With teams beginning to clinch their spots in the fight for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the questions of who has the best chance of winning the Cup later this spring is a hot topic. There are the favorites. There are the possible contenders. And then there are the underdogs. The best thing about sports and the playoff nature is anything can happen, and that bodes the same in the fight for the Stanley Cup. Let’s take a peek at the odds for each team that is represented in the NHL postseason.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After missing the playoffs a year ago, just by a mere two points, the Lightning has been on a mission from training camp to get back to the postseason and challenge for the Stanley Cup. The Bolts have owned the Eastern Conference and their roster has been the deepest in all facets (offense, defense, goaltending, depth).
Arguably their best player, Nikita Kucherov, has led the league in points since the season began and could win his first Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the Most Valuable Player in the league. Aside to Kucherov, there’s this other known guy who is a superstar, Steven Stamkos. Stamkos and Kucherov have played at an insane level and are the best 1-2 punch in the NHL.
Jon Cooper’s sextet has received excellent seasons from defensemen Victor Hedman and rookie Mikhail Sergachev, standout forwards Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and from goalie Andei Vasilevskiy. Adding extra firepower at the deadline with J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh shows the Bolts are all in to bring Lord Stanley back to Tampa for the first time since 2003-04.
The Predators made it to the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals last spring and fell just short of forcing a game seven. That heartbreak has fueled them throughout the 2017-18 season. Nashville has been at the top or near the top of the Western Conference all season long, right there with the Golden Knights and Jets (who will get to in a bit).
Peter Laviolette has done another terrific job behind the bench, while talent-wise, the Preds have been just better than their competition. The balanced offense Nashville showcases with Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Kevin Fiala along with their hard-nosed bottom-six seems to always allow the team to stay in games, while when they’re on their game, give opponents problems on a nightly basis. Nashville’s defense, for the second season in a row, is the best in the league. Superstar P.K. Subban and Roman Josi are two of the top-five blueliners in the sport and as a pairing, are the standard.
Netminder Pekka Rinne has enjoyed another Vezina-worthy season and there’s no doubt, he’s prime for another shot at a Stanley Cup. Smashville — the Preds home-ice advantage that made waves in last year’s postseason — will be rocking once again for another Cup run and possibly the first championship in the history of the franchise.
Vegas Golden Knights
There’s been no better story in sports than the rise of the expansion Golden Knights. Already the most successful first-year franchise in NHL history, the Knights will bring playoff hockey to Sin City and it will be a glorious sight. From the onset, it was easy to spot there was something special with Vegas, and not just how their home rink, T Mobile Arena, made every home game have a playoff-like feel to it.
The Knights — under Gerard Gallant — have been one of the most fun clubs to watch all year. James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Erik Haula and the rest of the bunch play fast, play with tenacity, and make their opponents gain every inch. Their prolific goal-scorer, Wiliam Karlsson, came out of nowhere and quickly established himself as one of the most lethal goalscorers in the NHL. If you look at their defense, there are not many marquee names. Yet, that defense is young, talented, and one of the most talked about groups by coaches and pundits.
One place the Knights could benefit in the postseason: goaltending. Marc Andre-Fleury is a three-time Cup winner and knows the grind and mental toll it takes to win. His experience could do wonders for an inexperienced Knights squad, who could be a little stunned by the spotlight. Other than that aspect, the Golden Knights are going to be hella fun to watch, and have just as much a chance as the other playoff-bound clubs.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before, the Bruins are contenders for the Stanley Cup. That statement doesn’t seem that surprising anymore with how this decade the B’s have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL. This season, as soon as everyone thought they were headed for a rebuild, they flipped the switch and haven’t turned it off.
Boston’s group has everything you want for a team looking for their first Cup in seven years. Led by the brilliant Patrice Bergeron, the B’s offense can play any game and be successful doing it. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are a deadly combo, while the rest of the forwards are big and imposing, and can wear down opponents. Boston’s defense is still anchored by captain Zdeno Chara. But rookie Charlie McAvoy is extremely good and is transitioning to that spot.
Behind McAvoy, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Kevan Miller and Nick Holden can be relied upon to play heavy minutes. The B’s might be the biggest threat to the Penguins three-peat in the East. They will be a tough out and could go very deep if everything falls right.
Ah, the Jets. They’ve only made the playoffs once since moving back to Winnipeg (2014-15), but this spring looked prime to finally make some noise and hopefully play into late May, early June. The Jets have steamrolled their way to the top of the Western Conference after a very shaky start to the 2017-18 season.
Winnipeg boasts the most prolific top-six in the National Hockey League. Sophmore Patrik Laine is already in the upper-echelon of goalscorers with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. But Laine is just one piece. The Jets have gotten fantastic production from the most underrated forward in the game, Blake Wheeler, and veterans Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little. Freshman Kyle Connor’s rookie campaign has flown under the radar as well. The addition of Paul Stastny was a smart acquisition and adds even more depth.
Defensively, the Jets mix of vets and youngsters has provided a good nucleus. Coach Paul Maurice’s troops will have something to prove this postseason. With how much MTS Centre has provided an edge for the Jets, not going far in the playoffs would be a massive disappointment.
Toronto Maple Leafs
It seems the Toronto Maple Leafs were destined to make the playoffs this year. They’ve basically clung to that third slot in the Atlantic Division, with very little push from the rest of the division. The gist with the Leafs is that they got their first taste back in the playoffs out of the way last April, and now they have the pieces ready to go deeper and do some significant damage.
Toronto’s Big Three, Auston Matthews (despite being sidelined now), Mitch Marner and William Nylander, have all provided wonderful seasons and have been the driving force of the Leafs high-powered attack. Behind those three, the players that have now been there for the long-haul now — Kadri, van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Reilly — are all finishing up solid years. Offseason pickup Patrick Marleau has been an excellent veteran presence for the likes of Connor Brown, Zach Hyman and the other 20-somethings that Toronto’s roster is made up of. In net, Frederik Andersen has made it clear he’s going to be the anchor for the Leafs.
This Maple Leafs team has a really good mix of young and old. And after losing in six games in round one last year, the expectations are high for the team to take that next step toward breaking the Cup drought that has lasted now since 1967.
There is no NHL team in more need of a Stanley Cup than the Washington Capitals. Washington has been one of the more dominant regular-season clubs over the last ten years. But when it comes to the playoffs, something seems to changes and they just can’t find a way to get over the proverbial hump.
The Caps continue to be led by superstar and future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin. Again this year, he will total another unbelievable season. But Ovi has a cast of characters behind him that finally want to get that monkey off their back. Goalie Braden Holtby is in the Vezina conversation again and has to face his ghosts of playoffs past. Forwards Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov have done what they usually do, while it’s been career years for John Carlson and Lars Eller.
A lot of talks has surrounded the Caps about whether this season will be the last hurrah for this current group if they can’t get the job done. And that talk is warranted. After all, how many more times can a team with so much talent not reach the conference finals, let alone the Stanley Cup Final?
It’s hard to use the word odds when referring to a back-to-back championship team. But even the mighty Penguins don’t get that benefit of the doubt. The Penguins are primed and ready to make it a three-peat, something no one ever thought could be possible in the salary cap era, let alone two in a row.
The Pens dynasty was thought to be coming to a crashing halt up until about mid-December. But as they have over recent seasons, the Penguins decided to go on a warpath. Evgeni Malkin has played like a man possessed before the new year started. Phil Kessel’s goal-scoring prowess hasn’t slowed down, while Sidney Crosby has played, well like Sidney Crosby. Looking past that trio, Pittsburgh has continued to retrieve contributions from their forwards who made a significant impact in last year’s Cup run. Even the players they traded for, Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and Jamie Oleksiak found their footing quickly and have paid dividends.
Look it’s hard to go against the Penguins winning it all again. They will have some very stiff competition. But this team has the heart of a champion and an iron will that is very hard to break. Securing a third-straight Stanley Cup doesn’t seem that far-fetched.