Stanley Cup contenders

A weekly sports column for the 100 Mile Free Press

This is the final part of my NHL predictions. The teams in this part are the ones I think can legitimately challenge for the Stanley Cup.

This might sound a little crazy, but I think the Carolina Hurricanes can challenge for the cup this season. They’ve only made the playoffs five times since they moved to Raliegh from Hartford, Con., the last time being the 2008-09 season. So why is this season any different? They had a good off-season, recruiting Michael Ferland and Dougie Hamilton via trade, as well as Calvin de Haan and Petr Mrazek from free agency.

The San Jose Sharks are still warming up. As of Nov. 4, they’re in the Western Conference Wild Card spot, but it’s only a matter of time. After all, they have a good cast on their roster and have only missed the playoffs twice since the 1997-98 season and will be looking to continue that trend. They are also the only team in California not to have a Stanley Cup banner hanging from their rafters. That could change this year.

They are also the only team in California not to have a Stanley Cup banner hanging from their rafters. That could change this year.

The Boston Bruins have been lucky with Bruce Cassidy at the bench after it looked like the end of the Claude Julien’s reign meant an incoming rebuild was coming. Some of that luck may have been retaining most of the team’s coree DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork are finding their footing this season. It also helps that Tuukka Rask has a healthy competition between the pipes with Jaroslav Halak, who has been outperforming Rask so far.

They lost in the third round of the playoffs last year, but the Winnipeg Jets look like they can get there again, or maybe even to the final. Blake Wheeler looks like he will be close to having another stellar season. Kyle Connor is fast becoming one of the most promising left wingers in the game, while Patrik Laine is arguably the best current right winger in the game, though Nikita Kucherov might have a say in that.

Speaking of Kucherov, this could be Tampa Bay Lightning’s year. They have been in the conversation ever since Jon Cooper has stood behind the bench and always will be as long as Steve Stamkos and Victor Hedman are on the team sheet. As of Nov. 4, the Floridian team is in first in their division with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins being their only real contenders for that spot.

Will this be the season the Toronto Maple Leafs end their drought? It could be. They have some of the best young talented core of players in the core right now with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly, Nazem Kadri, and Kasperi Kapanen. Oh, and they have John Tavares. Really, that should tell you all you need to know.

In Tennessee, the Nashville Predators are looking like they will win the President Trophy for the second year in a row. In addition to that, they have the best odds to win the biggest prize in hockey. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg are currently on pace for 80-something points. Viktor Arvidsson has also been on fire, even though he has missed some time due to injury. Traditionally, 60-point guys, all three are stepping it up this season. It’s just a matter if they can stay healthy and continue this type of play into the playoffs.

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