With the 2019-20 season set to begin in earnest Wednesday night, there are no less (and for our money, no more) than eight teams that are frontrunners to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup next summer. The “Great Eight”, as we like to refer to them, all offer plenty of value in the futures market, as any one of them can win it all. On the flipside, however, they all have at least one question mark that could deep-six their championship hopes.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the eight best NHL futures, from lowest to highest, and what may keep them from accomplishing their ultimate goal.
Tampa Bay Lightning (+750 to win the Cup, +325 to win the East)
Ok, this is the year the Lightning win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004. Oh wait, sorry we said that two years ago. No, this is the year. Oh, sorry, we said that last year. You see where we’re going here? The last two seasons, the Lightning steamrolled everyone in the regular season, and it seemed just a mere formality that they’d be hoisting the Cup at the end of the playoffs. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the winner’s podium. The Washington Capitals knocked them out in the Eastern Conference finals in seven games in 2017, and then last year, in an absolutely inexplicable upset, they were swept i n the first-round by the 8-seed Columbus Blue Jackets.The Lightning are a very talented team, so the roadblock here is mental, it seems. They could be the Virginia Cavaliers of hockey, taking a page from the current NCAA Men’s Basketball champs who were embarrassed in the March Madness tourney the year before they won the championship. Maybe third time’s the charm?
Toronto Maple Leafs (+900 to win the Cup, +550 to win the East)
The Leafs are another one of those “ok, but really, this is our year, we swear!” teams.They have all the talent in the world, led by Auston Matthews and John Tavares, across the board. However, all of that million-dollar talent can only take you so far when it’s attached to a ten-cent head (see Matthews’ disorderly conduct charge this summer and his failure to tell the team about it). The Leafs have finished third in the Atlantic division three straight years, but have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first-round in that same amount of time. For years, they were the laughing stock of Toronto sports, so it’s great for the game of hockey to have one of the premier franchises in the game “back”, but at some point you have to take the next step. Losing a 3-2 series lead to Boston last year isn’t the way to do it. They are now past the point of just being happy to be there, and many pundits actually do believe this high-flying, high-scoring bunch will finally get to their first Stanley Cup final since 1967. The proof will be in the pudding.
Vegas Golden Knights (+1100 to win the Cup, +475 to win the West)
The Golden Knights franchise burst onto the NHL scene in 2017 with all the glitz, glamour, ad fanfare one would expect from a pro sports franchise based in Las Vegas. However, they quickly proved that there was much more than sizzle to their steak. They became the first expansion pro sports franchise to win its division in its inaugural season, and became only the 3rd NHL franchise to ever get to the Stanley Cup final in its first season. They eventually lost that final to the Washington Capitals, but they backed it up by making the playoffs again last year, where they controversially lost to the San Jose Sharks in the first round. The Golden Knights are one of the deeper teams in the Western Conference, and have more than solid goaltending; that’s a recipe for success. Coming into the 2019 season, they are the favorites to come out of the West and have a bitter taste still left in their mouths after that loss to San Jose last year. That chip on their shoulder should help them get back to the playoffs.
Boston Bruins (+1300 to win the Cup, +550 to win the East)
When we last we saw the Bruins, they were losing an absolute heartbreaker of a Stanley Cup final to the St. Louis Blues in seven games. In all the madness and upsets of last year’s playoffs, Boston was the one constant. Their veteran core (Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tukka Rask) led them through the storm, but the question for them coming into this season is if that veteran core is now just a bunch of old guys, and will they be able to grind out another 82 games without breaking down? They do have a nice mix of talented younger players led by Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk, and goaltender Rask is more than solid, so they will still be in the mix in the Eastern Conference this season.
Dallas Stars (+1300 to win the Cup, +475 to win the West)
The Stars made the playoffs last year despite their offense, not because of it. To say their offense was anemic is an understatement. They scored 209 goals last year, which put them 29th out of 31 teams. Obviously, with this lack of offense, what carried them to the playoffs was a brick wall defense backed by the exceptional goaltending duo of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. But again, offense will be what makes or breaks the Stars’ chances championship chances. In comes Joe Pavelski. The former San Jose Sharks captain, one of the greatest players in that franchise’s history, scored 38 goals last year and will no doubt help Dallas put more pucks in the net, but will it be enough?
Colorado Avalanche (+1700 to win the Cup, +650 to win the West)
After surprising many by making the playoffs two years ago and then backing it up with another playoff run last year, are the young Avs ready to take that next step to being one of the elite teams in the Western Conference? This is a young and exciting team; one of the more fun teams to watch in the NHL. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, they will score plenty of goals, even strength as well as from their elite power play. The youth movement extends to their defense as well, and this is where the questions begin. Without a staunch veteran presence at the blue line, will the young Avs be able to keep pucks away from goaltender Philipp Grubauer, or will he have to dance on his head all season keeping pucks out of the net? We like the Avs as a dark horse coming out of the Western Conference.
Nashville Predators (+1700 to win the Cup, +850 to win the West)
The Preds advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup final (eventually losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins), and have been spinning wheels ever since. Yes, they’ve been playoff participants in the two years since, but have made quick exits both times. The Preds sport fantastic talent at the blue line (even with the loss of P.K. Subban) and one of the best goaltenders in the game in Pekka Rinne. Their problem, however, and it’s a big one, is their unquestionably awful power play. The unit was atrocious last year, finishing last in the entire league. The Preds brought in highly-coveted center Matt Duchene to help the extra-man unit. Will he? Who knows? They certainly won’t be any worse. If the power play can just become serviceable, the Preds absolutely have all of the other ingredients to make a run at the Cup.
Washington Capitals (+1700 to win the Cup, +550 to win the East)
Last but not least, we have the Washington Capitals, two short years removed from the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup win. Last year, the Capitals fought a bit of a championship hangover (almost literally, judging by their antics after winning it all the year before--Stanley Cup keg stands, anybody?), losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. The Caps are one of the more balanced teams in the Eastern Conference; they don’t really have one glaring weakness. They return Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Khunetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Braden Holtby--the core that carried them to that championship in 2017. There is also a sense of urgency this season as this could be the last one where this core will be intact as free agency decisions loom for Backstrom, Holtby, and even Ovechkin (two years left on his current deal) after the 2019-20 season. So the question for the Caps this season is will this “last hurrah” mentality carry them to win it one more time together, or will the pressure be too much and lead to them crumbling under the weight of expectations? We will know soon enough as they drop the puck tonight versus last year’s champion the St. Louis Blues.
So that’s a quick look at the top eight Stanley Cup futures coming into the 2019-20 season. Good luck, and enjoy what should be a very fascinating season!
*Credit to the main photo of this article belongs to Mark Humphrey/Associated Press (Tampa Bay), Kathy Willens (Boston), David Zalubowski (Colorado)