Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Which teams have the best (and worst) odds of winning a Stanley Cup in the next five years?

It’s​ Future Week here​ on​ The​ Athletic’s​ NHL​ pages.​ So today,​ let’s head into​ that future. How​ does​ five years sound?

If​​ you said “way too far to predict with any accuracy, you idiot”, then you’re right. But we’re going to do it anyway, by trying to figure out which NHL teams have the best odds of winning at least one Stanley Cup at any point in the next five years.

It’s a deceivingly tough question, one that touches on everything from current rosters to prospect pipelines to coaching to cap management. I tried to tackle it three years ago at Grantland, with mixed results (more on that in a bit). Today I’m going to try again, because I do not learn from my mistakes.

But first: You may have seen Monday’s Future Power Rankings, a piece that ranked the 31 existing teams in terms of where they’ll be in three years. It was basically an attempt to project what the league will look like in 2020-21.

So is this the same thing? Not really, although there will be some obvious overlap. If you’re well set up to be among the league’s best teams in three years, you’re basically hitting the sweet spot of a five-year window. And if you’re headed toward being a mess in a few years, you’re probably not in great shape on either end of that. We’ll be referring back to the Future Power Rankings several times as we go.

But today’s ranking isn’t necessarily about the future, and it’s not meant as a ranking of which teams will be in the best shape a certain number of years from now. We just want to win Cups here, and for our purposes, a win in 2019 counts just as much as one in 2023. That means that an old team without many prospects can still rank well if their window remains open right now. And a team that’s an utter mess today still has time to turn things around. Five years is a long time.

So with that in mind, let’s move on to figuring out which teams are the most likely to win the next five Stanley Cups. As with any attempt at projecting the future, some of these rankings will turn out to be wrong; it’s hard enough to predict what’s going to happen in the NHL tonight, let alone half a decade from now. If you’re the sort of person who gets irrationally upset over that, feel free to track me down and scream at me about it. Just remember that you have to wait five years first.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in. We’ll start at the bottom, and with what should be the only sure thing in this post. Maybe.

32. Seattle Something-or-Others

If the Golden Knight taught us one thing, it’s that anything can happen in the NHL. If they taught us a second and more important thing, it’s that having a clean slate of cap room turns out to be far more valuable than we may have realized.

So why don’t I think Seattle has much of a chance to match the Knights’ success? Partly because I view that Vegas season as a perfect storm that’s unlikely to be duplicated. And partly because I suspect that the other teams are going to smarten up in terms of how they handle expansion. They may even over-correct, hurting themselves in the process. But either way, Seattle is going to have a tougher time fleecing teams right out of the gate.

But mostly, I feel good about this pick because Seattle won’t join the league until 2021. That eats up three of our five years, which means their odds have to be the longest of anyone in the league.

At least I’m pretty sure they should. And I’m never wrong about an expansion team, as long as you ignore literally everything I’ve written since 2017.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 3%

31. Los Angeles Kings

I suspect that Kings fans won’t be overly surprised to see their team bringing up the rear among the 31 established franchises. The Kings’ rebuild hasn’t even started yet; we’re not even sure they realize how badly they need one. There’s talent coming through the system, but with an uninspiring NHL roster and a long-term cap situation clogged with big deals for declining veterans, there’s a ton of work to do in Los Angeles. They might get there, but by the time they do, most of our five-year window should be gone.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 4%

30. Chicago Blackhawks

On the one hand, this feels like an easy one. The ‘Hawks were bad last year. They’re worse this year. And with a cap situation dominated by long-term contracts to aging stars who, for the most part, just aren’t ever going to be the players they once were, there’s little reason to think that things will get any better. The prospect pipeline is OK but not much more than that, and among the young players on the roster, only Alex DeBrincat really looks like a potential star. They’re basically the Kings, in just slightly better shape.

So it’s an easy call. Almost too easy. These are still the Blackhawks, just three years removed from a mini-dynasty, and the rush to bury them feels at least a little like wishful thinking. I’m still going to do it, because I have to bury a few teams for this to work. But if Stan Bowman rediscovers his magic, the Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews duo ages gracefully, and Artemi Panarin shows up at their front door on July 1 holding a sign that says ADOPT ME, I’ll be muttering “I knew it” while Blackhawks fans gleefully shove me out onto an ice floe.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 6%

29. Ottawa Senators

Here’s where things get tricky. On the one hand, the Senators’ young players have looked good this year, and there’s reason to be optimistic that Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk can both be difference makers. Mix in some decent prospects on the way and a handful of core pieces still left over from the conference final run two years ago, and on paper I should probably be more optimistic, even without that 2019 first-round pick to build around and Mark Stone and Matt Duchene still unsigned.

The big question is whether they can really win a Cup with Eugene Melnyk as owner, given his financial constraints and non-stop parade of distractions and controversies. I’m just not convinced that they can, with the recent implosion of their arena plans reinforcing that. Melnyk continues to insist he’ll never sell. But if and when new ownership arrives, feel free to move the Senators up at least a few slots, and maybe more.

Odds of a Cup in five years: 7%

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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