Every NHL season, there are only a handful of teams that are considered Stanley Cup contenders. There are usually at least 10 teams you can rule out from winning the championship. There are usually five to 12 more you can rule out from realistically having much of a shot.
That means there are usually only around eight to 10 teams that have a chance at the Stanley Cup, according to the Vegas oddsmakers, the media and the fans. When you look at 2017-18, there are probably only eight teams that actually have much of a hope at winning the Stanley Cup.
2017-18 will have your usual Stanley Cup contenders (those teams know who they are). But I for one don't buy the Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild or Washington Capitals as contenders. Their divisional foes got much better, and they both lost more than they gained in the offseason.
So who are the eight biggest Cup contenders? And what are their odds? Read all about it.
16 Montreal Canadiens
The Habs have been one of the NHL's most consistent teams of the 2010s, making the playoffs every year with the exceptions of 2012 and 2015. They've won three division titles and have reached the Eastern Conference Final twice.
But despite the world class play from Carey Price, Montreal hasn't been able to get to the Stanley Cup Final. Frustrated with so many playoff meltdowns, GM Marc Bergevin traded for Jonathan Drouin and signed shutdown blueliner Karl Alzner. The Habs are now locked and loaded to chase the Stanley Cup in 2018.
Divisional foes like the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins failed to lang big impact players, meaning the Atlantic is Montreal's to lose. They should once again be among the top teams in the East.
15 Canadiens Odds: 20/1
Vegas gave the Canadiens 16/1 odds (according to the Toronto Sun), but I'm not feeling as generous here.
Though Drouin has the potential to be a superstar, he's not going to be a MASSIVE upgrade over the departed Alexander Radulov. Montreal still lacks scoring depth in its top-six, and there's little reason to believe their offence will improve much in 2018. Furthermore, veteran defenceman Shea Weber burned out late in the season. Does the 32-year-old have enough gas in the tank to lead the Habs on a deep run?
Nonetheless, the Habs do have all the pieces to be a Stanley Cup winner: They own the best goalie in the world. They have one of the stingiest defensive units in hockey, and their forward group is still better than most.
14 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks were in great position to reach their fourth Stanley Cup Final in 2010, locking up the top seed in the West. But the red-hot Nashville Predators shut down their offence and pulled off a surprising sweep. That prompted GM Stan Bowman to make some major changes.
He traded away Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in a salary dumping move which brought Connor Murphy over to Chicago. He also dealt superstar Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for old friend Brandon Saad, who won the Cup with Chicago in 2013 and 2015.
But Marian Hossa has been advised to sit out all of 2017-18, as his body's become allergic to his hockey equipment. That's a big loss for Chicago, but Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Saad, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith still give this team a core good enough to chase another title.
13 Blackhawks Odds: 15/1
Some may consider Chicago the team to beat in the Western Conference. You can never rule this team out while their stars remain in their prime, but the loss of two star forwards and a pair of their top four defencemen are alarming. Besides the losses of Hossa and Saad, Chicago's defence will miss Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell -- who chose to retire and joined the organization's front office.
Toews and Kane are both 29, Seabrook is 32 and Keith is 34. Heck, Corey Crawford doesn't have a great backup goalie now -- as Scott Darling signed with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Throw in an ever-improving Central Division, and it's going to be a tougher road for the Blackhawks. But again, this team's already won three championships. So don't bother counting them out now.
12 Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks reached the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years, but their season once again ended at the hands of the Nashville Predators. It was the third time since 2011 where Nashville took down Anaheim in the postseason.
Nonetheless, the Ducks should challenge for what could be their sixth-straight Pacific Division crown. Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf front a terrific scoring unit. Their defence -- consisting of Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm -- is also among the NHL's best.
John Gibson is making his case as an elite goalie. Anaheim has all the pieces to contend for its second championship in franchise history. It will be tough in a Pacific Division that features a handful of heavyweights, though.
11 Ducks Odds: 12/1
Anaheim has been a Stanley Cup favorite every year since 2013, but this team hasn't been able to get over the hump since winning it all in 2007. There were plenty of signs that this team's nearing the end of its championship run.
For starters, they barely got past the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs. Connor McDavid's crew figures to be a bigger force in 2018, now that they have the postseason experience under their belts. They're faster, more skilled and have a better all-around team than Anaheim.
The Predators also exposed the Ducks by skating circles around them in the Western Conference Final. That doesn't bode well for Anaheim when you also consider that the Calgary Flames are among the fastest teams.
With an aging core, Anaheim will find it tough to win the championship. But with their experience and track record, they remain among the few elite teams in the West with a decent shot at the title.
10 Dallas Stars
The Stars went from first in the Central Division to missing the playoffs altogether. Remember, this team was one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final in 2016 without a good defence or solid goalie.
Just imagine how scary this team will be in 2017-18. Besides Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, this team has even more game-changers now. GM Jim Nill got them a world class goalie in Ben Bishop, a solid stay-at-home defenceman in Marc Methot, a sniper in Alexander Radulov and a great checking forward in Martin Hanzal.
Dallas now has one of the league's best goalies and much more-rounded defence to complement their high-flying offence. This team has all the makings needed to be a true championship contender for the long run.
9 Stars Odds: 12/1
Of course, winning the offseason doesn't always mean you win in the regular season. The Stars still need more depth on defence, and Bishop is coming off one of his most disappointing seasons in recent memory.
Seguin, Benn and Radulov may form one of the league's best scoring units. But the Stars don't have depth outside of those guys. Teams like Edmonton, Nashville and Chicago easily overmatch Dallas when it comes to quantity on the second and third lines.
But perhaps the Stars don't even need that much depth to win games. New head coach Ken Hitchcock has always been about a shutdown defensive system, which means his team won't have to rely on winning 5-4 or 6-5 so often. Dallas isn't the team to beat in the West, but they're definitely among the top contenders.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins may be considered the favorites according to Vegas (at 9/1), but the odds of a three-peat aren't as high as they may seem. You have to understand that winning the Stanley Cup means a ton of luck goes your way. Pittsburgh's going to have a tough time getting all the bounces for a third-straight spring.
We all know the Penguins are a championship contender, but winning a third consecutive Cup is going to be extremely hard. This team lost plenty of key role players in free agency -- including Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Ron Hainsey. Marc-Andre Fleury was also lost in the expansion draft.
Phil Kessel is now the centre of trade rumors -- suggesting there's friction between him and the Penguins. With Sidney Crosby also turning 30, this Penguins squad isn't going to have such an easy time repeating.
7 Penguins Odds: 10/1
Alright, so the Penguins do have their hands full in trying to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions. But at the end of the day, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Matt Murray and Patric Hornqvist are all they need to make a real run at the championship. The Penguins remain a high-scoring juggernaut with a reliable defence that can help them to another title.
But again, the Penguins face a much tougher task of repeating than most other recent champions. Who's going to fill out the bottom-six? Who's going to replace Daley and Hainsey as special teams standouts?
Sorry if their 10/1 odds sound silly to you. But seeing how the Penguins barely got past Washington, Ottawa and Nashville in the playoffs, it's tough to see this depleted squad winning a third title. But yet, they do remain one of the top contenders entering 2017-18.
6 Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos missed 65 games and goalie Ben Bishop was traded at the deadline. Nonetheless, the Lightning only missed the playoffs by a single point in 2017. You know they'll be back in 2018 with a vengeance, thanks to some great offseason work by GM Steve Yzerman.
For starters, he finally addressed the Jonathan Drouin problem by trading the flashy forward to the Montreal Canadiens for promising blueliner Mikhail Sergachev. He also added four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz to help out this young core. Yzerman boasted the blue line by adding stay-at-home defenceman Dan Girardi, too.
Stamkos is healthy. Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson are fresh off new extensions. Nikita Kucherov looks to build off a career year. Tampa Bay has all the pieces to make another run at the Stanley Cup.
5 Lightning Odds: 10/1
The Lightning share the same odds as the defending champion Penguins. Some bad luck and untimely injuries are why Tampa hasn't been able to get back to the Stanley Cup Final since reaching it in 2015.
Remember, Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop only played in a game each during the 2016 Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh. Stamkos missed three quarters of 2016-17, and yet the Lightning barely missed the postseason. Just imagine what's in order if this team stays healthy.
Tampa Bay figures to be the top team in the Atlantic Division. They have the most speed and arguably the most skill. If they reach the Conference Final and avoid the Penguins, then who's going to stop them? Tampa is easily the team to beat in the East heading into 2017-18.
4 Nashville Predators
The Predators fell just two wins shy of beating the Penguins to win their first Stanley Cup championship. They didn't have star centre Ryan Johansen in that series, so just imagine what could have been if he was available.
Any who, the Predators are among the Western Conference favorites heading into 2018. P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm round out the NHL's best defensive core. On top of that, Nashville's offence is ridiculous.
This group features Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Craig Smith and possibly Mike Fisher if he chooses to play another year. Nashville also has one of the league's best goalies in Pekka Rinne. Oh, and they added Nick Bonino and Alexei Emelin to strengthen an already dangerous squad.
3 Predators Odds: 9/1
Like I said, the Predators are among the elite teams in the Western Conference, and nobody should be surprised if they live up to P.K. Subban's vow -- that this team will be back in the Final next year.
Nashville has every strength you can think of. There's depth at forward and on defence. There is a ton of speed, skill and toughness all over the roster. They wore down elite teams like Chicago and Anaheim in the playoffs. They were better than the Penguins, the Predators simply just didn't get any of the bounces.
The Predators are younger, faster and better than just about every team in the NHL. After embarking on a major run, you have to bet that more is in order for this team. Only one team has better Cup odds in 2018.
2 Edmonton Oilers
Had they not blown a 3-0 lead with just minutes remaining in Game 5 against the Ducks, then Edmonton would have been in the Western Conference Final. For all we know, they go on to beat the Predators and eventually Sidney Crosby's Penguins to win the Stanley Cup.
But on that note, the Oilers are going to be the team to beat entering 2017-18. They have the world's best player in Connor McDavid, plus another star in Leon Draisaitl. The depth doesn't end there -- as power forwards Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon also add scoring. Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Ryan Strome also provide ample offence.
Edmonton's defence is also among the NHL's best. Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and Andrej Sekera are among the league's best stay-at-home defenders. Cam Talbot is also a Vezina-caliber goalie. With the three California teams all seeing their prime players on the wrong side of 30, the Pacific Division is Edmonton's to win.
1 Oilers Odds: 8/1
There isn't anything to dislike about the Oilers in 2017-18. They have plenty of scoring up front, even though Connor McDavid is kind of all you need to have a chance. They have insanely quick speed and some tough guys in Lucic, Maroon and Zack Kassian to intimidate opponents.
The Oilers defence is one of the youngest in the NHL, and yet is was one of the best in 2017. There's no telling how much better it can truly be. And as said earlier, Cam Talbot is easily one of the league's top goalies. He stole a lot of playoff games for Edmonton and should be able to do that in 2018.
So yeah, that's why the Oilers are my pick to win the Cup. Hence, why they also have the very best odds in 2018.
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