Hockey fans, we are now just a few days away from the start of the new National Hockey League season. Less than four months ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators by four games to two to win a second successive Stanley Cup – and it would take a brave man to back against the defending champions this campaign.
At 7/1 in 888sport’s NHL betting markets, the Penguins are favourites for Stanley Cup glory; and that is understandable given their recent success. However, there are plenty of talented franchises who will be looking to knock Pittsburgh off their perch. I took a look at just five primary contenders for the Stanley Cup ahead of Thursday’s opening night...
Arguably the unluckies franchise in hockey. The Capitals have finished top of the Metropolitan division in each of the last two years, winning at least 55 games in both seasons.
But during the playoffs, Washington tend to fall short. Barry Trotz’s side were well fancied to go all the way to the Stanley Cup series last year but, as in 2015-16, they fell short against Pittsburgh.
Led by the great Alexander Ovechkin, expect Washington to be there or thereabouts again this year. The Capitals have been disappointing in preseason but when the nitty gritty starts, they will be raring to go.
At 11/1, they are certainly worth considering in the race for the Stanley Cup but their postseason form is a genuine concern.
When Edmonton traded away Taylor Hall last year, some Oilers fans were left bewildered and worried about the future of the franchise. They needn’t have worried.
Connor McDavid has shown that he is more than capable of carrying this Edmonton organisation and he is one of the leading candidates in the race for the Hart Trophy this season.
The Oilers were much improved last year, winning 47 of their regular season fixtures. Their second place in the Pacific division was enough to qualify Edmonton for the playoffs but defeat to the Anaheim Ducks cut their Stanley Cup dreams short.
If McDavid has another MVP-calibre year, 10/1 may end up being a huge price.
Do the Penguins have what it takes to win a third Stanley Cup in a row? In one word, yes.
It would take a brave man to back against Pittsburgh before; the franchise is fully accustomed to winning major titles and keeping Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel together at PPG Paints Arena was always going to be important.
Pittsburgh are the most complete franchise in hockey and their wealth of experience could prove decisive in the Stanley Cup race.
In terms of performing and winning in the playoffs, this Penguins side knows how to get the job done and head coach Mike Sullivan will be quietly confident of another championship triumph in the coming months.
Two words: Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks star has been a pivotal figure in Chicago for the best part of a decade and he can inspire the six-time Stanley Cup winners to glory again this year.
Meanwhile, Joel Quenneville is one of the greatest coaches in NHL history and he could make all the difference for Chicago, particularly during the postseason. 14/1 is excellent value considering their recent efforts on the big stage.
But it isn’t just about Kane and Quenneville. Chicago have a roster stacked with talent at both ends of the ice and you could argue that the Blackhawks are better equipped than most for another shot at the Stanley Cup.
Winning hockey’s ultimate prize will be their primary objective this season and it is certainly within reach if they play at their best.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Last but not least, we have the Tampa Bay Lightning. With just one Stanley Cup victory in their history, the omens are not on their side but stranger things have happened.
Victor Hedman is one of the best defensive players in the game and Tampa Bay will be confident of a much improved campaign on both sides of the ice.
The Lightning reached the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and a similar run would suffice with Tampa Bay’s passionate fan base.
They’ve had a relatively solid preseason and 11/1 is decent value considering their talented roster. It won’t be straightforward by any means but the Lightning are in contention – with a bit of luck, they might even win it.