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August 14, 2009
Summer Skate
Northwest Division

by Tom Awad

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Using the Puck Prospectus projection system, VUKOTA, PP and ESPN team up to take a look at one breakout and one declining candidate per team for the 2009-2010 season.

(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)

Summer Skate: Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers finished yet another season just out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their biggest loss, goaltender Dwayne Roloson, has been replaced by Nikolai Khabibulin, but so far the Oilers' most remarkable move in the offseason has been being rejected by Dany Heatley. This is yet another manifestation of their inability to attract top players to Edmonton.

Trending Up: C Sam Gagner

Last Season: + 4.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.3 GVT

Gagner's family pedigree is well-known, being the son of former NHL star Dave Gagner. What's less well-known is that Gagner, by virtue of being born in the month of August, was the youngest player in the NHL in 2007-08, which means he's only 13 months older than John Tavares and he'll barely be 20 years old when the season begins, despite entering his third full season in the league, so he's got plenty of upside ahead of him. Gagner will be the Oilers' No. 1 center within the next two years.

Trending Down: G Nikolai Khabibulin

Last Season: + 12.9 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.7 GVT

While Khabibulin had a good regular season for Chicago, it was followed by a mediocre playoff run, and more importantly it was preceded by three forgettable seasons in which he totaled only +3 GVT in more than 152 games. While his 36 years of age may make him seem like a spring chicken next to the departed Roloson, it's unlikely he'll be able to provide better goaltending than the Oilers received last year.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Edmonton Oilers, click here.

Summer Skate: Calgary Flames

The Flames will aim to make it past the first round of the playoffs for only the second time in the last 20 years, an incredible streak of futility for a team that has usually been competitive. Calgary also will aim to manage its salary cap better than it did last year, when late-season injuries combined with their deadline deals forced the Flames to dress only 15 skaters for some of their final regular-season games. They have made one major pickup in defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who along with Dion Phaneuf now gives the Flames a truly elite first blueline pairing.

Trending Up: D Dion Phaneuf

Last Season: + 8.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 13.4 GVT

Phaneuf's first three seasons in the league had fans dreaming of how many Norris trophies he would win in his career -- albeit once Nicklas Lidstrom retired. However, his last season was a forgettable one, as both his offensive and defensive totals dropped and his GVT tanked from +17.8 to +8.6. Both VUKOTA and this writer believe that Phaneuf will bounce back, for the most part, to a level closer to two seasons ago. Playing over 26 minutes a game and in all special team's situations, Phaneuf will always have a number of opportunities to affect the outcome.

Trending Down: C Craig Conroy

Last Season: + 12.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.7 GVT

Conroy was a late bloomer and didn't become a regular in the NHL until he was 26 years of age. However, he turned out to have a brilliant career nonetheless, with his best years coming with the Flames. Unfortunately, those years are now behind him, as Conroy will turn 38 in September. He had a renaissance year last season, but it may prove to be his last hurrah as time catches up with him. He's also done quite poorly in the playoffs recently, with only five points in the 19 playoff games the Flames have played since 2007. VUKOTA says he'll be hard-pressed to match his 48 points and plus/minus of +20 from last season.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Calgary Flames, click here.

Summer Skate: Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks addressed their biggest issue in the offseason by resigning the Sedin twins, but other than signing Mikael Samuelsson, have essentially stood pat. They must now hope their blueliners continue to improve and Roberto Luongo continues to deserve his reputation as one of the NHL's top goaltenders.

Trending Up: D Alexander Edler

Last Season: + 9.2 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 10.7 GVT

In his second full season with the team, Swedish defenseman Alexander Edler continued to improve, nearly doubling his point total from 20 the previous year to 37. He also added eight points in 10 playoff games, the third best scoring performance on the team. Edler now regularly quarterbacks the power play, which should only help him improve his offensive totals next season. Edler is no defensive slouch, either, posting a defensive GVT of 5.1 and spending time on the penalty kill.

Trending Down: C Pavol Demitra

Last Season: + 10.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.9 GVT

Pavol Demitra has had a distinguished career in the NHL, accumulating 752 points and a 176 GVT since he entered the league in 1993, but age is finally starting to catch up to him. His past two seasons, with GVTs of 8.8 and 10.1, have been the worst of his career since he earned a full-time roster spot in the league. He also is unlikely to have a linemate the caliber of Mats Sundin next season.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Vancouver Canucks, click here.

Summer Skate: Minnesota Wild

Under new head coach Todd Richards, the Wild are promising a more up-tempo style than the stifling defensive play that has been their hallmark for nine seasons under Jacques Lemaire. With the addition of Martin Havlat, the Wild's guns will now be able to show their mettle. However, they will have to continue the solid defensive play that has been their trademark and continue to receive elite goaltending from Niklas Backstrom in order to return to the playoffs.

Trending Up: C Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Last Season: + 5.2 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.8 GVT

Bouchard was limited to 71 games last year after playing at least 80 in each of the three previous seasons, and his point totals suffered accordingly. It was a disappointing year for the young player who had just signed a four-year, $20 million deal during the previous offseason. The Wild may experiment with Bouchard at center, the position he played in junior, which may help increase his assist totals. Look for Bouchard to rebound to the offensive level he reached in 2007-08.

Trending Down: D Marek Zidlicky

Last Season: + 11.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.7 GVT

A pure offensive defenseman, Zidlicky has struggled to match the success he had in his rookie year in Nashville, where he scored 53 points and posted a +14.2 GVT. Last year he helped make the Wild's power play surprisingly effective, ranking ninth in the NHL, even though the Wild were one of the worst offensive teams in the league. Outside the power play, Zidlicky struggles to produce, and he already gets as much power-play ice time as he ever will, so his production will most likely dip.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Minnesota Wild, click here.

Summer Skate: Colorado Avalanche

Possibly no team in the league will have lower expectations going into the season than the Colorado Avalanche, who not only finished third-to-last in the league last season but also lost their captain to retirement and traded away their top scorer, Ryan Smyth. The Avalanche will be in full rebuilding mode, looking to see their young players develop in the hopes of becoming a competitive team in a few years.

Trending Up: G Craig Anderson

Last Season: + 10.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.4 GVT

While many players will be getting more ice time in Colorado to prove themselves next year, none may have the chance that Craig Anderson will get. A career backup in Chicago and Florida, Anderson has made a name for himself with his strong play in the last two seasons. With the other seat occupied by Peter Budaj, Anderson will get a shot at earning the No. 1 job next year, and will easily surpass his career high of 27 games started.

While VUKOTA's projected GVT is lower than last season, that is more of a reflection of the system than Anderson's play. As a starter, you can expect him to exceed this projection.

Trending Down: RW Milan Hejduk

Last Season: + 10.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 7.3 GVT

Hejduk is here as more of a wild card than anything else. With the Avalanche trying to restock on young players and Hejduk entering the final year of his contract, it's quite possible the veteran winger, a key part of the team for over a decade and the franchise's last 50-goal scorer, may be gone by the trade deadline. He'll be 34 next year and is almost a lock to make the Czech team at the Winter Olympics, which will make for a long and tiring season. He may well be out of gas by the time March and April arrive.

For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Colorado Avalanche, click here.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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