Now that March Madness is over, it’s time for the real best tournament in sports: The Stanley Cup playoffs. The best 16 teams have advanced, and it’s time to rank their likelihood of winning the Stanley Cup this year.
After another fantastic NHL season, the playoffs are finally here. Sixteen teams are vying to become immortal and win the Stanley Cup. Banners and rings are forever, and mediocre regular seasons can be washed away with postseason glory. Conversely, a great regular season can go up in flames at the hand of an upstart team primed to upset the favorite.
Big goals, timely saves and loads of overtime hockey are on tap for the next few weeks. There is no better time of the year for hockey fans, but what teams have the best shot to win the Cup? This year was very difficult to separate the teams. The field is loaded with talent and it’s highly possible we could see a lot of upsets. Even the lowest teams in the ranks have a reasonable shot to make a deep run, although there are teams that stand out on paper. We’re just a couple days away from the puck dropping, so let’s see which teams should be the favorites to take home the greatest trophy in sports.
We’ll be breaking down reasons why a team can win the Cup, why it can’t win it all and the biggest X factor on each team. In all honesty, it’s likely the goaltender for each team. No hockey club can win the biggest prize in the sport with poor goaltending. We’ll try to not name them all as X factors, but some goalies are fully deserving of that spot.
The lowest ranked team on the list is very lucky a certain Canadian franchise made a very silly trade just a short time ago.
16. New Jersey Devils
Fifth place in the Metro, 44-29-9
Why they can win – Winger Taylor Hall has carried the team on his back this far, and there’s no reason he can’t continue to do it. It’s still kind of crazy that the Oilers traded the young playmaker, and that’s no disrespect to Adam Larsson, who was shipped back to Edmonton. That deal has been a huge boon for Jersey and if you look at the rest of the roster, there’s not a lot for the Devils to hang their hats on. Only center Nico Hischier eclipsed 50 points, so Hall doesn’t have a ton of skill players to be sidekicks. The Devils finished in the top 12 of both power play percentage and penalty kill. That may have to carry them through the tournament.
The Devils certainly can’t lean on their defense. Youngster Will Butcher could already be their best defenseman and that’s not the best thing. Veterans Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen lead the group, but the Devils had a goal differential of almost even. That’s not the best predictor of long-term success. Both goalies Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have almost identical stats but Kinkaid has been the main guy down the stretch. If Schneider is fully healthy, he is the more talented net minder.He also has struggled when he’s played so Kinkaid is likely the man.
Why they can’t – The Devils are just too young and in need of too many pieces through the lineup to be a serious threat. They have a lot of complimentary pieces and are likely ahead of schedule in their building process. General manager Ray Shero eventually washed out in Pittsburgh but he has the Devils pointed in the right direction. The team just isn’t there quite yet. Hall would have to be superhuman to drag this squad to the Cup.
X Factor – Michael Grabner: New Jersey struck a deal with division rival New York Rangers at the trade deadline for the speed demon winger, but Grabner hasn’t paid off yet. He wasn’t expected to be a huge offensive force, but the Devils needed more than what they’ve go so far. The postseason would be a great spot to start.
First Round Matchup – Tampa Bay Lightning; Devils won regular season 3-0
It’s fairly interesting that the Devils swept this matchup in the regular season. The Devils can run and gun if that’s what the Lightning choose to do, and this series should be pretty entertaining, if nothing else. On paper, the Devils are overmatched. They were also overmatched in the regular season, and it didn’t matter then. Look for Jersey to be more competitive than some might think, but they still will bow out in the first round.
Prediction – Lightning in 6