It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Detroit Red Wings, Midseason Report, Pittsburgh Penguins, Saturday Faceoff, Vancouver Canucks
Through the halfway mark of the season, we are starting to get an idea of which teams are separating themselves between playoff contenders and Cup contenders. Who is the favorite to win Lord Stanley at this point? Brian, Patrick and I debate…
By Ryan Porth
When you have a player like Sidney Crosby playing the best hockey of his career (prior to his concussion, obviously), your team has a chance to make some noise in the playoffs. However, Sid isn’t the reason why I believe the Pens are the Cup favorites as of today. Blueline depth and versatility up front are two areas where Pittsburgh makes them one of the best in the NHL.
Sergei Gonchar was a catalyst for the Penguins in recent years, anchoring a solid Penguins defensive corps. When he left over the summer, there were some uncertainties surrounding the defense, despite the signings of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin.
Kris Letang has responded in a big way, racking up 36 points and a +23 rating in 42 games. With the first half in the books, Letang is one of the leading favorites for the Norris Trophy.
The Pens’ defensive top five can rival any other team in the league.
Offensively, they don’t have the greatest depth or the most weapons, but there’s a lot of versatility. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are elite talents, surrounded by role players. They won in 2009 under a similar circumstance, so why not again?
In my opinion, the biggest factor in the Pens being the favorites to win it all is Jordan Staal. Getting him back in the lineup is going to be a big boost for the second half. He should make the league’s second-ranked penalty kill even better. Back in 2009, I felt Staal was the unsung hero of their Cup run.
And then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Sometimes even I wonder how the Pens won a Cup with him in net. That said, he’s proven over the last month or two that he can play at a high level. Ever since the Pens started their 12-game win streak, all Fleury has done is go 15-3-1 with a 1.85 goals-against.
This is a team that knows how to get it done when it counts. They had their backs against the wall multiple times in the 2009 postseason, only to battle through that adversity and win their third Cup in franchise history.
We all saw in early December what this team is capable of when at the top of their game. If they play the same way come playoff time, they should be everyone’s favorite to win a fourth Stanley Cup.
By Brian Huddle
For a second year in a row, Vancouver comes in as a heavy favorite for the ultimate prize. Boasting one of the deepest rosters in the National Hockey League, and star power throughout, the Canucks finally seem poised to make a run; and it does help that rival Chicago (who’s eliminated Vancouver the last two years) finally has a few holes in their armor.
They say championships are built with defense. While this is an integral part, more and more we're seeing the true contenders built with strength down the middle – something that Vancouver has plenty of. With a top-three center rotation of Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra, it's hard to argue with how strong that depth is as each bring something different to the table.
Vancouver's back end isn't the most name friendly, but their top-six is nothing to ridicule. The up-and-coming Alexander Edler leads the way, with Kevin Bieksa, Christian Erhoff and Dan Hamhuis all playing significant roles. Sami Salo is currently on LTIR, but is poised to return to them at some point; he is another defenseman who can play in most teams’ top-four around the league. When off-season acquisition Keith Ballard is a healthy scratch some nights, you know that Vancouver is boasting a fairly deep blueline.
After all of that, the Canucks have franchise player Roberto Luongo to cover up mistakes. Luongo has started the year off right, with a new goalie coach, and a renewed work ethic. Luongo seems to have returned to his best play, and if he isn’t on top of his game, the Canucks have No. 1 worthy goalie in Cory Schneider, ready to take over. He boasts some very impressive stats this year as Luongo's backup; Schneider has yet to record a regulation loss.
It's been a long time since I've seen such a deep roster that also possesses as much talent as this one. GM Mike Gillis has done some remarkable work in recent years to build upon the core that former GM’s Dave Nonis and Brian Burke laid down for him.
As long as the ‘Hawks don't stand in their way, I expect Lord Stanley's mug to finally make its way north of the border again.
Detroit Red Wings
By Patrick Hoffman
When looking at Stanley Cup winners, it is easy to see that the teams have three key ingredients: skill, depth and experience.
While there are several clubs that fit the bill, there is really only one team that can say that they have had those ingredients for almost well over a decade: the Detroit Red Wings.
When the Wings won Stanley Cups back in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008, they used the aforementioned assets to get the job done. It was never a secret as to why they won the Cup those years because everyone in the game knew that the Wings had what it took to win.
This season, it appears that the Wings are once again using their skill, depth and experience to put together a successful regular season (26-10-5, 57 points, second in the Western Conference) and come April, will use them on their way to winning another Stanley Cup.
Here is why they will win:
Skill: From top to bottom, the Wings are one of the most skilled teams in the NHL – from Pavel Datsyuk, to Henrik Zetterberg, to Johan Franzen, to Nicklas Lidstrom, to Brian Rafalski, to Valtteri Filppula, and so on and so forth. These guys put points up on the board and are a threat to score every time they are on the ice.
Depth: Not only do the Wings have an abundance of skill, but they also depth guys that they can rely on when their big guns are not going. We are talking about players like Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler, Kris Draper… and again, the list could go on and on.
Experience: It certainly helps that the Wings have players that have won a Cup before and therefore, know what it takes. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Draper, Franzen, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Holmstrom, Hudler, Helm, Kronwall, and a few more.
Put these ingredients together, and in 2011 it will be the Wings raising the Cup once again.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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