With the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs just around the corner, the prognosticating and odds making has already begun on which teams will survive the opening round and, more importantly, who will hoist Lord Stanley’s mug in June.
As of Friday, we know all 16 teams that will be in the playoffs, but we don’t know what every first-round matchup will be. In fact, the only teams that are guaranteed to face each other in the first round are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers as the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Nevertheless, it’s prediction time here at Bleacher Report, and this writer has the latest odds (converted into percentages) on which teams are the most likely to come out on top of the NHL playoffs this spring.
15% chance - Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have won seven of their past eight games, and that’s without Daniel Sedin in the lineup. Should he return and they continue to get great goaltending from either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, which they will if you ask GM Mike Gillis, they will be the team to beat in the West.
If they can also get their power play back on track and operating with the same effectiveness as it was earlier in the season, there might be no stopping them.
10% chance – St. Louis Blues
They’re new to being viewed as legitimate cup contenders, but the Blues have earned that label with their solid team-first attitude and a goaltending duo that might be even better than Luongo and Schneider in Vancouver.
It also helps that their forward group is finally healthy and as deep as ever this season, and their defensive unit boasts one of the most underrated stars in the league, Alex Pietrangelo.
It’s hard to pick the Blues as the ultimate favorites to come out of the West because of their lack of playoff experience as a unit, but anything is possible when you play as air tight of a system as they do.
8% chance – Detroit Red Wings
The only reason the Wings don’t have better odds is because, while they have a legitimate chance at winning the Cup, they also might not even make it out of the first round.
The odds are that Detroit will face a tough Nashville squad in the opening round, which might end the season for Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and company before they can say, “Octopus!”
With that being said, you can never count out the veteran Red Wings, especially after Jimmy Howard has had an All-Star season in goal.
7% chance – Nashville Predators
The Predators are a lot like the Red Wings in that they could go extremely deep in the playoffs, but they could also lose in the first round because of their seeding.
Many believe the 2012 version of the Predators is the best team they’ve ever had on paper. However, the same thing was said back in 2007 when the Predators owned the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and they ended up being eliminated in the first round.
The biggest question marks for Nashville are up front, where it’s unclear if they have enough scoring depth to win it all, even after Alexander Radulov rejoined the team last month.
5% chance – Chicago Blackhawks
Sometimes they look like the 2010 Stanley Cup champions, other times they look like they followed Patrick Kane’s advice and went on a bender for 60 minutes.
It’s hard to predict how far Chicago will go in the 2012 playoffs, but they certainly have the core to be a contender. It also helps that rookie Andrew Shaw has come out of nowhere in the second half of the season and provided them with another scoring option in their top-six forward group.
The two biggest question marks for the Blackhawks heading into the playoffs revolve around whether or not Jonathan Toews will be 100 percent healthy for game one of the first round, and whether or not Corey Crawford can step up when his team needs him the most.
Oh, and then there’s that whole consistency thing. They’ll have to sort that out too if they want to win a seven-game series against anyone, let alone the Cup contenders.
3% chance – L.A. Kings
We’re not sure where exactly the Kings will finish in the conference standings, but they need to score some goals if they want to beat anyone in the opening round.
Jonathan Quick can steal them one series if they’re lucky, but he can’t steal four.
2% chance - San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have been even more enigmatic than the Blackhawks this season. Their power play has looked good in the second half of the season, but their penalty killing is brutal and they have lacked any sort of secondary scoring for most of the year.
They have enough talent to potentially win one round, depending on where they finish in the standings, but it’s hard to imagine them turning their season around in such a short time period to the point where they can go deep into the playoffs.
1% chance – Phoenix Coyotes
I don’t care where the Coyotes finish in the regular season standings. When goaltender Mike Smith has to make 54 saves at home just to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a late-season, must-win game, you’re not going to win the Stanley Cup, let alone win one round.
Smith, along with Ray Whitney, Shane Doan and Keith Yandle can only do so much. This team is going nowhere in the 2012 postseason.
16% chance - Pittsburgh Penguins
Let’s be honest. The Penguins probably would have won the President’s Trophy if Sidney Crosby were healthy all season long. Even without Crosby for most of the campaign, the Penguins managed to stay near the top of the standings thanks to a talented lineup led by MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins are the most complete team entering the 2012 playoffs, which is why they have the best chance of winning the cup, according to yours truly.
10% chance – New York Rangers
The Rangers' biggest advantage over everyone else in the Eastern Conference, and possible the entire league, is obvious. It’s their home-ice advantage.
After all, if you’re going to beat Crosby and the Penguins or the defending champion Boston Bruins in a seven-game series, it helps to start the series at home and potentially end it there too.
The Rangers' regular season has been nothing short of remarkable, and they boast the current best goalie in the word in Henrik Lundqvist.
However, their downfall may be their lack of scoring depth, so they should pray to the hockey gods that Brad Richards and/or Marian Gaborik don’t fall into a slump or get injured during the playoffs.
9% chance – Boston Bruins
The Bruins have almost the exact same team as last season on paper, which is obviously a good thing considering they won the Stanley Cup. They have a realistic chance at winning it again this season, but there are a few key factors that could prevent them from doing so.
First of all, there is a huge target on the back of each Bruin and every other team is gunning for them.
Secondly, Tim Thomas hasn’t had quite as stellar of a season as he did last year, especially since his infamous White House snub.
Finally and most importantly, Nathan Horton is likely out for the season with a concussion. This is a huge loss and, while the Bruins were able to use an injured Horton as inspiration to beat an even more wounded Canucks team in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, they will have a much tougher time winning four full rounds without him this year.
5% chance – Washington Capitals
It may surprise you that the Capitals have been given better Stanley Cup odds than many of their Eastern Conference foes, but consider some of the lower-seeded teams throughout recent history that have advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The No. 8-seeded Edmonton Oilers in 2006, the No. 7-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the No. 7-seeded Vancouver Canucks back in 1994 were all talented teams on paper that underachieved in the regular season. No one thought they would get as far as they did in the playoffs after their disappointing first 82 games.
Does anyone expect the Capitals to do anything in these playoffs?
No, but they certainly labeled them as contenders at the start of the regular season. Combine that with a healthy Nicklas Backstrom and who knows what could happen if the Caps get hot at the right time.
Don’t bet the farm on them, because they could easily lose in the first round, but they could also make a lot of noise.
4% chance - New Jersey Devils
It’s been a nice bounce-back season for the Devils after missing the playoffs last year, and they should have a favorable first-round matchup against whoever wins the weak Southeast division.
It’s unlikely they will advance too far in the playoffs, though. Their defensive corps just isn’t good enough and Martin Brodeur isn’t the same goaltender that he was five years ago.
3% chance - Philadelphia Flyers
I want to give the Flyers better odds. I really do. They have a great team with a lot of depth and grit and are better than some of the teams that have better odds than them.
However, the reality of their situation is that they’re playing the best team in the league in the first round of the playoffs and that’s just a crying shame. They’re also doing that without Chris Pronger and, even if they can somehow manage to upset the Penguins, they’re not going to win the Stanley Cup without a healthy Pronger, even with the trades they made at the deadline.
1.5% chance – Ottawa Senators
By their standards, the Senators had a great regular season because they exceeded just about everyone’s expectations for them.
Their big offensive gunners like Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek all had huge bounce-back seasons, and Erik Karlsson will likely win the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.
Enjoy these accolades Ottawa, because your team is almost certainly going to lose in the opening round to either the Rangers or the Bruins.
0.5% chance – Florida Panthers
There are only two teams in the playoffs that allowed more goals than they scored this season. One is the Washington Capitals and the other is the Florida Panthers, whose goal differential is a minus 27 heading into the final game of the season. Ouch.
Give credit to the Panthers for being a hard-working team full of tenacious forecheckers and talented defensemen like Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov and Ed Jovanovski.
However, the reality is that the Panthers simply aren’t that great. Even if they can lock up the No. 3 seed in the conference as Southeast division champions, they will be lucky to win one round of playoff hockey against the beasts of the East.