What began as a decade of mini dynasties—the Blackhawks, Kings and Penguins won all but one Stanley Cup from 2010 through '17—ended with two of the most splendidly unpredictable postseasons in recent memory and a couple of unexpected champions. The Capitals won the first title in their 44-year history in 2018. And last June the Blues hoisted their first Stanley Cup in their 51st season after defeating the Bruins in seven games. "We feel weird," says St. Louis right wing Vladimir Tarasenko. "Before every summer you came in and said, 'This is our year, let's go.' But we already have one, so it's easier."
If this trend continues, which teams are the most likely to answer their long-suffering fans' prayers? (Apologies in advance to the Sabres and the Canucks, who will, we can confidently predict, extend their Cup droughts to 49 years.)
• MAPLE LEAFS (last Cup, 1967): Now that the Raptors greased the wheels, breaking Canada's NBA title drought in June, the Leafs could really get Toronto rocking. They have everything in place: a top coach in Mike Babcock, two bona fide stars in Auston Matthews and John Tavares, and an upgraded defense after the acquisition of Tyson Barrie. With the team's leading scorer last year, Mitch Marner, re-signed to a six-year deal worth $65 million, one question looms: Is Frederik Andersen the answer in net? He will need to improve on last season's pedestrian numbers—a 2.77 GAA (25th in the league) and .917 save percentage (13th)—to make up for a defense ranked in the bottom third.
Chance of rain: 15%
• PREDATORS (never won, joined NHL in 1998): With under-the-radar gems like Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, Nashville has enough defensive depth that losing former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban to the Devils shouldn't hurt too much. That move also gave Nashville the cap space to add free agent Matt Duchene, who provides consistent production and proved to be a capable playoff performer last season in Columbus (10 points in 10 games). Mikael Granlund, acquired at the trade deadline from Minnesota, was underwhelming with just one goal in 16 games. But the winger is capable of reaching 30 goals—especially sharing a line with Duchene. It won't be a surprise to see the offense go from good to explosive.
Chance of rain: 10%
• SHARKS (never won, joined NHL in 1991): San Jose re-signed elite defenseman Erik Karlsson to pair with Brent Burns, keeping the league's best one-two punch from the blueline intact. Plus, the Sharks have enough scoring bite with Tomas Hertl (35 goals), Evander Kane (30), Timo Meier (30) and Logan Couture (27) to compensate for losing Joe Pavelski's 38 goals. A return to form for goalie Martin Jones could propel the Sharks to their second Cup finals in five years—and maybe even one step further.
Chance of rain: 5%