Top hockey people always say that American Thanksgiving is a good benchmark to see where your favorite team is. 75% of the teams who are in playoff contention at this marker end up making the playoffs. With that being said, who are the leagues best teams?

I have comprised a list of teams who I believe have the best chance of winning the Stanley cup from each conference. I will get this out of the way nice and early, I am aware the Dallas Stars are currently sitting on top of the NHL and are scoring plenty of goals, BUT I do not believe they have a good enough, well rounded team to win the Stanley cup.

Beasts in the East:

Washington Capitals: Sitting on top of the Metropolitan division, one point away from the conference lead, and three games in hand on the Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals are off to a great start and show no signs of slowing down. There are too many good things going right with this team for them not to finish on top of the Eastern Conference. Whether it be everyone buying in to head coach, Barry Trotz‘s system, the deadly 1-2 punch down the middle of Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov (who is currently leading the team is scoring with 8G, 19A, 27PTS), the always deadly Alex Ovechkin (who once again leads his team in goals with 14), new acquisitions Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie contributing (both with 8 goals), the always underrated star defenseman John Carlson (who currently has 4G,16A, 20PTS) and an all world goaltender that is yet again proving himself to be an elite goaltender Braden Holtby (17-4-1 record, 1.95GAA and .928SV %). The Washington Capitals have the best opportunity to come out of the east and compete for the Stanley cup.

Montreal Canadiens: If you would have said to anyone that of the 30 games played so far this season that Carey Price would only start in 12 of them, the Habs would be second place in the NHL, and have the best goal differential in the league with a +28, nobody would have believed you. After 30 games into the 2015-16 season, the Canadiens are proving that they are more than just the best team in the NHL. Despite being plagued with injuries to Carey Price, Mr. heart and soul Brendan Gallagher, and Torrey Mitchell, they are proving that they have depth. Most notably, Mike Condon has done a good job keeping the team competitive on most nights. They have also received scoring from all 4 lines and have a one of the best defensive cores in the league led by P.K. Subban, who is currently third on the team with 1G, 20A, 21 PTS, and Andrei Markov, 2G, 17A, 19PTS. In order for the Canadiens to have a long and successful playoff run, they will need to address their scoring woes and have a healthy Carey Price.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference with 39 pts. In recent years, current President and former GM Glen Sather has traded away draft picks to win. This has yet to come to fruition. The closest they have come to the cup is a Stanley cup final appearance against the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. The team is right up against the salary cap with only $150,00 remaining and Restricted Free Agent (RFA) contracts coming up that need to be addressed. Led by their 33 year old all-star net-minder Henrik Lundqvist and veteran 31 year old forward Rick Nash, there may not be many good chances left for this club. They are not having much trouble putting the puck in the net – 86 goals, including 4 players with 9 or more goals – and are definitely not having trouble keeping the puck out of the net – 67 goals against. With what many to believe as the best top 6 defenseman in the league, led by Ryan Mcdonagh (4G, 10A, 14 PTS) and Keith Yandle (1G, 14A, 15pts), who is currently in the final year of his contract. Although Lundqvist is playing incredibly well, some credit needs to go to their backup Antti Raanta who is also putting up great numbers (1.57GAA, .940 SV%). All that being said, the New York Rangers are built to win now. This may be the last year they will be able to go for it before regressing slightly and having to change up the roster.

Best in the West:

Los Angeles Kings: All the L.A. Kings needed was some rest. Prior to last season, the Kings made the playoffs 5 years in a row and had gone to the Stanley Cup finals twice and the conference finals once. They have also been in many 7 game series over that time period as well. After missing the playoffs last season, the Kings are rejuvenated and back in fine form. They have currently given up the fewest amount of goals after 28 games played with 59. They have a perfect blend of young guns, vets, and cup champions to be right back in the finals. Jonathan Quick had not started off the year on a positive note, but has been in fine form ever since with 16 wins, a 2.16 GAA and a .920 SV%. There is not much you can criticize about the LA Kings, they have one of the best defenseman in the league in Drew Doughty, and a wicked 1-2 down the middle in Jeff Carter, who leads the team in scoring 11G, 11A, 26PTS, and one of the best two-way players in the game in Anze Kopitar. This team knows what it takes to get it done and is steam rolling through the league to prove that they are one of the best teams in the league and dare I say dynasty like the Chicago Blackhawks? It would be great to see these two teams meet up again in the conference finals.

Chicago Blackhawks: Like the Kings, there is not much we can say about the Chicago Blackhawks that has not been said or proven. Winning 3 Stanley Cups in the past 6 years, they are looking for number 4. Their core of Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa and Hjalmarsson is in tact and they keep grinding out wins to get to the post season and show why they have been called a modern era dynasty.

Unexpected Surprises:

Before the season started, many expected the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins to be at the bottom of the standings. Contrary to that, many believed the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks would be in playoff contention. What has happened?

The Devils roster looked like a mish-mash of unwanted NHL vets, but they are proving that hard work and playing as a team can help lead to success. A lot of credit needs to go to newly hired head coach John Hynes and new GM Ray Shero. Some credit also needs to be given to current Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello for bringing in Cory Schneider , who is proving year after year to be one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

When Don Sweeney took over as GM of the Boston Bruins in the summer, everyone thought he destroyed the team by letting go of Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic. He definitely deserves credit for having the vision no one else did. The Boston Bruins are currently sitting in a playoff spot.

The Anaheim Ducks started off the year with 1 win and 9 losses. There was immense pressure for Bob Murrayt o fire head coach Bruce Boudreau. Credit goes to Bob for not caving under pressure and firing his head coach. Star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry could not find the back of the net if they got paid to do it… oh wait they did. Since then, things have turned around for Ducks. The team is playing much better and Getzlaf and Perry are leading the team in scoring. However, the Ducks are pretty inconsistent and are quite streaky this year. It is very difficult to make up that many points from their lackluster start and make it to the playoffs. However, they are in a fairly weak division and are only 2 pts out of the third spot in the Pacific Division, and I expect for them to knock out either San Jose or Vancouver. If they are able to get into the playoffs, lookout because they have a team built for playoff success.

After a season out of nowhere, the Calgary Flames wanted to continue their unexpected success. In the off season they made a big splash by trading for Dougie Hamilton for almost nothing and bringing in Michael Frolik as a free agent. The analytics community said that the Flames success was unsustainable and they are proving to be right. The difference between last season and the current season is that they were getting incredible goaltending and this year it has vanished. The Calgary Flames definitely have some great pieces in place to be successful in the future, but they will need to address the goaltending situation for long-term success.

Notable Mention: 

St. Louis Blues: Since 2011-12 season the St. Louis Blues have dominated in the regular season finishing with 49 wins or more in each of those seasons (prorated lockout season of 29W in 48GP included). The only problem the St. Louis Blues have is once they get into the playoffs they have to go through the Chicago Blackhawks, LA Kings or both. They have not been able to get out of the second round in recent years, where the Kings and Hawks have just dominated the league. The Blues have a great regular season team and nobody will care or judge them based on that, it will all depend what they can do in the playoffs.

Here are the current standings broken down by conference for reference:

Eastern Conference standings as of Dec 12, 2015
Eastern Conference standings as of Dec 12, 2015, retrieved from nhl.com
Western Conference standings as of Dec 12, 2015
Western Conference standings as of Dec 12, 2015, retrieved from nhl.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Pancer

Spark Sports NHL Analyst

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