The dust has finally settled after the completion of the expansion and amateur draft. The question remains, after all the additions and subtractions, who is the team to beat in 2017-18?
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the favourite to win their third Cup in as many years but there is more question with Mike Sullivan’s team than there’s ever been after Marc-Andre Fleury moved to Vegas to man the net for the Golden Knights. Their success will have a lot to do with how much Jim Rutherford is willing to dip into the free agent market come July 1st. Rutherford has already started to add pieces with the acquisition of Ryan Reaves who will be joining the Pens after a draft day move. The move was clearly to add some protection for his stars. Rutherford was quoted as saying “We’re tired of getting beat up”. The Pens will likely lose Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cullen but they can look forward to a returning Kris Letang. No matter how it shakes out the Penguins strength has always been their ability roll four lines out that put an immense amount of pressure on opposing goaltenders.
The most likely challenger to the Penguins title could be the Edmonton Oilers who are a 10/1 second choice. Connor McDavid has been the focus of most when talking about the Oilers resurgence but GM Peter Chiarelli has done a masterful job of assembling a deep roster that allows some of their prospects to marinade in Bakersfield. Normally, you would see Kailer Yamamoto rushed to the NHL but Chirarelli presence has Oiler faithful dreaming a Cup without mortgaging the future. The addition of Ryan Strome will give the Oilers more speed to an already potent offense. The Oilers are my early 2018 Stanley Cup selection.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will once again be the forgotten team in the East, evident by their 22/1 Stanley Cup odds. The jackets added Artemi Panarin this week giving them another 30-goal scorer to compliment Cam Atkinson who netted 35 in 206-17. They’ll return the Jack Adams Award winner in John Tortorella, the Vezina winner in Sergei Bobrovsky, and Mr. Leadership Nick Foligno. They’re just awards but they are certainly key qualities that the Jackets will need to win their first cup.
The finish of 2016-17 had to be another disappointment for the Minnesota Wild swallowing another first round exit. Thankfully, I think this is the year we won’t have to watch Head Coach Bruce Boudreau explain another first round exit. The Wild were pretty quiet this week but I expect that to change in the next few weeks as free agency starts July 1st. At 15/1 its reasonable to make a move on their future before further additions occur. The Wild have over $13 million in cap space available but Chuck Fletcher clearly likes the make-up of his roster which is why they didn’t unload Matt Dumba or Jonas Brodin. I expect the Wild to challenge Minnesota in the West next season.
We can’t dismiss the Chicago Blackhawks next season who are listed at 12/1. The ‘Hawks need to make some moves as they are the only team over the salary cap. It’s time for new blood in the Windy City, or maybe just old, new blood, after the ‘hawks second first round exit in a row. This is a franchise that has lost eight of their last 11 playoff games but with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as their cornerstone stars. Marcus Kruger is rumored to still be on the move but perhaps turning the soil over is exactly what the Blackhawks need to make a return to the Stanley Cup.
In less than a year we’ll crown a new champion so let’s try Edmonton and Columbus on for size as my choice for the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.