By Scott Sandora
It is now just over a month into the 2016-2017 NHL season and many teams are already showing signs of Stanley Cup contention. Some teams improved their line-ups with offseason acquisitions while others are hoping to learn from the mistakes made during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is a list of the top 5 Stanley Cup contenders thus far:
- Washington Capitals
The Caps were favorites to win The Cup last season but were knocked out in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburg Penguins. General Manager Brian MacLellan added more depth to their offense in the offseason by acquiring forwards Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. The Capitals still have some of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL in T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom, who lead the Capitals in goals, points and assists. Yet, you can’t overlook Alexander Ovechkin, arguably the best forward in the NHL, and Braden Holtby, arguably the best goalie in the NHL. With a strong offensive front and a goalie who is remarkable between the pipes, this should be Washington’s year to win it all.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning shocked the NHL in the offseason by resigning team captain Steven Stamkos to an 8-year/$68 million contract. Stamkos, a four-time all-star and two-time NHL leader in goals, will be out indefinitely after tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee. With his absence from the lineup, the Bolts will need players such as Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov to step up and fill the void. Tampa Bay will go in to the playoffs hungry with the sour taste of losing in game 7 of last season’s conference finals.
With a fast, explosive offense and big defense and goaltending, the Lightning will be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
- San Jose Sharks
It seems as though the Sharks are contenders every year, but somehow always come up short. Still, you can’t overlook their skill combined with brute physicality—an asset that may come in handy while playing playoff hockey. With veteran forwards like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau continuing to have all-star seasons, the experience of the San Jose Sharks could be lethal toward the end of the season. If nothing else, the caveman-esque appearance of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns may intimidate some of the competition. Either way, FEAR THE BEARD.
- Nashville Predators
The Preds made great moves in the offseason, giving them a good chance of being genuine contenders in the race for The Cup. They traded away their all-star defensemen Shea Weber for another all-star defenseman P.K. Subban, in order to produce more offense. The mix of experienced veterans and young, talented goal scorers will give any NHL team trouble towards the end of the year. Lastly, let’s not forget the wall the Preds have in the net. The 6-foot-5-inch goaltender has been a monster between the pipes throughout his career and, on any given day, can shut down even the best goal scorers in the NHL.
- New York Rangers
The Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals only two years ago and haven’t made many changes to their lineup since. And why would they? The Rangers have one of the best defensive units in the entire NHL, which proves to be vitally important in the playoffs when most games are decided between only one or two goals. The teams weakest link is their ability to score goals, but this generally does not become an issue because they have one of the best goaltenders in the history of the NHL. Statistically speaking, Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for just about every season of his career and is sure to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. New York will go far in the playoffs simply because of how difficult it is to score goals against them.