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Canada's western NHL teams are shifting gears



Tired of seeing their young players shoved around last season, the Oilers have added some toughness. Patrolling for ice-rink bullies will be Andy Sutton, Darcy Hordichuk and the ever-ready Ben Eager. They'll try to keep Taylor Hall from thinking he's the next Brendan Shanahan. Hall had one fight last season, against Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and suffered an ankle injury that ended his rookie year. The big area of concern for Edmonton is its defence. It just didn't generate any offence in 2010-11. The top-scoring defenceman was Ryan Whitney with 27 points. He totalled that in 35 games, then missed the rest of the season with an injury. Tom Gilbert needs to live up to his potential.

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SAY HELLO TO … F Ryan Smyth, F Éric Bélanger, F Ben Eager, F Darcy Hordichuk, D Cam Barker, D Andy Sutton.

SAY GOODBYE TO … F Andrew Cogliano, F Kurtis Foster, F Colin Fraser, F Zack Stortini, F Steve MacIntyre, D Jason Strudwick

NUMBERS GAME … Edmonton has a payroll of $57,135,000 (all figures U.S.), which leaves it with $7,165,000 in cap space. That's more than enough room to take on high-salaried help at the trade deadline should the Oilers remain close enough to a playoff spot or simply wish to add to their core.

TOP PICK IN 2011 … With the fewest wins and worst record in the NHL last season, the Oilers once again secured the first pick overall and used it to take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels. The lanky centre was the top-ranked North American prospect with 106 points in 69 Western Hockey League games and agreed to a three-year deal with Edmonton. The good news for the Oilers is that the only postlockout No. 1 pick who didn't crack his NHL team in his rookie season was defenceman Erik Johnson of the St. Louis Blues. And he went back to school. The Oilers are counting on future magic from Nugent-Hopkins and winger Hall, the No. 1 pick in 2010.

Allan Maki



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So what is it this year? Will the Flames be as bad as they were at the beginning of last season or as good as they were by the end of it? There certainly weren't many personnel changes made during the off-season other than the re-signing of keynote veterans Alex Tanguay, Anton Babchuck and Curtis Glencross. Defenceman Robyn Regehr was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, and while that's made the Flames younger it hasn't made them any better. Regehr's physical steadiness will be missed, leaving Calgary hopeful that Chris Butler, Scott Hannan and Brett Carson can pick up the slack. It's also worth noting Mikael Backlund heads into training camp as the team's first-line centre with Tanguay and Jarome Iginla as his wing men. The Flames are counting on 22-year-old Backlund for a breakthrough effort. After Backlund on the team's depth chart are centre Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and Matt Stajan.

SAY HELLO TO …D Chris Butler, D Scott Hannan, F Lee Stempniak, F Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond.

SAY GOODBYE TO …D Robyn Regehr, D Steve Staios, F Daymond Langkow, F Ales Kotalik.

NUMBERS GAME … Calgary's payroll is $60,668,334; its cap space is $3,631,666. General manager Jay Feaster may not have negotiated any blockbuster trades during the off-season but he did create some wiggle room by unloading the likes of Kotalik and Daymond Langkow, who was shipped to the Phoenix Coyotes straight up for Lee Stempniak. The Flames were tight against the cap the past few seasons under former GM Darryl Sutter.

TOP PICK IN 2011 … The Flames took Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks with the 13th pick overall. The Swiss product had 85 points in the WHL last season then raised his game with 10 goals and 17 assists in 21 playoff games. He's likely to be heading back to Portland to gain more experience.

Allan Maki

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The health of centre Ryan Kesler, and the composition of his line. He had a banner campaign in 2010-11, emerging as an NHL all-star, and the Selke Trophy winner as best defensive forward. Kesler underwent hip surgery this summer, which the team was hoping to avoid, and there is a big pool of wingers competing for spots on his flanks. The second-line pivot is expected to be ready for the season opener but that decision, like his linemates, could go down to the wire.

SAY HELLO TO … LW Marco Sturm, D Alexander Sulzer, C Andrew Ebbett, RW Mark Mancari, RW Byron Bitz, RW Mike Duco.

Say Goodbye To … D Christian Ehrhoff, LW Raffi Torres, LW Jeff Tambellini, RW Tanner Glass, C Alexandre Bolduc.

NUMBERS GAME... The Canucks have more than $2-million in cap space, and winger Mason Raymond (back) will be on injured reserve when the season begins. The more significant numbers game is on defence, where nine NHL veterans are battling for seven spots.

TOP PICK IN 2011... Winger Nicklas Jensen already ranks among the Canucks' top prospects, but with a veteran roster coming off a finals appearance, his future is not now. The big Dane may eventually fit as a scoring winger alongside Ryan Kesler or the Sedins, but he will return to the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals for 2011-12.

Matthew Sekeres

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