Northern Exposure: Canucks Cup Run, ATL Headed To WPG


Welcome back to Northern Exposure, your weekly NHL Canadian tour.  Join me as I make a stop in each of the NOW SEVEN Canadian NHL cities, discussing stories of interest in each.

Having completed a synopsis of the Eastern Canadian teams, I was going to move west to Calgary this week. However the big, albeit unsurprising, news was that the NHL is returning to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season.  True North Sports and Entertainment finally got their NHL team, and it isn’t the Phoenix Coyotes but the Atlanta Thrashers who will move north to the Canadian mid-west.  Canada finally has its seventh team, and despite what Gary Bettman says, there could be an 8th before the end of the impending lockout.

So, in honor of the currently nameless Winnipeg ________, I will take a look at the enormous task facing the club this summer.

The Thrashers were a surprise team in 2010-11, coming close to making the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.  Capitalizing on the cap crunch facing the Chicago Blackhawks, former GM Rick Dudley acquired current captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in separate deals.  Those two players became cornerstones for the franchise and will be excited to move to Winnipeg with the young club.  The fans have spoken up in a big way, and it will be interesting to see how the players react come free agency time to playing in Winnipeg.

KEY FREE AGENTS TO BE:  UFARadek Dvorak, Freddy Meyer, Eric Boulton  RFAAndrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Anthony Stewart, Rob Schremp, Ben Maxwell, Zach Bogosian,

WHERE THEY ARE SET:  The defense corps looks to be safe, as long as Byfuglien can show that his great season was not the exception rather than the rule.  Zach Bogosian also needs to take a step forward after a relatively stagnant sophomore season in his development.

NEEDS: The Thrashers are on the verge of doing good things, and they will have the support of a full building to continue the development.  They need more scoring, and that will come with the maturation of the likes of Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov, but they need more help in this area to truly become a contender.  Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec will be the duo in the net again next season.  Neither set the league on fire last year and if they are to take the team to the playoffs, one of them needs to step up and take control of the net.


1) Find the right General Manager Rick Dudley was the man behind the Thrasher’s improvement last season, but he was told his services will no longer be required.  If Craig Heisinger, current GM of the AHL Manitoba Moose, is the choice of new owner Mark Chipman, he will need a crash course in NHL politics as teh GM.  He will not have much time to put his plan into place with the draft and Free Agency both less than a month away.

2)  Andrew Ladd – Not having a prolonged contract negotiation with their captain, and getting him into the fold early will send a message to the players and the fans that this new ownership is for real.  Not saying you have to give him the bank, but a bitter contract battle would remind fans of the financial woes that forced the departure of the Jets in the first place.

3)  Make Winnipeg an attractive FA destination – Perhaps easier said than done, as the reputation of the city precedes the franchise.  In order to attract a top end free agent or two, the Winnipeg franchise must go above and beyond to sell the city.  I would suggest NOT making Ilya Bryzgalov the spokesperson.

4)   Rob Schremp Summer Defense Camp – If someone could teach this guy how to play in his own end, he could be dangerous.  He is a dynamic offensive player, but his lack of attention to the defensive side of the game limits his ice time and therefore his effectiveness.  If he doesn’t show a commitment to introducing himself to Mason and Pavelec once in a while, maybe they need to let him walk this summer.

5)  One Big Name – If the Thrashers could somehow find a top talent to join and lead offensively, it would go a long way to making the team a great success on the ice.  Brad Richards is not likely an option, but perhaps a Simon Gagne could bring more leadership and skill.

CONCLUSION:  2011-12 will be one of transition and culture shock for the Winnipeg franchise.  Factor in the travel that playing in the Southeast Division will entail, and it would be a miracle for them to make an impact next season.  For their sake, I hope that a work stoppage can somehow be avoided, lest the Winnipeg franchise lose any momentum they build this year.

Now a quick tour around the other cities:

The Vancouver Canucks are two wins away from the ultimate prize, and they only have to win 2 of their next 5 games to hoist the cup.  They are getting performances from unexpected sources, as the 3rd line of Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres has been the most consistently effective trio of late, scoring goals and making opposition defenses work hard.  Roberto Luongo has been stellar since sitting out game 6 of round 1 against Chicago, and would be my odds on favorite for Conn Smythe Trophy honors.

The Ottawa Senators farm team, Binghamton is one win away from bringing home the AHL Calder Cup.  They used home ice advantage to go ahead 3-2 going back to Houston for games 6 and 7.  It would be the first major championship in the history of the Senators franchise.

The Calgary Flames shipped 2009 first round draft pick Tim Erixon to the New York Rangers, not being able to come to a contract agreement.  He would be eligible to be selected in this years draft if he didn’t sign a contract before the June 1st deadline.  The Flames received a pair of 2nd round draft picks and prospect Roman Horak in return for the Swedish prospect.

The Edmonton Oilers quiet off season continued as the biggest news of note was Gilbert Brule picking up a hitchiker named Bono in Vancouver.  Yes, the same Bono who is one of the biggest rock stars in the world as lead singer of U2.  Alos of note was the draft combine where the Oilers got to look up close and personal at the players who may go first overall to Edmonton in this month’s draft.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau are the favorites to be selected when Steve Tambellini steps to the podium in Minnesota.

The Montreal Canadiens re-signed one member of its sparsely popluated blueline corps as Hal Gill accepted a one year deal to remain a Hab. The tougher negotiations are still ahead as Andrei Markov, James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik and Josh Georges among others are still potential Free Agents.  Also in Habs’ news, Dustin Boyd and  Nigel Dawes both have apparently left the club and signed on in the KHL.  Dawes was a on-again, off-again Canadien after being acquired from Atlanta, while Boyd was a solid contributor on the lower half of the forward depth chart.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be among the teams that will be making a huge pitch for the gem of the free agent market, Dallas Star centre Brad Richards.  With tons of cap space, a hockey market, a need for a first line centre and the bravado of Brian Burke, it could be the recipe for success on July 1st.  It would be a coup for Burke, since all previous efforts to land marquee players in TO through FA have failed.

That is all for this week’s edition of Northern Exposure.  Next week, we may be able to confirm the existence of a 7th Canadian team, and we will take a look at the Calgary Flames.


Jared Crozier is also a contributing writer for SenShot on the Fansided Network.  He can be reached on twitter @alfieisgod or by email at