Unless there are some extraordinary transactions at the National Hockey League’s March 21 trade deadline, it’s becoming fairly obvious that only six or seven teams have a legitimate shot at this year’s Stanley Cup.
Sorry, Leafs fans, your team’s probably still one of the outsiders. But 1967 was a great year, right?
For the third straight season, there’s a good chance the Stanley Cup will be won by a team based in that frigid, ice-capped hockey hotbed of Florida. Tampa Bay Lightning were winners in 2020 and 2021, and they have a good shot at making it three in a row, thanks to their packed lineup featuring Sergei Vasilevskiy in goal, Steven Stamkos, Bryaden Point and Nikita Kucherov up front, and the game’s best (or second-best) defenceman, Victor Hedman.
But if it’s not the Lightning, then it could be their cross-state rivals, Florida Panthers. Florida lost its coach, Joel Quenneville, in the first month but didn’t skip a beat, leading the Atlantic Conference almost all season. Florida is strong in goal with Sergei Bobrovsky and feature the highest-scoring team in the NHL — led by Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Reinhart and defenceman Aaron Ekblad.
If the Cup winds up being displayed outside of Florida, watch for it being paraded around by players from one of the ‘C” teams — Carolina, Colorado or Calgary.
The Hurricanes posted the league’s best winning percentage most of the season and coach Rod Brind’Amour seems to get the best out of his personnel; Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen leading the way up front with Jacob Slavin on defence and Frederik Andersen in goal having outstanding seasons.
Colorado has the big offensive quartet of Nazem Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, along with arguably the game’s best (or second best) defenceman, Cale Makar.
Flames’ fans have been encouraged by a resurgence by Johnny Gaudreau, and his powerplay pals Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm have been stalwart. Goalie Jacob Markstrom gives Calgary stability in the net that their northern cousins in Edmonton wish they had.
Who else? The Rangers have a chance, thanks in part to their Panarin-Kreider-Zibanejad trio on offence and starry goaltending by Igor Shesterkin.
Can’t ever count out Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh, who have picked up steam after a slow start.
Two other dark horses might be Minnesota Wild and the Leafs, who just may ride the coattails of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to playoff success.
But hey, it’s still early. Teams still have 20 or so games to play and, who knows? Maybe the Oilers will start a rebuild by shipping Connor McDavid off to the Leafs for a package of draft picks, the entire CD collection of Drake, and lifetime admission for Edmontonians to the CN Tower. Hey, if the Oilers could trade Gretzky. …
• Nick Canepa of The San Diego Union-Tribune, on Falcons owner Arthur Blank calling the NFL’s lack of minority head-coaching hires ‘just not acceptable’: “It’s apparently acceptable in Atlanta, where his Falcons are one of 13 franchises never to have a Black head coach.”
• Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com:: “Lent is the season for giving up things. Or possibly in the case of the Lakers, just giving up.”
• Susie Maxwell Berning, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame the same night as Tiger Woods: “Tiger, I know it’s hard to believe as young as I am but I won all of my majors before you were born. I won $16,000 for all four. I was wondering if you’d like to swap cheques?”
• Comedy writer Erid Stangel, on Twitter, just before the lockout ended: “If #MLB cancels any more games, the Pirates are going to get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.”
• Golf broadcaster David Feherty at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, looking around the Global Home facility: “This building is so big it’s almost big enough to contain the egos of Brooks and Bryson.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “Whenever I see BJ Neufeld, former third for Manitoba’s Mike McEwen, playing for Kevin Koe in Alberta, I think the same thing. Sweeping with the enemy.”
• Headline at fark.com: “Green Bay Packers punish Rodgers with 4-year, $200 million contract.”
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games. Evidently, he didn’t get the express written consent of the NFL’s official betting partners, Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel.”
• Another one from Perry: “Packers QB Aaron Rodgers officiated at teammate David Bakhtiari’s wedding on March 5. No word on whether Bakhtiari got the Rodgers rate, but the QB did get the bridesmaids to jump offside with a hard count.”
• TNT’s Charles Barkley, to ESPN Radio, on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: “I think he’s the pretty girl that you gotta tell her she’s pretty every day.”
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by Bruce Penton