Last season taught us that you need to throw everything you know out the window when predicting the NHL.
No matter who’s the favorite or expected to win it all, one event can change the course of everything. Are we discussing the St. Louis Blues as Stanley Cup champions if they faced the Tampa Bay Lightning instead of the Boston Bruins?
Do they even get there if the Vegas Golden Knights are there in the Western Conference Final instead of the San Jose Sharks?
One event, or one upset, can change everything. Any one of eight teams could very well be the last one standing in June.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll limit it to six; three from the West, three from the East that could win the whole kit and caboodle (in no particular order, odds from Westgate SuperBook).
Tampa Bay Lightning (6-1): How do you stay perennial favorites after one of the worst collapses in playoff history? Run it back and learn from your mistakes.
As long as Tampa still has Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning will be a tough out. It helps that the contract dilemma of Brayden Point will not carry into the regular season. Tampa will contend for the Presidents Trophy again and be a top seed in the East.
Vegas Golden Knights (7-1): The Golden Knights are running most of the same team back that faced the Sharks in a seven-game series. Is that good enough?
Vegas gets a full year of the Max Pacioretty-Paul Stastny-Mark Stone line, and the Jonathan Marchessault-William Karlsson-Reilly Smith line gives Vegas a formidable top six as good as anyone. The question arises at the blue line. Is there enough quality play in the back end to not give Marc-Andre Fleury heart palpitations?
Boston Bruins (12-1): They’re still really good; the question is depth beyond the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak line.
Boston’s defense is still strong with Torrey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, plus the ageless wonder that is Zdeno Chara. If Tuukka Rask can regain last year’s form, Boston will be a nuisance for all teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs.
St. Louis Blues (16-1): Has there ever been a reigning champion talked about as little as the Blues? They return almost the entire team that shocked the world last season. Ryan O’Reilly took a lot of pressure off Vladimir Tarasenko in the scoring department. David Perron also found new life (again) with St. Louis.
It comes down to Jordan Binnington and if he’s the real deal. For St. Louis’ sake, the hope is 2019 wasn’t a mirage.
Colorado Avalanche (12-1): Not that the Avalanche needed to address depth beyond Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, but they did and are very dangerous this season.
Adding Nazem Kadri is a high-risk, high-reward situation, but it’s another scoring punch beyond the Nathan MacKinnon line. Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare could be major contributors.
Washington Capitals (20-1): Are the Capitals ever really out of it for as long as Alex Ovechkin is playing hockey?
More than likely not, but they took a step back last season. But if you’re looking for a team that’s likely to be angry at how last year ended, look no further than Washington.
In the hunt
Carolina Hurricanes (30-1): Those bunch of jerks have a valuable year of experience. Their defense is going to look interesting with Justin Faulk now in St. Louis, but the addition of Jake Gardiner offsets it.
Goaltending is the main question. It’s what held Carolina back against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Petr Mrazek needs to be better late in the postseason.
Pittsburgh Penguins (25-1): The Penguins will be in the mix, but it doesn’t seem like they got better. Trading Phil Kessel takes a hit on their scoring, but as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy, Pittsburgh will be competitive.
Calgary Flames (20-1): There’s no question Calgary can replicate last season. It’s just not likely. While Johnny Gaudreau and Co. are dangerous offensively, but goaltender David Rittich will make or break Calgary’s success.
New Jersey Devils (25-1): Another goaltending question mark, but the Devils are considerably better. P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes may give enough reason for Taylor Hall to re-sign. New Jersey is going to be dangerous.
Winnipeg Jets (25-1): Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are signed. You may lower your torches and pitchforks in freezing Canada. Yet after a disappointing first-round exit, Winnipeg’s dominance in the Central is now in question.
Florida Panthers (20-1): Is it Florida’s time? Sergei Bobrovsky and new coach Joel Quenneville might be the missing pieces for the Panthers, who need to make the playoffs this year.
Possible dark horses
Dallas Stars (16-1): The Stars should be higher on this list, but they need to put consecutive playoff seasons together before they’re crowned. It’s a big year for coach Jim Montgomery.
Arizona Coyotes (30-1): The addition of Kessel will help tremendously. Arizona is still a young team, but if Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta stay healthy, that goaltending duo could be one of the best in the league.
Nashville Predators (20-1): Much like the Jets, Nashville’s future as a power is in the air. Trading Subban doesn’t put that big of a dent in their tenacious defense, but Matt Duchene better deliver the goods.
New York Islanders (30-1): Losing Robin Lehner may be too costly for the Islanders. They’re still talented at the top, but Semyon Varlamov needs to be remotely close to Lehner’s output.
Montreal Canadiens (60-1): Montreal is on the cusp. Carey Price is still a dominant netminder. Their offense took a step back after trading Max Pacioretty, but Max Domi and Tomas Tatar filled in nicely. This could be the year where top prospect Nick Suzuki makes his NHL debut.
Toronto Maple Leafs (10-1): Get to the second round, then we’ll talk.
Ottawa Senators (500-1): Bright days are ahead in Ottawa, but too far out to think anything comes this year.
Los Angeles Kings (200-1): They should be better, but the rebuild is painful in L.A.
Anaheim Ducks (200-1): Speaking of rebuilds, the Ducks are embracing it. They’ll be a really young team this year.
Detroit Red Wings (200-1): They’re about a year or two away from getting back to the playoffs. So much young talent in the Motor City.
Edmonton Oilers (50-1): Someone give Connor McDavid a hug.
Vancouver Canucks (40-1): Another team that’s a year or two away. But when the Canucks arrive, look out.
Chicago Blackhawks (40-1): They came on strong last year and still hold on to the core that got them to dynasty form. Is the youth good enough for Patrick Kane and co.?
Buffalo Sabres (80-1): At least the Bills are 3-1.
New York Rangers (30-1): It all depends if Kaapo Kakko turns into the Calder favorite by November. Otherwise, the Rangers are on the come-up.
Minnesota Wild (80-1): Jared Spurgeon is making $50 million. The Bill Guerin Era is off to a fast start.
Philadelphia Flyers (40-1): Did you hear the one about the NHL team that lost to a Swiss team?
Columbus Blue Jackets (100-1): From an improbable sweep to losing nearly everyone in free agency. Ohio loses again.
Stanley Cup Final prediction: Dallas Stars over Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games The additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry give Dallas pieces it could’ve used before losing Game 7 to St. Louis last year. All it takes is a couple of breaks. Dallas is team 1B in the Central, and if things click for them, they’ll be in the Final.
As for Tampa, it’s better than a sweep in the first round.
Here are our weekly picks as the season begins:
Wild at Predators: The Preds at home are a good way to usher in the Duchene Era. Against Minnesota where they’ll likely fail to score on Pekka Rinne is even better. PREDATORS
Blackhawks vs. Flyers (at Prague, Czech Republic): When in Prague, try not to lose to a Swiss hockey team. The Flyers just aren’t it right now, chief. The Blackhawks should get off to a good start. BLACKHAWKS
Lightning at Hurricanes: The Jerks at home, to start the season, against Tampa. This should be a close game, but I like the ‘Canes in an overtime thriller. HURRICANES