Finally a full 82 game NHL season. Normally I don’t do Stanley Cup favourite picks but for fun I will choose my top six choices.
Pittsburgh will contend if Marc-Andre Fleury can step up and at least put on a half decent goaltending performance in the playoffs. As well, time for Crosby and Malkin to keep their cool and be the leaders they are expected to be. The defense worries me because besides Kris Letang, the defense is not elite. Pittsburgh was embarrassed by Boston in the Eastern Conference Final and for a team that has such high expectations, they are being outdone by other teams.
Chicago goes into the season as the reigning Stanley Cup champions and look good to repeat. They have all the key pieces back with a ton of youth to fill the holes of the departed players. Up front they are dynamic to go with a rock solid back end with goaltending that is good enough. This team has a core group that has won before and will look to avoid the Cup hangover.
I still think the Vancouver Canucks are a favourite. The goaltending situation is settled with Roberto Luongo as the No.1 and the team is relatively healthy. The key is the healthy return of Ryan Kesler, the player who brings the fire and is Vancouver’s heart and soul. He plays the tough match ups and is a fixture on the special teams. Coach John Tortorella is a coach that demands hard work and no one will be a passenger. Tortorella is a coach that gets instant results so it will be interesting to see how an experienced talented team will react to him and more importantly if they can deliver that long awaited championship to a city that is starved for a winner.
Boston made a big trade getting Loui Eriksson from Dallas and he will bring immediate dividends. Boston is a veteran laden roster with a top goalie in Tuukka Rask, Chara on defence and a balanced forward corps. One of the most interesting moves of the summer was the Bruins getting Jarome Iginla after he more or less snubbed the team at the trade deadline for Pittsburgh who was ironically eliminated by Boston. It will be interesting to see if Iginla could finally win that elusive Stanley Cup.
Detroit hasn’t missed the playoffs in 22 seasons and with the move to the time friendly Eastern Conference; the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss and the continued excellence that is the Red Wings organization, the team looks poised to make a 23rd straight playoff appearance. Detroit has been a model NHL franchise with front office continuity, good coaching, excellent drafting and an impeccable track record.
Los Angeles is a big grinding physical team that struggles to score. Yet, they still manage to win games. Why? They have one of the best goalies in the world in Jonathan Quick, a top defense pairing in Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov with some talented forwards.
Montreal is my darkhorse pick. Not the biggest team in the world, they are one of the fastest. If Carey Price can rebound and be the top goalie he can be, the Habs will go far. The team is led by a workhorse in reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban and while the defense has some questions it can surprise. Josh Gorges must be better and is one of the more underrated defenseman in the league. Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz need to stay healthy and contribute while Francis Bouillon, Douglas Murray and Davis Drewiske must be solid. Up front, Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher are all talented forwards who are on the rise. The veterans such as Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere and David Desharnais must contribute. The team’s biggest hurdle will the questions about the toughness and size. Pacioretty, Galchenyuk, Eller and Subban have all beefed up their 6 foot plus frames while Gallagher is strong and savvy for his size. Toughness comes with Brandon Prust, Ryan White, George Parros and Douglas Murray. This is a team clearly on the rise and the Northeast division crown was no fluke despite the backlash from the team’s critics. They may not have a superstar to lead the charge and will face questions like most teams but Montreal has a history of icing teams that can upset in the playoffs. Why count them out?