The Chicago Blackhawks have been crowned as
the 2015 Stanley Cup champions, it’s their third championship in six years and
the Jonathan Toews led dynasty was confirmed. It’s way too early to start
speculating about the next Stanley Cup, but that won’t stop us. Here’s our way
too early list of the 2016 Stanley Cup contenders.
They are Vegas’ early favorites and who can
blame anyone for picking them? They’ll still be led by a core that has now won
three championships in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent
Seabrook, debates will probably continue about Corey Crawford’s quality in net,
but he’s been a crucial part of two championship runs now.
Of course, keeping the other parts of this
Stanley Cup winning together won’t be easy. Start with Brandon Saad, who will
surely be looking for a significant pay rise playing an important role in the
regular season and playoff run.
Darryl Sutter is still there, the core of
that dominant defensive team with all that postseason experience is also still
there. They are probably never going to be the sort of team that charges in the
playoffs, but once they qualify, they are an extremely tough out.
They’ve not got a huge amount of cap space,
but GM Dean Lombardi has had more time to play with his team this season. The
question for LA will always be whether they have enough goals in their line-up
to win the games that they need to win.
They’re definitely a dark horse selection,
but the Wild have recent postseason experience, a couple of quality players in
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and a cluster of young players that are building up
the sort of big game experience that will benefit them down the line.
The Wild have been thrashed in the playoffs
by Chicago in three straight seasons and there may be some thinking to do for
the organization if they hope to take the next step.
Carey Price has gradually established
himself as one of the NHL’s premier netminders and he looks set to just keep
getting better. Meanwhile, PK Subban is one of the most electrifying defensemen
and all-round players in the league. The Canadiens have speed, balance and
depth, and Marc Bergevin still has some room to make some more moves.
The Canadiens were surprised by their
playoff eliminations in each of the last two seasons. This team might just be
running out of time to get ‘over the hump’ before the salary cap catches up to
Speaking about salary cap catching up, the
Tampa Bay Lightning’s young roster will be threatened by that same phenomena as
entry level contracts expire. The Lightning have improved in each of the last
two seasons, but they still need to improve their performance by one series
General Manager Steve Yzerman has one more
season of relative cap security, but he will know that the margins between
success and failure are slim.
It’s arguably more difficult to pull
together a bounce back season after losing in the Stanley Cup final than it is
to repeat as champions. Very few teams do it.
Still, the Lightning are stacked with
talent including Steve Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat,
Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Kucherov and Cedric Paquette. They got the skill, depth
and the playing style to enjoy another strong NHL season and to be one of those
rare teams that bounces back immediately.
Our Eastern conference dark horse team is
the New York Islanders. It’s a long shot, but they are the team with serious
potential. They took a step forward this season, but ultimately lost in the
John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome,
Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan and a host of other players lead a core with the
potential to be one of the most explosive in franchise history.
Of course, it’s a big step to expect this
young Islanders team to take that step, but Stanley Cup winning teams can just
as easily come out of nowhere.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read