As the current NHL season initiates, there is always excitement, anticipation and most of all questions that lurk through the minds of many hopeful hockey fans that wish greatness for their favourite clubs. Many also wonder who the showcase rookie is going to be and which player is poised for a breakthrough campaign. But the most truly hyped question of the season is ‘which team is going to the Stanley Cup.’ Hockey fans are very smart, they catch on to the latest news quickly and definitely know their team and their players right down to their favourite player’s preferred golf ball and length of their hockey stick. Many know who won the Maurice Rocket Richard last season (Alex Ovechkin) and of course they know who the Stanley Cup winner was last season (Chicago Blackhawks) but hindsight is 100% factual and what’s done is done. Now we have a new year ahead of us and already a few teams by professional hockey analysts have been named top contenders. Everybody has a different view on who should win and why but before anybody talks trash about my choices, you should give me and the other commenters some constructive criticism as spam and primitive feedback won’t get you positive results.
My Darkhorse Favourite
The Ottawa Senators
The Sens have made image altering changes such as naming Jason Spezza captain after long-time patron Daniel Alfredsson left in the summer. General Manager Bryan Murray did a good job at acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks to quickly void Alfredsson’s spot on the club. The skill upfront is very much effective with Milan Michalek and Kyle Turris providing sufficient secondary scoring. Erik Karlsson is an offensive machine from the blueline and the depth on defense is solid with Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen making a solid shutdown tandem. Goaltender Craig Anderson has the ability to be the game decider in close games as his play is rock solid the majority of the time. The only thing that could be stopping them from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup is the lack of depth on both the forward lines and backend. There isn’t too many spare players that can step in effectively who can take over for an injured regular that can play on a consistent basis. Other than that, they should make the playoffs and make a serious run for the cup but they’re not clear cut favourites, just an underdog hopeful.
The Perennial Performer
The Detroit Red Wings
Ask and you shall receive as the Detroit Red Wings have been asking the NHL for years to move into the eastern conference and finally they get what they want. They will now play Original Six teams more often, endure a far easier travel schedule and develop new rivalries with teams they were used to facing just once a year in the past. With new competition came immediate improvements as GM Ken Holland signed Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson as free agents to support superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Their farm team, the Grand Rapids Griffins won the Calder Cup last year with young rising forwards Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Brendan Smith who played with Detroit for a few games last season helping the Rapids win the Calder. Now they are primed for a breakout and unlike in the years past they now have a legitimate chance to keep full time roster spots because they are now on a bit of a youth shift plus they will thrive on a puck possession team like Detroit. The big question will be if goaltender Jimmy Howard has what it takes to lead his team deep into the playoffs and be consistent all the way.
Another Perennial Performer
The San Jose Sharks
Call it as you may but the San Jose Sharks are the most consistent out of any team making the playoffs and getting somewhere with passion and determination. The top six forward group as a whole is the deadliest in the league with captain Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Martin Havlat forming a small offensive army. The backend isn’t too shabby either Dan Boyle and Marc-Edourd Vlasic being the main cog on the blueline as Justin Braun and Jason Demers are developing into solid defenceman. Finnish goaltender Antti Niemi was stellar last season for San Jose and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy. Some argued that the Sharks played better than the LA Kings in last year’s western conference semi-finals and that they could of took the Chicago Blackhawks to game 7 in the finals and even beat them to advance to the Stanley Cup finals if it wasn’t for Jonathon Quick and his amazing goaltending performance for the Kings. This year there are no excuses, they have a great team and must dominate in the playoffs to shut critics up.
The Powerhouse Pick
The Pittsburgh Penguins
When you look up ‘star power’ in the dictionary, you’ll see the Pittsburgh Penguins logo right beside it. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the NHL’s best dynamic duo and always show up when it counts. The Pens are overall a great skating and skilled hockey team that show a winning attitude that exudes itself every time you see them play. Last year they were schooled by the Boston Bruins as they were the more ambitious and determined team. Marc Andre Fleury was average at best in the playoffs as that led to Tomas Vokoun starting the last few playoff games. Fleury needs to be more mentally sound in order for Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup finals since 2009 other than that they have it all. Speed, skill, hockey IQ, hockey sense, structure and depth is what you describe Pittsburgh when they’re at their best. Their powerplay is unmatchable and the penalty killing is tight checking and aggressive which means penalties mean a lot whether they draw one or take one. Either way they find a way to win and that is their best asset of all.
The Defending Champions
The Chicago Blackhawks
This team was unbelievable last season. They set a NHL record for most consecutive wins in the regular season with 24 and they dominated every team that stood in the way of their inevitable destiny of a heroic Stanley Cup victory. It was a season to remember as this group of players had something special going on as they showed no weakness at any aspect of their game. When they won the Stanley Cup in 2010 they lost a major chunk of go-to guys as Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg were forced to be traded because of salary cap issues. This time the financial records and contracts are more organized so that they can keep the players that helped the club win it all last year. They signed Bryan Bickell to a multi year deal as he was clutch in important moments in the playoffs as he shined playing on a line with Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane. Corey Crawford had a breakthrough year with his fantastic winning percentage and goals against average as he became a huge part in their cup victory. They are the favourites to win the western conference again as they don’t have to face Detroit in divisional matches because of their move to the eastern conference. If you think the Stanley Cup hangover is going to be an issue for this club, think again.
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