Hockey fans are happy about just one thing — that they are talking about training camp and not bargaining sessions right now. With NHL training camps getting going, the preseason about to start, and the regular season not too far away; it is a good time to be making some 2014 NHL Stanley Cup predictions.
Here are eight things I feel pretty good about at this point (all odds to win the Stanley Cup are from Bovada):
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This will not be the 2011 Blackhawks
The last time Chicago (the 6/1 favorites to win it all this year) won the Cup in 2010 they did not rebound well. They were forced to make some significant roster changes, they read their own headlines, and the next two years were very disappointing. This year is going to be different. They did a much better job of crafting their payroll this time, so the only changes they made were mostly cosmetic. The core is basically the same as last time. They are older and wiser, and they have the wisdom gained from the last disappointment to build on. This team is a legitimate favorite, and would be my pick to win it all at this point — though I don’t see any value at this price.
Neither the Rangers nor the Canucks will like their coaching trade
One of the strangest stories of the offseason was the traded roles of Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella. I just don’t see it going well for either team. The Rangers (20/1) have a tendency to be lazy, and Vigneault was unable to shake that habit from the Canucks (16/1) in recent years. Tortorella is, to be kind, rough around the edges, and that isn’t going to mesh well with the two Sedin brothers or with the hyper-involved Vancouver media. Neither of these teams will reach their potential under their new leadership.
Crosby is back with a vengeance
Sidney Crosby is the best player on the planet. He was sidelined by his jaw injury late last season and never really found his stride completely in the playoffs. The trade deadline additions to his team messed up the chemistry as well. Now he’s healthy, his team is his, and he’ll be playing angry. Pittsburgh (7/1) will be the class of the East this year, led by an MVP-caliber season from the captain.
I’m not buying Boston
I do not like the offseason this team had. Tyler Seguin had maturity issues off the ice, but he has so much upside that they should have worked with him instead of giving up on him. It sends the wrong message, and they didn’t get enough return for the asset. Players like Rich Peverly and Andrew Ference are really going to be missed for their character, and at this point in his career Jarome Iginla is not a positive addition. At 20/1, this team would be one to look at, but they are at 10/1, and that just doesn’t offer any value.
Tampa Bay is a live longshot
At 50/1, the Lightning are the biggest steal on the board. They are far from a sure thing by any means, but they will be dramatically improved from last year and are significantly undervalued. They had a strong offseason and an excellent draft. They made a much-needed coaching change, and their goaltending situation should be much better than last year. Most significantly, they have the best goal scorer on the planet on their team, and that is never a bad thing. They are a team to watch.
Washington? Let’s wait and see
Will we see the Washington team we saw in the second half of last season — all but unstoppable. Or will it be the team we saw at the start — the one that couldn’t beat a girl’s ringette team? This is a Jekyll and Hyde team, and it’s hard to know what to expect. The good news, though, is that at 25/1 they have a lot of upside, so they are as worth a small investment as any team — if they find their stride they can be very dangerous.
Detroit will love their new division
Detroit had a strong offseason, robbing two teams of one of their best players while not overpaying for the free agents they had. The most beneficial move, though, was the change of division. By moving to the Eastern Conference they face a much easier travel schedule and a conference that isn’t as physically challenging. They will be tough given the new geography and faces, and they deliver a bit of value at 16/1.
The Kings could be crowned
In the last two years the Kings have a Cup and a conference finals loss. Certainly not bad. They return their basic core again, and they have the best goalie in the sport between the pipes. I am a touch nervous about the ability of Darryl Sutter to keep his players loyal since his message has grown old eventually in past stops, but he seems to have mellowed a bit with age and has proven to be a good fit with this talent. The gap between the Kings and Blackhawks is significant, but these guys are, come playoff time, likely to be the second-best option in the Western Conference. That means that 12/1 is a fair price.
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