The Stanley Cup win for the Los Angeles Kings is still fresh in the mind, and their relentless rampage through the playoffs was one of the most impressive in NHL history. The team only lost four games — of which only one was on the road — and goaltender Jonathan Quick was rewarded for his outstanding efforts in net with a 10-year contract extension.
Recent history, however, is against the Kings. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner of the Stanley Cup since the nineties where the Detroit Red Wings dominated in 1997 and ‘98.
But the Kings have quietly gone about their business to shape a young group capable of challenging. Their win this past season should be no surprise to those who saw the pieces shrewdly put together for a serious title challenge. But will this squad — many of whom will be staying with the Kings into the coming season — be able to continue their outstanding run in the post-season and capture a record second successive Stanley Cup to make franchise history? They are around 9/1 in the NHL betting lines futures to do it.
The Kings sailed past the number one, two and three seeded teams in the post-season; two of which had the potential to go all the way — at least to the Conference Final. Like the Kings, each of those were built on an excellent foundation of goal tending. But as we’ve seen over the past few seasons, the best form during the regular counts for little when playoff hockey comes around.
The Phoenix Coyotes are a strange proposition. They have neither the financial stability nor the goal scoring consistency to really challenge, and yet the team made the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Goaltender Mike Smith may have finally found a team that he can call his own, following unsuccessful stints in Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Smith was consistent enough to help the team into the playoffs, but really flourished under the pressure and limelight of the post-season. His numbers and performances were good (1.99 GAA, .944 SV%), but the Coyotes could be at another stumbling block this summer as they look to rebuild following the potential departure of a couple of key figures.
With their division rivals only looking to get stronger ahead of next season, it’s unlikely we’ll see another great playoff run from Phoenix. The sportsbooks do not fancy their chances, with 33/1 odds readily available.
In the west, however, you can always count on the Detroit Red Wings to make some noise. Perhaps the most consistent NHL franchise for the past number of decades, the Red Wings will have to fill a huge void in their defence following the retirement of team captain Nicklas Lidstrom. They’ll look to free agency and one of hot names available in Ryan Suter, and will once again be there or thereabouts come the post-season. Their last Stanley Cup win came in 2008 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and they are 14/1 to do it again this coming season.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks (10/1) will be looking to move on franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo and establish Cory Schneider as their No.1 between the pipes. The team finished first in the Western Conference again last season, and their dominance in the west looks set to continue with the combined efforts of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and their supporting cast.
The Canucks were surprisingly (although not such a shock in hindsight) knocked out in the first round by the Kings, but were finalists against the 2011 champions Boston Bruins. Do they have enough to be contenders again? Absolutely. It’s a headache every GM would like to have, I’m sure: the luxury of two outstanding goaltenders but a city big enough for only one. The Canucks will strengthen in other areas should they trade Luongo, and Schneider’s youth is a huge plus moving forward.
The rest of the Western Conference is going to be an interesting battle. The Nashville Predators (14/1) are on the verge of losing Ryan Suter, and there should be a good amount of interest to see how captain Shea Weber responds without his defensive partner. While also from the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues (10/1) were also hugely impressive last season under Ken Hitchcock. They have a young roster and a disciplined defence. Expect another good run at the playoffs from St. Louis again this season.
The Chicago Blackhawks (12/1) should also never be written off. The 2010 Stanley Cup champions possess some of the best forwards in the league in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharpe. Their “D” is good with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith operating on the point but their defensive game needs to improve heavily. However, despite a shaky season last year, you’d expect them to be in the mix come playoff time next season. Their biggest weakness, however, comes in net. They need to upgrade ahead of Cory Crawford if they’re going to be a major player in the post-season. If not, their great strength in attack will count for very little.
The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, is a little more straightforward. At least it should be on paper. The big names will be involved come the post-season: The Philadelphia Flyers (12/1), Pittsburgh Penguins (13/2), New York Rangers (10/1), and Boston Bruins (15/1) have great ability all over the ice. Yet, none of those teams reached the finals.
Heavy favourites Pittsburgh were washed away by fierce rivals Philadelphia in the first round; comfortably the most exciting and entertaining series in the playoffs. While the Rangers’ enviable mix of youth and experience, as well as Henrik Lundqvist in net, could not get them over the line and beyond the conference finals.
The Rangers and the market in New York will always be a draw for the NHL’s best talent, and with question marks over Marian Gaborik, the team will be looking to add more firepower to their attack.
Outside of those this past season, it was in fact the New Jersey Devils (20/1) who dug deep and forced their way in the Stanley Cup finals. It was an unlikely effort as the team wrestled their way past the Rangers and Flyers, as well as another surprise offering last season in the Florida Panthers (40/1).
Next season should be greatly different for the Devils, unfortunately. The team are in severe financial trouble, and club captain Zach Parise looks set to test free agency come July 1st. With Martin Brodeur expected to retire at some stage within the next year, it’s difficult to see how the Devils will replace two great cornerstones of the franchise. Their involvement in last season’s finals was unlikely, as is another run deep into the playoffs next season.
With a healthy Sidney Crosby and the ever outstanding Evgeni Malkin, expect the Penguins to be heavy favourites from the East again. They have excellent leadership and goals within the team. Combined with a few smart additions (specifically on defence), they will have enough to replicate their 2009 Stanley Cup win. However, Marc-Andre Fluery’s horrific 4.63 goals against average in this past season’s playoffs will need to greatly improve, as do his numbers in the regular season (2.36 GAA, .913 SV%).
The LA Kings would be a great opponent for them from West. There’s unlikely to be much significant movement out the door from the Kings franchise, and another effort in the post-season like they just had would be a great bonus for the hockey market in California. I could see it happening again and despite being one of the fancied teams in the NHL betting lines, the 9/1 about landing a consecutive Stanley Cup makes a fair bit of appeal.