Who’s the favorite? No one!


Ah, the late 90’s – when every year’s Stanley Cup pick wound up being Detroit, Colorado, Dallas, or New Jersey. Times aren’t nearly that simple anymore, and if there’s one trademark of the salary-capped NHL, it’s parity. Usually, the beginning of the season means dividing the teams into a few different categories: a few contenders, a bunch of pretenders, and some teams with no shot at all.

This year is different. While Anaheim was the favorite last season from the very beginning (two #1 lines, two Norris-winning defensemen in their prime, a Conn Smyth goalie, and a backup that could be a starter), the semi-retirement of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne means that they’re no favorite to repeat – and predicting a new king of the NHL hill is a challenge all in itself.

You see, the problem is that, well, every team has a problem. There aren’t any teams with that top-to-bottom “wow” factor that you used to see in Denver and Detroit. Instead, there are seven teams that all have a real legit chance at the Stanley Cup (and about ten more teams that still can reasonably contend) – but they all have their flaws. Let’s not focus on their strengths; instead, let’s check out why these team’s WON’T win the Stanley Cup.

Anaheim: Take out two of any team’s top-three players and they’ll be hurting, regardless of who else is on the roster. Assuming Niedermayer and Selanne retire (and it’s looking like Selanne won’t be back while Niedermayer’s still on the fence), the team loses a 40-goal scorer and the defense downgrades from having an A+ blueline to an A- blueline. They’re still impressive, but without those two, the Ducks have returned to the land of mere mortals.

San Jose: Grit, swagger, and experience – the Sharks needed that to overcome their demons. Experience? Sure, you could say the team’s a year older and a year wiser, but is that enough when your best two defensemen are essentially in their second pro season (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Carle)? Adding Jeremy Roenick probably won’t do much, but it’s at least another level of unpredictability. This young team may come together and be the fierce squad we’ve expected the past two years or they could be the same old listless talents that bowed out against Detroit.

Detroit: Detroit keeps getting written off before coming back from the dead — this season, though, may be a more precarious balancing act. The Red Wings have swapped Mathieu Schneider for Brian Rafalski. It remains to be seen, however, if Rafalski was a product of his environment in New Jersey or if he can be even better than he was there. The Wings season once again hinges upon the health of Dominik Hasek. Hasek’s great run last year was due to a paced schedule that kept him fresh and rested. His groin remains the problem, though, and most of the Wings’ hopes rest upon Hasek’s continued health.

Buffalo: Ok, so the Sabres lost Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. That means that they now have two scoring lines instead of three. They’ve still got Ryan Miller and a pretty good defense — yet, like the Sharks, they still seemed to lack an intangible, and losing their co-captains probably won’t help. Upfront, the forwards are going to notice a difference without their top point getter (Briere) and most clutch player (Drury), so the Sabres regress from being a Cup favorite to a great team that will rely on young players (Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford) to put the puck in the net.

New York Rangers: Cooks in the kitchen? How about superstars in the locker room? This year’s New York Rangers team seems eerily reminiscent of those duct-taped teams in the early 2000’s (remember the roster that had Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, and Jaromir Jagr?). There’s no guarantee that Scott Gomez and the moody Jagr will be able to replicate Jagr’s chemistry with Michael Nylander, and the defense is still lacking. The Blueshirts are stacked on paper — but will it work on the ice?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby. Malkin. Staal. Fleury. Whitney. The immense young talent just keeps going and going, and there’s no reason not to believe that these Penguins will win a Stanley Cup some time in the next five years. Still, even though veterans like Mark Recchi, Darryl Sydor, and Gary Roberts are around, the team’s lack of experience still shines through, and the defense is top-heavy and lacks grit.

Ottawa Senators: Last year’s Cup finalists have to be very careful that they don’t follow the let-down pattern exhibited by Calgary and Edmonton. During their march to the Cup final, the Sens showed a devastating attack led by Daniel Alfredsson; unfortunately, when Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley were neutralized by Anaheim’s monster defense, there wasn’t much else to go on. The Sens lost depth up front with the departure of Mike Comrie, and the blueline will be without Tom Preissing and his insane +/- rating. Ottawa’s still dangerous, but the pressure remains on the big guns to pull this team through.

Who else might win the Stanley Cup? Despite the marked advantage these teams have, there are so many reasons why other teams like Vancouver (if Markus Naslund returns to form), Carolina (don’t call it a comeback), and Calgary (if Mike Keenan doesn’t cause the team to implode) can win it all. Heck, let’s just pretend that Nikolai Zherdev, Gilbert Brule, Rusty Klesla, and Pascal Leclaire all mature at the same time — if that happened, even Columbus could throw in an upset run.

What does this all mean? Simple — for better or worse, the salary-capped NHL is just too close to call. Don’t bother with predictions now and don’t listen to the folks that tell you that games in October and November don’t matter. With a race this tight and no margin for error, every single shift counts in the race for Lord Stanley.


One Response to “Who’s the favorite? No one!”


    1) Despite the ‘parity’ there still are clear favourites, pretenders and teams with ‘no shot’
    2) The difference is that there are fewer teams with no shot, and a few more teams with a shot at the Cup

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