Calling the Cup like it is

In another two months or so, we’ll discover who will be the Stanley Cup champion. The way it drags on, it might feel like six months, but I just looked it up: June 9 is the last possible day the Cup finals can end.

So let’s take a look at who can win. Because of space limitations, only the top four seeds will get a look. Sure, some teams may change places between now and the end of the season, so these are the top four heading into Friday’s games.


1. Ottawa Senators (111 points)

The bankruptcy jokes are long past, as this team and their offense are no joke for opposing teams. Marian Hossa has established himself as a top scoring threat, even if Caps’ fans didn’t see that in the Senators’ 5-1 win on Thursday night. Ottawa has the inside track to win the President’s Trophy for the most points in a season.

Predicted playoff fate: Remember, the team that wins the President’s Trophy rarely wins the Stanley Cup in the same season. Ottawa will be out before the conference finals.

2. New Jersey Devils (105 points)

As long as the Devils have Martin Brodeur, they’ll have a chance to go deep into the playoffs. Think about it: Who’s their top offensive player? It’s the relatively-anonymous Patrick Elias who no one will confuse with the league’s top offensive talent. The Devils rely on defense and Brodeur, who is more than capable of carrying a team.

Predicted playoff fate: They’ve got Philly’s number, so they’re the pick to make the Stanley Cup finals.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (93 points)

The Lightning would be a third-place team in the Atlantic or Northeast Divisions. But in the weak Southeast, 93 points wins a division title. Regardless, it’s been a magical run for Tampa this season: Nikolai Khabibulin has become an upper-tier goalie and Vaclav Prospal and Martin St. Louis have had breakout seasons. But that doesn’t mean the Lightning are an upper-tier team.

Predicted playoff fate: They could beat the Capitals in the first round, but will struggle after that. Out before conference finals.

4. Philadelphia Flyers (103 points)

After last year’s embarrassing first-round exit, the Flyers hired a new coach. When their offensive struggles resurfaced at midseason, they acquired Tony Amonte. The Flyers’ offense has been decent since then, but coach Ken Hitchcock who won a Stanley Cup in Dallas has some work to do before the Flyers erase their recent dreadful playoff performance.

Predicted playoff fate: If the Flyers score three goals or more in their first playoff game, they’ll make the conference finals. If not, they’re out in the first round. The latter seems most likely.


1. Dallas Stars (109 points)

Not much has changed in Dallas since they won it all a few years back. If anything, they’ve gotten a bit better by adding enigmatic Bill Guerin. There was some nervousness in Dallas after losing Ed Belfour to Toronto. But Marty Turco has become a more-than-admirable replacement, and if things stay as they are Dallas will be the west’s top seed.

Predicted playoff fate: If Turco keeps up his hot play, they’ll face the Devils in the Cup finals.

2. Detroit Red Wings (108 points)

The Red Wings keep reloading with Brett Hull, Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman. And it didn’t matter when goalie Dominik Hasek retired after last season they went out and signed Curtis Joseph. Even the loss of legendary coach Scotty Bowman hasn’t hurt too much the made Dave Lewis, an assistant under Bowman, head coach and are in familiar territory.

Predicted playoff fate: Old age of Wings’ top players will keep them from another Cup, as they’ll lose to Detroit in the conference finals.

3. Vancouver Canucks (104 points)

Offense is the Canucks’ word; depth and defense have a secondary place in their dictionary. Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi rank in the top four in the NHL in scoring. They’ll have to count on their scoring to get through the playoffs but as the old adage goes, defense wins championships.

Predicted playoff fate: Their scoring gets them through the first round, but no further.

4. Colorado Avalanche (101 points)

Colorado keeps plugging along, even if it hasn’t been a normal season for them. They fired Bob Hartley who won a Stanley Cup in Ray Bourque’s final year early in the season. That hasn’t hurt them so far. Of course, any team with Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy should be pretty decent over the course of a full season.

Predicted playoff fate: A matchup in the conference semifinals against Dallas would be great in the difficult Western Conference, but they won’t get past the Stars.

In the final analysis, Dallas is the best overall team and will win the title while former coach Hitchcock watches from home in suburban Philly.

Brian Hunsicker is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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