Now, it becomes extra difficult. Paring 31 teams down to a select few is a challenge. Who will be this year’s potential Stanley Cup winning teams?
Anyway, last year, we got the teams right but picked the wrong one in the Stanley Cup Final. If only Boston had not played poorly at home. Alas, 2019-20 is a new season. Starting from scratch, there are a few teams that could make a claim that this could be their year. Hey, if St. Louis can win take home Lord Stanley then any team can.
The Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago during their expansion year. They struggled a bit during the first half of last year but enjoyed a hot second half. Then, that penalty happened, and they were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in Round 1 of the Western Conference playoffs. There is no telling what may have been if Vegas had advanced.
Vegas has one glaring weakness in net – well it is that pesky backup issue. However, if Marc-Andre Fleury stays healthy, then that does not matter in the playoffs. That is the thing with the playoffs. All it takes is one hot goalie and Fleury has gone on three runs (helping Pittsburgh win two Stanley Cups and nearly one with Vegas).
That is part of the reason why Vegas cannot be counted out. The other reason is the top-six of the Golden Knights which is as dynamic as any other playoff contender’s top-six. William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchexsault, and Reilly Smith are quite the first line but when Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone are on the second line, that is even more dangerous.
Again, this is about balance. Vegas has that defensively as well, but Alex Tuch is on the third line for Vegas where he would be on almost every top-six under normal circumstances. The playoffs are set up well for the Golden Knights, but Vegas must be more consistent and not take chances.
The old saying Is do not let the series go the distance if not necessary. Defensively, those in front of Fleury must protect and get the puck up ice quickly. When Vegas does that, they look every bit like a Stanley Cup contender.
Tampa Bay nearly set a record for most points in a season. Then, they were eliminated in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the recent re-signing of Brayden Point, the Lightning have all their pieces assembled for a 2019-20 run. Tampa has the most depth among all the contenders but again this comes down to can the Lightning forget last season.
It is that “memory loss” that will help Tampa Bay the most. They are a team that can score four goals a game, win 55+ games again, and a goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy who can win 40+ contests. Tampa became a bit more dynamic by subtracting Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi out of the equation. The addition of Kevin Shattenkirk does change things a little. Tampa must learn to push the puck up the ice and attack the middle with speed.
If they get bogged down and do not improve their penalty kill, then the same fate will be met. The Atlantic Division is crazy in the sense that three teams from there could contend for the Stanley Cup. Boston and Toronto are both around +1200 to +1300. Boston is a bit more built for the playoffs than Toronto though. This is especially if those two teams face each other.
Out of the three teams, Tampa Bay is the superior one on paper. Mentioning Boston and Toronto is important but again the Lightning can defeat both even come playoff time. They must get there first. It will be up to Tampa Bay’s best players in order to advance that far.
A simple prediction or three will do here. Boston is the one team that could sneak past Tampa Bay, Toronto, or whatever the Metropolitan Division has to offer. Defensively and goaltending wise, Boston can be the most dynamic in the “tight spaces that are the playoffs”.
Basically, this becomes a three-way battle between Boston, Tampa, and Vegas. Dark horses could include Carolina and San Jose. Otherwise, a Boston and Vegas final is quite plausible. This is where in a total risk, Vegas would be our pick. Will history somewhat repeat itself? Stay tuned!
By Chris Wassel