Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Taking a shot at the Stanley Cup

By Mark Bruso

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After the trade deadline passed last Monday, the players, coaches, owners and fans of the NHL have to come to grips with their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. The only major surprise was Jeff Carter being shipped from Columbus to Los Angeles. Now, rosters are largely going to be held in place until the end of the season, with changes only coming from minor league call-ups and waiver wire pick-ups from other teams.

Courtesy of NHL.com

It is safe now to forecast which teams have the pieces to make a serious run, and which have to confront the reality of having little chance to be champions.

In the Eastern Conference, the last few weeks have been stagnant. The Boston Bruins keep playing .500 hockey, while the New York Rangers are entrenching themselves as the top seed. Other teams are trying to position themselves as contenders. Out of the two conferences, the East has a clearer future. The Rangers and Bruins, because of their stellar defensive systems, deep rosters and fantastic goaltending are the most obvious choices to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Penguins are to get Sidney Crosby back by the playoffs, they can make the same tier as the Rangers and Bruins. Crosby, with Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin, make the best trio of pivots any team can claim. Add goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and deep blue-line, and you have a serious contender.

After the top three in the East, it gets a little hazy. Perennial contenders in the Capitals find themselves hanging on by a thread, due to subpar work by new goalie Tomas Vokoun, lackluster effort by the Alexanders (Ovechkin and Semin), and long-term injuries to Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom. The talent-laden Flyers could be real challengers, only stalwart Chris Pronger remains out, due to post-concussion symptoms. Their $51 million solution to their goaltending woes hasn’t quite worked to their liking. Florida, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Toronto, and New Jersey could pull a victory off, but they are not likely Cup Contenders.

The Western Conference is stellar. Vancouver, Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis have been solid. San Jose and Chicago are perennial contenders who have swooned as of late, but could be in the discussion, come April. Both St. Louis and Nashville are having surprising seasons, due i to their defenses.

The easiest teams to pick to come out of the West are Vancouver and Detroit. Detroit recently set a record for single-season home winning streak, while Vancouver has stormed back from a mediocre start. Both have the confluence of top-flight offensive scoring threats, solid goaltending, capable defensemen and veteran presence.

Chicago and San Jose both have so-so goaltending, offensive firepower and experiences of deep playoff runs in recent years. As of now, both stand as wildcard entrants at the lower end of the bracket.

It’s a great time to be a hockey fan. The league enjoys so much parity that teams were afraid to trade for or trade away talent at the deadline.  Most of the league’s teams have reason to believe they could get into the playoffs. It is sure to be a battle of the best.

Mark Bruso can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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