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