The race for the Stanley Cup has seen four favorites emerge on the betting lines (Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim & Pittsburgh), along with two solid challengers (Boston & San Jose). The Los Angeles Kings deserve a high level respect as a recent champion (2012) with a top-flight goalie in Jonathan Quick. But the NHL is nothing if not chaotic—the playoffs are a best-of-seven version of March Madness really—so let’s also take a brief look at seven viable Stanley Cup longshots…
Colorado Avalanche (20-1): The decision to bring back franchise legend Patrick Roy as head coach is working. Roy, who was in net for Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001 has turned this team around and gotten them to #5 in the West, and a good cushion on their nearest competitor. Colorado’s offense flows through three good centers in Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene.
New York Rangers (22-1): When you talk about an upside, the Rangers, currently #6 in the East, have plenty of it. They have four offensive players—Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan—that are playing subpar. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is having a mediocre year. And yet the Rangers are still just a good week from moving as high as #3. Of course they’re also a bad week from falling out of the playoffs entirely.
Tampa Bay Lightning (30-1): A broken leg that appeared ready to sideline Steven Stamkos for the year back in November, is now close to being healed and Stamkos looks like he’ll be cleared to play. That Tampa has produced the #3 team in the East without one of the game’s electric scorers is a tribute to good work by Martin St. Louis (25 goals) and a fantastic showing by goalie Ben Bishop, whose 93.3% save rate, second among NHL goalies, should get him some love in the MVP conversation.
Montreal Canadiens (35-1): Montreal doesn’t do well at generating shots, nor at finishing the shots they do get. They do a poor job stopping shots on the defensive end, and while defenseman P.K. Subban is a talented player, what does it say when a player from that spot is your leading point producer? Nonetheless, Montreal is tied for #4 in the East because of a good year from goalie Carey Price. Now that Price is fresh off leading Canada to the gold medal in Sochi, is he poised to go on a magical spring/summer ride?
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Toronto Maple Leafs (50-1): Phil Kessel is another name to be in the MVP discussion, with his 34 goals and 31 assists making him one of the NHL’s best scorers and a leading point producer on a team whose main virtue is a high conversion rate off a low number of shots. The Leafs’ decision to trade for young goaltender Jonathan Bernier (previously the backup to Quick in Los Angeles) in the offseason has been vindicated, as Bernier has vastly outplayed incumbent James Reimer.
Detroit Red Wings (50-1): I’m probably being overly deferential to their heritage as a great franchise in putting Detroit on this list. Henrik Zetterberg, the heart and soul of the team, was injured after one game for Sweden’s silver-medal winning Olympic team. With bad years being endured by Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfreddson and goalie Jimmy Howard, the Wings have a fight on their hand to make the playoffs. They have a one-point edge in the race to do so but we saw what happened last year when they got in—an upset of Anaheim and pushing Chicago to seven games.
Washington Capitals (65-1): Should Alex Ovechkin even want to win the MVP anymore? The three-time winner of the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL MVP, has taken more heat for his playoff failures, and now his Olympic showing was a disaster, as his Russian team lost in the quarterfinals on their home turf. But Ovechkin is still leading the league in goals and by a lot. He has 40, and Kessel’s 31 are next on the list. Washington’s a point out of the playoffs right now and even just getting to the conference finals would be major vindication for Ovechkin, who desperately needs to show he’s more than a regular season player.