PHT is spending Christmas listing the best teams, the most disappointing teams, and making our mid-season awards picks. Because what better day than Christmas to infuriate readers with our opinions!
1. Washington Capitals
Let’s just say I’m feeling pretty good about picking these guys to win the Stanley Cup. They head into the break with the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense. You look at the roster and it’s just hard to identify a weakness. The emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov makes them so much harder to defend. I honestly believe expectations for this team should be higher than they’ve ever been. Even higher than in 2009-10. This must be both exciting and terrifying for Caps fans.
2. Dallas Stars
It’s funny, the Stars are actually quite similar to those 2009-10 Caps. They’ve got two young offensive stars in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and nobody scores more goals than they do as a team. The big question is whether their style will translate to success in the playoffs, because they’re only 12th in goals against. In the salary-cap era, only the 2008-09 Penguins managed to win it all with a middling defensive team. At the very least, we’ve seen it can be done.
3. Los Angeles Kings
I’ve got them ranked below the Stars because they’re 12 points lower in the standings, but if they met the Stars in a playoff series, I’d probably pick the Kings. And I bet a lot of people would do the same. These guys remain one of the most dominant puck-possession teams in the league, and they know how to check. That’s a combination that’s earned them two Cups in the last four years. Nobody should be shocked if they make it three in five this spring.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Don’t be fooled by the 2-9-0 record going into the break. That’s mostly goaltending-related; it doesn’t happen with Carey Price in there. Also, the Habs really miss Brendan Gallagher. Now, that’s not to suggest everything will be fine once those two are back. I expect GM Marc Bergevin to pursue another top-six winger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he called the Hurricanes about Eric Staal, or possibly even the Lightning about Steven Stamkos.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
There isn’t a whole lot separating the top 10 teams in the NHL. Heck, there isn’t a whole lot separating the top 20 teams. Which is to say, I considered a bunch of other teams for this spot, particularly the Blues and Isles. But the ‘Hawks made the cut because 1) their core has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, and 2) their revamped roster deserved some time to come together. That being said, it should concern ‘Hawks fans that one line — the Patrick Kane line, in case you’ve been in a coma — has been doing so much of the scoring. I’m not sold on Chicago’s bottom six, and I think they could use another defenseman. How much GM Stan Bowman can improve his roster prior to the deadline remains to be seen, but you can bet he’ll try.