Dark Horse: Minnesota Wild
The team that signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to matching 13 year, $98 million contracts probably did not expect to get out to such a mediocre start, but the Wild undoubtedly have the tools to make a run at the Cup. Zach Parise has been there before, as he went to the Finals last year with New Jersey. This team is surprisingly good defensively, as it is 4th in penalty kill percentage and 7th in goals against1. The problem is that players like Dany Heatley have not been stepping up offensively, and the Wild are ranked in the bottom half of the league in goals for and power play percentage. The Wild can be good, and they may have to wait another year to be contenders, but it would not come as a shock if they put it all together and win it.
Projected Finish: Loses in Western Conference Semifinals
5. Los Angeles Kings
The defending Stanley Cup champions are top 15 in the four major categories of goals per game, goals against, power play percentage, and penalty kill percentage1. Their record stands at 13-8-2, but considering the horrendous start they got off to, they are definitely heating up at the midway point of the season. Jeff Carter is continuing on last season’s success, as he has 13 goals in his last 13 games, and 17 on the season. Jonathan Quick has been less than impressive, with his 2.55 GAA and unsightly .895 save percentage, but he is sure to rebound considering his substantial talent levels1. Some are quick (get it?) to rule out the Kings because no team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 has won consecutive Stanley Cups. However, this team has a chance because lockout-shortened seasons do not always follow general patterns, and hey, a team has to repeat as champions eventually, right?
Projected Finish: Loses in Western Conference Semifinals
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
At 18-8, this team may not have the best record, but it has a legitimate chance of winning the cup. The defense could be improved, but then again, what team needs improvement when it has Sidney Crosby (45 points in 26 games), and Evgeni Malkin? Chris Kunitz has outplayed any goals set for him at the beginning of the year, as he has 10 more points than games played (36 to 26) as the beneficiary of Sidney Crosby’s passes. Kris Letang is a great two-way player, and Marc-Andre Fleury is an accomplished goalie who can help his team win games. This team is 1st in goals and 3rd in power play percentage, so everyone knows about this team’s offensive firepower1. The only news that will temper expectations is the fact that Evgeni Malkin will miss 1-2 weeks with an upper body injury after already having dealt with concussion issues2. In a lockout-shortened season, every star player is needed, and the Penguins will miss him. This team will light the lamp consistently, but so will the team that is facing them on a nightly basis.
Projected Finish: Loses in Eastern Conference Finals to Bruins 4-2
3. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are 18-3-3, and they recently signed captain Ryan Getzlaf to an 8 year, $66 million contract2. Viktor Fasth has been a revelation, with his 1.92 GAA and .929 save percentage as a 30 year old rookie (Tim Thomas, anyone?)1. The Ducks have the best power play percentage at 27.8%, which balances their atrocious penalty kill percentage of 76.8%1. Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry both have more than 20 points on the season, and this team is as loaded offensively as they come1. If this team learns how to play defense, and their coach realizes that Fasth is a much better goaltending option for the team than Jonas Hiller, this team could make significant noise in the playoffs.
Projected Finish: Loses in Western Conference Finals to Blackhawks 4-1
2. Chicago Blackhawks
As of March 11, the Blackhawks are 21-2-3, coming off of two straight regulation losses to two sub .500 teams: the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers. After 24 consecutive games to start the season with a point in the standings, Chicago looked unbeatable, and rightly so. Numerous comebacks late in games showed their resiliency, and many wondered if the Blackhawks would ever lose a game. The team withstood minor injuries to key players like Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa, but they suffered their first real loss (statistically and mentally) after learning that they had lost Patrick Sharp for an extended period of time. This team is still dangerous, and stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa have all been performing at a high level. This is especially true for Patrick Kane, who has 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) through 26 games, placing him 6th in the league in goals and total points1. This team does not just put pucks in net, it plays lockdown defense too. Starting goalie Corey Crawford has a 1.91 GAA, good for second among qualified goaltenders, while backup Ray Emery has been nearly as good with a 2.28 GAA1. The stellar goaltending can be partly be attributed to the improvement of the goalies themselves, and to the improved depth of the defensemen for a team that no longer has to rely on two solid defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Always one of the most entertaining teams in the league, this team is always looking to make some great highlights. Do not be surprised if this team goes on another run, carrying their momentum into the playoffs. The only obstacles between Chicago and the Stanley Cup are injuries (see Marian Hossa, 2012 playoffs) and overachieving goaltenders that are bound to cool down.
Projected Finish: Runner Up in Stanley Cup Finals
1. Boston Bruins
This team is currently 16-3-3, tied with the Ducks for the second fewest losses in league. While their schedule has not been particularly demanding up to this point, this team has proven itself to be the best defensive team in the league. While Ottawa and Chicago have slightly lower goals against per game, the Bruins lead the league in the stat that matters most in the playoffs, penalty kill percentage. Killing off 92.1% of penalties, compared to the lowest rate of 73.3% (Florida), the Bruins have shown that they do not fear playing a man or two down. This can be attributed to the chemistry and immense of the Bruins blueliners led by captain Zdeno Chara1. Dougie Hamilton, the 9th pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, has met all expectations, as his offensive output of 12 points in 22 games and solid work on defense have helped the Bruins significantly1. Hmm, a 19 year old Bruin drafted in the top 10 helping the Bruins win… that sounds familiar. This sounds like 2011 all over again, when Tyler Seguin made crucial plays that contributed to the first Boston Bruins Stanley Cup victory since 1972. Speaking of Seguin, let us examine his development this year. With 8 goals, 11 assists, and a +/- rating of 16 that is tied for seventh highest in the league, it is safe to say that Tyler Seguin is producing at a high level in limited minutes (16:55 average ice time)1. Seguin’s linemate, Brad Marchand, has picked up the scoring for the Bruins too, as he has 12 goals1. The Bruins have four other great forwards in Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton, and their third and fourth lines have exceeded expectations. I have not even mentioned Tuuka Rask, the nice, young netminder who has a 1.97 GAA and a .927 save percentage1. A great defense coupled with a good offense fueled by all-around contributions is a winning formula, one that helped the Bruins raise a banner two years ago. Even not barring injuries (a la Nathan Horton during their cup run), this team is certainly capable and ready to go back and do it again.
Projected Finish: Wins the Stanley Cup 4-3 against the Chicago Blackhawks
Side note to Fans with Teams Left Out: The Montreal Canadiens have been a pleasant surprise, but they will not keep up their torrid pace. Carolina lost its starting goaltender for awhile, and they are pretty inconsistent anyways. New York has the tools but not the motivation to win the Cup. Feel free to agree or disagree with my predictions in the comment section. I hope you have enjoyed and please give me feedback.
“NHL.com – The National Hockey League.” NHL.com – The National Hockey
League. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
“ESPN.” ESPN.com. ESPN, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.