The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in six days, and the teams that will battle for the Cup are almost set (thanks Caps). Some teams are coming into the playoffs hot, some warm, some cold. Some are getting healthy, while others are getting banged up and have question marks.
There are experienced teams and those that haven't been there before. The Florida Panthers will make the long-awaited return to the postseason, while the Red Wings will make their annual trip. The excitement for the best postseason in sports is building.
But what are the odds that the 17 teams (yes, 17) that are in the playoff picture actually win it all? Let's take a look.
Why such long odds? They're doing everything they can to be the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference right now, and might successfully hang on to play in the first round. Given their inconsistency this year, it's hard to see them playing more than six postseason games despite all of their talent.
You have to get into the postseason to win it all, which is what's holding down the Sabres' chances. They've been as hot as any team in the East over the last month, and are desperately trying to bounce the Caps out of the dance. If they can get in, they'll give the Rangers a handful.
Erik Karlsson has been incredible this season, and certainly I'm not alone in hoping Daniel Alfredsson hangs around for at least a couple more years. But it's hard to see a scenario where Craig Anderson leads the Sens into the second round. They'll likely need to get into an up-tempo, high-scoring series for their odds to increase.
Odds of winning the Stanley Cup: 12:1
Odds of playing in Glendale in 2013-14: 35:1
Is this the swan song for the Coyotes in the desert? Will this be the end of the road for Ray Whitney and/or Shane Doan? Those are better questions than pondering whether or not the Coyotes will win the Cup. Mike Smith has been a nice story, but to win three series against tough Western Conference opponents is unlikely.
Dale Tallon specifically went out and added players with Stanley Cup experience this year (Campbell, Versteeg, Kopecky, Samuelsson) and it's paid off, leading the Panthers to a division title and ending their playoff drought. But do they have enough defense, scoring and goaltending... Do they have enough of anything to win more than one round in the East?
It appears the Sharks have done enough to not only get into the playoffs, but will have a legitimate shot at winning the pathetic Pacific Division with a pair of games against the Kings to end the season.
If they win both and secure the three seed, they'll get Chicago. If they do just enough to land as the seventh seed, they'll get St. Louis. If LA hands them their lunch and sends them packing, it'll be Vancouver. None of those are easy first-round matchups for the Sharks.
The big question marks hanging over the Devils as they play out the 2012 playoffs surround the future of Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise. Can the great Brodeur put together another special month or two? Can Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk lead a sub-par offense into the second round of the postseason? It'll be tough, but a matchup with Florida might be a good start for New Jersey.
Before they played Pittsburgh last weekend, these odds might have been closer to 7:1, but with indications that Nicklas Grossmann and Danny Briere are both doubtful for the first round against the Penguins, the probability that the Flyers see the second round dropped.
With that being said, the Flyers are good enough without Briere and Grossmann to pull off a stunning upset against the Pens. From there they could make a run like they did in 2010.
Since the trade deadline, the Kings have been one of the best teams in the West; it certainly appears that Jeff Carter was indeed the missing link for the worst scoring offense in the NHL. But with a foot injury clouding Carter's immediate future, and the possibility that the Kings could still be the No. 3, No. 7 or No. 8 seed on April 11th, they'll need their Vezina candidate to stand tall between the pipes. Can Jonathan Quick lead the Kings to the Cup? We'll see.
The Canucks have issues between the pipes. This isn't speculation, it's a fact. That they're financially invested in Roberto Luongo moving forward and stand a very strong chance of losing/trading Cory Schneider this summer unfortunately means Luongo will get every opportunity to win (and lose) for the Canucks this postseason.
They'll need a healthy Daniel Sedin and strong goaltending to win it all, and a first-round matchup with the Kings or Sharks won't be easy, either.
Chicago ran off a 10-2-2 record in March without Jonathan Toews, and for the final four games of the month, without Duncan Keith. They've been playing as well as any team in the West, beating the Preds, Blues, Red Wings and Canucks without their captain on the ice in recent weeks, and could have him back for the postseason.
The question for Chicago is whether or not Corey Crawford can make enough saves to get the highest-scoring team in the conference to the promised land.
They're the defending champs, and Tim Thomas has been really good lately. However, if Thomas gets hurt... they still don't know if Tuukka Rask will be ready to go for the playoffs. They have the scoring and the defense locked down right now, and are still as physical as any team in the East. Can they repeat?
They need Jimmy Howard to be special starting April 11th, and they also need their ancient warriors (Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Bertuzzi) to ignore their age and pains to make a deep run. Finally, Kyle Quincey has to avoid dumb penalties if the Wings are going to make a deep run.
Detroit would prefer to hang on to home-ice advantage if they end up with Nashville in the first round.
There might not be a team in the NHL with more pressure on their shoulders than the Nashville Predators. Yeah, Vancouver has pressure, but the Preds are clearly all-in this year, and still don't know if they'll have both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter back next season. This is it for the Preds, and they'll have to make the most of it. Starting the playoffs against Detroit will certainly serve as a good barometer for their Cup hopes.
The Blues have been incredible since Ken Hitchcock took over, but a first-round series with Phoenix might be one of the lowest scoring in league history. St. Louis has two great goaltenders, an outstanding group of defensemen and are physical up front. They'll need Ryan Reaves to stay out of the penalty box, and will need to score at least one, if not two goals each night to get a win. Can they do it?
The Rangers appear to have it all this year after adding Brad Richards last summer. Henrik Lundqvist will certainly be one of the finalists for the Vezina, and Dan Girardi is certainly worthy of a mention for the Norris.
But an inconsistent last six weeks has shown opponents how to beat the Rangers, which could present problems as the playoffs progress. But, on paper a week before the postseason, they're as good as any team out there. Well, all but one...
They have the 2012 Hart Trophy winner and the best player on the planet on their roster... and they aren't the same guy. Between the incredible season of Evgeni Malkin and the return of Sidney Crosby, not to mention 40-goal scorer James Neal, the Pens have the firepower to outscore anyone in the league.
They have a goalie who has already won the Cup, and have a solid group on the blue line led by Kris Letang, who might have been in the Norris conversation if not for injuries. Across the board they're as good as any team in the game, and could steamroll their way to the Cup.
But they're going to have to escape a first-round Battle for Pennsylvania for that to happen.