On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, the puck will drop, and the 2014-15 NHL season will officially begin. The Los Angeles Kings will begin their Stanley Cup reign, and ultimately, will defend the title beginning next spring. There will be 29 other teams, hopeful of knocking the champs from the mountaintop, as the Kings look to become the first team since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, to win back to back Stanley Cup championships.
The power of the NHL has clearly swung to the Western conference. In best position to spoil the Kings’ bid, will be the Anaheim Ducks, who despite the loss of legendary winger Teemu Selanne, made significant upgrades to their roster. There are the San Jose Sharks, who are the ultimate “this could be the year” type of team. Of course, nobody can count out the Chicago Blackhawks, who came within a whisker of the Cup final last year. Then there are the upstart Colorado Avalanche, and the Minnesota Wild. St Louis is always in these conversations, but cannot get over the hump. Then there are the beefed up Dallas Stars.
In the East, the Boston Bruins’ lack of pure scorers, finally caught up with them, as they were unceremoniously bounced by the Montreal Canadiens last season, but Boston is aware of the issues. Then there are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who suffered a playoff implosion so bad, it cost the jobs of both the Head coach and GM. How about those New York Rangers ? Was last season’s run to the Cup final just a fluke, or could it possibly happen again ? Tampa Bay had a strong regular season, but in the playoffs, quickly ran out of gas. Was it possibly just a learning curve, and they are now ready to truly make some noise, reminiscent of 2004 ? Also, don’t forget about the Philadelphia Flyers, and Columbus Blue Jackets.
The tough part about lists like this, is that no matter what, even if every team does everything right, and makes every personnel move they need to make, and then plays as well as they can, there still will be only one champion crowned. Therefore, there are some very advanced, somewhat unexplainable metrics, and algorithms used to determine which teams truly have the best chance of advancing to the Cup final, and ultimately, lifting that hallowed silver chalice. Keep in mind, the President’s trophy, is awarded to the most consistently strong regular season team, the Stanley Cup is awarded to the best playoff team. That said, of the 30 teams which make up the NHL, here are the six teams most likely to hoist the hardware in June 2015.
1) Los Angeles Kings
Built for the playoffs. Versatile wingers, which are a combination of bruisers and natural scorers, as well as the best collective group of centers in the NHL, a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman, and the best clutch goaltender in the league.
2) Anaheim Ducks
Top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, causes trouble for everyone. Ryan Kesler gives them their best second line center since Andy MacDonald on their 2007 championship team. The blueline is solid as well
3) Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos is the consummate professional. The team will learn from last season. Goaltender Ben Bishop will be back healthy. The sky’s the limit.
4) Chicago Blackhawks
The most entertaining team on a nightly basis. Working against them, is that they will have to get past either the Kings or Ducks, to get to the Cup final. They have a lot riding on Brad Richards’ ability as a second line center. Jonathan Toews is a great #1 center, but Richards faded badly last season.
5) Philadelphia Flyers
The time is now. Philadelphia has all the firepower they need. Steve Mason is proving to be a solid goaltender. Come playoff time, should match up well with any team in the East.
6) Boston Bruins
Some glaring weaknesses shone thru during playoff loss to Montreal. This is a hard-working team, but they could use more natural scorers, and they lost Jarome Iginla in the offseason, which does not help that cause.