8 NHL Darkhorses Who Can Make The 2018 Stanley Cup Final And 8 'Contenders' Who Have No Chance

Sports betting resource Odds Shark has recently released the odds they have calculated for each NHL team to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the 2017-18 season. At the time of writing, the top three favorites are Pittsburgh (9-1), Edmonton (10-1), and Washington (10-1), so no surprises there (though some may raise an eyebrow at Washington “We Can’t Get Out of the Second Round” Capitals being placed so high). The Penguins are the two-time defending champs and so are deservedly the number one favourites. The young and upstart Oilers fresh off an amazing season and stacked with young talent, including Hart trophy winner Connor McDavid, are deservedly number two. And all snark aside, the President Trophy winning Caps still have a very talented roster.

While the Pens have dominated in recent years, the truth is that it is unusual for the odds-on-favorites at the start of the year to finish it off hoisting the cup. In a league of 31 teams and with regulations such as a salary cap meant to ensure parity, it makes sense that the few favorites don’t often end up as champions. But then, who will? Beyond the top three, who has a reasonable shot at the Cup? And who are some of the teams who are getting some love, but really should not be considered serious contenders?

Here are eight darkhorses you should keep an eye on (meaning teams like Pittsburgh and Washington will be excluded), and eight pretenders to the throne who shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

16 Could Make It: Anaheim Ducks

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Last season’s Western Conference finalists should be strong contenders again this year. This Ducks team has looked like they might have what it takes for years now, only to stumble in the first or second round. Last year, the Ducks got past the first two rounds only to fall to the upstart Predators. Even still, their presence in the final four and topping the Pacific Division should imbue them with a great deal of confidence. The Ducks lost young defenseman Shea Theodore to the Vegas Golden Knights, but their blueline was already deep. Adding veterans Francois Beauchemin on D and Ryan Miller in net should give the team more solidity and experience. At 14-1, the Ducks are in the upper echelon of contenders. While they may not be able to top the high flying Oilers again the Pacific Divison, they could really find their stride in the playoffs.

15 No Chance: Toronto Maple Leafs

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Ok, ok, CALM DOWN Leafs fans. I’m not slagging off the Buds here. I’m just trying to be realistic. For the first time in decades, hopes are high in Leafs Nation. And so they should be; the team is loaded with young, sensational talent. Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs had no fewer than seven rookies holding down roster spots. All had great seasons, but...have you ever heard of the “sophomore slump”? While a truly superstar talent like Auston Matthews might be able to avoid such a setback, this is less likely for guys like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman. Furthermore, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak all had career years last season. It would be foolish to think they can replicate all that.

And don’t expect Patrick Marleau to make up for it all on his own. The Leafs still haven’t strengthened their blue line and there’s no guarantee that Freddy Anderson will steal as many games for the Buds this year as last. Yes, the Leafs should be true contenders in the near future, but this season they are as likely to regress as anything. Their 16-1 odds flatter them.

14 Could Make It: Calgary Flames

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With all the glitz and glamor of the Oilers with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and a brand new arena, people tended to overlook the Calgary Flames last year. And that’s too bad, because the Flames quietly had a really good season. After a promising 2014-15, and a regression in 2015-16, the Flames got back on the right track last year, making the playoffs, but having to face the dreaded Ducks. The Honda Center has been kryptonite for the hardworking Flames and they went home early. Even so, there’s lots to be positive about in Calgary. One thing the Flames do have that the Oilers lack, is a sturdy and solid d-core. Travis Hamonic looks to be a very important (albeit expensive) addition on the blueline. If the old adage that defense wins championships is true, then at 33-1 the Flames could provide very good value for money. Mind you, a great deal of the prospective success rests on the shoulder of Mike Smith in goal. He’ll have to be the Mike Smith of a few years ago if the Flames want to be serious contenders.

13 No Chance: San Jose Sharks

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Over the past decade, the San Jose Sharks have been frustratingly difficult to predict. For years, they were the hot pick to win it all, but they were crummy in the playoffs. They finally made the Western Conference finals in 2010 and 2011...only to lose in four and five games, respectively. Not long after, their playoff qualification streak finally ended, and their time was over. And then, almost out of nowhere, they made it all the way to the finals in 2016...only to lose in perhaps the most one-sided six game series ever. What to make of this team? Well, last year should provide a clue. A solid third-place finish in the Pacific Division, only to be outgunned by the younger and faster Oilers. Though Joe Thornton has re-upped, long time Sharks stalwart Marleau has gone. The Sharks still have younger guys like Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Martin Jones, so they can probably “re-tool12. ” as opposed to “re-build”. But it will still take a few seasons before they should be called real contenders again. There are better bets at 20-1 than San Jose.

12 Could Make It: Dallas Stars

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It’s a bit odd to consider a team who missed the playoffs entirely last season a contender for the Cup this season, but the Dallas Stars arguably had the best offseason of any team in the league.... Arguably... Will Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Jamie Benn gel in a Ken Hitchcock team? In buying out Antti Niemi’s final year and bringing in Ben Bishop, have the Stars finally solved their goaltending woes? Assuming Bishop can recapture his 2015-run-to-the-Cup finals form, they have. In Alexander Radulov, the Stars nabbed what may have been the most coveted free agent forward. Will Radulov replicate the form he had for the Canadiens last season? And will they find a good place for Martin Hanzal in the lineup?

If the answers to all these questions are “yes”, then lookout because Dallas will be tough to beat. If the answers are all “no”, expect another season to end in early April. At 20-1, the Stars look on paper to be undervalued. But it’s tough to say.

11 No Chance: Boston Bruins

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Most people will point to the Boston Bruins’ first round exit in last season’s playoffs as the result of a truly vicious injury bug that more than decimated their d-core. This is true. But on the other hand, the Boston Bruins’ making to the playoffs at all was predicated on Tampa Bay and Florida having poor seasons, partially as a result of injuries for themselves. Like San Jose, Boston is kind of in a weird spot with their roster: some aging veterans on the decline, some guys in their prime, and some young guys yet to have really establish themselves. Boston failed to make any key additions to their roster, though they will be relieved to have finally re-signed David Pastrnak.

Another question is how Bruce Cassidy will fair in his first full season as a head coach. With Tuukka Rask in net, the B’s will always be competitive, but looking at how other teams have improved around them, it’s tough to see them making the playoffs. 16-1 odds seem to optimistic.

10 Could Make It: Minnesota Wild

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The Minnesota Wild looked imperious for stretches last season, but ultimately their inconsistency kept them from reaching the elite level. They were favored to beat the St. Louis Blues in the first round, but instead got an early end to their season. After becoming a hotspot for free agents to sign a few seasons back, the Wild are in danger of missing their window to win a Cup. This offseason the traded Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno in an effort to shake things up. They also signed Kyle Quincey and Matt Cullen to add some veteran experience to their team, but lost Erik Haula to Vegas.

All of this is to say that the Wild basically just treaded water this offseason. If goalie Devan Dubnyk stays on his A-game and head coach Bruce Boudreau keeps his players feeling like they did during their long unbeaten run last season, the Wild are a match for any team. But can Boudreau finally achieve some playoff success? At 14-1, the odds makers seem to think there’s a reasonable chance of that happening.

9 No Chance: New York Rangers

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Talking about “windows”, the New York Rangers might well have already seen theirs close. The 2014 Cup finalists have never looked as good as they did that season, and things seem to be slowly slipping away from them. A first round victory over the Canadiens shouldn’t cloud their decline. The victory cannot not be called an upset; they had only one point fewer than Montreal. But the Blueshirts were --and still are-- in the murderer’s row that is the Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers were able to sign the biggest free agent of the summer, Kevin Shattenkirk, but there is much debate as to whether the coveted D-man’s offensive output hides some defensive liabilities. Furthermore, the Rangers lost Derek Stepan in a trade with Arizona and Oscar Lindberg in the expansion draft. In a league where teams are very dependant on depth down the middle for success (especially in the playoffs) New York looks pretty weak. And then there’s the matter of Henrik Lundqvist. Is King Henrik the Henrik of old? It looks the like the answer is maybe, ‘no’. And although he’s declining only slowly, the Rangers’ 18-1 odds might be a bit charitable.

8 Could Make It: Columbus Blue Jackets

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Minnesota’s 12-game win streak was bettered only by the Columbus Blue Jacket’s truly impressive 16-game win streak. The Blue Jackets had a franchise record setting season, only to be wiped out by their rivals in Pittsburgh in the first round. Columbus’s playoff inexperience notwithstanding, there’s every reason to believe this team should get better. The BJs paid a high price to offload David Clarkson to Vegas, but the loss of draft picks won’t hurt them right now. With the money they saved, they were able to ink Alexander Wennberg to a long term deal. As long as he doesn’t get complacent, he should improve, as should Cam Atkinson. In losing Brandon Saad, the Jackets added Artemi Panarin, which should be a slight upgrade now and an even bigger one in seasons to come.

Add to all this the Vezina winning Sergei Bobrovsky, and Columbus looks to be a solid contender. At 20-1, they could be real value for money. There is one caveat, however: John Tortorella. He won the Jack Adams last season, but we know he has a pretty short shelf life. If the players start to tune out his ranting and raving, the team could go off the rails.

7 No Chance: Los Angeles Kings

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Surely Anze Kopitar has to bounce back, right? What an abysmal season he had. The LA Kings will be interesting to watch this season. At least, interesting to watch how they do, if not their actual games themselves. LA’s complete dearth upfront doesn’t exactly make them offensive dynamos. And the addition of Mike Cammalleri is unlikely to change that. The biggest moves LA made were firing long-time GM and head coach Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter. But new GM Rob Blake hasn’t done much and we’ll see what new coach John Stevens can do.

With a hopefully healthy Jonathan Quick in goal and Drew Doughty on the blueline, the Kings’ back-end still seems really strong. But with big money still tied to forward anchors Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, the Kings can't do much to improve their offence. Defence might win championships, but when Jeff Carter is the only skilled forward who seems to be trying, you’re not going to win anything. The only reason the odds are as low as 18-1 are probably because people remember their past successes.

6 Could Make It: Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by one measly point last season. The bookies have them at 20-1 to win it all this year, but there are plenty of pundits who are expecting bit things from the Bolts. And why not? They were many people’s pick to win it all last season. But a knee injury kept Steve Stamkos to only 17 games, Ben Bishop lost the number one goalie position, and uncertainty swirled around GM Steve Yzerman and what he was going to do with all his upcoming RFAs. Well now we know that Jonathan Drouin was the odd man out. Tampa got a good return in Mikhail Sergachev, though it would be unreasonable to expect much from him this season. Nevertheless, with Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, and a healthy Stamkos, Tampa has some great players. And if Andrei Vasilevsky rewards their faith in goal, they look really strong. And though they probably paid too much for him, Dan Girardi should help their D-core, and Chris Kunitz looks a decent pick up, too. The Lightning could easily overtake Toronto, Boston, Ottawa, and maybe even Montreal in the Atlantic Division.

5 No Chance: Florida Panthers

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Like their fellow Floridians, the Florida Panthers underperformed last year, and this was partly due to a bad case of the injury bug. But there were also some funny things going down in Sunrise. Last year, Florida's...eclectic...owner Vinny Viola seemed to spearhead the shock decision to relieve GM Dale Tallon after finishing first in the Atlantic the year prior. Head coach Gerard Gallant’s exit was not far behind, with Tom Rowe taking over both roles. Well now, Rowe is out, Tallon is back in at GM, and the up-and-coming and unproven Bob Boughner is behind the bench. Some seem to think that with Tallon back as GM, the Panthers can just reset and forget about last season. Can they though?

They signed highly touted KHL forward Evgeni Dadonov as well as Radim Vrbata. But will they make up for the losses of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas? Not to mention the 46 points Jaromir Jagr scored, who they’ve refused to re-sign? And is a goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer really going to get the job done? There are too many questions in Florida, hence their 33-1 odds.

4 Could Make It: Chicago Blackhawks

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For the first time in seven years, there are some real questions being asked of the Chicago Blackhawks. Back-to-back first round exits have many wondering if the good times are over in Chicagoland. But write them off at your peril. They still finished first in the Central Division last year, and clearly, losing to Nashville was no embarrassment. (Though maybe getting swept, was.) And yes, losing Artemi Panarin hurts, but getting Brandon Saad back in Chi-Town is a decent return. Mind you, with both Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya saying goodbye, Connor Murphy has a lot of work to do if he’s to fill the void on the blueline.

Regardless, the ‘Hawks still have Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews as well as Joel Quenneville behind the bench. This much talent alone makes them contenders. And they will want to prove that they’re still the real deal, too. At 14-1, they’re among the top seven favorites; perhaps they should be as high as top five.

3 No Chance: Ottawa Senators

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Let’s just pause to congratulate the Ottawa Senators on a great run to the Easter Conference Finals last year. Great job, Ottawa! Now, I’ve got some bad news for you. While you guys played great, the path you took was beating an injury riddled Boston and an over-the-hill Rangers. You’re unlikely to get such a gentle slope of route this season. Indeed, if Tampa rebound as they should, reaching the playoffs themselves is in jeopardy. The addition of Johnny Oduya is a low-risk move that adds experience, but is unlikely to make up for the loss of Marc Methot.

Erik Karlsson played out of his skin in the playoffs, but is it reasonable to expect anybody to replicate that form game in and game out over a whole season? Goalie Craig Anderson is now 36 and is likelier to get worse than better. And then there’s that whole awkward mess of GM Pierre Dorion asking Dion Phaneuf to waive his no-movement clause and Phaneuf refusing. How will that play out? The bookies have the Sens at 25-1, which is down where they should be.

2 Could Make It: Montreal Canadiens

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Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina last season, but you’ll have no trouble finding people who believe that Carey Price is best goalie on the planet right now. The truth is, if you have Carey Price in your team, you have a chance at beating anybody. The Habs made some big changes in the offseason, but in total have probably only moved laterally. The loss of Sergachev might hurt in the future, but as long as Jonathan Drouin doesn’t collapse under the pressure of being a French-Canadian star in La Belle Provence, he looks a better long term investment than Alexander Radulov would have been. Karl Alzner is more defensively sound than Andrei Markov, but lacks Markov’s offensive output. It’s also possible that Markov’s absence could affect the locker room, with him having been such a fixture in Montreal.

But let’s be honest: the Habs kind of got screwed last season. With the Wild Card set up, instead of being rewarded for topping the Atlantic, the Canadiens had to face the 102-point Rangers. This year, they may want to think about letting Tampa or somebody else top the division. Either way, they deserve to have better odds than 20-1.

1 Pretenders: Nashville Predators

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There’s a reason why people call the Stanley Cup the toughest trophy to win in team sports. You have to work insanely hard to get the finals. And then to outplay your opponent for most of that final and still lose, it must take a hell of a lot out of you. Can the Nashville Predators rebound? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not.

The Preds inked Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen to long term deals, which is great for the future. But how many times have we seen players dip the year after signing big contracts? Adding Nick Bonino is great for center-depth and veteran success, and Alexei Emelin improves an already great blue line. But do they make up for the losses of James Neal, Colin Wilson, and sentimental favorite and team captain Mike Fisher? Probably not. Nashville seems to have Anaheim’s number, but looking at all the other threats in the West --improving teams in Edmonton and Calgary, perhaps a more determined team in Minnesota, a reloaded Dallas, and a Chicago team out for revenge-- and it’s difficult to see Nashville replicating last year’s dream run. 14-1 odds are based too much on last year’s success and not the reality of today.

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