by Bill Heintz

The recent signing of Kyle Wellwood provides a decent benchmark for the Canucks’ summer. We have signed the guys, save Mats Sundin, from our own team that we wanted to sign. As for Mats. Well, the guessing here is that he’s done.

Of course, I famously predicted the Canucks were out of the divisional race after losing in overtime to the Ducks last spring. Yo-kay! And I said about a week ago that Heatley would sign with Edmonton or suck it up and just decide to play for the Sens. Missed it by that much…

So me saying Mats Sundin will retire is like Eklund predicting…well, predicting damned near anything that comes into his empty, language challenged head. I’ve said before that predictions are for suckers…but jeeze, Ek, 3 per cent? Even a dead monkey on a cold day guesses right more often.

So here we are, halfway through the summer and I’m about to tell you how the Northwest division will play out this year. And you can take this to the bank…at least here in the desert southland where a half dozen banks folded in the wake of Dick Cheney’s evil plan.

First off, Calgary will not win the division. Yep, all those Flame fans who are greedily counting the points that will come their way because GM Sutter has re-made the Flames once again. And therein lies part of the reason. He re-made the Flames once again!!!

The Calgary fan base is bestowing the title of best GM in the league on Darryl for having traded a draft pick to sign JayBo. Of course there are more than a few cynics that point out that JayBo wanted to come to cowtown all along and Darryl just wasted a draft pick. And what else has the best GM done? Well, his recent track record hasn’t been all that grand…especially considering the high dollar figure contracts given to Kipper (clearly fading) and Phaneuf (high risk, low hockey IQ), hiring Mike (Adolph-lite) Keenan (who got canned because Sutter spent the cap space on Oly J) and then hiring his brother out of New Jersey.

Okay, what’s wrong with hiring the great Brent Sutter? Well Lou let him leave Jersey awfully easy, didn’t he? Just said okay, go ahead, walk out on your contract and your commitment. Because, jeeze Brent, your leadership has taken us so damned deep in to the playoffs…oh wait, that was someone else.

Has Calgary improved?

Well, that’s arguable. JayBo is a great young kid but this is a team sport and Sutter’s continual shuffling of the old deck has not allowed any Flame team to gel properly. There’s going to be lots of new faces in Calgary, less scoring and a new system (again!). There will be jingle bells chiming before we see what kind of team the Flames are.

As for the Oilers, well Christ on a bike, haven’t these guys suffered enough? Even the character disordered won’t play there…Heatley, obviously. But also Nylander and Pronger before that. But take heart, Oily ones, this year is going to be lots better. Pat Quinn will get more out of the team than MacT. That’s plain. And another year of development for the youngsters like Gagner, Cogs, Gilbert and even Nillson will be beneficial. Penner will be much better simply by having the bus tires surgically removed from his groin area.

But, is Crabbybuhlin an improvement on Rollie? Well, on the ice, it’s a toss up. But Rollie’s antics as a locker room lawyer will leave the Oilers a much healthier (mentally, anyway) team. The Oil have one of the most mobile defenses in the league, a very fast core and a better coaching staff. I see playoffs this season…and when everyone said they’d win the division before last season, I said they’d be lucky to finish ninth in the NW. But this year? They’ll put it together.

Minnesota will struggle without the iron fist of Lemaire. They’ll score more, but the goaltending will suffer and if Brent Burns doesn’t come back 100% from the concussion syndrome, expect a reasonably high draft pick in the State of Hockey come next June.

As for Colorado, well they can expect another lottery pick. I wouldn’t want to play them…in about five years.

As for our boys…well, we are contenders once again. We are on that “list” of eight teams that could put it all together. And if you think that’s too much of a stretch, how many of you gave the Penguins a realistic chance? They put it together at the right time and they stayed relatively injury free. What do you think would have happened if Crosby blew his knee in the first game of the first series instead of the last game of the last series? Injuries are the luck of the draw. What do you think Detroit would have been capable of if Lidstrom hadn’t have had his testicles speared to the boards at the Joe? Or if Hossa’s hadn’t had his shoulder come unglued?

So our guys have a legitimate shot.

But the regular season is a long haul with lots of strange twists and turns. That’s a certainty.

And Vancouver will split in two at times. We’ll soar to the heights when Lou gets back to back shut outs. And there will be reports of jumpers at the Burrard St. bridge the first time we lose a couple in a row.

Yeah, a tale of two cities…the best of times, the worst of times.

And I can hardly wait.


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