Which NHL Club Will Be “Canada’s Team” in 2018-19?
It’s been over 25 years since a Canadian NHL team won the Stanley Cup. Here’s a brief analysis of the seven clubs to determine which one stands the best shot of ending Canada’s Cup drought.
7. Montreal Canadiens. The last Canadian team to win the Cup enters this season with the least-likely chance of bringing home the big mug. They lack scoring punch, particularly at center. A knee injury has sidelined top defenseman Shea Weber until midseason. Goaltender Carey Price’s injury history is cause for concern. Even if everything somehow goes right and the Habs reach the playoffs, they lack the depth to stage a serious run for the Cup.
6. Ottawa Senators. A year after coming within an overtime goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Senators are far away from contender status. They missed the playoffs last season amid rumors of dressing-room tension and veiled threats of relocation by team owner Eugene Melnyk. Pending free agents Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Matt Duchene might not be with the club by season’s end. The Senators are a mess and a major rebuild appears to be on the horizon.
5. Vancouver Canucks. The retirement of the Sedins leave Alex Edler and Chris Tanev as the only links to the Canucks’ 2011 Cup finalist roster. In the midst of a rebuild, they have some promising assets in Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Thatcher Demko, while Bo Horvat has blossomed into a solid two-way center. Still, they lack experienced talent throughout their ranks, particularly in goal and on the blueline. The Canucks have a long way to go before they can be consider contenders again.
4. Edmonton Oilers. Following a disappointing 78-point effort, the Oilers enter 2017-18 facing plenty of questions. Can they find a reliable right wing for superstar center Connor McDavid? Can their defense corps overcome the absence of sidelined Andrej Sekera? Will goaltender Cam Talbot, left wing Milan Lucic and blueliners Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell have bounce-back performances? If the answer to most of these is “no”, the Oilers will be hard-pressed to reach the postseason next spring.
3. Calgary Flames. The Flames shook things up after missing the 2018 playoffs. They have a new head coach in Bill Peters, shipped defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Carolina in a multi-player trade that brought back Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm and signed veteran free-agent winger James Neal. Led by captain Mark Giordano and young forward stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames have the talent to be a playoff contender. Goaltending, however, remains their Achille’s heel. Starter Mike Smith is 36 and has a long history of injuries, which could once again become a factor over the long grind of the season.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs. The rising Leafs made the biggest splash in this summer’s free-agent pool, signing John Tavares to a seven-year deal. His addition bolsters an already impressive Leafs offense led by young stars Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Offense, however, won’t be enough to finally win the Cup. Their defense corps remains pretty much the same one that was picked apart by the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs. If starting goalie Frederik Andersen’s performance dips this season or the blueline fails to significantly improve, the Leafs’ championship drought will reach 52 years.
1. Winnipeg Jets. After years of patient building, the Jets marched to the 2018 Western Conference Final last season. With solid goaltending from Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck, a blueline anchored by Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Josh Morrissey and an offense powered by Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor, the Jets are Canada’s best hope to win the Stanley Cup. Their only real area of concern is at center, as they’ll have to find a suitable replacement for departed center Paul Stastny. If they can’t address that from within, management could go shopping once again near the deadline for help.