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Buying or Selling the NHL's Top Teams as 2016 Stanley Cup Contenders

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2017

Buying or Selling the NHL's Top Teams as 2016 Stanley Cup Contenders

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    The Washington Capitals are among several potential Stanley Cup contenders this season.
    The Washington Capitals are among several potential Stanley Cup contenders this season.Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Heading toward the final stretch of the 2015-16 NHL season, a number of teams are jockeying for playoff contention. A few, like the Washington Capitals, could be serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.

    For the top 10 NHL teams (based on league standings as of Feb. 12), a variety of factors will determine their Cup chances. Here we separate the contenders from the pretenders and determine which ones to buy or sell as Stanley Cup threats.

    As always, you can weigh in with your opinion in the comments section below. 

10. Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins are battling to retain a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
    The Boston Bruins are battling to retain a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Strengths: Led by forwards Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand and David Krejci, the Boston Bruins are among the top five teams in scoring and shots per game. They have a former Vezina Trophy winner in goalie Tuukka Rask. Their power play and penalty kill rank among the top 10. 

    Weaknesses: The Bruins aren't the dominant club they once were. Boston is among this season's worst defensive teams. Blue-line stalwarts Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are past their prime. They lack skilled young defensive depth.

    Buying or selling: Don't buy into the Bruins as Stanley Cup contenders. They're in the midst of a transition period. Indeed, their place among the top 10 teams in the overall standings flatters them. A playoff berth is not a certainty, and they'll have to work hard to clinch a spot. 

9. Detroit Red Wings

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    Rookie sensation Dylan Larkin (71) is among the reasons the Detroit Red Wings remain a solid playoff contender.
    Rookie sensation Dylan Larkin (71) is among the reasons the Detroit Red Wings remain a solid playoff contender.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Strengths: The Detroit Red Wings possess a solid core of veteran stars, led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. They're augmented by rising talent like Dylan Larkin, Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar. The Wings are among the top 10 teams in fewest goals against per game.

    Weaknesses: The Wings are one of this season's lowest-scoring teams and rank with the lowest shot-producing clubs. Their power-play and penalty-killing percentages are close to the bottom third. 

    Buying or selling: Sell. The Wings are doing a good job staying competitive in what could be considered a transitional season. Larkin, Mrazek and Tatar represent a very promising future. However, they're a few years away from serious Stanley Cup contention. 

8. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders hope to improve upon last season's solid performance.
    The New York Islanders hope to improve upon last season's solid performance.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Strengths: The New York Islanders are led by one of the NHL's top stars in center John Tavares. They're among the league's highest-scoring teams and are one of the best on the penalty kill. The Isles have solid goaltending in Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. 

    Weaknesses: Their offensive depth drops beyond the Tavares line. The struggles of promising wingers Anders Lee and Ryan Strome hurts their scoring punch. Reliable defenseman Johnny Boychuk's been hampered by injury. They lack a true top-two defenseman.

    Buying or selling: Sell. The Islanders have some promising young talent, and that bodes well for the future. However, they lack the overall depth to mount a serious challenge for the Stanley Cup. 

7. Florida Panthers

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    With veterans like Jaromir Jagr and rising talent like Jonathan Huberdeau, the Florida Panthers have surged toward the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
    With veterans like Jaromir Jagr and rising talent like Jonathan Huberdeau, the Florida Panthers have surged toward the top of the Atlantic Division standings.Associated Press

    Strengths: The Florida Panthers possess a good mix of experienced veterans (including right wing Jaromir Jagr and goaltender Roberto Luongo) and rising talent (defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They're one of this season's highest-scoring clubs and spread their offense throughout their roster. They're also among the top five in fewest goals against. 

    Weaknesses: Their young stars lack postseason experience. Their power-play and faceoff win percentage numbers are among the league's worst. They need more experienced depth among their bottom-three defensemen. Aging stars like Jagr and Luongo might not have enough left in the tank for the playoff grind.

    Buying or selling: Sell. The Panthers are a promising young team that will only get better in the coming years. However, they cannot be considered serious Stanley Cup contenders this season.

6. New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers' championship hopes will once again rest upon the shoulders of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
    The New York Rangers' championship hopes will once again rest upon the shoulders of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Strengths: Most of the New York Rangers' current roster were part of their run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. They've also advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four seasons. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist remains among the league's elite players. The Rangers are among this season's highest-scoring clubs

    Weaknesses: The production from forwards Rick Nash and Chris Kreider has been lower than expected this season. They lack offensive depth on both wings. Veteran blueliners Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have not been as dominant this season. The Rangers' power play and penalty kill are among the league's worst. 

    Buying or selling: Sell. The Rangers aren't the Stanley Cup contenders they were over the last two seasons. Unless some of their veteran core players start picking up their play, they'll be hard-pressed to stage a championship run this spring.

5. St. Louis Blues

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    Is this the season the underachieving St. Louis Blues finally break through as serious Stanley Cup contenders?
    Is this the season the underachieving St. Louis Blues finally break through as serious Stanley Cup contenders?Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Strengths: The St. Louis Blues have a strong goaltending tandem in Jake Allen and Brian Elliott. Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko is among the league's most dangerous scorers. Their power play and penalty kill rank with the league's best. The Blues are also among the better faceoff clubs

    Weaknesses: The Blues have a reputation as a strong regular-season club that comes up short in the playoffs. Injuries to key forwards Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund have hurt their scoring this season. Their offensive depth also drops sharply beyond the Tarasenko line. Top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo's knee injury could be a concern. 

    Buy or sell: Don't buy what the Blues are selling. While they have a talented roster, there's little to indicate that they'll finally get over the postseason hump and contend for a title.  A coaching change or roster shakeup in the offseason seems more likely than a championship parade. 

4. Dallas Stars

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    Led by superstars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Dallas Stars are among this season's top teams.
    Led by superstars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the Dallas Stars are among this season's top teams.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Strengths: Led by superstar forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Dallas Stars are the league's top offensive club. Rising young defenseman John Klingberg provides offensive depth from the blue line. Offseason additions in left wing Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya give them invaluable leadership and playoff experience. 

    Weaknesses: While the goaltending has improved over last season, the goals-against stats for the netminding tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are average at best. Their scoring depth drops significantly beyond Benn and Seguin. Their penalty kill needs work, and they could use another experienced top-four defenseman. 

    Buyng or selling: Sell. The Stars have considerable potential as a future Stanley Cup contender, and they could win a playoff round or two this spring. But until they address their weaknesses and garner a little more playoff experience, their current roster isn't Cup-contender material yet. 

3. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings are gunning for their third Stanley Cup title in five years.
    The Los Angeles Kings are gunning for their third Stanley Cup title in five years.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Strengths: The Los Angeles Kings are led by a talented, experienced core that includes goaltender Jonathan Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar. They're a big, physical club with opportunistic scorers and a very stingy defense. They rank among the league's best on the power play and penalty kill. 

    Weaknesses: The Kings still haven't found a skilled top-four defenseman to replace the departed Slava Voynov. Wingers Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson are struggling to score. They're about average in the faceoff circle. 

    Buying or selling: It's easy to buy into the Kings as Stanley Cup contenders this season. They've rebounded strongly from missing the playoffs last season and look very much like a legitimate contender. If management can address their issues before the Feb. 29 trade deadline, their odds of winning a third championship in five seasons will significantly improve. 

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Led by top scorers Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks look to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
    Led by top scorers Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks look to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Strengths: The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions. Led by superstars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, they're loaded with experienced players who know how to win. Thanks to Kane (the NHL's leading scorer) and rookie left wing Artemi Panarin, the Hawks are among this season's highest-scoring clubs.

    Weaknesses: The Blackhawks' offensive depth drops sharply beyond Kane and Panarin. They lack skilled depth at left wing and could use another good second-pairing defenseman. Their faceoff win percentage isn't very good. Management has limited salary-cap space to address their roster weaknesses. 

    Buying or selling: It would be folly not to buy into the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup contenders. Their weaknesses are cause for concern, plus they face the difficult challenge of repeating as champions. However, don't discount the ability of their experienced core of talent to carry the Hawks to another title.

1. Washington Capitals

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    Led by captain Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals are dominating this season's standings.
    Led by captain Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals are dominating this season's standings.Associated Press

    Strengths: Led by Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and captain Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals are among the league's highest-scoring clubs. Workhorse starting goalie Braden Holtby is enjoying a season worthy of the Vezina Trophy. The Capitals are also among the top defensive teams

    Weaknesses: For all their regular-season success, the Capitals must overcome the psychological hurdle of their recent playoff failures. They're not that strong in the faceoff circle. The Capitals' limited salary-cap room could hamper efforts to boost their roster depth before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. 

    Buying or selling: After years of disappointment, the Capitals are a club worth buying into as this season's top Stanley Cup contender. Led by Ovechkin and head coach Barry Trotz, this is a club hungry for championship glory. They're the best-balanced team among the contenders. 

     

    Player and team info via NHL.com. Salary info via General Fanager.

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