October 3, 2013

From NEHJ: Top contenders for this year's Stanley Cup

By Jesse Connolly

Predictions are nothing more than educated guesses. We had the Hawks eighth before their 2013 championship season. The 2012 Cup-winning Kings didn’t even crack our preseason top 10. Sometimes a Stanley Cup shoo-in falls short of a playoff berth. Sometimes a team bound to dwell in the cellar rises to the top of the standings. Here, NEHJ staff writer Jesse Connolly ranks all 30 NHL teams based on their chances of winning the Stanley Cup in 2014.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

You can call this a wimpy wager, but with a core of Toews, Kane, Sharp, Crawford and Co. intact, a good run at a repeat seems like a sure bet.

2. Los Angeles Kings

Great goaltending is a lock with Quick in net. More consistency from their top two lines will go a long way toward a third straight trip to the conference finals.

3. Boston Bruins

Many critics think the B’s will be hit hard by the departures of Horton and Seguin, but the replacements (Iginla, Eriksson) could be better fits.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

With Crosby and Malkin, they’ll remain an offensive juggernaut. Rob Scuderi should help on ‘D,’ but the goaltending could again be their undoing.

5. New York Rangers

An offensive-minded coach in Vigneault should bring out the best in this club. With a healthy Marc Staal, bank on a bounce-back year on Broadway.

6. Detroit Red Wings

They’re still an old bunch, but the additions of Alfredsson and Weiss bolster a forward group that was at its thinnest talent-wise in years last season.

7. San Jose Sharks

Thornton and Marleau are getting up there, but Couture and Pavelski have emerged as stars up front, and Vezina finalist Niemi is back in goal.

8. Ottawa Senators

With a motivated newcomer in Bobby Ryan and a healthy Spezza, Karlsson and Anderson, this team’s poised to climb another rung up the ladder.

9. St. Louis Blues

The defense (Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk) is dynamite, and the goaltending (Elliott, Halak) follows suit, but who’s the go-to goal scorer?

10. Washington Capitals

If they can get the Ovechkin of old and solid play from Holtby like they did down the stretch last season, Adam Oates’ squad will have a solid year.

11. Montreal Canadiens

They overachieved before backing into and bowing out of the playoffs. Price must regain his confidence and youngsters must continue to develop.

12. Anaheim Ducks

Silfverberg might not fill Ryan’s void, but the Fasth-Hiller tandem and an offense led by Perry and Getzlaf should get the Ducks back in the playoffs.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs

The cap wreaked havoc, but big guns (Kessel, Kadri, Lupul, JVR) are back and the goalie battle between Reimer and Bernier should be intriguing.

14. Vancouver Canucks

Decision to trade Schneider, hand keys back to Luongo was perplexing. Losses up front put too much pressure on the Sedins to carry the load.

15.  New York Islanders

With young stars (Tavares, Moulson) and promising prospects, the Isles are an exciting team. Too bad they’re relying on old man Nabokov in goal again.

16. Philadelphia Flyers

Bryzgalov’s out, Emery’s in for a team that hopes newcomer Lecavalier can resurrect his career and captain Giroux can have a bounce-back year.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets

Ranked 30th by us last year, CBJ’s undergone a glorious revamping. If Bobrovsky proves last season was no fluke, they could snag a wild-card spot.

18. New Jersey Devils

Kovalchuk’s departure might be a lethal blow, but Henrique and Zajac should rebound from off years, and Brodeur-Schneider is a dynamic duo in goal.

19. Minnesota Wild

The cornerstone stars (Parise, Suter) lost a lot of their supporting cast (Bouchard, Setoguchi). NHL sophomores Brodin and Coyle will play big roles.

20. Dallas Stars

The big gamble is hoping Seguin can quickly reach his potential, but there’s still not enough depth around him to consider the Stars contenders yet.

21. Edmonton Oilers

This vast collection of former No. 1 overall picks hope a veteran leader on ‘D’ (Ference) and a new coach (Eakins) can steer them in the right direction.

22. Nashville Predators

An embarrassingly bad offense made unspectacular additions (Nystrom, Cullen). They better pray Rinne’s recovered from offseason hip surgery.

23. Phoenix Coyotes

Their ownership issue is resolved and Ribeiro should provide a boost for a weak offense, but who else will score? Can Mike Smith justify his big contract?

24. Carolina Hurricanes

With Pitkanen out, an underwhelming ‘D’ that could include declining vets Komisarek and Hainsey will likely keep them from securing a playoff spot.

25. Colorado Avalanche

An electric forward corps led by Duchene and Landeskog will score a ton, but the defense is spotty and Giguere-Varlamov duo was disastrous in 2013.

26. Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos and St. Louis did it all last season, and there lies the problem for top-heavy Bolts. One of Bishop or Lindback needs to emerge as a No. 1 in net.

27. Buffalo Sabres

After not fully embracing a rebuild, the Sabres will be stuck in no-man’s land. They’ll regret not trading Miller/Vanek and not just blowing things up.

28. Winnipeg Jets

Setoguchi will help a team that relied way too much on one line for offense, but that doesn’t matter when the oft-inconsistent Pavelec is your starting goalie.

29. Florida Panthers

If he makes the squad, Tim Thomas will probably steal the starting job, but it’ll be much harder to steal games behind this inexperienced group.

30. Calgary Flames

The only fate you deserve if you’re foolish enough to enter a season depending on Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald in goal is a last-place finish.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com