It's been a long time since a team surprised the world when they won the Stanley Cup. Since 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, and Los Angeles Kings are the only four teams to hoist Lord Stanley's mug. And none of them were considered underdogs when they hoisted it.
For the majority of NHL fans, it's getting real boring. In the Great White North, no team has won a Stanley Cup since 1993. It's been disappointment year-after-year in the NHL's biggest markets. Plus, how many people outside of L.A., Chicago, Boston, and Pittsburgh even care about those teams winning the Cup? To conclude part of this rant, it's time for the NHL to see a new team win the Stanley Cup.
Maybe once and for all, someone outside of those big four win the Stanley Cup. For some of you reading, you may decide to stop because you don't have faith in your team. Well, everyone has a chance. Here's why your favorite team may win the Stanley Cup in 2017.
Oh, and follow me on Twitter! @alexhoegler
30 Anaheim Ducks: Return of Randy Carlyle
The Ducks made the right call to fire Bruce Boudreau after a series of playoff meltdowns. Anaheim was eliminated in the playoffs every year from 2013-2016 in Game Seven on home ice. So yeah, consider a change behind the bench required. Many, including former Duck Ryan Whitney, were critical of the decision to bring back Randy Carlyle, who was fired in the midst of the 2011-12 season, despite leading them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2007.
Carlyle had much more playoff success than Boudreau, guiding them to the Western Conference Final in 2006 and nearly taking down the heavy favourite Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Western Conference semi finals.
Some championship teams just need the right coach. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won their last two Cups by changing coaches in the middle of the season, and the Los Angeles Kings did the same in 2012. Carlyle's return should help Anaheim's talented group finally come together in the spring.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Youth Injection
The Coyotes are one of the last teams folks will pick to make the playoffs in 2016, but they were hanging around in the ever-dangerous Pacific Division until a terrible second half dropped them back into the basement.
Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, and Max Domi give them three rising stars for fans to get excited about. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is also a game-changing defenceman who plays phenomenal hockey at both ends of the rink. They bought out veteran Antoine Vermette in a surprise move, but that suggests they're ready to go with the young kids now. The goaltending issue is alarming, giving how Mike Smith has fallen back to earth in the past couple of seasons.
It's going to be hard to outplay the rising Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, along with the three California powerhouse teams. But the talent is there for them to go on a playoff run.
28 Boston Bruins: Experience
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and it appeared as though their title window would last a lot longer. They did win their division in 2012 and 2014, while also reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2013. But the window has since closed because of many questionable calls by management.
Tyler Seguin was traded in 2013, and the team doesn't have any of the core pieces left that came to Beantown in exchange. Zdeno Chara regressed much quicker than expected, Johnny Boychuk had to be traded for salary cap reasons, and GM Don Sweeney made a very questionable move to trade rising star Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames. Boston lost Loui Eriksson in free agency this year and replaced him with hard-nosed veteran David Backes.
If there's one reason to see why Boston can win the Cup, it's because you can count on Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Chara, and Backes to guide this rebuilding team to the promised land. Most of them have done it before and can do it again.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Young Starpower
The Sabres showed plenty of improvement in 2015-16 and there's no reason to believe it can't get better. Jack Eichel is going to be a top-five player in the NHL very soon and should build off a rookie season that saw him post 24 goals and 56 points. Ryan O'Reilly was no slouch either when he led the team in scoring with 60 points.
Sam Reinhart, like Eichel, has plenty of upside and will be one of the NHL's top stars soon enough. He impressed with 23 goals and 42 points. The Sabres also signed talented winger Kyle Okposo in free agency, so he'll be able to help Eichel improve his scoring right away. Robin Lehner is due for a bounce-back year after battling injuries last season. Buffalo is loaded with all-around talent and they could speed up the rebuild much quicker than expected. If they make the playoffs, an underdog team with young players and nothing to lose could go all the way.
26 Calgary Flames: Youth
The Flames are going to be one of the NHL's elite teams in no time. Just remember how hard they fought against Anaheim in the second round of the 2015 playoffs. They're far better than they were two seasons ago.
We all know that Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett give them three superstar young forwards. Their defensive core is one of the NHL's best, with Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and upcoming star Dougie Hamilton. Calgary added Brian Elliot to address their goaltending. Look at this Flames team--they remind me a lot like the 2009 Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks dynasty.
They're fueled by speedy and crafty young forwards and have veterans to help. Calgary signed Troy Brouwer and his playoff experience to help them with grit in the postseason. Should their youth continue to shine like they have over the past two seasons, they'll be a tough out in the playoffs. They might even win the Cup!
25 Carolina Hurricanes: New Era
Realistically, the Hurricanes are the last team I think will make the playoffs in 2017. But then again, every team has a mathematical chance. So here we are, trying to think of a rational reason to believe they can go all the way.
The Hurricanes traded away Eric Staal--it's no longer his team. They made the questionable call to bring back declining goaltender Cam Ward, but it's a fresh start for the team that has just one playoff appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal and Victor Rask should each build of of 20-goal campaigns. But it's their defence that'll help this new era get going.
Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin aren't far away from being perennial superstars on the blueline. Ryan Murphy could also finally round into a consistent top-four defender they've been waiting for. Carolina's young players should only get better in 2017, and it just might be enough for them to win a Cup.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Dynasty Drive
The Blackhawks went from a perennial laughingstock to the NHL's model organization, making the playoffs eight-straight seasons, winning three Stanley Cups, and reaching the Western Conference Finals on two other occasions.
Obviously, Chicago is not the only team that has stacked up on superstars. But why do they have three Cups since 2010? Their superstars have the desire and drive to win and be the best. That's why Jonathan Toews has three Cups and two Olympic gold medals; ditto for Duncan Keith. The Blackhawks have taken down some of the NHL's elite teams during their dynasty. Though three Cups in six seasons suggests they are a dynasty, they want to cement that status by adding a fourth in the most competitive era in NHL history.
Even though Chicago may face better opponents in 2017, they just might overcome all of them, since they want it more than everybody else. Don't be surprised if Toews and co. bring yet another title to Chicago.
23 Colorado Avalanche: New Head Coach
Patrick Roy made one of the most surprising moves in recent memory by resigning as Avalanche head coach. The beliefs are it's because management wasn't willing to make the trades that Roy wanted to run his own system. Roy's system wasn't working and he clearly had a bad relationship with most of his star players. Calling out Matt Duchene or a goal celebration wasn't a classy move, or what it's worth.
The Avalanche didn't make any big splashes in the trade or free agent market, but one would assume that Jared Bednar does better with this team than Roy. A group of Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie, Nate MacKinnon, and Semyon Varlamov can't be one of the NHL's worst teams consistently.
Bednar should be considered an automatic upgrade over Roy when it comes to coaching defence. The Avalanche have all the talent needed to compete for the Stanley Cup. Now, it's about them gelling with a new head coach.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Fresh Start for New Faces
John Tortorella took a miserable Blue Jackets team and posted a solid 34-33-8 record. The Jackets learned how to play more responsible in their defensive end, and trading Ryan Johansen for franchise defenceman Seth Jones may be totally worth it. The Jackets drafted crafty centre Pierre-Luc Dubois fourth-overall and he should instantly step in as a difference.
Brandon Saad, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, and Scott Hartnell are all threats to score 20-plus goals. Sergei Bobrovsky is a top-10 goalie, so the Jackets just need to stick to Torts' defence, and they'll be better. The Jackets have a great youth foundation coming up. For all we know, it all comes together in 2017, and they could be a serious Cup contender. It's realistically a couple years away, but expect Columbus to fight for the playoffs this season.
21 Dallas Stars: Goaltending Improvement
After winning the Central Division last year, the Stars defence and goaltending woes were terribly exposed by the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. It just went to show that Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp aren't enough to carry this team. The Stars will keep scoring in the playoffs but the defence has to keep pucks out of the net.
Dallas' defence got worse with the departures of Kris Russell, Alex Goligoski, and Jason Demers. Dan Hamhuis is the lone big-named player they brought in to replace those guys. So yeah, panic time in Texas.
So realistically, the Stars just have to hope that Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen excel in new seasons. Both guys are good enough to carry any team into the playoffs, but they didn't perform good enough in the postseason. They both can go nowhere but up in the spring (should the Stars make the playoffs). If one or both of them bring their A-game, then the Stars will be a bonafide Cup contender.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Experience
The Red Wings are no longer a perennial threat to win the Stanley Cup. They haven't been realistic contenders in five years. Oddly enough, they've barely been playoff contenders, having made it on the last few days of the regular season every year since 2013.
Their once great reputation of drafting late-round gems has been non-existent for a while, now. There haven't been any suitable replacements for Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen. But Detroit has a good youth movement and winning foundation. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall are the last two parts remaining from the 2008 championship squad, but their leadership has really helped develop young winners in Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Dylan Larkin, and others.
With Ken Holland running the ship, the Red Wings clearly have that formula in place to keep winning. No reason to believe they won't do it again.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Here Come The Young Stars
The Oilers have been waiting to go from lottery draft pick contender to the playoffs for the last nine years. They have the longest playoff drought; having last made it in 2010. But once and for all, you have to believe that they're finally nearing contention. It all starts with Connor McDavid, who'll undoubtedly become the NHL's best player in the next few seasons.
He's almost enough to carry the Oilers, a la Alex Ovechkin with the Washington Capitals and Steven Stamkos with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But he has much more talent up front. Perhaps a healthy Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can do wonders. You know Jordan Eberle will keep scoring 20-plus goals. Jesse Puljujarvi and Leon Draisaitl are two more young studs to watch.
Their defense may finally have answers, as they traded Taylor Hall for shutdown blueliner Adam Larsson. Adding power forward Milan Lucic gives them two legitimate scoring lines. Lucic brings size, something they've lacked for too long. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 when they missed out two years ago. Sometimes, the youth movement happens much faster than you think.
18 Florida Panthers: Old and Young
The Panthers aren't too young and they're not too old.
This team is blessed with young talent, ranging from franchise defenceman Aaron Ekblad to rising star forwards Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Reilly Smith. Their defence got a lot better with the addition of puck-moving guru Keith Yandle. He and Ekblad will be dangerous at both ends of the ice.
Roberto Luongo remains a stud in the crease and will carry them far into the playoffs. Then there's that young man named Jaromir Jagr, the 44-year-old ageless wonder who led the team in scoring last season. Along with Jussi Jokinen, the Panthers have some terrific leadership up front with Stanley Cup championship experience. The Blackhawks had Marian Hossa with the young guys. The Penguins had Bill Guerin in 2009. The Kings had Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Florida has Jagr and Jokinen to lead this talented group to a Stanley Cup.
17 Los Angeles Kings: The IT Factor
Allow us to forget about their brutal showing in the first-round against the San Jose Sharks this year, and the fact they missed the postseason all together in 2015. Yes, they haven't looked like the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Champions, or the 2013 Western Conference runner-ups.
But their core players remain in tact. The Kings Stanley Cup window is closing quickly. Jeff Carter will be 32 in January. Anze Kopitar is 29, Jonathan Quick is 30, Marian Gaborik is 34, and the hard style of play these guys go through can really wear them down faster. Also, the Kings prospect system is one of the NHL's worst and they have no cap space to make big moves.
I'll give them three more years max to add a third ring with this group, but this team knows how to elevate its play in the postseason. They have the IT factor and have taken out some of the most dominant teams. They'll a very dangerous team in 2017. No question about it.
16 Minnesota Wild: Defence
The Wild have never been a team that scares opponents by scoring lots of goals. Zach Parise and Marian Gaborik are the only true star forwards they've ever had. It's always been about defence with this team.
And how could it not be? Ryan Suter has been a Norris Trophy-caliber blueliner in his four years in the State of Hockey. Jared Spurgeon is another young defenceman to keep an eye on; he posted a plus-11 rating last season. Matt Dumba had 10 goals while Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin should only improve their all-around play. Devan Dubnyk remains a solid goaltender who helps his team steal games. That's what you ask for most in a goalie.
Defence wins championships in hockey. Just look at Chicago, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh over the years. Minny has always had a strong defensive system in place, and it won't change with new head coach Bruce Boudreau. If the Wild get in the playoffs and stick to the fundamentals of defence, they'll be a legitimate championship contender.
15 Montreal Canadiens: New Looks
We won't go into a lengthy discussion about how the Canadiens are a Stanley Cup contender with Carey Price and how they could have challenged for the title if he was healthy. He carried them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2014, and nearly got them there again in 2015; though nobody else on the Habs stepped up in the second round against Tampa Bay that year.
Marc Bergevin was genius in not letting a disastrous 2015-16 season slide. He knew changes had to come. Lessons to be learned. It started with trading for gritty 20-goal scoring forward (and two-time Cup champion), Andrew Shaw. Then came the blockbuster Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade. Weber is more responsible in his defensive end and can use his bigger frame to wear down opponents.
Then Bergevin signed Russian sniper Alexander Radulov to a one-year deal. If he finds his groove, he should be a threat to score 30 goals. A team that also has Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and Tomas Plekanec got a lot more dangerous on offence. These may be all the guys Montreal needs to get back to the Cup.
14 Nashville Predators: Growing Fast
The Predators have done an excellent job rebuilding their team in a timely fashion. After missing the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, Peter Laviolette led them to a second-place finish in the tough Central Division last year. The Preds fell back into a wild-card spot, but managed to reach the second round in 2016. They were one game away from reaching their first-ever Western Conference Final.
Nashville's core group is relatively young, and they've shown plenty of progression in just two seasons. Having the slick, puck-moving P.K. Subban over Shea Weber will bring more offence to a team that plays very sound defensively. A full season with Ryan Johansen should also do wonders. Filip Forsberg and Colin Wilson will lead the offence. That's only part of the story.
Subban joins a defensive core led by Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. They're one of the best groups in the league. Pekka Rinne is a Vezina candidate every year. Nashville is a legitimate Cup contender now, as this team continues to gel more and more together each season.
13 New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
I am a firm believer that in the NHL, teams win championships together. It's not one player carrying a team like you see in the NBA. That being said, the Devils would be owning the first-overall pick in each of the last three seasons if it weren't for Cory Schneider's efforts.
Truth be told, New Jersey just can't score. The addition of Taylor Hall won't change that. Travis Zajac has been their only offensive threat over the last few seasons. The Devils have had a nice defensive foundation in place, but it's going to take a hit with the departure of Adam Larsson in the Hall trade. If New Jersey were to win the Cup, it'd be because of Schneider carrying this team like J.S. Giguere did with Anaheim in 2003.
In 2014-15, Schneider had a 2.26 GAA and 9.25 save percentage. Last season, he went 27-25-6 with a 2.15 GAA and .924 save percentage. He's carried this team on his back during his three years with the club. If they somehow squeak into the playoffs, perhaps he finds a way to take them to the Final.
12 New York Islanders: On the Rise
The Islanders not only won their first playoff series this past season in 23 years, they dominated and ousted a Florida Panthers unit that was much more skilled and talented during the regular season. But you figure the Isles are ready to go from underdog to a real Stanley Cup contender come 2017.
Most of their core players are in their early or mid 20s. John Tavares is the nucleus of this team and is always a contender for the scoring title. Sure, he'll miss Kyle Okposo, but two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Ladd might be more valuable with his experience and gritty style of play. Those two also have Anders Lee and Brock Nelson up front. Their defensive core was solid last season, and it'll only get better.
Hard not to be excited about Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, and Calvin de Haan. The Islanders play in a tough Metropolitan Division, but the Cup windows are closing for the Penguins and Rangers. The youth of the Islanders are ready to rise.
11 New York Rangers: Experience
The Rangers have qualified for the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past five seasons, so they'd love to forget that ugly first-round showing against the Penguins. Many believe The Blueshirts' Cup window has now closed, but they'll be the first ones to tell you they aren't done yet.
Henrik Lundqvist is still a world-class netminder who can carry this team on his own. The defense, though ageing, still has Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh. That's one of the deepest cores in the league. The offence is anything but soft. Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller give the Rangers an excellent mix of youth and veterans.
The Rangers have shown that the pressure of the playoffs does faze them. They love playing their best hockey in the spring. Sure, their disappointing exit this year was a very poor outing, but they're not going anywhere. If they get into the playoffs, they should be considered one of the favourites.
10 Ottawa Senators: New Coaching
Riddle me this...
How does a team with five-20 goal scorers, a defenceman named Erik Karlsson (82 points), J.G. Pageau (19 goals), and a blueline that also includes Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, and Marc Methot not come close to the playoffs? Hmm...and goalie Craig Anderson did his job with a 31-23-5 record and .916 save percentage.
Well, a lot of it has to come down to coaching, because the Senators offence and goaltending were fine, but the talented defensive core was one of the worst last season. Ottawa obviously didn't buy into Dave Cameron's system, and owner Eugene Melnyk demanded change. In comes defensive-minded coach Guy Boucher, who did wonders during his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning. To make it even better, veteran NHL head coach Marc Crawford was brought on as an assistant.
Ottawa's forwards are among the NHL's deepest. If Boucher and Crawford take this defensive group from horrible to decent, they'll be in the playoffs. And the Sens have never been an easy out in the playoffs. They're an absolute darkhorse contender for the Cup in 2017.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins: Defending Champions
This doesn't need a long and lengthy discussion. Any team that wins the Stanley Cup should be considered a threat to do it again. The Penguins are like most other defending champions in the fact they kept their core together and didn't try to make too many changes. But they do have a tough task of becoming the first team since the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings to repeat.
Pittsburgh is still led by star centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but it was the HBK liNe (Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel) that carried them through most of the playoffs. While the Pens' top weapons were shut down for large portions of the playoffs, their bottom-six forwards and defence held back the opponents. Matt Murray deserves plenty of credit as well for playing in the clutch.
One thing holding back the Pens is their second-half surge was way too good. Look at how the Ottawa Senators "bounced back," after tearing it up in the second half of last year. They missed the playoffs altogether. Pittsburgh has to bring that momentum into the regular season, because going on 30-11-4 to close out the season isn't possible again.
8 Philadelphia Flyers: Balanced Scoring
The Flyers defensive group and goaltending situation is not one of the greatest in hockey. It's not even close to being what you could call championship-caliber. If they want to do the unthinkable and win the Stanley Cup, it'll all come up front from their offence. They'll have to break the "defence wins championships," label.
It all starts with Claude Giroux, who led the team with 67 points last season. He's supported by gritty winger Wayne Simmonds, who had 32 goals and 60 points in 2015-16. Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek had 59 and 55 respectively. Surprise defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere had 17 goals and 46 points, but expect a regression with opponents having the book on him now. Sean Couturier and Matt Read are due for bounce back seasons. The Flyers could easily have five-plus 20-goal scorers in 2016-17.
For all they know, maybe their forward group is too much in the playoffs and can get by. But they will need some help from the blueline and crease to go far.
7 St. Louis Blues: Unfinished Business
After years and years of first-round playoff exits, the Blues finally got through the "choking" label and reach the Western Conference Final, falling to the San Jose Sharks in six games. Though it was a disappointing finish to a strong season, they convincingly took down the defending champion Blackhawks and dominated the Central Division-winning Dallas Stars.
They're clearly built to be a champion, after all. The Blues did lose two key players in David Backes and Troy Brouwer in free agency, but the bulk of their core is still in tact. Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, Robby Fabbri, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk still give them a loaded roster. Jake Allen is now the main guy between the pipes after Brian Elliot was traded to the Calgary Flames.
Now that St. Louis knows what it takes to go past the second round of the playoffs, they'll be ready for anything in 2017. This team's Cup window isn't going to stay open much longer, so they'll be motivated to win their first championship once and for all.
6 San Jose Sharks: Last Ride
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are both 37. They're on their last legs to win a Stanley Cup, and they were just two games away from finishing the job in June. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Logan Couture, and Joel Ward all had phenomenal postseasons and will surely be ready to build off those.
Thornton and Marleau are running out of time, and they'll be ready to give it one last ride. The Sharks actually played great hockey against the Penguins in the Stanley Cup, but Pittsburgh's defence had a once-in-a-lifetime performance and shut them down. Martin Jones almost single-handedly stole the entire series for them. San Jose added speedster Mikkel Boedker in free agency to shore up their main weakness.
The Sharks got to the Finals last year, dominating the West in convincing fashion. They kept their best players together and there's no reason to believe they can't repeat as champions of the wild, wild West.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Health
You really have to respect what the Lightning did in the playoffs. They only had Steven Stamkos for Game Seven against Pittsburgh in the third round, and Ben Bishop missed almost the entire Eastern Conference Final. It's remarkable how the Lightning needed just 10 games to qualify for the final four. They pushed the superior Penguins to the limit, losing just 2-1 in Game Seven.
A healthy Stamkos and Bishop would have surely put Tampa Bay in their second-straight Stanley Cup Final. They got there despite very disappointing seasons from Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, and Ondrej Palat. They're all due for bounce-back seasons. Jonathan Drouin withdrew his trade request and should be a huge force offensively.
But getting back Stamkos, their franchise player, and Bishop, a perennial Vezina candidate, is key to the Lightning going far. Should those guys remain healthy for the entire playoffs, then the Lightning should be considered a favourite to win the Stanley Cup.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Quick Rebuild?
Let's be honest, the Maple Leafs aren't coming close to the Stanley Cup in 2017. Well, the Cup actually does reside in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, but you get my point. Don't expect them to come close to making the playoffs, either. But the title suggests I have to come up with an entry, so here we go.
Auston Matthews is the ideal face of the franchise Toronto can build around. He'll join a young arsenal that also has rising stars in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. The backend looks scary with Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner. Getting goaltender Frederik Andersen from Anaheim is one of the most underrated moves made. But the Leafs, despite being coached by Mike Babcock, showed few signs of being close to contention.
Maybe they shock the world and come together quickly and win the Stanley Cup. They'll undoubtedly be a contender for years to come, but that's realistic three or so years away.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Youth Injection
To be serious, the Canucks are the last team I am expecting to win the Stanley Cup in 2017. Years of handing out terrible contracts, bad trades, and poor development with prospects has brought them to the point of mediocrity.
Their only "stars" are 36-year-olds, Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Yes, they're still producing like first-liners, but their age will catch up to them at some point. The Canucks defensive core looks solid with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. Ben Hutton (23), Erik Gudbranson (24), and Nikita Tryamkin (22) are young and should grow into their own. But those are very young ages to play top-four minutes, so the Canucks shouldn't expect their blueline to be as deep as it looks right now.
Up front, it's now or never for Bo Horvat to emerge as a the top centre they thought they were drafting in 2013. Jake Virtanen should play more top-six minutes as a power forward, and the signing of Loui Eriksson gives this team one guy who can score 25-plus goals.
Jacob Markstrom is an underrated goalie in the crease, but it's meaningless if the play in front of him doesn't get better. If the Canucks youth can somehow and someway grow fast, they could get to the Cup Final.
2 Washington Capitals: Balance
It's not often that a team has the league's top goal-scorer and Vezina Trophy winner. The Washington Capitals have the perfect balance of scoring, shutdown defence, and arguably the NHL's top goaltender. What is there to complain about?
Yes, this team has failed to reach the third round with Alex Ovechkin, but they would have won the East with ease if it weren't for a surging Penguins team. Fun fact: Evgeny Kuztnetsov, not Ovechkin, led the Capitals in points last season (77). Nicklas Backstrom gave them a trio of 70-point scorers. Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, and Jason Chimera had 22, 26, and 20 goals, respectively.
On the back end, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Karl Alzner give Washington arguably the best defensive core in the NHL. Washington has no primary weakness and should once again be the favourite to win the Stanley Cup in 2017.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Here Come the Youngsters
No team underachieved as much as the Jets last season, coming off of their first playoff appearance since returning to the Great White North.
Folks undoubtedly overlooked Blake Wheeler's 78-point season. Mark Scheifele also had a breakout year with 29 goals and 61 points. Dustin Byfuglien had 19 goals and 53 points, Bryan Little had 17 goals and 53 points, while Drew Stafford and Nikolaj Ehlers scored 21 and 15, respectively.
All of that scoring didn't matter. Even though the team did draft Patrik Laine, a pure goal-scoring machine, he may not get top-six minutes in 2016-17. And even if he does well, the team's defence and goaltending will need to upgrade itself fast.
Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers are too talented for this team to get scored on easily. Connor Hellebuyck should be given the keys to starting netminder, as Ondrej Pavelec has not been cutting it. The Jets have plenty of talent up front, and it could be the young stars that finally take them to their first-ever Cup Final.