As I write this it is Tuesday. The NHL season starts on Wednesday. Most of the opening day levels are either set now or are just hours away from being so. That means that we can start to have a sense of what we think teams are and what their seasons are going to look like. In some cases we will be right. In others we will be very wrong. As I look at teams and where they are at, here are four teams that strike me as vulnerable. They may be just fine, but they could very easily fall well short of the expectations people have for them. (Odds to win the Stanley Cup are from BetOnline):
St. Louis Blues (+1200): It's easiest to doubt the Blues for one big reason - they are the Blues, and they have always found a way to disappoint no matter how many things they have going for them. Beyond that, they had some tough losses. Both Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott were key character guys on this team last year - and valuable contributors as well - but both are now in Calgary. David Backes is gone as well. Those are losses. They haven't adequately replaced them - the highlight of acquisitions was probably the recent Nail Yakupov trade with Edmonton, and his future success is far from assured. So, to boil things down, they were not good enough or mentally tough enough last year when they probably should have been, and now they have lost character players and haven't replaced them. Things could be disappointing. Again.
Chicago Blackhawks (+1100): The Blackhawks have been a mostly consistent superpower for years. That gets tough to sustain, though, and at some point the weight of expectations and the massive costs of paying veterans gets too weighty. These teams typically don't self-destruct but instead just take a step backwards, followed by another and another. We could be in for a step now. They have lost a lot of very good players in recent years, and the road out is well beaten down again this year. Two players will be missed most. Teuvo Teravainen was sent to Carolina in a salary dump, and Andrew Shaw is now in Montreal. Both are very good players, and neither has been adequately replaced. The losses, sooner or later, will be too much to overcome, and that could happen now. They aren't getting any younger in key spots, either - Duncan Keith and others are not getting younger. I don't expect this team to be terrible by any means, but the odds suggest they are a truly elite team. It's quite possible that they aren't. It seems like it isn't a terrible idea to be skeptical about them.
Edmonton Oilers (+4000): One day the Oilers are going to get it right and actually be competitive. They certainly don't lack one talent, and in Connor McDavid they have a guy who could very shortly be the best player on the planet. They have a brand new arena, and the team hopes that they can play at a level worthy of their surroundings. There is a decent chance that the team will contend for a playoff spot and that the agony in northern Alberta will come to an end. There is also a chance, though, that they could again be the same Edmonton team that we have come to know for so long. They have excellent young talent - McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and others - but they still lack depth in the offensive ranks, and their defense is improved but still not elite. The front office hasn't exactly looked good this offseason, either - they essentially gave away Taylor Hall and got much less value for Nail Yakupov than they probably could have received. Those kinds of things can shatter the confidence of a team if things go poorly, and this team hasn't traditionally had confidence in bulk.
Toronto Maple Leafs (+8000): Expectations are obviously low for the Maple Leafs - they are the longest shots on the board. Toronto fans are perennially delusional, though, and those delusions are running rampant this year. They have added Auston Matthews, the first overall pick in the draft, and at the World Cup this year he showed that he will indeed be a star. He's just one of several young players that people have high hopes for. And they made a big move this summer to hopefully solidify their goaltending situation for years to come. They will likely be solid in years to come. Right now, though, they will continue to be horrible. They are extremely young and inexperienced, and they have shown this fall that they don't care about experience - they moved out veterans to make room for raw youngsters. There are struggles ahead this year, and anyone who has any high hopes at all are fooling themselves.
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