The NHL season is winding down. As the playoff picture starts to solidify there are only a handful of teams fighting for the the final spots in each division. This year due to the COVID travel restrictions and schedule, the first two rounds will decide the division winners before a reseed for the third round.
East Division: Washington Capitals
The Capitals were all in for the Stanley Cup before the season started. They went out and hired Peter Laviolette, signed veterans Zdeno Chara and Henrik Lundqvist, then traded for Anthony Mantha. Unfortunately for the Caps, Henrik Lundqvist could not compete due to a heart issue. The core of this team won the Cup in 2018 and look ready to do it again.
Strengths: Alex Ovechkin. Offensive depth that goes three lines deep. One of the best power plays in the game today. Tremendous size and strength with players like Tom Wilson, Anthony Mantha, John Carlson, Chara, and Ovechkin to name a few. This team was constructed to win in the postseason.
Weakness: I’m not sure you can call having the 8th best PK a weakness but it is probably something another top team could exploit. The real issue is in goal. Ilya Samsonov has had his moments this season, same as Vitek Vanecek but can they go all the way? If the Caps have a hole it’s in goal.
Odds & Predictions: Odds Sharks have the Capitals at +1400 (6th best) and Money Puck has the likelihood of them winning the Cup at 11.5% (2nd best).
North Division: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs beefed up before the season started in an effort to bring in more playoff type players. Jumbo Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds were two aging veterans that fit the bill. They didn’t stop there as they also went at it hard at the dead line bringing in Nick Foligno. This team has Stanley Cup or bust written all over it.
Strengths: It really is hard to bet against a team that is three lines deep and can score at will. Auston Matthews is on his way to winning the Rocket Richard trophy. He’s also centering Mitch Marner and newly acquired Nick Foligno. The Leafs also have John Tavares as the second line pivot. I’m not sure there’s a better 1-2 punch at center in the NHL aside from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with the Oilers. They also have Morgan Rielly on defense. It’s a really good lineup.
Weakness: Goaltending could do them in this season. No offense to Jack Campbell, but I’m not sure he can take this team to the promise land, same for Freddy Andersen if he returns. Another potential issue is the special teams play for the Leafs which has been average at best. They are lucky to be in the North Division.
Odd & Predictions: Odds Sharks have the Leafs at +700 (3rd best) and Money Puck has the likelihood of them winning the Cup at 10.6% (3rd best).
Central Division: Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s a lot to like about the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The Tampa Bay Lighting used LTIR better than the Leafs did to acquire David Savard from the Blue Jackets and strengthen their blue-line. They are also expected to get Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos back for the playoffs. Good Luck NHL.
Strengths: They have the Stanley Cup experience and pedigree on their side. They boast one of the game’s best defensemen in Victor Hedman and the best goalie in the world with Andrei Vasilevskiy. This team can also roll four lines better than anyone. Some (like MoneyPuck) may have Central rivals like the Hurricanes and Panthers ahead of them to make it out, but i just don’t see it.
Weakness: I seriously tried hard to find some. They simply don’t have many. If I had to pick something I would say health. Should Stamkos AND Kucherov not be fully healthy or unable to play, the Lightning could be beat.
Odd & Predictions: Odds Sharks have the Lightning at +600 (2nd best) and Money Puck has the likelihood of them winning the Cup at 3% (10th best).
West Division: Colorado Avalanche
Is this the year the Colorado Avalanche put it all together and bring it home? GM Joe Sakic has been very careful to make the right moves and not disrupt what he’s built. While the hockey world screamed at him to get a stud goalie, he simply added some insurance in Devan Dubnyk. They are young, talented, and loads of fun; but can they win it all? That’s the big question.
Strengths: The top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen is the best of all the four teams mentioned in this article. The Avs also have the most mobile defense which features a future perennial Norris candidate in Cale Makar. They are great 5v5 and have better than average special teams. To a man they can fly up and down the ice so their speed will give teams fits.
Weakness: I’ll say it; Joe Sakic may rue the day he did not upgrade over Phillip Grubauer in net. Don’t get me wrong, Grubauer has been excellent in the regular season but wouldn’t an insurance policy like Jonathan Quick have been a better choice? Also at the average age of 27, they are the youngest of the four teams listed. Youth could help or hurt.
Odd & Predictions: Odds Sharks have the Avalanche at +350 (1st) and Money Puck has the likelihood of them winning the Cup at 13.5% (1st).