Throughout the course of a season, a team will play 82 games in the hopes of playing just four more rounds for the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. These 82 games are no walk in the park. They consist of grueling hits, tough goals and workouts that most of us would pass out or throw up halfway through. These athletes do it because they want to know the glory of being the very best, having their names etched in glory forever on the greatest trophy in all sports.
Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 16 make it to the first round of the playoffs. For certain teams, making the playoffs is a distant dream. For others, missing them is beyond unacceptable. Below is the breakout of the first round from April 2014:
So which of these teams will most likely make it again?
With the offseason gain of Olympian forward Paul Stastny, the Blues are a lock to have another great season. Stastny, a three-time 70+ point player, racked up 60 points for the Avalanche last year, and seems to be even more invigorated by this homecoming – Stastny was raised in St. Louis upon his father, Peter’s retirement from the league. Though the Blues lost Ryan Miller, they re-signed Brian Elliot to a 3 year deal, and it seems that he will help with the integration of their AHL-leading goalie Jake Allen into the NHL. If Alexander Steen (or any one other forward) plays well to complement Stastny, you’re looking at a team that should be an absolute force.
The Stars just squeaked in last year and had a hard task of playing the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Ducks, but moves in the offseason dictate that they will be a team to beat next year. By adding goal scorer Ales Hemsky and veteran leader Jason Spezza from Ottawa, the offense becomes completely rounded out. If their defense can keep up, the Stars could bring April hockey back to the Deep South for at least one more season.
It actually pains me to write this, but I still see the Bruins as the best in the East. I know they weren’t even the best last year, but they’re big, they’re physical, they’re skilled and they’re basically the same as they’ve always been. The loss of Jarome Iginla is obviously worth noting, but will it break the team? Absolutely not. Tuukka Rask is only 27 and getting better each year. Short of a major injury, I see the Bruins going far, per usual.
Though several teams flip flop each year (think Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, etc), teams have made some very interesting moves this offseason which will make them better in years to come. Don’t expect to see the Oilers in the playoff hunt next year, but Edmonton has made quite a few moves that prove that the front office is thinking long term. If there’s an award for most improved, I want to put their name in the race; the addition of forward Teddy Purcell and defenseman Mark Fayne, along with the extension of Justin Schultz, along with the young talent they have in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shows that some front office brains are at work. Give relatively new captain Andrew Ference some time to get his bearings and I think that we’re looking at a vastly improved team in a couple of years’ time.