It’s that time of year again. The trade deadline has come and gone, so we turn our attention to the NHL playoffs. The Western Conference is stacked yet again and the East only has a few legitimate contenders. In this piece I am going to list my top seven favourites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. I know what you’re thinking. “Dylan why in the hell would you choose seven. You have to round it to five or ten.” The thing is, after these seven teams nobody else stands a chance. I gave an additional team the “honourable mention,” because they just never seem to get it done in the playoffs.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins may seem like a weird inclusion on this list seeing as they currently sit in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. However, the Pens have been among the top teams in the league since their coaching change in mid December. Since then, they have the second highest CF% in the NHL (54.4). Anytime you’re over 54% in that department you should be considered among the top few teams in the league. They also have the fourth most goals in the NHL in that time span, behind only Dallas, San Jose and Washington. They also have the elite skill and goaltending to make a run for the Cup. Sidney Crosby’s lack of success at the beginning of the season directly correlates with their major success ever since the coaching change. He has be tearing it up since just before Mike Johnson was fired. The only reason they aren’t higher on this list is their horrible start with their old coach which makes it probable that they will run into the NHL’s winningest team in the first round, the Washington Capitals.
6. Dallas Stars
I was reluctant to include the Stars on this list, due to the fact their goaltending is terrible. They definitely have the team to contend for a Stanley Cup but their goaltending will not let them beat the beasts of the west in a seven game series. In saying that, they have arguably the best offence in hockey. The dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn is enough to scare teams on their own. Add in Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and John Klingberg and you have yourself an offensive dynamo. If only they had the goaltending. The Stars have the lowest PDO in the NHL since the beginning of 2016 due to their horrible goaltending. They have a sub-.900 team save percentage in that time which is also lowest in the league. Simply put, this team doesn’t get the goaltending needed to compete for a cup, but I had to include them on this list on the off chance that either Niemi or Lehtonen remember how to play the goaltending postition.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are leading the Atlantic Division after a tough start to the season. It seems like the distraction of constant speculation of their captain not signing a contract extension hurt them to start the year. Ever since GM Steve Yzerman announced that he would not trade Steven Stamkos at the trade deadline, they’ve been winning a lot of hockey games. In making the Cup finals last year, the Lightning showed off their elite skill and scouting abilities. Their biggest contributors were the line of Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. Palat was drafted 208 overall (fourth last in his draft), Kucherov was drafted 58th overall in that same draft and Johnson was signed as an undrafted free agent. Those are some pretty high value pick ups. They also have to try to win this year because Stamkos is a pending UFA, Kucherov is a pending RFA and Hedman is a UFA after next season. That’s a lot of money due to be taken by the Lightning’s salary cap.
4. Washington Capitals
While the Capitals lead the NHL by 15 points, I’m not so sure they are the best team in the league. I think that they are the best team in the Eastern Conference, but their underlying numbers lead me to believe they have a lot of luck on their side. They have the second highest PDO, trailing only the Rangers, and they are a middle of the pack puck possession team. While their PDO seems unsustainable, they have the talent both up front and in net to sustain a relatively high PDO. They have the elite talent both in net and up front and I have a hard time not picturing them tearing up the Eastern Conference in the playoffs, but the top three Western Conference teams are going to round of my top three Cup favourites.
3. Anaheim Ducks
After an extremely unlucky start to their season the Ducks are flying. Get it? They lead the league in goal differential by 11 since the beginning of 2016 and have the third highest CF% in the league this season. Combine that with elite talent like Perry, Getzlaf, Lindholm and Vatanen and you have yourself a real Cup contender. The only question mark for the Ducks is their starting goaltender, John Gibson, doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of experience. Please, for your own sake, watch this video of Corey Perry being Corey Perry.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
It’s pretty hard to argue against the Blackawks, They’ve won three cups since 2010 and they have a pretty good shot at repeating last year’s triumph. They have done a terrific job at identifying the core that brings their success and letting other pieces go. This past off season they had to let go of Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad. They responded by bringing in Artmei Panarin and Artem Anisomov for their second line, and they have been terrific. Panarin was a free agent signing out of Russia and is a front runner for rookie of the year. Anisomov is his centreman and plays between Panarin and Kane, arguably the best line in hockey this season. I had the privilege of watching them live this past Wednesday and Kane and Panarin did not disappoint. Don’t ever doubt the core of Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Crawford.
1. Los Angeles Kings
After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings showed up this season well rested and back to their dominant selves. The anti-Avs dominate the possession game like nobody else, leading the league with a CF% of 56.7. Just like the Blackhawks, never doubt a core of Doughty, Kopitar, Carter and Quick. Good luck getting the puck when you’re on the ice with Kopitar and Doughty. Interesting fact about the Kings: they have the lowest shooting percentage in the NHL at 6%. That could suggest that they are really unlucky and might be even better than they seem.
St. Louis Blues.
*all stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com. All 5v5 score adjusted unless otherwise noted.