Call your bookie, the winner is here

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, Jan. 21, 2009

In a salary cap world, the league is seeing serious parody, which has resulted in about a dozen teams who can dream of legitimate playoff runs. However, in my not-so-humble opinion, five teams have emerged as true favourites.

Here, in absolutely particular order, are the clubs most likely to engrave the Stanley Cup this spring:

1. Detroit Red Wings
When a team is the defending champs and they’ve only dropped eight decisions in over 40 games, they remain the favourite. Yes they are behind San Jose and yes they have had subject goaltending thus far, but they can score six goals with their skates on the wrong feet and this freak of nature by the name of Nicklas Lidstrom still plays for them. It’s an overstated cliché but the Wings know how to win.

2. San Jose Sharks
Though they have shown a human side lately by losing a few contests, the Sharks are every bit as good as they seem. Their defence is one of the best in the league, thanks to happily trading a couple of never-will-be’s to Tampa for Dan Boyle, and every forward is having a career year except Joe Thornton, who has a career year every year. Th e only thing that keeps me from truly buying into the Sharks is the fact they’ve been expert favourites for most of this century and they lose in disappointing fashion every May, on cue.

3. Boston Bruins
No one tried harder than me to not believe the Bruin’s hype they slowly developed over the first half. However, all you need to do is look at some of the scores in their games and it’s clear this team is for real. They kill everyone. They do it on the road. They do it on back-to-backs. They do it in every aspect of the game and there are no signs the assault won’t continue.

4. Montreal Canadiens
As I said at the beginning of the season, the Habs might be the deepest team in the league, next to Detroit. Their record since Christmas is astonishing considering the injuries. How many teams could lose an entire scoring line, the club muscle, the stay-at-home defenceman and their starting goalie all for more than a month, yet somehow hold the fourth best winning percentage in hockey? They don’t get a lot of respect because they don’t have any one player dominating the league, but they manage one of the game’s top off ences and defences and play great team hockey

5. Chicago Blackhawks
The only knock on this team is their inexperience. They have everything: superstar leaders, speed and skill throughout, a stud defenceman and two solid goaltenders, one of which has won the whole thing. Youth might keep them from other people’s favourite lists, but I believe youth provides a level of ignorance to the pressure of playoff s and, since everyone will focus on other conference rivals, they could sneak right by the expected clubs.

Honourable mention goes to Washington, who almost made my list. Apologies go to the Flames, who lost their spot on this list last weekend.

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