With the 2014-2015 National Hockey League season quickly approaching, it has become more and more apparent with the abundance of championship contenders that hockey fans will get their competitive fill. Last year, 17 of the NHL’s 30 teams earned more than 90 points throughout the year, and this year that number seems likely to increase, with several young teams improving along with their rising stars. The Los Angeles Kings hope to continue their reign over the league, having won the Stanley Cup two of the last three years, while the Boston Bruins race for another Stanley Cup before their window of contention comes to a close.
In the Western Conference, home of the last three Stanley Cup Champions, the level of competition is high and still rising, with legitimate contenders in the Colorado Avalanche, the St. Louis Blues, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Anaheim Ducks, and of course, last year’s champion, the Los Angeles Kings.
Nathan McKinnon made a name for himself right out of the gate last year, compiling 63 points with 24 goals and 39 assists in his rookie year for the Colorado Avalanche. McKinnon, along with newly-signed right wing Jarome Iginla, center Matt Duchene and goalie Semyon Varlamov, are hoping to use their elite offensive talent to venture further into the playoffs than last year’s first-round exit.
The St. Louis Blues, despite letting star goalie Ryan Miller walk in the offseason, got busy, signing Paul Stastny and trading for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson in an effort to reload for another postseason run. With plenty of young talent, including the prolific T.J. Oshie, the Blues are aiming high, and should at least put a good scare into the Blackhawks and Kings.
With perhaps the most talented offensive duo in the Western Conference in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Anaheim Ducks anxiously await another chance at the Los Angeles Kings, who ousted the Ducks in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As the most effective offensive team in the league last year, averaging 3.21 goals per game, the Ducks could very well be one of the best teams in the league in this upcoming season.
Of course, the last two champions and modern dynasties are not to be ignored in the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks. Wildly talented in almost every aspect of the game, many consider either one to be the championship favorite. Behind the spectacular postseason performance of goalie Jonathan Quick, the Kings won it all last season, and have no reason not to expect at least another deep postseason run. The Blackhawks, led by the trio of left-wing Patrick Sharp, right-wing Patrick Kane and center Jonathan Toews, are coming back with a vengeance after being just edged out of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance by the Kings.
In the Eastern Conference, several contenders are waiting for their shot at the Cup. Last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winner, the Boston Bruins, eagerly await getting back into the postseason. Along with Boston, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers could all be very legitimate championship contenders.
The Boston Bruins have been serious championship contenders for the past four years, ever since Tim Thomas led them to their 2011 Stanley Cup Finals victory. With last season’s second-best defense and third-best offense, the Bruins are set at every position. Behind elite goalie Tuuka Rask, two-way center Patrice Bergeron and aging but effective defenseman Zdeno Chara, the Bruins look to make up for their complacency in the postseason last season. Often, Boston is considered one of the Stanley Cup favorites alongside Chicago and Los Angeles.
The Montreal Canadiens, the winningest team in NHL history, look to win their 25 Stanley Cup Championship with their seventh-best defense, anchored by defenseman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price, who put on a stellar performance in the postseason before the Rangers shot them down. If the Canadiens can put together even a mediocre offense, they could be hard to stop.
Headed by two-time MVP Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping that their elite offensive talent can make up for their substandard goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. After a confusing offseason which saw the Penguins trade veteran James Neal, but gain additional depth to support the roster behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Despite their defensive woes, their offensive capabilities will always have the Penguins as championship contenders.
Coming off of a season which saw the New York Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Finals due to the heroics of perhaps the best goalie in the game in Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have spent the offseason gathering a mass of offensive talent to support Lundqvist. Despite their several signings, the Rangers were fiscally responsible for once and made solid investments to bolster their team, including Brad Richards and Dan Boyle. If all of their offseason activity goes as expected, the Rangers could be right back in the thick of contention.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings both look to reverse their fortunes with the return of their injured stars. The Red Wings will finally have Henrik Zetterburg back consistently, and if Pavel Datsyuk can come back soon enough, the Red Wings could be big players going into the season. For the Lightning, it’s all about one man: Steven Stamkos, one of the best – if not the best – players in the game today. With his return from injury, the Lightning have their leader back and look to shock the league. For those who are interested in the local team, the average price of Lightning tickets on StubHub is around $20, depending on the game.
After last season’s intense competition, which led to a thrilling regular season and sensational postseason, the NHL only looks to grow more competitive. With a bevy of legitimate championship contenders, including the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, the upcoming NHL season looks to be very exciting.