Hockey Sharks

The Early Contenders for the 2018-2019 Stanley Cup

After entering the 2017-2018 NHL Playoffs somewhat under the radar, especially in comparison to years past, the Washington Capitals emerged at the end of the postseason as the winners of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

While much of the team’s core looks to be intact for next season, save for the recent departure of head coach Barry Trotz, there’s little reason to think they won’t be a force to be reckoned with next season.

But who are the teams best positioned to knock Washington off their championship perch? Here are three contenders, whom hockey fans should be plenty familiar with:

Tampa Bay Lightning — Tampa Bay was supposed to be the favorite to at least emerge out of the Eastern Conference this past season, if not win the Stanley Cup themselves. They were the highest-scoring team in the NHL last season, and had the third-best Power Play conversion percentage. Superstar right wing Nikita Kucherov is entering the prime of his career, and Steven Stamkos had stellar bounce-back season. The Lightning know that their window remains open as long as Kucherov, Stamkos, Brayden Point, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, and others remain on their current contracts, but that window won’t remain open for long. But blowing a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals will sting for a while, and this team will have to find a way to move past that. One big factor in whether they’ll be able to do so involves asking if Andrei Vasilevskiy is the right man in goal to get them where they want to go.

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Nashville Predators — After winning the President’s Cup (given to the team with the most standings points in the NHL), the Nashville Predators were the heavy favorites to not only emerge out of the Western Conference playoffs, but to win the Stanley Cup themselves. Nashville finished among the top seven teams in goals scored last season, while allowing the fewest goals in the NHL; their +56 in scoring differential was tied for third in the NHL. After losing a brutally difficult seven-game series against Winnipeg in the Western Conference Finals, the Predators would be smart to borrow a page from Washington’s playbook, and “run things back” without making any drastic changes. However, finding a premier goal scorer in the offseason couldn’t hurt; nobody on Nashville’s roster scored more than 30 goals last season.

Las Vegas Golden Knights — The question everyone will be asking themselves between now and next season is whether the magical run we saw from the Las Vegas Golden Knights was a sign of things to come, or a blip in the matrix. Obviously, no expansion team had ever made it to the Stanley Cup in NHL history, meaning there’s only one thing left for Vegas to do for an encore. Can this scrappy bunch live up to the suddenly onerous expectations? Ironically, for a team that was happy to build itself from players “discarded” by previous teams due to “bad contracts,” Vegas actually enters the offseason with a significant amount of cap room, though they’ll want to use some of it to bring back any one of guys like James Neal, David Perron, Ryan Reaves, and/or William Karlsson. But even after that, they should have enough space to chase after guys including highly coveted center John Tavares (who might relish the chance to make it out of the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career), stud defenseman Erik Karlsson (who looks like he’s almost certainly leaving Ottawa this offseason), or John Carlson (who scored four points in five games against Vegas in the Stanley Cup Finals).

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