offensively challenged, the Wild may very well lose its most dynamic offensive player in Gaborik to free agency, but that might not be such a bad thing. The Wild already has ample cap space and not having to re-sign Gaborik will allow them to spend that money elsewhere.

They are set in goal with Niklas Backstrom and their defense corps is pretty much set, but they need offensive upgrades at all three forward positions. Look for Saku Koivu to join his brother Mikko in Minnesota.

Ready for the big time – The Wild has rushed so many of its young prospects into the NHL that there isn’t much left in its system at the moment. New GM Chuck Fletcher is committed to turning that philosophy around and bringing players along at a reasonable pace. Olvecky played 31 games last season and didn’t look out of place. Defenseman Petr Kalus left the organization to play in the Kontinental League last season and might return if he can find a place in the lineup. Danish center Morten Madsen struggled in his first season of pro hockey, but might get a look.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Cap space - $23 million

UFAs – Rob Davison, D; Jason LaBarbera, G; Taylor Pyatt, LW; Mattias Ohlund, D; Daniel Sedin, LW; Henrik Sedin, C; Mats Sundin, C; Ossi Vaananen, D.

RFAs – Jannik Hansen, RW; Shane O’Brien, D; Kyle Wellwood, C.

Needs – GM Mike Gillis has $23 million in cap space, but that will burn up quickly if he signs the Sedin twins or goes out to look for players to replace them.

With the exception of goal, the Canucks have some significant holes to fill at all positions if all their UFAs go free July 1. They would be hardest hit at center, where their top two pivots are poised to become UFAs (Henrik Sedin and Sundin) and their third will be a restricted free agent (Wellwood).

If the Sedin’s leave, you can be sure the Canucks will make a hard push for Marian Gaborik, who will join countryman Pavol Demitra should he decide to sign there.

Ready for the big time –
Canadian world junior scoring star and THN’s No. 2 prospect outside the NHL, Cody Hodgson, is expected to be able to step into the Canucks lineup without needing any time in the minors. He almost made the team last year and is expected to make the transition in the fall. Cory Schneider was one of the best goalies in the American League last season and should be able to backup Roberto Luongo, while Austrian right winger Michael Grabner has 52 goals in the past two seasons in the AHL.

 

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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