As NHL training camp opens in about six and a half weeks, teams have been looking to make tweaks to take the next step as an organization whether that is towards becoming a Stanley Cup contender or starting a rebuild. A lot of teams have made improvements during the 2019 offseason, and the upcoming season should be one of the most competitive that the NHL has yet to see. NoVa Caps takes a look at the top Stanley Cup contenders for the 2019-20 season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have not undergone a lot of changes after tying an NHL-record 62 wins during the regular season. They may have lost defenseman Anton Stralman, but they tied for seventh in the NHL with an average of 2.70 goals-against per game without him for 25 games last year and added Kevin Shattenkirk, a better offensive defenseman, to replace him. Tampa Bay also added Curtis McElhinney to bolster their goaltending depth and moved out forwards Ryan Callahan and J.T. Miller to gain some cap flexibility this offseason to re-sign center Brayden Point, who is currently a restricted free agent. With talent like forward Nikita Kucherov (the reigning Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy winner), center Steven Stamkos, defenseman Victor Hedman, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (the reigning Vezina Trophy winner) on their roster, the Lightning will likely be at the top once again this season.
OddShark Odds: +700
The Bruins have one of the league’s best top lines in place with forwards Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak; a solid blueline featuring youngsters Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, who each need new contracts before the start of the 2019-20 season as restricted free agents; and one of the best goaltenders in the game in Tuukka Rask, who was a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite as the MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They could use another top-six forward after Marcus Johansson left in free agency, and they just signed depth forwards in forward Brett Ritchie and center Par Lindholm but should be among the top teams in the league once again this season.
OddShark Odds: +1200
The Capitals made some minor changes after falling in the first round in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs but still have their top-six forwards, top-three defensemen, and No. 1 goaltender all under contract for at least another season. Captain Alex Ovechkin continues to defy the odds and shows no signs of slowing down. Despite losing forwards Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky in the offseason, they got respectable replacements in Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway. If defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen bounce back from lackluster performances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals should be top contenders in the Metropolitan Division this season.
OddShark Odds: +2000
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have one of, if not the most, potent offenses in the NHL with center John Tavares, center Auston Matthews, forward Mitch Marner (currently an unsigned restricted free agent), and forward William Nylander leading the way. They have also improved their blueline in the past year with the additions of Tyson Barrie, Jake Muzzin, and Cody Ceci. In addition, Morgan Reilly developed into a true No. 1 defenseman last season. Toronto also has a solid No. 1 goalie with Fredrick Andersen guarding the pipes. They have to re-sign Marner but should be strong and scary in the Eastern Conference once again.
OddShark Odds: +1200
Honorable Mention: Florida Panthers (+1600 Odds By OddShark)
St. Louis Blues
The Blues hardly made any changes after winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last season, with only forward Patrick Maroon gone from the Game 7 lineup in the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis’ defense is solid with Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, and Colton Parayko in the mix. Their offense is also dangerous with center Ryan O’Reilly, forward Vladimir Tarasenko, forward Jaden Schwartz, and center Brayden Schenn leading the way. If goaltender Jordan Binnington proves that he’s the real deal, the Blues should be at or near the top of the West this season.
OddShark Odds: +1600
The Predators may have traded defenseman P.K. Subban for little return but had an internal replacement for him in Dante Fabbro, the club’s first-round draft choice in 2016, and bolstered their forward depth in free agency with the addition of center Matt Duchene. Nashville’s defense is still among the league’s best and the team has strong depth upfront as well. If 36-year-old goaltender Pekka Rinne can delay Father Time for at least another year, the Predators should be among the best in the West this season.
OddShark Odds: +2000
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have lost some depth this offseason due to salary cap constraints but still have arguably one of the best top-six forward groups in the league with centers Paul Stastny and William Karlsson and forwards Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith still there. They could use another top-four defenseman after Colin Miller (traded to Buffalo Sabres) left but could have an internal replacement if prospect Nicolas Hague can step in and fill that role. Even with a hole in their top-four d-corps, the Golden Knights have a world-class goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to back them up. Once they solidify that spot next to defenseman Shea Theodore, the Golden Knights should be ready for a big run this season.
OddShark Odds: +1200
After falling in Game 7 of their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche have made a lot of roster upgrades, acquiring centers Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, defensive prospect Bowem Byram, and forwards Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi. The Avalanche arguably have the best forward trio in hockey with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog and some great young defensemen in Byram, Sam Girard, and Cale Makar. If Philipp Grubauer can prove himself as an NHL starting netminder this season, the Avalanche are going to be a very dangerous team in the Western Conference.
OddShark Odds: +1400
Honorable Mention: Dallas Stars (+2000 Odds by OddShark)
By Harrison Brown