Thursday, September 24, 2015

Which teams have the odds for a Cup in the next five years? Part two.

In Part 2 of a three-part series, we continue attempting to answer the seemingly simple question: Which NHL teams have the best odds of winning at least one Stanley Cup in the next five years?

In Part 1, we counted down from nos. 30 to 21, covering the 10 teams with the worst odds of getting their hands on a Cup in the foreseeable future. If you missed that article, you can find the basic ground rules of what we’re trying to do there.

The reaction to Tuesday’s article was interesting. I don’t think I heard from a single Devils fan who had any problem with them being ranked no. 30, and for the most part, fans of the Canucks (no. 28), Leafs (no. 26), and Senators (no. 24) kept the outrage to a minimum. On the other hand, some felt like the Panthers (no. 27) and Coyotes (no. 25) deserved better, and that I had too much faith in the Flyers, even down at no. 23.

The most controversial team listed was the Predators, at no. 21. I see a team that needs to take another step but will have to do it with an aging franchise goaltender, an underwhelming group of forwards, and a good but not great prospect pipeline. Others see a strong, young blue line and more than enough upside to catch the league’s elite. Either way, if there’s a team in the bottom 10 that could prove me wrong with a Cup win this season, the Preds are probably it.

Today, we’re onto the mushy middle — 10 teams that each have a realistic chance at glory but wouldn’t necessarily be considered the favorites. There’s not much to choose from among this group, as the narrow gap in their odds shows. If you want a catchy subtitle to go with today’s article, I’d suggest “parity.”

No. 20 — Boston Bruins

Does Don Sweeney have a plan? That’s the big question in Boston, and nobody’s figured out the answer yet. Sweeney took over the GM’s chair from Peter Chiarelli this summer, and he went on to guide the Bruins to one of the most confusing offseasons of any NHL team. His moves ranged from “this guy is incompetent” to “he might be a misunderstood genius,” without many stops in between.

The end result is that the Bruins are old and expensive, and the farm system is merely OK. But they still have one of the game’s best two-way players in Patrice Bergeron and one of the best goaltenders in Tuukka Rask, which makes for a pretty solid foundation. They’ve also got Zdeno Chara, who may not have much gas left in the tank but isn’t ready to move into the “washed-up” column quite yet. They had three first-round picks this year and still have Malcolm Subban as a future starter/trade bait. And they’ve still got most of the core that formed a championship team just a few years ago. And we haven’t even mentioned future Norris winner Dougie Hamilton, who can be the team’s franchise player once …

Oh, right. We’re back to that oddball summer again. Maybe all of those changes will help a team that was reportedly divided last year, but the bottom line is that the Bruins seem to be headed in the wrong direction. They’re no sure thing to make the playoffs this season. But if they do make it, at least for now, I’m not sure I’d want to play them.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 12 percent

No. 19 — Colorado Avalanche

There may not be a more polarizing team on today’s list than the Avalanche, who are absolutely stacked with young talent after spending a few years racking up top-five picks. Their farm system dried up after that haul, but they replenished some of it with this summer’s Ryan O’Reilly trade. And they’re still just one season removed from a 112-point season.

Of course, that 2013-14 year had every analytics guy screaming “fraud.” and nobody who paid attention to the numbers was remotely surprised when the Avs plummeted all the way out of the playoffs last season. And there’s a bigger issue hanging over the club’s future: the nagging feeling that team management might not know what it’s doing. Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic know a thing or two about winning Cups in Colorado, but in an era in which every team seems to be moving toward a more modern approach to thinking about the game, the Avs are still defiantly old school. If the analytics movement is wrong, the Avalanche will be in great shape. But the analytics movement isn’t wrong, so … yeah.

And yet, in a league where strength down the middle is key, it’s not hard to imagine a team led by Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon doing some damage. There’s enough talent here to make a run or two. And if and when they eventually smarten up, maybe even more than that.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 13 percent

No. 18 — Columbus Blue Jackets

OK, maybe we spoke too soon when handing the Avalanche today’s “most polarizing” crown. On the one hand, the Blue Jackets weren’t very good last year, finishing 11th in the East. On the other, they had atrocious luck, and almost everyone agrees they were probably a better team than their record indicated. On the one hand, any talk of a Stanley Cup seems awfully ambitious for a franchise that has still never won so much as a playoff round. On the other, this is a look at the next five years, not the previous 15. On the one hand, there’s a solid case being made that they’ve screwed up their long-term cap by overpaying mediocre players. On the other, there’s a solid case that their young stars and strong prospect pipeline could make them one of the very best teams in the league within three years.

All of this is to say that plenty of readers won’t think the Jackets belong on today’s list at all. They should obviously have been on yesterday’s, with the other also-rans. Or maybe they should obviously be on tomorrow’s, with the other elites.

I still think they’re closer to the former than the latter, as their ranking indicates. But after years of being cannon fodder for the rest of the league, the Blue Jackets have a chance to start making some noise of their own very soon.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 15 percent

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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