Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stanley Cup To Stay West?

With the NHL season winding down, it becomes natural to think about the Stanley Cup playoffs and who will be the frontrunners to win the cup. First place in the league is the Detroit Red Wings. They have had some recent troubles due largely to defensive injuries, but as players are coming back from injury and back into form that may not be an issue once the playoffs begin. At all star break, I wrote can Detroit win the cup? where I picked them as the favorite, but the have many questions as well. Is Dominik Hasek going to be healthy in playoff time? Can Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk lead the team offensively in the playoffs?

The other team that stands out from the crowd is the defending cup champion Anaheim Ducks. Now that Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne have returned, they have played very good hockey as well. It is very reasonable to consider them Stanley Cup favorites (particularly if Dominik Hasek does not get his game on track). Of course they have questions surrounding them. They have the forth worst offence in the league - even if their defence is great is that good enough? Have Selanne and Niedermayer worked off their rust from extended summer vacations?

The best team in the NHL recently is the San Jose Sharks. They have won eleven of their last twelve and even their loss was a regulation tie. Do they have the depth to make a serious playoff run? Joe Thornton has never had a big playoff in his career yet - is this year different? If they can play as well as they have lately, they could be the cup winner.

The most plausible cup winners at this point are all West Conference teams. This is probably not a big surprise, because the West Conference has a significantly better record in inter-conference play. Aside from Detroit, Anaheim and San Jose, there are west teams like Dallas, Calgary and Minnesota, who with a couple upsets could find themselves in the Stanley Cup finals.

What about the East Conference? One thing we know is one of the two teams in the Stanley Cup finals will come from the East Conference. Who will it be? Ottawa made it last year and may do it again, but they have struggled with lacklustre goaltending. New Jersey leads the conference in points and has the goaltending of Martin Brodeur to fall back on, but has less else than in previous years. Pittsburgh has a high calibre offence built around Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa, but not enough else to be a real favorite.

The best bet at this point is that the West Conference produces the Stanley Cup winner. The best hope for the East Conference is that the west beats itself up and the team that survives loses to a more rested east team.

Handicapping the Stanley Cup playoffs at this point shows that West Conference teams have the best chance at winning the cup. Of course, there will be one East Conference team in the finals and upsets can happen.

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