BY JEFF ANGUS
Although the NHL season is less than a week old, we have gotten a decent look at all 30 clubs. There have been surprises, disappointments, dominant performances, and teams that have left us wanting more. The to win Stanley Cup odds are always changing, and over the past week the odds have changed significantly for many NHL clubs. At this moment in time, which four teams represent the best value to win the Stanley Cup in 2013?
THE LONG SHOT
Anaheim Ducks (+4500 to Win the Stanley Cup)
Vancouver Canucks at Anaheim Ducks (-138, 5.5)
The Ducks are off to an impressive 2-0 start after road wins over Vancouver and Calgary, and they have been one of the more impressive Western Conference squads early on this season. The Ducks have been far from perfect, but scoring 12 goals in two games goes a long way to masking any issues.
Do the Ducks have a shot at winning the Cup with their current roster? Probably not, but it wouldn’t be completely impossible. They have high end talent that can rival any other NHL squad (Getzlaf, Perry, and Bobby Ryan). They have a solid goaltender in Jonas Hiller. And they upgraded their defense significantly last summer with the acquisitions of Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. Former defenseman Scott Niedermayer has also officially joined the team in a coaching capacity, and his impact will be most felt by mobile rearguard Cam Fowler.
The Ducks also have a number of very good young forwards who have been playing together in the AHL over the past few years, and many of them are now ready to make a difference in the NHL. Don’t expect Daniel Winnik to finish the season atop the NHL goal scoring list, though.
And how awesome would it be to see “The Finish Flash” Teemu Selanne hoist the cup one more time?
ONCE CONTENDERS, ALWAYS CONTENDERS?
Detroit Red Wings (+3500 to Win the Stanley Cup)
Minnesota Wild at Detroit Redwings (-138, 5.5)
A slow start to the season has dropped Detroit off the list of Stanley Cup favourites. They have obviously missed Nicklas Lidstrom’s calming presence on the back end, and their defensive depth will be tested even more with the injuries to Carlo Colaiacovo (surprise, I know) and Ian White. Look for youngster Brendan Smith to step up in a big way. Detroit has the offensive firepower to go up against any team in the league – Swiss rookie Damien Brunner has looked sensational for the Red Wings, and Mike Babcock has already shown a ton of confidence in him.
Jimmy Howard isn’t an elite goaltender, but he is a very good one. His numbers will drop a bit in the post Lidstrom era, but he is still capable of stealing a few games for Detroit over the course of the regular season. The Red Wings have been the best NHL organization for the past 20 years. Their tradition of winning was passed down from Yzerman and Fedorov to Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and now the same will have to happen with the likes of Brunner, Smith, and Gustav Nyqvist.
San Jose Sharks (+1800 to Win the Stanley Cup)
Phoenix Coyotes at San Jose Sharkes (-200, 5.5)
Many thought that the window to win had closed long ago in San Jose, but they have been one of the most impressive teams in the NHL this season. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton area playing like it is 2003 and not 2013, and Logan Couture is showing why so many in the hockey world are so excited to watch him develop. San Jose has a solid supporting cast of forwards after those three, including Marty Havlat and Joe Pavelski. Where San Jose got into trouble in recent years is with their depth, which was once a strong suit of the team. The Sharks are now a top-heavy team up front, and they need more production from their third and fourth lines this season. Their defensive group, led by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns, and Dan Boyle, is solid from top to bottom, and probably a bit underrated around the league.
The real wildcard is Antti Niemi. He does have a Stanley Cup ring to his name, but he earned that playing behind a stacked Chicago Blackhawks squad. Niemi is capable of playing elite hockey for stretches at a time, but to date he has yet to show the consistency necessary to be considered one of the better goalies in the league. If he can give the Sharks a chance to win most of their games this season, they may prove that their window to win has cracked back open.
Chicago Blackhawks (+800 to win the Stanley Cup)
Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars (+100, 5.5)
Through the first three games of the season, no NHL team has been more impressive than Chicago. The Blackhawks have all of the necessary ingredients to win their second Stanley Cup in the past three years – up front, their scoring talent is among the league’s best. On the back end, they boast a nice mix of skill, experience, and size. Corey Crawford struggled a bit last season, but he was Chicago’s MVP in their first round series against Vancouver back in 2011. He has proven he can win the big games, and the Blackhawks are confident in his ability to carry them all the way in 2013.
Marian Hossa is completely healthy and recovered from the injury he sustained after being hit by Raffi Torres last April. Patrick Kane is playing the best hockey of his career, and Jonathan Toews is his usual consistently-dominant self. Dave Bolland has looked great on the second line, as Chicago had been without a second line center for a few years now. Simply put, the Blackhawks are a nightmare to match up against.