While the seeding is still working itself out in the final week of play, here is a look at the teams that will be competing for the Stanley Cup in 2014.
The Boston Bruins have clinched the top seed in the East with a league leading 117-points and a record of 54-18-9. The Bruins were a four-seed in 2013, but they were able to storm through the playoffs and make it to the finals, where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins are led by David Krejci, who has tallied 69-points and Pierre Bergeron, who has 30-goals. Despite winning the Presidents Trophy for being the best team in the NHL, the Bruins may get matched up against the Detroit Red Wings, who they have a 1-3 record against this year. They’ll hope to avoid a first-round exit and keep going strong as the team with the best odds to win this years cup.
At 17/2, the Penguins find themselves fifth in terms of odds to win the Stanley Cup. However, they’ll hope that being the two-seed in the East will be enough to help them get hot and make a run at the cup. In 2013, the Penguins were the top team in the East, but they were swept by Boston in the Conference Finals. This year they find themselves with 108-points, on a record of 46-28-8. Sidney Crosby is no longer a kid, but he’ll be looking to help lead the Penguins to their, and his, first Stanley Cup since 2009.
The Canadians were a two-seed last year, but they were upset by Ottawa in just five games. This year it looks like they’ll get the three-seed and they could matchup against Tampa Bay, a team that the Habs are 0-3-1 against all year long. This is a troublesome concern, but they’ll hope to rely on Max Pacioretty, who leads the team with 60-points and 39-goals. If the Canadians are looking to avoid getting knocked out in the first round for a second year in a row, they’ll need Pacioretty to come up big on offense, while also getting plenty of help from Peter Budaj in between the pipes.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Also sitting at 25/1, the Lightning will likely have one of the toughest matchups in the first round. Despite being fourth in the East with 99-points, they’ll likely end up playing against Montreal due to where these teams align in their divisions. Luckily for Tampa, they have a 3-0-1 edge over the Canadians, so they’ll look to advance despite not having home ice. The Lightning haven’t made the playoffs the last two seasons and they’ve had one of the best turnarounds in the league. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome for Tampa will be playing without Martin St. Louis, who was the leader in points on this team before being traded to New York. Now Steven Stamkos will look to fill in and lead the Bolts to their first Stanley Cup since 2004.
New York Rangers
The Rangers were a six-seed in 2013 when the upset the Washington Capitals in a tough seven-game series. Now the Rangers will likely find themselves as a five seed with 96 points and a 45-31-6 record. If things stay the way they are now, the matchup between the Rangers and Flyers could be one of the most intriguing of the first-round. The two teams have split the four games they played throughout the season and there is certainly a rivalry growing between the two. But what else would you expect from teams from New York and Philadelphia? Mats Zuccarello has 59 points and Rick Nash Leads the team with 26 goals.
The Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals in 2010 and it hasn’t been an easy go the last few years. After disappointing exits in the semifinals in 2011 and 2012, the Flyers missed the playoffs all together last year. This year they’ll likely be in for a brawl against the Rangers, if that is the matchup we see in the first round. Claude Giroux has an inspiring 85 points on the season, as he leads the team with goals, 29, and assists, 56. The Flyers have cooled off a bit in April, going 4-3 in the month.
Columbus Blue Jackets
At 60/1, the Blue Jackets have the lowest odds in the East to win this year’s Stanley Cup. However, this is a team that has improved in recent years and they’ll be looking to make their second consecutive playoff appearance. The only problem is that they’ll likely get matched up against a wicked tough Pittsburgh team that has their own plans for redemption and they don’t want to see the Blue Jackets get in their way. The Penguins are 5-0 on the season series against Columbus, which could be a huge emotional obstacle for the Blue Jackets to overcome. The good news is that Columbus is already finished for the season, so they’ll get a few extra days to rest while the rest of the league plays out a few games this week.
Detroit Red Wings
If it’s not weird enough seeing the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference, it’ll be even more weird seeing them as an eight-seed. Last year the Wings were a seven-seed and were able to upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round in a tough seven-game series. They then pushed the eventual champions to the brink in another seven-game series against the Blackhawks. After league realignment, the Wings now find themselves as the last team in the East, but not the team with the lowest odds. They lead the season series against Boston, 3-1, so they’ll hope for another upset that matches that which they had last year over the Ducks.
Despite sitting as the top seed in the West, the Ducks don’t have the best odds to advance from the West. That being said, this is the second season in a row that the Ducks have been impressive by accumulating more than 100-points. This year their record of 53-20-8 is good enough to get home ice throughout the Western Conference finals. However, before they can plan for that they’ll likely have to get past Dallas, a team that is 2-1 against Anaheim on the season. The Ducks were bounced from the playoffs in the first round last year despite being heavy favorites, so they’ll look to avoid that from happening for the second season in a row.
The Colorado Avalanche has had one of the most impressive turnarounds in NHL history. Last year this was a team that earned the number-one overall draft pick by finishing last in the NHL with just 39 points on 16-wins. Things have quickly turned around with the help of Patrick Roy on the bench and a group of young talent led by Matt Duchene. The Av’s will hope that the regular season finishes the way that it currently looks. If that happens, they’ll play against the Minnesota Wild, a team that they are 4-0-1 against on the season.
Despite likely finishing the season as a three-seed, the St. Louis Blues have the best odds in the West at 9/2. But that might not matter if things play out as is and they end up facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. The irony of this is that the Blackhawks have the second best odds in the West and third best in the NHL, yet their placement in their own division will likely put them at a much lower seed. But if you want to be the best, you’ll have to beat the best. And the St. Louis Blues will hope to be able to knock off the defending champions in the first round, without it taking an entire seven games.
San Jose Sharks
It seems as if every year for the last half-decade, the San Jose Sharks have been at, or near, the top of the Western Conference. They then look great heading into the playoffs, before epically falling apart and getting booted much sooner than expected. In 2013 the Sharks lost in the Conference Semifinals to the Kings and they lost in 2012 to the Blues in the Conference Quarterfinals. In 2010 and 2011, the Sharks were able to get to the Conference Finals, before losing to the Blackhawks and Canucks, respectively. This year they’ll hope to make it the furthest they’ve ever been, after a 51-22-9 regular season record. The irony is that they may have to play against the Los Angeles Kings, the team that booted them last year and has a 3-1-1 regular season record against them this season.
While only the top two teams in the East have more points than the Blackhawks, their tally of 107 will likely only be good enough to get them a spot as a five-seed in 2014. And while they may be the defending champs, the route this year could be much more difficult. Last year they were the top seed and won the Presidents Cup for the best team in the league. This year they’ll likely have a tough matchup against the Blues, which was already discussed. Majority of the team that won the cup last year remains on this Hawks team, so they certainly have the wherewithal to know how to buckle down and make a run. But if they are able to do so, it’ll likely take more effort than it did last year.
Los Angeles Kings
You would think that having 100-points in the NHL would be good enough to garner a high seed, and in the East it would even get you home ice advantage through a few rounds of play. However, 100 points for the Kings is likely only going to be good enough to get them the six-seed, where they’ll start their games on the road. However, the Kings started the playoffs in 2013 as a five-seed and were able to get a big upset over the Blues and even made their way all the Conference Finals, where they were knocked off by the eventual champion Blackhawks. As mentioned, the Kings may hope that things juggle out the way that they look now, which would place them in a matchup against the Sharks. They have been great against the Sharks this year, going 3-1-1 thus far. If this is the matchup we see in the first round, the mental advantage could certainly be on the side of LA.
The odds are stacked against the Wild if things play out as they look right now. The team that was the eight-seed in 2013 will likely end up as a seven-seed this season, where they’ll have to play divisional opponent Colorado. The Av’s have yet to lose to the Wild on the season, something Minnesota hopes it can change if they matchup next week. This is just the second time the Wild will make the playoffs in the last five seasons and fifth time overall. But with the 98-points that they have on a 43-26-12 record, I’s also the second best season they’ve ever had. They’ll hope to continue things, but they’ll have a tall order ahead of them if they play Colorado. The good news for the Wild is that they’ve won their last four games and are 7-2-1 in their last 10.
At 65/1, the Dallas Stars have the lowest odds in the West to win the Stanley Cup. But for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008, this is certainly the best season they’ve had in recent years. The Stars are 6-4 in their last 10, so they’ll also have a bit of momentum on their side. And what could be the most fortunate piece of evidence is that they’ll be up against Anaheim, a team they have beat two out of three times on the year.
Be sure to continually check in with sportspicks.com for updated NHL odds as the Stanley Cup progresses over the coming months.