Ranking the Top Ten Teams with the Best Chance to Win The Stanley Cup
By: Zach Irwin
With the NHL agreeing on the 24 team playoff format last week, the usual 16 team playoff just became a lot more crowded. Every team at the beginning of the year believes that they have a shot to win it all, but as we know only a select few have the opportunity to play in the playoffs and very few teams have the realistic dream of winning the Stanley Cup.
But due to the circumstances surrounding the world and affecting sports; now more than ever winning the most prestigious prize in all of hockey is now more wide open than ever, which will make these playoffs the most challenging yet. With that being said here is the list of the 10 teams who have the best chance to win the cup.
1.St. Louis Blues: The defending Stanley Cup champions before the pandemic hit were still riding the high of winning it last year and have quite possibly never looked better. Winning games even without their star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues relied on their strong defensive play manned by Alex Pietrangelo and goaltending from Jordan Binnington. This veteran team in my opinion has a very good chance of running it back and repeating as champions.
2. Boston Bruins: What are the odds that the two teams who played in the finals the year before run it back and play for the cup again??? Very rare, but like the Blues, the Bruins know what it takes to get to the finals and also win it (Won in 2011). The Bruins in the playoffs will look to their top line of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak; along with their Captain Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tuukka Rask to once again claim the trophy.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: On paper, the Lightning have the talent and every year should be the favorite to win it all. But after getting swept in the first round of the playoffs last season, experts around the league have a tough time in picking them to win it all. But still, the Lightning have one of the deepest teams in the league with the reigning Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy in net; they should still be considered a favorite. Could this be the year they get over the hump?
4. Colorado Avalanche: Before play was halted Colorado was one of the hottest teams going into the middle of March because of the play of Nathan Mackinnon and goalie Pavel Francouz. Like the top 3 teams, Colorado has a deep roster from the forward to defense positions. Last year they made it all the way to game 7 of the second round. This year they expect to make it much further and quite possibly win it all.
5. Vegas Golden Knights: Before the season got postponed the Knights were starting to look like the dominating team to a lot of people, including myself expected them to be. After making a coaching change midseason to go with Peter Deboer as their head coach, he has them buying into his system and it’s paying dividends. With having two very strong capable starters in net, Vegas is a team I would want to avoid going into the playoffs.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: At the beginning of the year many people around the sport didn’t peg the Flyers as a contender going into the 2020 season. This team has proved a lot of doubters wrong including me, a die-hard Flyers fan. Big changes from last offseason have paid huge dividends for this team from bringing in head coach Alain Vigneault, plus the sign and trade for center Kevin Hayes, both helping to bring a winning culture back to Philadelphia. This is a dark horse candidate to win it all because of the ability to run all 4 lines and 3 defensive pairs, along with the strong goaltending play of young Carter Hart.
7. Dallas Stars: After early-season struggles at the start of the season, the Stars found a way to turn their season around. Though they have lacked the firepower that the team is known for from players such as Seguin, Benn, and Radulov; they have relied on the strong defensive play from Miro Heiskanen and another great season from goalie Ben Bishop. When the playoffs resume Dallas will need their top guns to step up in order for them to have a great chance of winning it all.
8. Washington Capitals: What strange a season the capitals had before the season got postponed. Though they won the metro division, they had some inconsistent play from their lineup at points in time in the season from their big stars such as Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. But have gotten huge contributions from their other top guys Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson who was well on his way to winning the Norris Trophy as the best defensemen in the league. The Achilles heel though for the Capitals this season was the play of goalie Braden Holtby. His inconsistent play was a huge question mark going into March and into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if that carries over into the playoffs after this long layoff.
9. Carolina Hurricanes: The cinderella team of last year’s playoffs made a surprise run
to the eastern conference finals last season. This year they were no cinderella and played like a team to be reckoned with. The great play from their young stars Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, plus the play from Norris candidate Dougie Hamilton before he was injured midway in the season. But now with him healthy and returning in the play-in round, he should give them a huge boost to an already great Carolina D. The goaltending could still be the question again going into the playoffs, but as the hurricanes have shown all season that no matter who plays in net, they will play strong defense in front of them.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins: It’s shocking to see Pittsburgh not in the top 5 heading into the playoffs. But though they are ranked 10th in this ranking that doesn’t mean teams should take them lightly either; but then again I don’t think anybody does especially if Crosby and Malkin are still playing and playing at an elite level. The things that hold the Penguins back going into the playoffs is their defense and goaltending. Besides Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, their depth on defense is pretty average. Switching to goaltending, the one question I ask is will the real Matt Murray, please stand up? The Penguins have an interesting decision they have to make when it comes to which goalie will call upon to start game 1 in the play-in-round against Montreal. Will it be Matt Murray who has won 2 Stanley cups back to back years as a rookie? Or will it be Tristen Jarry who came up this year and played at an All-Star level?