We’re beyond the midway mark of the NHL season, which makes it the perfect time to examine the hopes and dreams of some select clubs and determine if they’re contenders or pretenders.
Odds to win the Stanley Cup
|Team||2020 Stanley Cup Odds|
|St. Louis Blues||+1000|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||+1000|
|Vegas Golden Knights||+1200|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||+1400|
Contender: Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights went through a stumbling block in the first half of the season. At the beginning of December, they were stuck in the middle of the pack in the overall standings, but they have worked their way back into contention for the Pacific Division. It’s likely they will make the playoffs, but is a long, championship run in their future?
Marc-Andre Fleury gave them spectacular goaltending in the Golden Knights’ first year and while asking him to match his numbers from that season may be unrealistic, Vegas will need better out of him and Malcolm Subban. The defending champion St. Louis Blues are favorites to win the West, but that conference is very much up for grabs and Vegas should have a fighting chance to emerge from it this spring.
Give this one some time. Vegas will again be a Stanley Cup contender
Pretender: Toronto Maple Leafs
No one is going to deny the talent. And since they fired Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs have been rolling like many expected from this group led by Auston Matthews.
Love the backcheck by Auston Matthews to force a turnover and score on the ensuing rush.
He’s on pace for 56 goals now.pic.twitter.com/SncKAZiq5x
— Ian Tulloch📊 (@IanGraph) January 9, 2020
Their odds to win the Stanley Cup are +1400, which certainly provides some value, and only six teams have better odds to go all the way this year.
But look at the division they belong to. We’re looking very far into the future here, but imagine having to run the gauntlet of facing Tampa Bay and Boston in the first two rounds, and then Washington or a healthier Pittsburgh club in the conference final.
That is one tall order. And that’s why they’re a Stanley Cup pretender
Contender: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have a top-five offense in the NHL. It’s too bad they draw flies to their games.
Top five in goals per game? Check.
Top five in shots per game? Check.
Yet, they’re currently not in a playoff spot, sitting just a point out of the final Wild Card spot in the East as of Friday.
Look no further than their goaltending. The seven-year, $70 million man Sergei Bobrovsky, signed to that lucrative contract this past offseason, has struggled mightily in his first season with Florida, posting a .896 save percentage.
Just imagine what the Panthers would be capable of if Bobrovsky was merely average. They’re a playoff contender if their goaltending improves.
Pretender: Vancouver Canucks
Funny what seven-game winning streaks can sometimes do. For the Vancouver Canucks, it drummed up a lot of enthusiasm about this team. But it also masked a lot of problems.
The Canucks score a lot of goals, with second-year up-and-coming star Elias Pettersson leading the way as one of the league’s best bargain players, but they also get give up a lot, too, and they’ve been dominated at times when it comes to possession. They give up 33.1 shots against per game, tied for the third worst rate in the NHL.
They’ve been bailed out far too many times by their goaltending and that should raise concerns.
Canucks defense tonight pic.twitter.com/OrW7EBl54x
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) January 8, 2020
The Lightning and Panthers exposed that this week, lighting the Canucks up for 14 goals in two games while carrying the majority of the play.
If they’re unable to lock it down, and begin to carry the play, it will result in more April trips to the golf course for the Canucks.