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I have believed in them at a high level five years now. The first year they lost in the first round after a strong regular season. The next year they lost in the Cup finals to Chicago. Then in the conference finals to Cup winner Pittsburgh. Then they somehow missed the playoffs before again losing in the conference final last year to the Cup winner. But this year will be different. They are a little older. They feel a little more determined. And they are very talented.
This is the year. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a place that many teams would envy, but they probably aren't too happy about it. They have been quite good the last two seasons, and they have a decent chance of being as solid again this year. But they have lost in the first round both years and haven't put up much of a fight in doing so - losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champs both times, incidentally.
They are in a murky area where they are a solid enough team, but the path to being a really good team, or even a great one, is not at all clear. It could be diagnosed as St. Louis Blues syndrome, and it's not a great illness to have. Carolina has not been good for a long time and now finds themselves in a bit of a rut. Sometimes when you are in a rut you have to do something to shake yourself out of it.
And the Hurricanes did just that. They have a new coach and could have as many as seven newly-acquired players on the opening-day roster. Their ownership leaves something to be desired - more Jerry Jones than is ideal - but they aren't afraid to be aggressive, and they have quite probably made themselves significantly better.
But what will it all add up to? I felt worse for the Florida Panthers than any team last year. They have been working to get things on track for so long and have a lot to like on the squad. But when the dust settled last year their 96 points was a single point short of the postseason. It would have been enough in the West. Before this past season, the Rangers were a model of consistency. They had made the playoffs seven years in a row and in 11 of 12 years.
And they had won at least one playoff series in five of the last six years, going all the way to the finals in But things did not go well last year, and they fell out of the hunt early, ultimately finishing last in the Metropolitan and 20 points behind the final slot.
Now we have to see if it is fatal or temporary - if the team has to fully rebuild or just regroup. Last year Philadelphia made the playoffs, but not by much. Their 98 points was good for the final spot in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington and Pittsburgh, but it was just one point ahead of the two wild-card teams, Columbus and New Jersey, and only two points ahead of the Panthers, who missed out on the postseason. Fortunately, both teams have realistic odds to make a run in these playoffs.
Winnipeg is loaded with offensive firepower and finished three points off the pace for the Presidents' Trophy, while Toronto's Auston Matthews, Patrick Marleau and Co. I know, I know. These days, there are four No. In seriousness, the NHL is begging for this matchup. They also happen to be the two most well-rounded teams in the field. The Predators are built from the back, out. Pekka Rinne is the Vezina shoo-in and this year they might actually have four Erik Karlssons in front of him.
They'll need to be on point. Stanley Cups aren't won on paper. More likely, what happens over the next two months will defy logic. This is nothing more than an educated guess. Four reasons the Predators are better equipped to win it all. How about two teams that were outside of the playoff picture a year ago going head-to-head for the Stanley Cup a year later? Instead, they were two points from having the best record in the Eastern Conference.
What does look like? The Edmonton Oilers have been rather quiet this offseason. What does that mean for their Stanley Cup chances this coming year? Ice hockey is known as "the fastest game on earth," but it's wise to take a slow, methodical approach when learning how to wager on the sport.
By all accounts, the St. Louis Blues have had a terrific offseason. Might that translate to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history?