A Comprehensive Look at the NHL: The Contenders (Part 1 of 5)
As we put the current NHL season on hold for the All-Star break (a little over halfway through the season), it seems as good a time as any to take an in-depth look at each team, and see where they’re headed. The GM’s of each club will also be doing the same as they get together to enjoy the All-Star festivities. Which is also why you’ll start to see trades trickle in from now up until trade deadline day. But before we start speculating on possible trades, and who needs what, lets breakdown all 30 teams and see where they stand heading into the second half of the season.
For this breakdown, I’m going to divide the teams into 5 categories; “Contenders”, “Playoff Bound”, “On the Bubble”, “Purgatory”, and “Lottery Ball”.
Part One: Contenders
This category is devised of great teams playing well. They were legitimate threats to start the season, and are playing like it now.
The defending champs are looking strong again. They boast the highest plus/minus ratio of any team, which includes the most goals scored. They also seem to be playing consistently well, both at home and on the road. I see a serious chance of a repeat here. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 6.5 to 1.
Pittsburgh came out of the gate hot, then slumped a little, and now has recently got back on track. Don’t let that slump fool you though, the Pens have been missing half of their starting line-up at different times for the better part of the season! Two big pieces in Letang and Staal were out for extended periods of time. Malkin spent some time on the IR, and of course we all know what happened to Crosby. But now Malkin is tearing up the league, Letang is back and making a big impact, and Staal is set to come back next week. This team is a contender without Crosby, and with him, well lets just say having the best player in the world couldn’t hurt. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 11 to 1.
Philly has been a bit of a perennial powerhouse lately, but after a big makeover in the off-season, they came in as a bit of a wild card this year. Mission successful though, as the shake up is paying off in a big way. Giroux has emerged as one of the elite forwards in the league, and the Flyers are getting great secondary scoring from their acquisitions and prospects. The gamble on Jagr has also paid off nicely so far. Bryzgalov isn’t quite living up to his price tag but still seems to be getting the job done. The one big downfall is the loss of two of Philly’s key players. Briere has recently gone down with a concussion, with no timetable for return. And of course their captain Chris Pronger, which is a huge loss on the ice and in the dressing room. Despite the losses this team does have a recipe for success. They battle hard, and will be a threat come playoff time. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 12 to 1.
This is basically the same team that won the cup two seasons ago. Except now, these young players are just hitting their prime. After a hangover season last year, these guys are re-focused with only one thing on their minds, another cup. All of their big guns are firing, and “Captain Serious” is all business right now and shouldn’t be out of the line-up for more than a few games. Look for this team to go deep into the postseason. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 12 to 1.
After almost tasting the cup last year, Vancouver is at it again. Same group of talented players but this time they have a chip on their shoulders. Led by the seemingly immortal Sedin brothers, anything short of cup would be a loss for these guys and the city of Vancouver. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 7 to 1.
Is this the year? It seems like a broken record with the Sharks, but I’m going to say it again, I think it could be. After losing in the Conference final in back to back years, I think they might finally have the right team dynamic to get them over the hurdle. The Sharks this year seem to have the added depth the teams of the past were missing. Which in a large part comes from the growth and maturity of some of their younger talent. Guys like Couture, Vlassic, Braun, McGinn, and Demers. That being said, the window is starting to close as the guys on the other end of the bracket, like Thornton and Boyle start to show their age. Vegas odds of winning the Stanley Cup are 13 to 1.
See you tomorrow for Part Two: Playoff-Bound
…and that is the last word.