One dark horse from each division that can win the Stanley Cup
The NHL season is past the midway point thanks to the conclusion of the All-Star Break in early February. With all 32 teams having played at least 45 games, there’s enough performance based information to weed out the pretenders from the contenders.
Yesterday, I tackled the five most likely teams that are in a position to win the Stanley Cup. Oddsmakers also tend to agree with my choices of the Lightning, Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Panthers, and Avalanche.
Of course, just because a team is favored it doesn’t mean they will make it to the dance and win it. You can look at the Montreal Canadiens from last season as a recent example of a dark horse.
Let’s now dive in and select one dark horse candidate from each division to win the Stanley Cup.
Atlantic Division Dark Horse
The Atlantic’s big three are as scary as they come in any division. The Lightning and Panthers are both in my top five to win it all this season. Oddsmakers at BetMGM rank Tampa 2 (+750), Panthers 3 (+800) and Toronto 4 (+850).
However, writing off the Bruins just isn’t something one can easily do. They are currently ranked 11th at BetMGM (+2200).
So long as Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand draw breath Boston is dangerous. They also have some decent secondary scoring with Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle. On defense, Charlie McAvoy is an excellent two-way player and should they get David Krecji to come back from Europe for the playoffs, it could help tremendously.
The offseason additions of Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek were also with playoff grinds in mind.
The key for Boston lies in goal with Tuukka Rask officially retiring. During the offseason, they acquired Linus Ullmark, whom I felt was their new number one, but 23 year-old Jeremy Swayman seems to be taking the reins on the starter role going forward.
They will not be an easy out this post season.
Central Division Dark Horse
The Central really belongs to either the Avalanche (+450) or Blues (+2500) and I am hard pressed to believe anyone else from that division can win the Stanley Cup. I understand the Wild (+1800) are actually a better bet than the Blues, but if I they faced off in a 7-game series, I’d take St. Louis every time.
Which brings me to probably my biggest dark horse of the four, the Nashville Predators. They currently hold the first Wild Card in the West, and are ranked 14th by BetMGM (+3000).
So why the Predators? They have some excellent players in Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Josi. However, I chose them because of goalie Juuse Saros. He simply strikes me as backstop that could get so hot for a long stretch that a Cinderella-type run (ala Montreal) does not seem out of the question.
Metropolitan Division Dark Horse
New York Rangers
The Rangers have certainly surprised a lot of experts, who thought they would be better, but not this good so fast. Despite having a team of young and talented players they also boast superstars in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and Chris Kreider.
However, the biggest key to the Rangers success has been the Vezina and Hart Trophy worthy goaltending of Igor Shesterkin. The 26 year-old was posting video game like numbers in the KHL and AHL. That has now translated to the NHL where he leads in GAA (2.01) and SV% (.939).
New York also got tougher to play against with the additions of Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves. Coupled with the grit of Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren on defense, the Rangers won’t be pushed around.
The biggest concerns are their lack of scoring 5v5 and hoping that kids like Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko start finding their scoring touches that made them the #1 and #2 overall picks in their respective drafts.
If Chris Drury, who has ample cap space to add at the trade deadline grabs a top six rental, the Rangers current +2000 on BetMGM will improve.
Pacific Division Dark Horse
The Flames missed the playoffs last season, and didn’t look good in the process.
Calgary made some big changes after missing the postseason starting with losing eight-year captain Mark Giordano to Seattle. Otherwise, the departures are small parts, such as Derek Ryan and Josh Leivo.
The big addition is free agent forward Blake Coleman from the Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as Trevor Lewis to provide forward depth and defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Those moves along with the excellent play of Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane have the Flames at the top of the division. The addition of Tyler Toffoli only makes them that much scarier.
In goal, Jacob Markstrom has been outstanding as he leads the NHL in shutouts with 8.
So this preseason bubble team for a Wild Card looks like a playoff lock this season and could make even bigger noise after that.