Stanley Cup playoffs are free-for-all more than ever before
New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh (left) and teammate Keith Yandle (93) celebrate McDonagh’s goal during NHL play against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. (Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)
The only cup the defending champion Los Angeles Kings will be hoisting over the next two months likely will be of the coffee variety.
After leading the NHL in regular-season points (117) during the 2013-14 season, the once-mighty Boston Bruins suddenly find themselves clutching golf clubs instead of hockey sticks in their sweaty palms this spring.
Budding superstar Connor McDavid was only six years old when the San Jose Sharks last missed the playoffs back in 2003.
No California dreamin’ inside the Shark Tank this spring, is there?
With regular post-season performers Los Angeles, Boston and San Jose out of the mix, welcome to the 2015 Stanley Cup tournament, where the quest for hockey’s coveted bauble is as much of a free-for-all as it’s ever been.
Just ask those in the know.
“I don’t remember seeing it so close, honestly,” Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said. “The parity of this league, it’s there. It’s tough to make the playoffs. It’s a good accomplishment for all teams to make the playoffs.
“Like you said, the Stanley Cup champions are not there. The defending Presidents’ Trophy champions, they’re not going to be there. That shows you how demanding it is to make the playoffs. The first goal of any hockey team is to make the playoffs. And for those who accomplish it, they deserve it.”
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In an informal poll of playoff-bound coaches and players conducted by the Sun, the overwhelming conclusion echoed Therrien’s sentiments — more than ever, any one of the 16 post-season participants has a shot at the championship.
“I think it’s about as wide open as it can get,” Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby said. “I think that makes it exciting for hockey fans and a little more stressful on the players and coaches.
“But you know what? That’s why you have an 82-game season and that’s why every one is important. I don’t have a problem with that.”
Would Crosby be singing the same tune had the Penguins not managed to squeeze into the playoffs instead of finally punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup dance with a 2-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 82?
Had they lost and somehow been on the outside looking in, we’re betting Sid The Kid would definitely have had “a problem with that.”
So would the suits at league headquarters — who certainly would be crushed at the sight of all those potential U.S. television dollars shrivelling away thanks to a spring without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
As it is, the 2015 post-season will be missing marquee names such as Jonathan Quick, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, all familiar faces during the past few playoffs.
When the National Hockey League first brought in the salary cap 10 years ago after the ugly lockout of 2004-05, the goal was to create as much of a balanced playing field as possible. And while teams such as the Blackhawks, Kings, Bruins, Penguins, Sharks and Red Wings have arguably been the most successful since the new system was implemented, there no longer is a sure thing when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs any more.
“I think this year is probably the one year where 16 teams probably think they have as good a chance as any of winning the Cup,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whether you start on the road or at home, you could argue that the difference is minimal. But that’s where it is. It’s tough getting through those 82 games but once you get there, every one has a chance to win.
“The parity in this league has never been tighter or more competitive than it is right now.”
But given the events that went down on Monday in the Windy City, Coach Q’s Blackhawks just nudged ahead of the pack as the prohibitive favourites to win hockey’s Holy Grail, thanks to the imminent return of star forward Patrick Kane.
Kane suffered a broken clavicle against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 24 and was originally slated to be out of the Chicago lineup until late May. But the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner obviously is a quick healer and was cleared to play yesterday, thereby adding one of the most dangerous forwards in the game to an already lethal lineup.
With Kane in the mix, the Hawks will be a popular choice to go all the way. Having said that, keep in mind that they don’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round.
Indeed, Chicago will kick off the playoffs at Nashville’s raucous Bridgestone Arena against a formidable Preds team that still relies on stifling defence led by bone-crunching captain Shea Weber and outstanding goaltending from the lanky Pekka Rinne.
It would surprise no one if Nashville wins this series, even with Kane back in action for the Hawks.
Let the fascinatingly intriguing chaos begin.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Odds via bodog.ca)
Odds to win the 2015 Stanley Cup
New York Rangers 11/2
Chicago Blackhawks 8/1
St. Louis Blues 8/1
Anaheim Ducks 9/1
Minnesota Wild 9/1
Montreal Canadiens 9/1
Tampa Bay Lightning 10/1
Nashville Predators 12/1
Pittsburgh Penguins 16/1
Vancouver Canucks 16/1
Detroit Red Wings 18/1
New York Islanders 18/1
Ottawa Senators 18/1
Washington Capitals 18/1
Calgary Flames 20/1
Winnipeg Jets 25/1
Odds to Win Eastern Conference
New York Rangers 9/4
Montreal Canadiens 9/2
Tampa Bay Lightning 9/2
New York Islanders 8/1
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/1
Detroit Red Wings 9/1
Ottawa Senators 9/1
Washington Capitals 9/1
Odds to Win Western Conference
Chicago Blackhawks 15/4
Anaheim Ducks 4/1
St. Louis Blues 4/1
Minnesota Wild 9/2
Nashville Predators 6/1
Vancouver Canucks 8/1
Calgary Flames 10/1
Winnipeg Jets 12/1