Flurry of changes in wild Northwest

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

DETROIT -- For a couple of years, the Northwest Division was considered the most competitive in the NHL.

This past year, it was truly the most mediocre.

It now may have just become the most interesting thanks to the coaching carousel that's swirling and twirling.

Think about what transpired yesterday.

The Edmonton Oilers filled their vacancy with not one but two proven bench bosses in Pat Quinn and Tom Renney.

An hour later in Calgary, GM Darryl Sutter announced he's searching for a new head coach to replace the disposed Mike Keenan, but admitted he may be the best man for the job if he can't find a better candidate.

Everybody believes that means he's in if he can't pry Brent Sutter from the New Jersey Devils without too much in reparations.

Then we have the unsettled situation in Minnesota -- new GM Chuck Fletcher is still looking for a head man and it's expected to be his former workmate from the AHL, San Jose Sharks assistant Todd Richards.

In Colorado, Tony Granato remains the head coach, it seems, until the Avalanche can convince Patrick Roy to take the job -- and maybe the GM duties. Unless, of course, the Montreal Canadiens come calling.

To add more murk to the waters, Alain Vigneault's hold on the Vancouver job appears to be not as firm as you'd think for a coach whose squad made it to the second round. Part of that is because the Canucks have an up-and-coming coach in their system with Scott Arniel taking the AHL's Manitoba Moose to the league championship.

Who knows, maybe Arniel is one of the three coaches currently under contract Sutter has targeted to be his new whistle blower in Calgary?

Fun times, and we're still nearly a month away from the draft, where the trade winds are expected to blow feverishly, followed by the free-agency period.

But what will all the coaching changes -- and potential changes -- mean when the 2009-10 campaign begins?

More interesting hockey, for one.

Sutter has insisted his team will become more defensively oriented, and rightfully so.

The Flames are no longer the low-scoring, stop-Jarome-Iginla-and-you've-stopped-them squad of years past, but suddenly couldn't figure out how to keep the puck out of their net.

Elsewhere in the division, though, expect the nooses to loosen.

Quinn has never been a defence-first coach, while Renney's game plan has always been a little more defensive, but not in the Jacques Lemaire way.

Speaking of Lemaire -- who walked away from the Wild -- his replacement has to change the culture in Minnesota.

First step will be to replace the handcuffing, no-offensive game Lemaire instilled in the State of Hockey with a more up-tempo and offensively oriented style.

Colorado? What happens with that team is anybody's guess. Will Roy eventually come in to be saviour for a suddenly struggling team or just help sell tickets? Will he actually be ready for the job or in over his head? Will Joe Sakic retire? Who knows, but it's a good bet the Avs will remain at the bottom of the division, so that means a high goals-against total.

And then we have the Canucks. They may have returned to the top this year, but it's a tenuous perch with a plethora of unrestricted free agents in waiting in the Sedin twins, Mats Sundin and Mattias Ohlund.

Rumours abound the Sedins will go to Toronto, which will mean all kinds of cash to spend on free agents, and likely targets in Marian Gaborik and current Flames forward Michael Cammalleri. Both possess excellent offensive skills but are not known for a strong defensive game.

So while anybody is grousing over the fact Sutter's announcement yesterday added up to no more than saying he's taking applications for the job, remember what potential lies ahead.

The Flames may concentrate more on preventing goals in the coming season.

But all their rivals appear destined to allow more.

Sounds like a win-win for the Flames.


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