The 2016 NHL Draft is now over and we have an idea of how some teams will look in the short and long term.
We know that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Los Angeles Kings are capable of competing for championships until at least 2020, before their core players hit their early-to-mid 30s. Teams like the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers are on the rise, and we could see some banners raised in Canada for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens won it all in 1993.
This year's free agency class was one of the deepest of all-time and they could absolutely change the landscape of the NHL. But taking a glimpse into the future, which teams could actually win the championship? We've only seen four Cup winners since 2009, but we're going to see things change real soon.
Other teams are on the rise and we'll see diversity when it comes to conference and Stanley Cup Champions. Here is an early glimpse into the crystal ball that will tell us who plays for and wins the next five Stanley Cups.
15 2017 Western Conference Champion: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had a tough first-round matchup against the St. Louis Blues in Round One this year, and just narrowly failed to advance past the second-round for the fourth-straight year.
They're locked and loaded again for another shot at the championship. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, and Duncan Keith are all they need to compete for championships. Despite their core players begin to age, they're still primed for at least one more deep run.
Chicago has been able to get through a plethora of difficult playoff teams to take down: The Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Blues, and Minnesota Wild. They know they have what it takes to win in the playoffs. Look for the Blackhawks to add one more stamp on their 2010s dynasty with a fourth Western Conference title in seven years.
14 2017 Eastern Conference Champion: Washington Capitals
The Capitals were far and away the favourites to win the Eastern Conference this season, but the surging Penguins bounced their rivals before winning the Stanley Cup. But 2017 will be Washington's time to reign supreme in the East.
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Brooks Orpik round out this team's core. The Penguins cannot possibly get as hot for five months like they did last season, so the Capitals should be able to take the East without much issue this time around. The Florida Panthers aren't quite on their level and no team features a great balance of both offense and defense.
They would be in their first Cup Final since 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings swept them.
13 2017 Stanley Cup Champion: Washington Capitals
The Capitals have learned from enough playoff heartbreak and they know now's their time to put up or shut up. All-time great coach Barry Trotz knows how to bring championship-quality defense when it matters most. The Capitals have shut down stars in the playoffs constantly. Their loss to the Pens was just a battle of two elite bluelines and goalie performances.
But they'll get the bounces this time. Ovechkin's going to redeem himself in the playoffs. Holtby will keep giving Carey Price a run for his money as the greatest goalie in the world. Like we said before, Washington has an absolutely amazing balance of offence and defence. All of the pieces are here for them to destroy the 'Hawks chances of putting a cherry on top of their dynasty.
And when all is said and done, D.C. will see its first Stanley Cup banner on opening night of the 2017-18 season.
12 2018 Western Conference Champion: St. Louis Blues
The Blues will be without Ken Hitchcock in 2017-18, as next season will be his last before he retires. That being said, the Blues will still have a strong core of Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, possibly Kevin Shattenkirk, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri, and Alexnder Steen.
They won't be able to outlast the Blackhawks in the Western Conference next season, but I expect them to fully load up for one more run at the Cup by 2018. Another superstar or two could be added as this core tries to win a championship together.
By 2018, the Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings will have their star players on the decline. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick will be between 29 and 35 years old. That's encouraging for St. Louis
So with that, the younger and faster Blues will outlast the remainder of the West's elite to win the conference.
11 2018 Eastern Conference Champion: Montreal Canadiens
It looks like Shea Weber for P.K. Subban will finally pay off. GM Marc Bergevin's patience in Montreal will finally pay off as the Habs reach their first Stanley Cup since 1993, when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings.
The Habs will be all ready for a run at the championship. Max Pacioretty, Weber, Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Alex Galchenyuk, and Mikhail Sergachev give this team a nice combination of size, speed, and skill with the best goalie in the NHL to help them go far. They will have to get through Washington, but remember this.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Kris Letang will all be in their 30s for Pittsburgh. Ditto for Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin in Washington. That gives the Habs a major advantage in speed. Their core players will just be in their primes for the 2018 playoffs.
As such, the 25-year-wait to get back to the Final will be well worth it.
10 2018 Stanley Cup Champion: Montreal Canadiens
You heard it here first.
Amidst all the cries for Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien to get fired, persistence by the ownership in Montreal will be well worth it as the country wins its first Stanley Cup since 1993.
People will point to the Habs' heavy reliance on Price (hence the 2015-16 mid-season collapse) and their poor puck possession numbers. But the fact is, they always have a chance with Price. Just see his performances in the 2014 and 2015 NHL Playoffs. It's simply astounding how far he can take this team.
The Habs actually have some solid talent with a good combination of size, skill, speed, talent, and difference makers at both ends of the rink. If Radulov pans out, they will have gotten a top shelf sniper for nothing. The Blues match up well against them, but Price's performance in the playoffs is strongly superior to what we've seen from Jake Allen.
This series goes to seven, but the Habs triumph over the Blues, who may have seen their last title shot with this core end.
9 2019 Western Conference Champion: Winnipeg Jets
The Great White North shall strike soon.
Even though the Jets have made the playoffs just once in their five seasons back in Manitoba, the future is brighter there than any other team. They've got the ideal mix of youth, young stars, and promising prospects in the system.
Blake Wheeler broke out with a 26-goal and 78-point campaign last year. 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele contributed 29 goals and 61 points as he rises to stardom. Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Drew Stafford, and Nikolaj Ehlers each contributed 15-plus goals. Jacob Trouba, Tobias Enstrom, and Tyler Myers are also forces on the back end.
In three years, Patrik Laine could very well be coming off of his first (or second) 50-goal season. The Jets have every ingredient needed to win a championship: Young players with size and speed, proven veterans, and good team chemistry. They're still missing some goaltending, but we believe they'll fix it before 2019. It won't be long until they become kings of the Central. But in three years, they'll be the Kings of the Western Conference.
8 2019 Eastern Conference Champion: New York Islanders
It sure seems like centuries ago when the Isles had a dynasty in the '80s, but they'll be back in the hunt for the Stanley Cup soon enough.
They're not quite ready to take down Washington, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay or Montreal in the playoffs, but their best players are young and just entering their primes. It's a good thing that the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Ovechkin, and Backstrom will be in their 30s and likely slowing down by 2019.
John Tavares is a franchise superstar who carried the Isles to the second-round of this year's playoffs. With two-time Cup winner Andrew Ladd and other talented forwards Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey, the sky is the limit for their scoring. Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, and Nick Leddy are a solid foundation on the back end, and Jaroslav Halak has proven to be a clutch playoff performer, judging especially by his performance in the 2010 playoffs.
The Isles have been beaten up for years by their Metropolitan Division rivals, but that will stop soon. In three years time, they'll be facing off against the Jets for the Stanley Cup.
7 2019 Stanley Cup Champion: Winnipeg Jets
Make it two years in a row.
2017 will mark 24 years since Canada last won the Stanley Cup, but it'll be a great time for hockey fans in the Great White North when their country wins their second Stanley Cup in a row. The Jets and Isles will both learn that patience pays off. Their long-time bullies will have aged and the stars will be well past-their-primes once we reach 2019. That opens the door for two perennially-struggling teams to get back to the big show.
This will be a very entertaining series if it happens. Two teams with so much finesse, skill, size, and speed in a best-of-seven. The Jets get the edge here because of guys like Byfuglien and Myers, the gritty blueliners who have the ability to slow down guys like Tavares.
Winnipeg's depth in all aspects will be far too much to handle and Connor Hellebuyck will be a Vezina-calibre trophy netminder in the next few seasons. People don't know it now, but they just might in 2019 when the Jets win the Stanley Cup.
6 2020 Western Conference Champion: Calgary Flames
If my calculations are correct, the Flames will enter 2020 having gone 31 years without a Stanley Cup and 16 years without reaching the Stanley Cup Final. It's been long-term pain for the Flames faithful, but that will all change soon.
The Flames are loaded with young talent in Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuck, and Dougie Hamilton. The first two of those guys are going to be consistent 30-goal scorers in this league. Calgary has a plethora of speed and finesse in their lineup. Just wait until it takes off. After that, their blue-line is secure with Norris-calibre defenceman Mark Giordano and his partner-in-crime, T.J. Brodie. Brian Elliot was traded for at this year's draft and even if he's not around in 2020, they'll surely have found a decent goalie by then.
Calgary has all of the pieces to go on a deep run any minute now, but waiting a few more years is probably the most likely case before they make the Final.
5 2020 Eastern Conference Champion: Florida Panthers
The Panthers have basically been rebuilding since being swept in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, but now's a safe time to believe they have everything together. We'll go ahead and assume Jaromir Jagr will be retired by this point, as 48-year-olds don't often get to play in the NHL.
By 2020, Aaron Ekblad will have won a Norris Trophy and Roberto Luongo will be a 41-year-old netminder who carries the Panthers deep into the playoffs. Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith, and Keith Yandle give the Panthers plenty of skill in every aspect.
Florida has quietly flown under the radar for years, but not many teams have their amount of terrific speed and young starpower in the lineup. They did underachieve in the 2016 playoffs, but that was just a starting point. Everything is going to gel together and they'll take care of the Eastern Conference in four years.
4 2020 Stanley Cup Champion: Florida Panthers
Each team in the state of Florida will have captured a Stanley Cup.
The Panthers and Flames will give us one incredible series. It'll be a battle of two long-time losers that are trying to end epic Cup droughts. The Panthers will be trying to help Roberto Luongo win a Cup, as he announces his plans to retire after the season.
With his legacy on the line, after years of underperforming in the playoffs in Vancouver, Luongo finally comes through. The Flames and Panthers will be a series of undersized speedsters going at it, but I'm taking the Panthers because they'll have more proven playoff performers by this point. Dale Tallon's been a free-spender for years, but Calgary's going to be pushed against the cap once their young stars have been signed to long-term extensions.
The future stays bright in Calgary, but they won't quite be ready to win the Cup, as Florida wins it all, while setting a record for fewest fans at a Stanley Cup parade.
3 2021 Western Conference Champion: Winnipeg Jets
With a ridiculous amount of talent that could even make the '80s Oilers or '90s Red Wings jealous, nobody should be shocked if Winnipeg captures their second Western Conference title in three years.
Though guys like Byfuglien, Little, Wheeler, and Myers will be nearing the end of their primes, Laine, Scheifele, and Ehlers will be ready to take the load as the big-three in Winnipeg. Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Anaheim will not be elite in five years unless slick drafting helps them replace their current stars.
Looking into the future, Winnipeg's best players are young and are going to dominate for the next five-10 years. 2021 will be no exception. I see a perfect resemblance of the Blackhawks who won the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015. Winnipeg's built to succeed just the way their divisional foes are.
And when all is said and done, they'll be in their second Stanley Cup Final.
2 2021 Eastern Conference Champion: Toronto Maple Leafs
If my calculations are correct (sorry, I'm trying to sound smart), then the NHL's biggest laughingstock will be the most envied team in the East, five years from now.
Head coach Mike Babcock won't need five years to turn this team into a playoff squad, but that's likely how long it will be until they can stand out from the rest. Once-in-a-generation prospect Auston Matthews is primed to have an impact the way Crosby did in Pittsburgh.
Morgan Rielly, James van Riemsdyk, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen will round out one of the deepest cores in the league and Toronto will be in its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. I know you're laughing now, but don't kid yourself: Matthews is going to be great. So will Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The Leafs may be the most hated team in Canada, but they're going to be great. Brace yourselves.
1 2021 Stanley Cup Champion: Winnipeg Jets
It'll be the first all-Canadian team Stanley Cup Final since the Flames beat the Canadiens in 1989.
I've said many times before how the dark ages for Canadian NHL teams are over because they're set to dominate for years. Well, if my calculations are correct (last time I say that in this article), that will make it three Stanley Cups coming to Canada in the next five years. The Jets will start threatening the Blackhawks as the latest NHL dynasty when they win their second Cup in three years. Winnipeg wins Game Seven after Toronto blows a 4-1 lead in the third period, where Scheifele scores the game-winner in overtime.
Even though the Leafs lose the Cup, the future remains incredibly bright for them. That's the way it is with seven Canadian NHL teams right now. But the Jets appear to be the best bet to win in the next five years. They'll have two championships by 2021.
So save this article and talk to me in five years, and we'll see if I should keep looking into a crystal ball or quit writing.