The Ten Most Likely Teams to Win the Stanley Cup at the Break
If the NHL were to resume play without finishing the regular season, which teams have the best chances to win it all?
1. Boston Bruins:
The Bruins have the most points in the league, and have been consistently been playing that way all year long. Their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is the best in the league. Pastrnak is the leading scorer in the league, Marchand is a magician with the puck, and Bergeron is a defensive stalwart. Their defense is very strong as well, and really has no holes. In addition, if the regular season does end without another game being played, then Tuukka Rask is taking home the Vezina Trophy.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning:
Tampa Bay probably has the most skilled team in the league. Even though Boston is ahead of them in the standings, I expect the Lightning to be considered "favorites" to win it all. The break should help them, as captain Steven Stamkos returns from injury. The Lightning have the perfect mix of star players and depth. Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are all some of the best players at their respective positions, and the guys behind them really keep up.
3. St. Louis Blues:
The defending champs have been strong all season long. They have been successful this year without Vladimir Tarasenko as well. What sets St. Louis apart from other teams is their depth on both offense and defense. While they do have minute crunching players (especially defenseman like Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko), everyone on this team contributes. The Blues play tough, and they wear down opponents. They are simply made for playoff hockey.
4. Washington Capitals:
The Capitals once again lead the Metropolitan division, and are looking dangerous. What people don't realize though, is that this is not just the Alex Ovechkin show. Their bottom three lines flat out produce. I would say that both their third and fourth lines are near the top of the league. I worry about their defense beyond John Carlson though, and Braden Holtby has not been himself this season.
5. Colorado Avalanche:
Nathan MacKinnon is easily one of the best players in the game, and he has done the majority of his damage this season without linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The offseason additions of Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Joonas Donskoi have boosted their depth tremendously as well. Cale Makar is a Calder Trophy candidate on the blue line, and the Avs might finally be secure at the goaltender position.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins:
If there is any team that just flat out knows how to win in the playoffs, it is the Penguins. Their best player this season has not been Sidney Crosby, but his counterpart, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is far and away the team leader in points, and his line might be even stronger than Crsoby's this season. To be fair though, Crosby has missed over twenty games to injury, as has Jake Guentzel. A huge question is if the NHL playoffs are significantly pushed back, could Guentzel return, as that would be huge for Pittsburgh.
7. Vegas Golden Knights:
For the first half of the season, we were just waiting for someone to emerge in the Pacific Division. Finally, Vegas took charge, and once again, it is because of their depth. They make it pretty clear that any one of their lines can match up with anyone in the NHL. The trio of Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Mark Stone is one of the toughest lines in the league to play against, especially when they go against other second lines. Come playoff time, could Robin Lehner get time over Marc-Andre Fleury?
8. Philadelphia Flyers:
Before the break, the Flyers were absolutely shooting up the standings. They'd won nine out of their last ten games, and were beating competitive teams. It really all stems back to second year goalie, Carter Hart. The Flyers finally have some stability in net, and it's paying off big time. In addition, Philly's top six forwards are not matched by many teams. They have a lot of good forwards, and their defense can really get in on the offense as well.
9. Dallas Stars:
After all these years of the Dallas Stars teams that played the 'trade a chance for a chance' game, Dallas is now a defensive stalwart. At the moment, they have given up the second to least amount of goals in the league. Their goaltending tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin just might be the best in the NHL, and their top three defenseman are elite. Those three (John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, and Esa Lindell) can all get in on the attack, and hold their own on defense. Dallas' offense has been sub par though.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs:
It has no doubt been a bit of a disappointing season for Toronto faithful, but the Leafs just have so much skill that they always have a chance. Their top five forwards are some of the best in the game. Auston Matthews is a superstar scorer, Mitch Marner a superstar passer, and although John Tavares' stats this year might not show it, he might be better than both of them. The problems come after those five though, in addition to a shaky defense, and somewhat unreliable goalie in Frederik Andersen.