Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chief Sports Editor
With the NHL season under a week away from puck drop, there’s so much to look forward to ahead of teams taking the ice again. The Seattle Kraken are set to make their debut as the NHL’s newest franchise; will they have a magical, Vegas Golden Knights-esque inaugural season, or will it take time for them to gel? Either way, bringing hockey to the Pacific Northwest is an incredible opportunity to expand the influence of the game. Additionally, games across the league will be broadcast on ESPN for the first time since 2004. Having hockey games on the biggest network in sports will give viewers exposure to hockey unlike ever before. But before we get too far ahead on all the excitement revolving around the positive press for the sport itself, let’s take a look at three teams who have what it takes to claim hockey’s ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Too obvious? Oh well. Tampa has assembled one of the most talented rosters in league history over the last few seasons, becoming the first team since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017 to win back to back Stanley Cup championships at the end of the 2020-2021 season. There are simply no holes in any part of their roster; in the previous shortened 58 game season, center Brayden Point and winger Ondrej Palat nearly averaged a point per game each, putting up 48 and 46 points respectively. Oh yeah, and Victor Hedman put up 45 points as a defenseman. And after being kept on the injury reserve during the regular season, Nikita Kucherov returned to put up a ridiculous 32 points in 23 playoff games. This team is downright unfair, and should undoubtedly be the favorites to lift the Cup and chase a three-peat this upcoming season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Is this finally the year this team gets over their playoff woes? Sports are so often about being due, such as Alex Ovechkin getting past his second round troubles en route to finally winning a Stanley Cup in 2018. And I think this is the year that Toronto is due to win a playoff series. After being heartbroken in the first round of the playoffs year after year, I think this is the season the Leafs get it done. GM Kyle Dubas has done all he can to assemble an extremely talented young core to this storied franchise; Auston Matthews and John Tavares provide arguably the best 1-2 punch at center in the league, while Mitch Marner and William Nylander hold it down on the wings. The problem for Toronto this season may be their blueliners and goalie situation, as the serviceable Freddie Andersen moved to Carolina in the offseason, leaving Jack Campbell as their starter, only having appeared in 86 NHL games. The Leafs offense is nearly as good as it gets and if they can prove to be solid on defense, watch for them to exercise their demons and make a deep playoff run.
Like Toronto, Colorado has boasted an extremely talented roster over the last couple of years, led by top three player in the league Nathan MacKinnon, paired with wingers Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog to create the best top line in the NHL. Their defense is very solid as well, as Cale Makar is easily a top five defender in the league at just 22 years old with blinding speed and crafty puck skills for a blueliner. Despite their first line firepower and young defensive stud, the Avalanche haven’t made the Conference Finals since 2002. This past postseason was a letdown for Colorado, who many expected to meet Tampa in the Stanley Cup Finals; after handily sweeping the St. Louis Blues in the First Round and taking the first two games from Vegas in the Second Round, Vegas stormed back winning four games in a row to win the series in six games. The Avalanche will also have a new goalie between the pipes, with Darcy Kuemper taking the helm at goaltender. Nathan MacKinnon is arguably the best player in the league without a Cup at the moment; does that change this season?