As some of you may know, after an incident occurred on Twitter, I was suspended for 30 days from Bleacher Report; however, I still want to keep writing until it is lifted on March 30th. I have already apologized to Bleacher Report for the incident and I want to apologize to all of my readers as well. All of you have been very supportive of my articles and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it, it really does mean a lot.
Now lets get to business. With almost every team in the NHL having around 10 games left in the regular season, I felt it only fitting to rank the ten teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Lets get to it!
Dark Horse Sleeper: Winnipeg Jets
Okay this might be a bit of a stretch but hear me out here. The Jets currently sit three points out of the 8th and final seed in the Western Conference, but only five points out of the division lead. It is completely realistic that the Jets could surpass the Capitals and Panthers and gain the number three seed in the West. Blake Wheeler is having a career season (58 points in 68 games) and if the Jets were to win the conference and get a series, and possibly more with home-ice advantage, it’s not impossible to believe that a team that was so bad a year ago that they were relocated could make some noise in the playoffs.
10. Chicago Blackhawks
The Stanley Cup champions from two years ago have yet to find the rhythm that had them raising Lord Stanley’s cup in 2010. Shaky goaltending and an inability to win on the road have been two issues that have followed Chicago all season. Corey Crawford has yet to really shine since taking over the starting job, and his .901 save percentage is good enough for 40th among NHL goaltenders. The plus side here is that the Blackhawks have the experience and the star power to make a legitimate run at another title. Guys like Marian Hossa, Johnny Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp have all been there before and know what it takes to win it all. The biggest problem is that with a road record of 14-18-3 it is going to be very tough for the Hawks to win multiple series where they don’t have home-ice advantage. If Crawford continues to under-perform, the Windy City will be on the golf course in a hurry.
9. Dallas Stars
The Stars currently sit in front of the Pacific Division and have been on an absolute tear lately, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Dallas has been led by 26-year-old Loui Eriksson, who is averaging just under one point a game. They have also had stellar goaltending as of late by Kari Lehtonen, whose .925 save percentage is good enough for 7th best in the entire NHL. If this team continues to streak as the playoffs approach, they could really make some noise. The problem with the Stars is that their lack of experience and inability to bury the puck could lead to their ultimate demise. Their 188 goals for this season is only the 7th highest in the Western Conference.
8. Nashville Predators
Although they sit behind the Stars in the standings, Nashville has six more points (I hate the way the seeding works in the NHL). The entire fate of the Preds rests on the shoulders of their 29-year-old goaltender from Kempele, Finland. Pekka Renne has been unreal this year, his 39 wins are the highest in the league and he also leads the league in shots against and total saves. Nashville is probably not going to have one series with home ice advantage but is a very good road team, they’re 18-13-2 away from the Sommet Center. Players like Martin Erat and David Legwand will need to produce some scoring in the playoffs in order for them to make a solid run but if Renne continues to flash the pads the way he has all season, Nashville becomes a legitimate contender.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are a team that have been streaky all year, but look to be heading in the right direction as the playoffs draw close. The Flyers have won 7 of their last 10 games and currently sit 5th in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have a star player in Claude Giroux and that is absolutely crucial when it comes to making a deep playoff run. They also have been one of the best road teams in the NHL this year, which will be substantial considering that, like the teams behind them on this list, they will probably not get a series with home ice. Their 22 wins on the road this season are the most in the Eastern Conference, and tied with Vancouver for the most in the entire NHL. The issue with the Flyers is that they have had goaltending issues all year, and although Ilya Bryzgalov has 28 wins this season, his 2.53 goals against average is ranked 23rd among all netminders.
6. Boston Bruins
The season ending injury to Tukkaa Rask might be the main reason why the defending champs fail to make a serious run at the cup this year. Sure, he’s only the backup goalie; however, Tim Thomas will have to play the remaining games of the season to make sure the Bruins stay atop the Northeast Division, which they currently are only ahead of the Ottawa Senators by one point. But with two less games played than the Sens and the rising star power of Tyler Seguin, the Bruins shouldn’t have a problem winning that division. Their strongest point is that they lead the entire NHL in goal differential this season, with a +53 rating, but having Marty Turco as their backup goaltender is going to cause all kinds of issues. Turco has only started one game since signing with the Bruins, and he was pulled after allowing 3 goals on 6 shots. If anything were to happen to Thomas, they’re done, it’s that simple. Best case scenario is a tired Tim Thomas will have to win 16 playoff games to bring home the cup. And at the age of 37, that might be asking a little too much.
5. Detroit Red Wings
A team that once looked like it was by far the best team in the NHL just a month ago has gone way downhill in the past couple weeks. In their last 10 games, the Wings are 3-6-1, and have lost 5 of their last 6. They are yet to win a road game in the month of March and have lost their last two games to the L.A Kings and Anaheim Ducks by a combined score of 9-2. The scariest part for Detroit is that unless they find a way to move ahead of St. Louis in their division (they are currently 7 points back), they will have home-ice for at best the first round and that’s it (unless two out of the top three seeds in the West are upset in the first round). Out of their 44 wins, only 16 of them have been away from Joe Louis Arena, and past years will show that you have to be able to win on the road to bring home the cup. The amount of star power in Detroit is incredible, with guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterburg and Nicklas Lindstrom, the Wings definitely have the talent to win it all. But whether or not Jimmy Howard will be able to carry them all the way through the playoffs is yet to be seen. Howard is 108-51-28 in his regular season career for Detroit, but just 12-11 in the playoffs.
4. Vancouver Canucks
No surprise that the Canucks are going to be one of the favorites once again to win the Stanley Cup. After being a game away from winning the cup last year, Vancouver picked up right where they left off this season. The Canucks have all of the components that make a Stanley Cup winning team: experience, star power, and goaltending; however, they lack depth in scoring. Outside of the Sedin twins, only three players have 40 or more points this season. They are definitely a serious contender this year, but by no means the favorite. They also still lack the toughness that it will take to win the whole sha-bang-a-bang. The Bruins wore them down in the Finals last year, and their inability to handle gritty play is something that has haunted them in the past and will continue to haunt them as the playoffs approach. I do like that General Manager Mike Gillis traded Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for 6’4” power-forward Zack Kassian and Samuel Pahlsson to try and fill this void, but I don’t think it will be enough to turn the tide. I also think that they may regret giving up Hodgson, who was a surprising scoring threat this season – when he was traded he had 33 points in 63 games. They are definitely a serious contender this year, but by no means the favorite.
3. St Louis Blues
I know. They have been a great story and currently have the best record in the entire NHL and have only allowed an absurd 139 goals this year (1.95 goals per game); however, there are so many red flags that come up for the Blues. The first one is their ability to score, or lack there of. They only have 186 goals for this year. To put that into perspective, the Edmonton Oilers, who are currently in 14th place in the Western Conference, have 185. David Backus and T.J. Oshie are tied for the team lead in points with 48, which is good enough for 67th place in the NHL. I know the old saying – defense wins championships, and that case can be proven when you look at how the Boston Bruins won the cup last year. But that same Bruins team still had four players that had more than 50 points in the regular season, and the Blues are probably only going to have two. The other is youth and lack of experience – outside of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, there is very little playoff experience on the roster. The player that will determine how far the Blues go is David Perron. After missing more than a year due to concussion like symptoms, Perron has been great. He has 35 points in 46 games and if he can get hot come playoff time, there is no reason why the Blues can not win the cup. The other thing that gives the Blues an advantage heading into the playoffs is that they will probably have home ice throughout the playoffs… they’re 28-4-4 at home this year.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The return of Sidney Crosby is absolutely huge. A team that has the second most points in the Eastern Conference, and is currently riding a 9-game winning streak, just added arguably the best player in the world to their roster. If Crosby can stay healthy for the rest of the season, and play at the level he was at before his concussion-like symptoms returned for the second time, the Penguins are without a doubt the favorite to win it all. There are countless pros when looking at Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin is leading the league in scoring with 84 points, James Neal has set career highs in goals and assists and has proven that he is a legitimate scoring threat, Marc-Andre Fleury has been phenominal with a record of 37-14-6, they have the 5th best powerplay percentage (19.7%) as well as the second best penalty kill percentage (89.4%), and are tied for third in the NHL for the most goals for (219). So how can they not be the favorites as of right now? Well, they’re an average team on the road, just 18-13-3 this year, and the only team that has been playing better hockey than them this season just so happens to be in the same division…
1. New York Rangers
How fitting that the first game in which Sidney Crosby will play since December 5th happens to be against the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers. They are currently 44-18-7 and would have an even better record if they weren’t 3-7 in overtimes and shootouts. Every aspect is accounted for. Scoring? Check. Goaltending? Check. Experience? Check. Star Power? Check. On paper the Rangers are scary good, but this has been the case for many years and they’ve failed to win the Stanley Cup. They are in my mind without a doubt the favorite heading into the playoffs, but by no means a lock to win it all. The one thing that worries me about the Rangers? Their powerplay percentage is only 14.6%, which is the worst in the Eastern Conference, and the 3rd worst percentage in the entire NHL. Special teams is huge in the playoffs. They have a great penalty kill, but if they can’t find a way to bury the puck on the man advantage they could find themselves in some trouble.
A crazy playoff scenario? If the standings stay the way they are at leagues end, and the 1-4 seeds in the Eastern Conference all win their first round series, the Rangers would play the Penguins in the second round. One of arguably the two best teams in the entire NHL heading into the playoffs would be eliminated before the conference finals.
What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree?