Standing still can be better than the alternative. While any improvement the Tampa Bay Lightning see will have to come from within after their quiet summer, they also haven’t endured any major losses.
Chicago was the oddsmaker’s favorites to repeat in mid-June, but since then the Blackhawks have parted ways with Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. To be fair, Chicago has also gotten some noteworthy additions like Artem Anisimov and they have some promising youngsters that might help fill the gaps like Artemy Panarin and Marko Dano.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have made some considerable sacrifices this summer in the name of cap compliance and that’s without talking about the elephant in the room.
Tampa Bay finished two wins shy of Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, so has the uncertainty created by Chicago’s turnover at least made the Blackhawks not quite as good of a bet as the Lightning?
Of course, even if you’re inclined to say that Tampa Bay is now in a better position than Chicago, that’s not the end of the debate. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have strong teams led by elite goaltenders and either one is capable of having a standout season. Then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, which came closer to eliminating Chicago than Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Blues, which has fielded a great team for years, but hasn’t been able to put it all together once the playoffs start — yet.
You could bet on a Los Angeles Kings comeback or the Pittsburgh Penguins’ overwhelming squads with Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even then we haven’t covered all the teams that can legitimately claim to be serious contenders going into the season.
But this isn’t about who could win the Cup, it’s who has the best chance of doing so, even if it is by a narrow margin in a large field. Is Tampa Bay that team?