The NHL preseason is in its back half, with teams moving towards their final round of the cuts for the season. Some familiar names appear primed to contend for the Stanley Cup once again this season, while some new faces have emerged as well. Here are the 2019-20, too-early Cup contenders:
Tampa Bay Lightning
They are back and frightening as ever. After a shocking first round exit last year, Tampa Bay will have plenty of unfinished business to attend to this season. The epic speed and skill that carried the Bolts to the best regular season record in league history could not buy them a single game in the playoffs. Instead, the gritty, shot-blocking Columbus Blue Jackets swept them.
In response to this, the team has complimented their skill with a little snark of their own. They added Pat Maroon, a beefy forward that injects size and energy to the lineup. Coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Blues, Maroon also brings a winning mentality. After a season as strong as the Lightning had, it can be difficult to find ways to improve. Implementing the intangibles Maroon has is exactly what the team needs. Having another year of experience under their belts could prepare them better for the postseason as well.
After rebuilding for a large portion of the decade, the Avalanche have become one of the most exciting teams in the NHL. Their infusion of young, electric players is nearly unmatched throughout the league. Nathan MacKinnon is a perennial MVP candidate, and the best right-handed centermen in the league. If he signs, MacKinnon will be balanced with young, lethal forwards like Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Cale Makar looks poised to anchor the defense after making his NHL debut during last year’s playoffs.
The Avalanche, although a playoff team the last couple of seasons, have yet to emerge as one of the league’s elite teams. This could be the year if the youngsters continue to meet expectations.
They are always in the playoff conversation, but seemingly have not been a Cup-caliber squad since the early 2000s. But during last year’s playoffs, they exhibited a flare for the dramatic that showed they could have a chance to go on a deep run. They knocked off a Cup favorite in the Nashville Predators in the first round, and then went on to fall to the eventual Cup-winning Blues in a Game 7 overtime.
After bringing in the veteran leadership of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry on July 1, the Stars appear to be eyeing another run deep into May or June. Both forwards are hungry for a championship after enduring annual failed cup runs with the Sharks and Ducks, respectively. They add to an already strong core of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen. The pressure will certainly be on, especially from the team’s owner, who publicly criticized Benn and Seguin last year. With heightened expectations, things could get edgy in Dallas.
They were just one game away from their second Stanley Cup this decade, but fell flat in Game 7 of the Finals on home ice. After coming so close, most of the same team will return for another crack in 2019-20. Of all of these contenders, no team has more players with extensive playoff experience than Boston. This could push Boston beyond the competition come the spring.
Thumbnail photo from The Associated Press.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.