We are halfway through the NHL season, the Winter Classic is on Wednesday, and the World Junior Championships is well underway, but it is still not clear who is the best team in the league right now. No team has truly showed complete dominance in the first half of the season like how the Chicago Blackhawks did in the first half of last season. However, there are a group of 8 teams that have shown so far this season that they are capable of winning the coveted Stanley Cup. Here are my midseason Stanley Cup favorites in order from least to most favored:
#8: Washington Capitals
Although they have shown some inconsitencies this season, Alex Ovechkin may be able to lead the Caps to the Finals.
#7: San Jose Sharks
Big Joe and the boys have stood the test of time as they are still one of the best teams in the league halfway through the season. This might be the season where they can pull through and finally win a Stanley Cup.
#6: Vancouver Canucks
With a great mix of youngsters and veterans up front and a tough defensive corps led by breakout player Kevin Bieksa, the Canucks have finally given fans hope for another Cup since the 2011 Final.
#5: Anaheim Ducks
This is supposed to be the year for the Ducks. It is their 20th anniversary and they are competing in a Stadium Series game. It feels good to be a Ducks fan now. The Getzlaf/Perry era has taken flight and the team has become a Stanley Cup contender. With an alright supporting cast and a solid group of defencemen, the Ducks hope they can go far in the playoffs this season.
#4: St. Louis Blues
The Blues are a playoff-built team, and with the playoffs such an important factor, it will work in their favor. The emergence of Alex Steen coupled with the high level of play from all-round players David Backes and T.J. Oshie, the Blues have been sensational this season so far. Goaltending doesn’t seem to be a problem and Chris Stewart is back on track. Could they go all the way?
#3: Pittsburgh Penguins
A team with the likes of superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would only struggle if they are hurt by injuries. Although the Penguins are not struggling, they arhave not been the best team in the league in the first half of the season (which is what is expected of them all the time). However, with injuries to Malkin, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, and Pascal Dupuis, fans are hoping that the Pens are currently not at their true potential and maybe they will be once some of these players come back in the playoffs.
#2: Boston Bruins
Not only have the severely-injured Bruins been able to keep a playoff spot, but they are sitting first in the Atlantic Division. Boston has shown tremendous depth and poise after witnessing significant injuries to Dennis Seidenberg, Carl Soderberg, Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, and Daniel Paille. The likes of Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Ryan Spooner, Kevan Miller, and Matt Bartkowski have stepped up to the pro level and are now putting up great numbers. Once most of these injured players come back, this Bruins team will be one to look out for.
#1: Chicago Blackhawks
After a so-so start to the season, the Blackhawks are revving up. Patrick Kane is second in the league in points and Patrick Sharp is nearing point-per-game territory. Captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are putting up great numbers while the bottom six forwards are doing what they always do-grind. Goaltenders Antti Raanta and Corey Crawford will perform a strong 1-2 punch once they are both healthy at the same time. Whether this hot team can continue this play into the playoffs and beyond is anyone’s guess, but you can bank on it happening after showing great stability last season.