NHL: 3 Early Stanley Cup Favorites

The 2018/2019 NHL season is nearly a third of the way through, and a few teams are already separating themselves from the pack. From offensive dominance, to staggering defensive depth, these teams have jumped to the forefront as the NHL’s premier contenders. 

1) Tampa Bay Lightning (22-7-1)

For the past 3-4 seasons, it seems the Tampa Bay Lightning have been a fixture in this conversation.  From outstanding play between the pipes from the freakish Andre Vasilevskiy, to the steadiness of reigning Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman on the back end. This Bolts team simply has all the makings of a Stanley Cup contender. 

As strong as this team is defensively, their talent up front is that much scarier. Currently leading the NHL in goals scored per game, the Lightning boasts an embarrassment of riches up front. From Nikita Kucherov who potted an absurd 100 points last season to perennial goal scorer Steven Stamkos, the Lightning are witnessing yet another forward rise to stardom this season. 2014 3rd round pick Brayden Point is absolutely exploding this season. Coming off a respectable 32 goal & 64 point campaign as a 21-year-old, Point has taken his game to new heights. So far, he has been torching opposing teams and is tied for the lead league in goal scoring and has lit the lamp 21 times already this season in a mere 30 GP.  The 22-year-old seems to be a lock for his first career All-Star game. 

This is a team with a wealth of playoff experience, offensive explosiveness, a top 5 goalie, and one of the best defenseman in hockey. Yup, Tampa is for real. Again. 

2) Nashville Predators (19-9-1) 

Beginning with Nashville’s longtime backbone,  reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne continues to prove that age is just a number.  Just over 30 games into the season, and Rinne is already ranked 1st in GAA (1.96) & 1st in SV% (.930). Some experts credit Nashville’s’ wealth of defensive depth, but Pekka has been dominating the crease well before the Preds emerged as a true contender. 

Built from the net out, the Predators boast one of the deepest & talented rosters in the entire league. Their defensive depth is 2nd to none, deploying the likes of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm on a nightly basis is simply unfair. This defensive prowess shines through statistically, as Nashville currently ranks 2nd in the entire NHL in goals against so far this season. Having two Norris calibre defenseman in their top 4  is a rare luxury, and is paying enormous dividends for the franchise. 

As good as Nashville is in their own end, they are highly lethal in the attacking zone as well. Led by the likes of super-talented Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, the Preds have little difficulty finding the back of the net. If they can avoid injuries, they may ice as many as three different 30 goal scorers on a nightly basis. Considering how good they are defensively, that is terrifying. Smashville having one of the best home crowds in the sport definitely doesn’t hurt, either. 

3) Toronto Maple Leafs (20-9-1) 

Already one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league, the high octane Toronto Maple Leafs got even better recently. After officially resigning their offensively gifted 22-year-old William Nylander to a 6 year deal, the Leafs FINALLY have a full toolbox to work with. Clicking at an absurd 4.2 goals scored per game, the Leafs offensive unit ranks second in the entire NHL. Let that sink in. They just added Nylander to a highly potent forward group led by Auston Matthews, John Tavares, & of course the NHLs primary assist leader, Mitch Marner

It simply does not matter what others do, this team will find a way to burn you. Outside of their big dogs up front, who happen to be torching the league, the Leafs have seen role players stepping up this year as well. The lightning-quick Kasperi Kapanen has established himself as a fixture of this youthful Leafs team. Kapanen has potted 11 goals, with a total of 21 points this season. Then, there is Morgan Rielly on the back end. On pace for career marks across the board, the talented blue liner is finally showing why he was a coveted 5th overall pick by the Leafs back in 2012. He is amongst the top scoring defenseman in the NHL, and has an impressive 32 points in 30GP this season. Watch for him to earn his 1st career Norris trophy nomination this June, you heard it here first. 

If any player on this talented Leafs roster is asked who their MVP is, the answer will always be the same. Freddie Andersen, or “FredEx” as his teammates like to call him has been lights out so far this season.  Already in Vezina talks, the true foundation of the Leafs success is the 6’4 Andersen, who gives them a chance to win nightly. Currently ranked second in the NHL for wins by goalies, & 6th in overall SV%, Andersen has been everything the Leafs have hoped for. Teams simply cannot win a title in todays‘ NHL without an elite goaltender, and the Leafs have checked that off with Andersen. 

Matthews has an otherworldly 16 goals & 26 points in only 16GP so far this season, and is playing the best hockey of his young career. Add a fully powered top 10 player like Matthews to the likes of Tavares, Marner, Kadri , Nylander, & Kapanen, you got all the makings of a bonafide Stanley Cup Contender. 

Although the season has just nearly surpassed the 30 games mark, Leafs fans everywhere are drooling over their best on-ice product in the last 20 years, and rightfully so. This team is for real.

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