How they got here: Domination of the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals utilized their skilled top six and outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby to pile up the points all season long. Washington also boasts strong special teams, as both their power play and penalty kill efficiency rank within the top five of the league.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Washington has arguably the best goal scorer of his generation in Alex Ovechkin up front, and a top netminder in Braden Holtby in the cage. The top six is littered with highly skilled playmakers, and Holtby has shown the ability to steal games when the offense doesn’t materialize.
Why they won’t: The playoffs tend to see less penalties called, so the lethal power play may not get many chances to provide offense. The defense started to look a bit sluggish and vulnerable in March and April. As teams tighten up their game, they will inevitably focus on stopping Alex Ovechkin and the top line. Can Evegeny Kuznetsov and the second line step up and carry the offense?
Vegas Odds: At +400, Washington is considered the front runner and the team to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Goalie Situation: Washington has one of the best goalies in tournament, as Braden Holtby is a Vezina favorite that tied the NHL wins record this season. He carried his breakout season from last year over to 2015-2016, and as we saw in the playoffs last season, he is capable of winning standing on his head for the Capitals.
Breakout - Evgeny Kuznetsov: A recently forgotten about member of the Capitals top six, Evgeny Kuznetsov has been remarkable this season. His plus/minus leads the team and his point production has broke out in a major way. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kuznetsov will produce just as much, if not more than Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom.
Deep Sleeper - Justin Williams: While the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov & Nicklas Backstrom all do their thing - let’s not forget about Justin Williams, the man who was nearly a point per game player in last years Stanley Cup playoffs. Williams elevates his game to a completely different level in the postseason and will draw better match ups while shutdown units go up against the Capitals top line.
Bust - T.J. Oshie: The Blues traded T.J. Oshie away for Troy Brouwer in the offseason in order to gain some playoff experience and rid themselves of a player who just doesn’t show up in the playoffs. Oshie has five career playoff goals to his name to go along with a -12 rating. There’s no reason to think Oshie has turned over a new leaf.
How they got here: Firing coach Mike Johnston. This team has been night-and-day since Mike Sullivan took over, implementing a puck control system that the players really responded to. Sidney Crosby started the season slow, but his puck luck reversed right around the same time as the coaching change. The Penguins bottom six, an annual Achilles, have stepped up and played well this season too.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Sidney Crosby and the offense. He’s been virtually unstoppable since the calendar flipped to 2016, and the second line hasn’t missed a beat with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup. Though the past few years have seen questions around Crosby’s health, he seems fully healthy this year and ready to carry the team like he did in 2009.
Why they won’t: The Penguins have fought through injuries to key personnel such as Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Olli Maatta. Fleury’s availability is up in the air due to concussion issues, Malkin will likely be unavailable for the majority of the first round, and Kris Letang has a wrist injury that could flare up and cause puck handling issues. The defense, though they’ve played well on the season, also has some question marks surrounding their shut down ability and depth.
Vegas Odds: The strong March and April that Pittsburgh played has them sitting at +900, good for second best in the Eastern Conference.
Goalie Situation: Rookie goalie Matt Murray has stepped up in Marc-Andre Fleury’s absence, but asking him to carry a win-now team like Pittsburgh is asking a lot. If Fleury returns to full health, it will be a boost Pittsburgh as he had a very strong year. He will, however, need to be sure to quiet the playoff doubt chatter that always seems to surround him.
Breakout - Phil Kessel: Phil Kessel started to find chemistry with Nick Bonino as the year rounded out. With a more defensive minded line, Kessel has the ability to skate around the ice and generate his own scoring chances rather than relying on others. You can rely on Kessel’s production to keep increasing as his familiarity with his line mates continues to grow.
Deep Sleeper - Justin Schultz: Justin Schultz is one of the best offensive minded defensemen that Pittsburgh has. The only problem with Schultz in the regular season is that his minutes aren’t as high as you’d like them to be. He’s shown flashes of brilliance to close out the season and will likely get an increased role in the playoffs.
Bust - Chris Kunitz: Just because you play with Sidney Crosby most of the time that doesn’t make you an essential fantasy player. The 36 year old is long gone from his 60+ point seasons and that’ll largely reflect his production in the playoffs.
How they got here: A tenacious offense led by young guns such as Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck and a strong veteran presence by old timers like Jaromir Jagr and Brian Campbell. Roberto Luongo defied the goalie curve for aging yet again, and the defense did a good job of limiting scoring chances to the least dangerous variety.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The defense has done a great job at limiting quality scoring chances of the opposition. Florida ranks as one of the stingiest defenses for scoring chances, so they won’t need to alter their game very much on the backend to play a more playoff friendly style. If the offense can continue to provide goal support, the Panthers will be a very dangerous team to play against.
Why they won’t: Florida has two areas that could lead to their downfall. First, their offense is mostly younger, inexperienced players that will need to settle their game a bit when opposing defenses clamp down. Second, Roberto Luongo has wilted down the stretch, perhaps due to fatigue.
Vegas Odds: The Panthers sit in the middle of the pack at +1800, behind just Washington and Pittsburgh and tied with the Rangers as Eastern Conference favorites.
Goalie Situation: Roberto Luongo is a clock that keeps on ticking, but it’s hard to ignore how his play deteriorated starting in February. Luongo’s save percentages by month, from October through March: .934, .917, .929, .944, .900, .905. The fact that a 37 year old goalie with plenty of mileage played so well this season is a testament to Luongo’s abilities, but fatigue may have caught up with him. Al Montoya was a fine backup this season, but he’s not a goalie that the Panthers can reliably spot-start in the playoffs.
Breakout - Nick Bjugstad: Vincent Trocheck’s injury has been the best thing for Nick Bjugstad’s value. He was brilliant to close out the season last year and is doing the same this year. With Trocheck nursing an ankle fracture, it’s yet to be seen how heavy his minutes will be once he returns. Even when he does return, Bjugstad’s minutes are safe inside the top six.
Deep Sleeper - Teddy Purcell: After coming over from Edmonton, Teddy Purcell heated up in an instant. Scoring just 32 points in 61 games with the Oilers, Purcell has found himself in a groove with his new team. He’s shooting above 10% for the first time since he played with the Lightning during the 2011-2013 seasons.
Bust - Jussi Jokinen: Jokinen had an incredible stretch during the season where he was a top 25 fantasy player. He’s cooled off tremendously or should we just call that coming back down to earth? Playing alongside Bjugstad has hurt his value (Not Bjugstad’s or Rielly Smith’s) for some reason and as long as he remains on that line, his lack of production will continue.
How they got here: Henrik Lundqvist and a high shooting rate. The Rangers weren’t particularly strong drivers of play, but they scored goals on a high rate of shots and had Henrik Lundqvist in net to bail them out when things went awry.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Henrik Lundqvist. Like seemingly every season, the Rangers fate hinges on the play of King Henrik. He did all he could to mask the New York deficiencies in their own zone, and he’ll need to continue to do so in the playoffs. The offense also boasts three capable scoring lines now with Eric Staal holding down the third line, and that depth will serve the Rangers well.
Why they won’t: Poor play in the defensive end. All season long, the Rangers have struggled to suppress shots and limit high-danger scoring chances against. Breakdowns and turnovers seem to happen all too often for New York, and there is now no margin for error. A less than 100% healthy Ryan McDonagh will only exacerbate New York’s deficiencies.
Vegas Odds: The Rangers are tied with the Panthers at +1800 for third best odds in the Eastern Conference.
Goalie Situation: Year after year, many things change but Henrik Lundqvist does not. Lundqvist posted yet another great campaign, and we’ve seen time and time again why New York fans call him the King. This season he saw more early hooks than he likely ever has, a product of the poor defense in front of him. There are few goaltenders more qualified to bail out a defense than Lundqvist, however.
Breakout - Eric Staal: Let’s clear this up first. Staal will be fine and healthy heading into the playoffs. He definitely hasn’t shown the Ranger fans what he’s really capable of. Good thing he has the playoffs to show them. Staal is exactly a point per game player in the playoffs and you can bet that Alain Vigneault will give him every chance to prove his worth.
Deep Sleeper - J.T. Miller: Miller will continue to get top six minutes and he will continue to produce. He’s been one of New Yorks most consistent players this year and isn’t afraid to play the physical game that Alain Vigneault loves. He’s permanently entrenched in his coaches good books and will improve greatly from last years playoff performance.
Bust - Rick Nash: Nash disappeared in game seven of last years playoffs and it looks like he continued that disappearing act into the regular season as well. In the 2015 playoffs, Nash didn’t have a point in 11 of 19 games. He scored in bunches which just screams out inconsistency (or, luck). He hasn’t looked great this year and that’ll spill over.
How they got here: Consistent play and above average goaltending. The possession numbers were down a bit from last year, but Jaroslav Halak and especially Thomas Greiss combined to give the Islanders what they’ve sorely needed: at least league average goaltending. The offense has also helped carry this team, even though they aren’t necessarily as strong as they have been in years past.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The Islanders have three solid scoring lines that they can roll out every game. Even the fourth line has contributed offense at times this year, which would really give the Islanders an advantage.
Why they won’t: Thomas Greiss has been a backup for the whole of his NHL career, so with Jaroslav Halak questionable to start the playoffs, Greiss will be tasked with maintaining the crease. The defense has had some poor stretches of play, and injuries to the rearguard will not help matters.
Vegas Odds: The Islanders are ahead of only three other teams, two from the Eastern Conference, at +2800.
Goalie Situation: As previously mentioned, Greiss really ran with his opportunity as a full-time NHL goalie. For the first round, at least, Greiss is going to need to maintain his high level of play. It’s no sure thing that he will be able to, and Halak’s availability – and actual level of health – add to the unknown’s in New York’s crease.
Breakout - Frans Nielsen: If anyone else other than John Tavares could be labelled as the most consistent player for the Islanders, it would be Frans Nielsen without a doubt. After a disappointing 14 goal campaign a year ago, Nielsen is back at the 20 mark to go along with over 50 points. Nielsen is first line everything. First line when it comes to even strength and on the first powerplay unit as well.
Deep Sleeper - Ryan Strome: Strome has had a disappointing season to say the least. He’s not producing nearly as much as he did during his rookie campaign but has looked a lot better to close out the season. If he can heat up in the slightest, he’ll sky rocket up the depth chart. Let’s not forget that he had fairly successful playoff line for a rookie in 2015 (7 games, 4 points).
Bust - Josh Bailey: Bailey isn’t a bust per sey, it’s just he doesn’t produce enough given his time on ice. He could easily be classified as a deep, deep, deep sleeper as well but just because he’s in the top six - he’s the least likely to perform well out of the group.
How they got here: Playing in a soft division certainly helped Tampa Bay springboard to the playoffs, because they have struggled with consistency for much of the season. One constant has been Ben Bishop, who posted a Vezina quality season for the Lightning.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Strong defense and goaltending, combined with the electricity of the Triplets line. Bishop has come in to his own as a member of the Lightning, and seemingly 100% healthy this year, he should be able to provide Tampa Bay with a high level of play in net. The Lightning also boast a formidable top scoring line, including a premier playmaker in Nikita Kucherov.
Why they won’t: Injuries to key personnel are mounting in Tampa Bay, as Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman will likely miss a majority – if not all – of the playoffs. Additionally, Victor Hedman, Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov popped up on the injury report in the final week of the season. Without Stamkos, shouldering the offensive load will fall to the Triplets, a line who has otherwise avoided the top defensive attention that Stamkos drew away from them. If they can’t break through, Tampa Bay’s secondary scoring has struggled for much of the year.
Vegas Odds: The injuries to key personnel have pushed Tampa Bay down to +2000, ahead of only four other teams.
Goalie Situation: Ben Bishop posted an outstanding season for the Lightning, and the big netminder has shown big game ability when he carried the team to the brink last season. Though the rest of the roster has concerns, Tampa Bay will start the playoffs with none in net.
Breakout - Jonathan Drouin: With Steven Stamkos out indefinitely, the Lightning lack a pure goal scorer. They’re hoping Jonathan Drouin can step up in a big way. Drouin has two things going for him right now. He’s getting all the opportunity he can get and he’s playing to increase his value to show other teams what he’s capable of.
Deep Sleeper - Vladislav Namestnikov: The 23 year old from Russia has shown that he can fill in on the top line in a pinch. If Tyler Johnson starts to slip up (which I think he will), Vladislav Namestnikov will be the first name to fly up the depth chart. He’s riding a hot streak to close out the season to give the coaches a friendly reminder of what he can do, too.
Bust - Ondrej Palat: I almost feel bad picking a bust for the Lightning because of all their injuries but when you look a little closer, you’ll start to wonder what has Ondrej Palat been doing with his ice time. The answer? Nothing. There has been so many chances for Palat to show that he’s a top six forward and even with all the injuries, he can’t produce consistent enough for me to like him in the role he’s in.
How they got here: After a slow start to the season, Philadelphia looked like a different team over the second half of the season. The top six forward group played strong, Steve Mason and especially Michal Neuvirth were impressive in net, and of course it’s worth noting the clutch play of Shayne Gostisbehere, the rookie blueliner that notched five game winning goals and was a key fixture on the blueline.
Why they’ll win the Cup: As per Flyers tradition, the team has a solid blend of skill and physicality. Claude Giroux has a strong two-way game that always translate well in the playoffs, and Steve Mason can give Philadelphia a consistent presence in net. A forward group that can throw their weight around and possess the puck combined with a goalie in good form can go a long way in the playoffs.
Why they won’t: Though Shayne Gostisbehere is a great story, the Flyers weakness this season was their defense. A surprisingly strong campaign from Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason bailed out the rearguard more than a few times in the second half of the season. Philadelphia’s lack of depth on the blueline and lack of bluechip blueliners that can eat huge minutes will likely doom Philadelphia.
Vegas Odds: The Flyers are tied with the Red Wings for lowest odds of winning at +3300.
Goalie Situation: Steve Mason never seems to get the benefit of the doubt as a quality starter, but he posted a very nice save percentage of .918 while winning 23 games for Philadelphia – his third straight strong campaign. Michal Neuvirth banged up his knee down the stretch, but seemingly came out of nowhere to give the Flyers a great contribution as a reliable backup or “1B” starter, posting a .925 with three shutouts in 31 games. Steve Mason figures to draw the bulk of the starts, but should he struggle Neuvirth can be relied upon to provide relief.
Breakout - Shayne Gostisbehere: The rookie will be instrumental to any chances the Flyers have of upsetting the Capitals. Gostisbehere is the triggerman on the No. 1 power-play unit and flashed his huge upside throughout the 2015-16 season with 46 points over 64 games, including 22 power-play points.
Deep Sleeper - Sean Couturier: The No. 2 pivot finished the season strong with an impressive 31 points through his final 39 games with over 19 minutes of ice per game. His two-way play makes him a strong playoff bet.
Bust - Jakub Voracek: Being separated from Claude Giroux at even strength has hurt Voracek's offensive return since returning from injury with just seven points through 13 games. Plus, his 15 points through 22 playoff games certainly doesn't jump off the page. He'll likely have to rely on power-play production, and the Capitals are stingy down a man.
How they got here: Detroit accumulated a fair amount of points while riding the strong play of Petr Mrazek in the first two-thirds of the season. Veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk played their strong games as usual, and were joined in contributing to the offense by impressive rookie Dylan Larkin.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The veteran leadership has been along for quite a ride, as Detroit is entering the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 25th consecutive year. The defense was a solid if unspectacular unit that generally limited their mistakes, which is a key factor of a long playoff run.
Why they won’t: Though the team has played a solid game all year, there is really no aspect of Detroit’s game that is overly impressive. The offense has disappeared for stretches at a time, the defense started to wilt a bit on the road over the last six weeks or so. Petr Mrazek struggled mightily to the point where Jimmy Howard took over and Mrazek hasn’t played well enough – or seen the opportunity – to reclaim the crease.
Vegas Odds: The Red Wings are tied with the Flyers for lowest odds of winning at +3300.
Goalie Situation: Detroit’s goaltending went from a point of major strength to a major question mark, as Petr Mrazek hit a wall and struggled after a Vezina caliber few months of play. The team could very well start Jimmy Howard in the first round, and Howard had a disappointing campaign of his own, posting save percentage of just .906. If Mrazek can get his confidence back and display the form he showed through the winter, Detroit could steal a few games.
Breakout - Dylan Larkin: Normally taking a rookie in the playoffs is a risky move, but the Red Wings have so much veteran talent surrounding him that it’s not risky at all. Larkin led Detroit in goals and is entrenched in the Calder conversation. Getting his first taste of the playoffs with one of the best playoff teams in history will only bode well for the 19 year old.
Deep Sleeper - Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist has had a tricky year. His shooting percentage has gone down and that has reflected his point production. If you’ve seen a Red Wings game this year you’ll notice a few things. Nyquist isn’t getting the best puck-luck and he’s playing a different role under head coach Jeff Blashill. If the Red Wings are hurting for goals in the playoffs, there’s no reason why Blashill won’t unleash a former 28 goal scorer in a purely offensive role.
Bust - Mike Green: Green is on the Red Wings to play offence. Mike Green was terrible in last years Stanley Cup playoffs. Two points in 14 games last year and four points in 14 games two years before that is not good enough for a guy who is supposed to be a threat from the blueline.
How they got here: Fire wagon hockey. The Stars offense has been one of the best units in the league, and in recent weeks without sniper Tyler Seguin, the secondary scoring has stepped up. No team scored more goals during the regular season than Dallas, lighting the lamp with regularity at even strength and on the power play.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Tyler Seguin is nearing the end of his Achilles injury time table, and a Tyler Seguin at even half strength is still a dangerous weapon. Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and John Klingberg provide top level talent for Dallas’s offense, with secondary scoring coming in droves from players like Cody Eakin, Mattias Janmark, and Ales Hemsky. The Stars offense has been their strength all season, and they will easily take advantage of any mistakes made by opposing defenses.
Why they won’t: For all the offense that the Stars have, their defense and goaltending have certainly been an area of weakness. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have had an ineffective timeshare in net, with Lehtonen likely to start out as the leader of the crease. Dallas’s defense will need to tighten up to help their goaltender(s), as they had far too many breakdowns and allowed a disturbing number of high-danger scoring chances to their opponents.
Vegas Odds: Dallas has the fifth highest odds at +800, behind just Los Angeles, Chicago, and Anaheim in the Western Conference.
Goalie Situation: Dallas has the worst goaltending situation of all the playoff teams, and it’s not particularly close. Kari Lehtonen’s regular season save percentage was .906, with Niemi clocking in at a .905. With both goalies performing below average compared to their peers, there is a high amount of pressure on Dallas’s offense to provide high goal support. In the playoffs, goals tend to dry up, so Lehtonen and Niemi will need to be better, though it’s questionable as to whether they can be good enough for a sustained playoff run.
Breakout - Jason Spezza: Even when Tyler Seguin comes back from injury, Jason Spezza has no threat of losing his second line centre position to “now first line centre” Cody Eakin. Eakin has been a stopgap on the first line because Lindy Ruff doesn’t want to disrupt the newfound chemistry between his second unit. Remember, Spezza quietly had a 30 goal season this year and was third on the team in scoring.
Deep Sleeper - Antoine Roussel: Roussel is probably Lindy Ruffs favourite player that doesn’t have the last name of Benn or Seguin. His work ethic is what impresses people the most but what should impress you the most is the fact that he’s playing with a lot of confidence to close the season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him produce equal to or higher than his career 0.5 points per game pace in the playoffs.
Bust - Alex Goligoski: What doesn’t make sense is how Goligoski plays alongside one of the leagues top blueliners in John Klingberg and doesn’t reap the benefits. If he showed more potential during the season, he might be worth a flier to produce in any way. Unfortunately, he’s not worth your time.
How they got here: A well rounded and deep team, the Blues were able to overcome a seemingly nonstop barrage of injuries to key personnel at various times in the season. A dangerous offense led by Vladimir Tarasenko, a strong defense led by Kevin Shattenkirk, and strong goaltending from Brian Elliott propelled the Blues to a 100+ point season in the deep Central Division.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The Blues have depth at every position, and they have high-end talent at the top of the depth chart at both forward and defense. St. Louis boasts strong puck possession rates, and the defense limited quality scoring chances against. Assuming the injury bug is out of town, the Blues are built for a long playoff run.
Why they won’t: The one position that could dash the dreams of the Blues would be goaltending. Brian Elliott will end the season with an extremely impressive .930 save percentage, well above his career average. Will regression kick in at the worst time? And if so, will Jake Allen be healthy enough to shoulder the load?
Vegas Odds: St. Louis is in the middle of the pack at +1000, behind four teams in the West and two from the East.
Goalie Situation: Brian Elliott and Jake Allen split the starts in goal relatively evenly, due in large part to the timing of injuries to either goalie. Both played quite admirably, with the exception of a bad stretch here and there for Allen. Allen enters the playoffs on the injury list, which means the crease should belong to Elliott to start. If he can stay upright and continue to play at a high level, the Blues will be in a good position for an extended stay in the tournament.
Breakout - Alex Steen: If Alex Steen didn’t miss games due to injury, he most likely would have set a new career high in points. Steen is so valuable to the Blues offence that Ken Hitchcock declined an opportunity at the trade deadline to use a loophole and shut down Steen until the playoffs in order to acquire more players.
Deep Sleeper - Troy Brouwer: Troy Brouwer was moved to St. Louis in the offseason for his playoff experience. He’s not relegated to a third line role like he was in Washington so he’ll get the opportunity to produce given his ice time. Not only has Brouwer heated up to wrap up the regular season, but his playmaking line mate Paul Stastny has as well. Going into the playoffs, those two could provide a lethal secondary punch.
Bust - Jaden Schwartz: The days of the “STL Line” of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera are long over. Now it’s just Lehtera and Tarasenko on the top unit. Schwartz is still getting a ton of minutes but hasn’t been producing playing alongside bottom six forwards. Count Schwartz out.
How they got here: A punishing offense, led by Patrick Kane and the second line. Rookie Artemi Panarin essentially came out of nowhere to post nearly a point-per-game pace playing next to Kane. With the second line’s emergence, Jonathan Toews and the first line was able to accept more of a defensive role, though they certainly can pop off in any given game, especially with the trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Ladd.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The core of the team has been here before, and year after year we see the Blackhawks make the adjustments they need to make. The offense has enough firepower to keep up with any team, and the defense can rely on the top four to log heavy minutes and give Chicago a consistent blueline presence.
Why they won’t: All of the deep playoff runs could be catching up with the core Blackhawks, as they’ve effectively played an extra season over of the past few years compared to their peers. Corey Crawford is coming off a long layoff due to vertigo, which could return and take him out of the lineup. Chicago also saw a dip in their usually dominant possession numbers, and the defense outside of Niklas Hjalmarsson was a bit less reliable than in years past.
Vegas Odds: At +750, Chicago is behind only Washington and Los Angeles for best odds.
Goalie Situation: Corey Crawford is often scoffed at as being merely average (or worse) but propped up by playing for Chicago. The reality is that Crawford has now posted two above-average season in a row and has his name on the Cup; he doesn’t have much else to prove. Assuming his vertigo issues are gone, the Blackhawks have a known quantity in Crawford, and it’s an area the team does not need to worry about.
Breakout - Artemi Panarin: There’s really no other choice outside of the obvious Patrick Kane. Panarin has already broke out into the league in a big way and there’s no chance that he ever gets split up from Patrick Kane. The Calder favorite fell into a bit of a slump but has tuned himself up quite nicely in the month of April. Other than getting no points against St. Louis, the lowest outcome he had in a single game was three points.
Deep Sleeper - Teuvo Teravainen: Teravainen plans to reap the benefits of playing with Panarin on the second line. Teravaien has moved around the lineup frequently which makes him a little risky but if he stays entrenched between Kane and Panarin, the chemistry between the three has been devastating to opponents.
Bust - Marian Hossa: I know it’s easy to pick on a guy who is injured but even when Marian Hossa comes back, why would you even want him anyways? Out of any season where he’s played 60 or more games, he’s having the statistically worst season of his career. Even if the Blackhawks make a deep run, Hossa won’t be a major part of it.
How they got here: The Ducks had a rotten shooting percentage all season, yet they persevered behind strong goaltending and a tight defense. When the shooting percentage started to positively regress toward the mean, the Ducks went on a rampage and made up for a slow start to the season. Anaheim also made some smaller trades at the deadline to shore up their offense, giving them a very deep group of forwards to match their stocked blueline.
Why they’ll win the Cup: This is a deep team in every position, as the forward group has three legitimate scoring lines and also has a strong two-way center in Ryan Kessler to attack opposing top lines. The defense is loaded with talented, young movers, and when Anaheim is one their game they are one of the elite drivers of play in the league.
Why they won’t: It was a weird season in terms of bad “puck luck” for the Ducks, who drove play very strongly but were hindered by a well below average shooting percentage. Outside of that, Anaheim could falter if their young defense buckles under the pressure of the playoffs. Four members of the blueline are 24 years old or younger, and though they have playoff experience to fall back on, Anaheim could fail to clear that last hurdle once again should the young defense wilt.
Vegas Odds: Anaheim has the third best odds in the Western Conference at +800, and are behind only Washington from the East.
Goalie Situation: John Gibson and Frederik Andersen shared the net about as well as two goalies in a timeshare could, with Gibson notching a save percentage of .920 with four shutouts and Andersen posting a .917 with two shutouts of his own. Andersen suffered a concussion late in the season, but should he gain clearance, the Ducks can continue to utilize their hot-hand approach that led them to be one of the fewest scored upon teams in the league.
Breakout - Jamie McGinn: The Ducks acquired Jamie McGinn to be a depth player. What they didn’t expect was the production he would give Anaheim. Already a new career high in goals and points, he’s entrenched himself as a reliable top six forward. Getting powerplay time alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is just the cherry on top.
Deep Sleeper - Jakob Silferberg: Silferberg ended the season scorching hot. He scored 10 goals in the month of March alone and finishes the year with over 200 shots on goal. The fact that he also gets time on the shorthanded unit as well as the powerplay makes him a highly sought after fantasy commodity.
Bust - John Gibson:Not necessarily a bust, but more of a warning. If John Gibson slips up once in the playoffs, the Ducks have no problem doing what they did last year by giving Frederik Andersen the reigns. Gibson finishes the season as Anaheim’s go-to guy in the crease but Andersen has all the playoff experience (Gibson - 4 games, Andersen - 23 games).
How they got here: A dominant system. As is the case year after year, the Kings maintained a very sound structural integrity, dominating puck possession and suppressing shots to choke the life from opponents. Anze Kopitar remains one of the best two-way players in the league, forcing opposing offenses to get creative to break through.
Why they’ll win the Cup: This team is very disciplined and seemingly every player has bought in to Darryl Sutter’s system. The Kings have made deep playoff runs before, utilizing their system and strong goaltending from Jonathan Quick. If the Kings – and Quick in particular – are on their game, the technicians should be able to exploit opposing teams’ weaknesses with dominating possession.
Why they won’t: Perhaps unlike prior years, the Kings depth seems to be a bit less than ideal. Vincent Lecavalier isn’t clicking like he had been when first acquired by the Kings, and that opens up a hole in the middle of the ice on the third line. The offense has also been a bit inconsistent outside of Jeff Carter and the second line, which could open up the door for deeper teams to roll out three and four lines to take advantage of the Kings.
Vegas Odds: Los Angeles paces the Western Conference and is behind only Washington at +700.
Goalie Situation: Jonathan Quick has proved he can carry the Kings all the way to the Cup presentation, but his inconsistency seems a bit more “high highs” and “low lows” than most goalies. Basically, when Quick is off his game, he is really off, but when he’s on, he can stand on his head.
Breakout - Milan Lucic: Lucic reached the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career this season. He’s found some mojo with Anze Kopitar and Tanner Pearson. Think of Milan Lucic as a much more talented version of Dustin Brown and then remember how Brown produced in the 2012 & 2014 playoffs and then salivate.
Deep Sleeper - Vincent Lecavalier: Lecavalier has the biggest motivation right now to win the Stanley Cup. After being run out of Philadelphia, Lecavalier has seemingly turned his year around notching ten goals with LA. He still has a bit left in the tank for his farewell tour. Use him accordingly.
Bust - Dustin Brown: How can someone who has over 200 shots only score 11 times? Ask Dustin Brown. Since February 18th, Brown has a pair of 11 game pointless streaks. He might be a great leader on the ice but he won’t lead you anywhere when it comes to fantasy.
How they got here: Veteran leadership. While many tend to write off veterans and the Sharks suffered from having no “new toy” syndrome, they quietly played a strong game all season. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, and Logan Couture continued to carry this team, and secondary scorers such as Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl stepped up to have 20+ goal seasons.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The grizzled vets can still drive play at a high level, and they don’t tend to make many mistakes. The Sharks can also play on defense, as they severely restricted scoring chances against at 5v5 play. This is a deep team up front, and adding a nearly 40 goal scorer on the blueline really opens up what this offense can do.
Why they won’t: Thankfully the Sharks don’t have home ice advantage in the playoffs, because they had a very strong home/road split that heavily favored the Sharks playing away from San Jose. The “choke artist” label follows these Sharks around year in and year out, so they will need to avoid mistakes and keep playing strong defense in front of Martin Jones in net as goaltending is San Jose’s biggest postseason question mark.
Vegas Odds: The Sharks are swimming in the middle of the pack at +1600, ahead of just the Predators and Wild from the Western Conference.
Goalie Situation: The Sharks relied upon Martin Jones this year, but like many first year starters, he struggled with consistency. At the trade deadline, the Sharks acquired a strong backup in James Reimer. Jones has certainly had his moments of solid play, but will likely have a short leash and the team will quickly deploy Reimer when needed. Reimer has been impressive as a member of the Sharks, posting a save percentage of .938 with three shutouts over eight games. Having a reliable option behind Jones gives the Sharks a strong net, which is something they’ve lacked in previous seasons.
Breakout - Tomas Hertl: Hertl spent a majority of the second half of the season on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The 22 year old is having his best season to date and is no stranger to producing in the playoffs (five points in seven games last year). Another year under Hertl’s belt can only mean good things for the young Czech.
Deep Sleeper - Joel Ward: Ward is a happy man in San Jose. He’s been getting top six minutes since the start of the season and is the go-to guy on the penalty kill. The fact he’s getting consistent power play time is just a bonus. In last years playoffs, Ward was no stranger to shooting the puck (39 shots in 14 games). That kind of production isn’t out of reach for him.
Bust - Joonas Donskoi: Donskoi might look like a nice pick because of his line mates but he hasn’t produced as much as you’d expect him to do. The rookie is in a vulnerable position, too. San Jose has players below him on the depth chart that have more playoff experience. It wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Dainius Zubrus or Nick Spaling take his spot on the second line.
How they got here: As usual, defense was the name of the game in Nashville. Even with Seth Jones traded before the trade deadline, the deep blueline group in Nashville was among the league leaders in fewest shot attempts allowed, scoring chances allowed, and high-danger scoring chances allowed. The top six forward group, led by James Neal and Filip Forsberg, also packed a punch and made the Predators a very well rounded and dangerous team.
Why they’ll win the Cup: The old saying is that defense wins championships, and the Predators have plenty of it. They can lock down opponents utilizing a main rotation of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Matthias Ekholm.
Why they won’t: Even with the defense playing outstanding hockey all season, Nashville struggled at times due to Pekka Rinne’s poor play. Despite seeing one of the lowest rates of high-danger scoring chances on the season, Rinne didn’t help his defense out very much. Every team needs their goalie to step up, but if Rinne’s poor play carries over into the playoffs, Nashville’s defensive efforts will be for naught.
Vegas Odds: At just +2500, Nashville is ahead of just Minnesota in the Western Conference, and ahead of only Philadelphia and Detroit from the Eastern Conference.
Goalie Situation: Pekka Rinne has some serious question marks around him, as he has been relatively bad this season. After struggling last season, the turnaround didn’t occur, and Rinne posted a save percentage of just .908. There is no reason to think that Rinne will suddenly turn his game around now, so while he may post a few nice games here and there, he is a more of a liability than an asset for Nashville this year.
Breakout - Filip Forsberg: Forsberg is making himself the number one option in Nashville. While James Neal holds more household value, Forsberg is who you should be after. He had a solid performance in last years playoffs, producing at a point per game pace. This year, he finishes the season shooting 2.4% higher than last year as well as getting a lot of time on the penalty kill. Forsberg’s fantasy value is sky high.
Deep Sleeper - Mike Ribeiro: Don’t be alarmed by his 76 shots on goal. Mike Ribeiro isn’t here to shoot the puck. He is, however, here to dish out the assists. He’s been mainly setting up Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg for most of the year and that’s a major opportunity for Ribeiro to make some noise especially if the Predators go deep.
Bust - Calle Jarnkrok: Jarnkrok doesn’t do nearly enough five on five to be fantasy relevant. He may be on the first line with James Neal and Ryan Johansen but for the most part, he stays off the score sheet. His position on the depth chart may be attractive but it will not pay dividends for you, especially because of the complete lack of power play time.
How they got here: Well, when the games got super important and the Wild were a bubble playoff team, they went on a four game losing streak and backed into the playoffs thanks to Colorado’s collapse. The team rode Devan Dubnyk in net this year, and got offensive contributions in spurts from their forward group. Defense was Minnesota’s strength again this year, though they weren’t quite as dominant as they have been in years past.
Why they’ll win the Cup: Devan Dubnyk is more less a consistent goalie, but he showed last year that he can go on a prolonged hot streak. Sometimes the playoffs come down to who has the hottest goalie, and Minnesota has a guy in the blue paint capable of going on such a run.
Why they won’t: By and large, the Wild struggled with inconsistency this year. They did suffer from a below average shooting rate for much of the winter, but even after positive regression kicked in, the team lacked a true identity. Minnesota’s possession numbers bottomed out a bit this year too, so the lack of goals can’t be covered up with dominant puck play. When there isn’t much time to wait for the law of averages to reverse puck luck, inconsistency will likely be Minnesota’s downfall.
Vegas Odds: Minnesota rounds up the Western Conference at just +2800, ahead of only Detroit and Philadelphia overall.
Goalie Situation: Devan Dubnyk didn’t quite post the magical numbers he did last season, but he finished the regular season with a more than respectable .918 with five shutouts. He was more or less consistent from game to game despite the team in front of him, and he has shown the ability to go on prolonged hot streaks – the type that carry teams to extended playoff runs.
Breakout - Charlie Coyle: Charlie Coyle has already eclipsed his previous best of 11 goals in a season by potting 21 this year. It does help tremendously that he’s playing with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Coyle is excellent at filling the stat sheet up in more ways than one. He gets a steady dosage of power play and penalty kill time as well as finishing the season with over 130 hits.
Deep Sleeper - Nino Niederreiter: El Niño, as they like to call Nino Niederreiter has the potential to have a big playoffs. He’s found chemistry with Erik Haula (who is also a breakout candidate) and when he gets hot, he produces in bunches. After Minnesota’s top six, their bottom six possesses close to no offensive ability. He’s not in any sort of danger to lose his spot, he can only go up from here.
Bust - Jason Pominville: Pominville hasn’t had this bad of a season (36 points) with 70 or more games played since his rookie season in 2005-2006. It just feels like Pominville doesn’t fit in with head coach John Torchetti’s system. He’s seen his ice time take a dip to end the season and that doesn’t look great heading into the playoffs.