In my humble opinion, the Western Conference of the NHL is the powerhouse. That’s not taking anything away from the Eastern Conference. I think the Eastern Conference has some teams that I would definitely consider as favorites to go all the way this year. The top four teams in the league are the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins.
The Rangers have the potential for a big year, but they seem to have trouble in series that go 5 games or more. I still think Henrik Lundqvist is a great goaltender, but he seemed to struggle in the playoffs last year. Pittsburgh is definitely a threat to do things this year. When one of their players goes down hard with an injury (i.e. Sidney Crosby), someone is always there to step up and take the bull by the horns. Philadelphia seems to still be hanging in the race despite losing Chris Pronger for the entire season. Players like Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell have made significant contributions to keep them in the hunt.
The teams I really think are having fluke years are Florida and Winnipeg. I don’t really think they’re as strong as they look. I see them having a very early exit from the playoffs this year. The pressure will be on the Boston Bruins to repeat as cup champs this year. They got off to a slow start this season, but have since regained their momentum. I feel they will need to keep their focus however, especially when they reach the second round. They got too overconfident against the Flyers two years ago, and suffered a monumental collapse.
The real wild card is this playoff race is the New Jersey Devils. They still have future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, but really, he’s past his prime, and I think the Devils’ glory days are behind them. In fact, they haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since their last cup win in 2003.
All in all, there are other teams on the outside looking in, but the bottom line is this: whoever has the depth, intensity, and ability to step up come playoff time, has a good chance as anyone to win the cup this year. My pick would either be Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, or the Rangers. Only time will tell what the playoffs in the NHL will bring.