Wednesday, October 7, 2015

NHL Preview: Which Teams Are in Line For the Crown?

By Marc James

The new NHL season is getting into gear, and it's going to be exciting to say the least. Ice hockey is the kind of sport that is pretty generous when it comes to surprising even the most weathered fans, and it's safe to say that this year will be no different in this regard.

However, picking favorites is rather a sport in itself. Ask me again on the Boxing Day, but for the time being, there are a few teams that look good enough to be in the top five at the very least. There's also been a few notable rule changes, so let's take a look.

The Chicago Blackhawks scored the Stanley Cup last season, so naturally they're expected to do well this year, too. Although the Blackhawks will have to face a division that's not going to be a piece of cake, their preseason gameplay looked strong enough already, with them only losing two out of five games.

The Anaheim Ducks seem to be everyone's favorites this season, and they are certainly looking strong enough so far as the Ducks is the only team to not lose a single preseason game. According to the UK-licensed bookie TonyBet, their odds to win the Stanley Cup are at 38/5, which is the best of the lot.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lifted the Prince of Wales Trophy and were the runners-up to the Stanley Cup, so it's no big surprise that this team is one to watch. Tampa Bay is one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference for sure, so it's going to be interesting to watch how their season will play out and whether the squad will live up to their full potential.

The Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs last year, which means they got an extra-long rest. As it is, they have justified their name more than once in the past, and are certainly able to repeat that this season. The Kings looked good in the preseason games, and if they continue to do as well and maybe better, they will definitely go a long way. Having Anze Kopitar on their side doesn't hurt, either.

The Pittsburgh Penguins may not be an immediate choice for many, but they may just prove the non-believers wrong. Their preseason games were not exactly inspiring to a brilliant season, but the night is still (really) young. The Penguins definitely have a very strong squad and some quality ice hockey is to be expected!

The St. Louis Blues have their eyes set on the Stanley Cup — and really, they're up for the task. The squad is as strong as ever, and you could already see that in their solid pre-season gameplay. There's more where that came from, so we can definitely expect the St Louis Blues to give their fans no reasons to be blue this year.

The Montreal Canadiens were the runners-up for the President's Trophy last season, and they will no doubt be looking to do even better this year. The Canadiens definitely look good enough to go to the playoffs, and although their preseason start was a bit shaky, it does not mean they cannot make it to the top this season.

The New York Rangers lifted the President's Trophy and were the runners-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy last season, so it's only natural to expect them to want even more this year. Although their squad has suffered greatly, the Rangers are one of the teams that we can definitely expect to see in the playoffs, and time will tell how well will they do in the whole season.

The Washington Capitals are more of a dark-horse pick right now, but their preseason start was pretty excellent and if they keep it up, the Capitals can definitely slide right to the top. They had new talents come in to the squad and even though that can present a challenge, it can also mean that they will be better than ever. Their star player, Alexander Ovechkin, could be the key element in making Stanley Cup Capitals' reality.

Another thing to be noted about the new season are the amendments that have been made to the rules. What is going to be a very notable change is less players on ice during the overtime, which should result in a faster and more open game and fewer shootout endings. The three-on-three overtime looked promising in the preseason, so it's going to be interesting to watch.

The Coach's Challenge will allow for video reviews as applicable, which should help make more correct decisions. A small, but potentially crucial change which could decrease cheating is defensive player having to place his stick on the ice first during face-offs, giving offensive players a bit of an advantage.

All in all, the upcoming season is going to be a treat, and as hard to predict as ice hockey can be, one thing is clear: nobody's going to be bored. Tune in, support your champions, and may the odds be ever in their favor!

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