Stanley Cup Predictions if the NHL Season Hadn’t Been Postponed

Author:
Publish date:

April is supposed to be a time for wild-card mayhem, double-overtime Game 7s and four-game sweeps of everyone’s Stanley Cup shoo-in. It’s supposed to be when fans are developing new superstitions and relying on old ones to get their teams one win closer to 16 so their favorite players can try out a new (old?) shiny cereal bowl.

But the hockey world—as is the rest of the world—is on pause as the focus turns toward flattening the curve. The picture of when life will return to normal is no clearer than it was a few weeks ago, an acknowledgment Gary Bettman made Tuesday when he said that completing the 2019–20 regular season “may not be possible.” It’s still unknown if the season will return in any capacity, and if it does it seems that Lord Stanley likely won’t be hoisted until at least the summer.

So as we prepare for a hockeyless spring, writers and editors from Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News decided to think about what could have been. Here are our Stanley Cup picks if the season were never halted.

stanley-cup-predictions

****

Alex Prewitt, SI Senior Writer
Lightning over Avalanche in six

Given that I errantly picked Tampa Bay to win the 2018 and 2019 Stanley Cups, I might as well stick to tradition with no 2020 postseason in sight.

After lurching to a 12-9-3 record through the end of November, the Lightning ripped off a 10-game winning streak that bridged New Years’ Day and entered the NHL’s shutdown firmly in second place in the Eastern Conference. Winger Nikita Kucherov remains a game-breaking talent up front—only Leon Draisaitl has registered more points (48) since Jan. 1 than Kucherov (44)—and few blueliners are better equipped for the playoff grind than 6’6” Swedish spruce tree Victor Hedman. But depth is what will carry (or, perhaps, would’ve carried) the franchise to its second Cup, thanks to two-way forward talents such as Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Blake Colemon, not to mention offensive defensemen like Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Shattenkirk.

As for the Avalanche, their championship window is wide open so long as Nathan MacKinnon is earning an absurdly undervalued $6.3 million per season and future Norris Trophy contender Cale Makar is anchoring the back end. But the road in 2020 will be difficult with the Blues looking primed for a repeat run, Vegas heating up in the Pacific Division, and upwards of four Canadian teams—Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver—tracking for a playoff bid and looking to end a nationwide title drought that dates back to 1993.

Dan Falkenheim, SI Staff Writer
Golden Knights over Bruins six

While not quite left curbside and forced to hail his own taxi, Gerard Gallant was fired as Vegas hovered around .500 and the front office expected more. At the time it was hard to see what that more was: The Golden Knights’ possession numbers ranked top-10, however, a shaky blue line and untenable backup goaltending peeled away much of the team’s usual staunch defensive play. Enter Pete DeBoer and a host of deadline acquisitions. Since Jan. 15, no team has a higher share of expected goals (58.5%). Robin Lehner’s arrival ensured Vegas would enter the playoffs with the NHL’s best netminding situation. And all the sudden, with Max Pacioretty turning back the clock, the Golden Knights looked like the West’s top team before the pause.

Much less drama for the Bruins, some 2,700 miles away. Save for a mediocre 4-5-6 stretch running from early December into the New Year, Boston has been the league’s most consistent team throughout the season. Tuukka Rask’s emergence as the Vezina frontrunner helped the Bruins carve out an eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division and serves as a reminder that he can carry a team as far as he wants to. Both Boston and Vegas are built to withstand the rigors of postseason hockey—each has reached the finals within the last three years—but the Golden Knights are the team that comes out on top in a matchup between recent Stanley Cup losers.

Luka Vasić, SI Staff Writer
Capitals over Blues in seven

Both the Blues and the Capitals won their first franchise Stanley Cups within the last two seasons, but nobody is thirstier for another summer of celebration than Alex Ovechkin. If the league choses to forgo the rest of the season and skip to the playoffs, the Caps should be more thrilled than any other team. Washington entered the All-Star break on top of the NHL, and then followed up with a mediocre stretch of 20 games where they went 8-9-3. However, despite their recent struggles, the Caps are still atop of the Metropolitan Division and have the league’s second-best road record. Ovechkin has put up a league-high 48 goals in his 15th season, while John Carlson’s 60 assists have helped his team sport one of the NHL’s most potent offenses.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be looking to join the Penguins as the only two franchises to win back-to-back titles in the 21st century. St Louis has been one of the league’s most consistent teams—they’ve won eight of their last 10 and are first in the West. But when the season resumes, everyone will be starting fresh. While both teams play similar heavy brands of hockey, if Washington can reset, they should have the physicality to go seven games.

Sam McCaig, THN Features Editor
Lightning over Golden Knights in five

The Lightning are loaded at every position and, after last year's shocking first-round ouster, supremely motivated. It's a Stanley Cup–winning combination.

Edward Fraser, THN Managing Editor
Lightning over Golden Knights in six

Tampa Bay easily owns the best forward group in the league and arguably the best defense and goaltending, too. And with the additions of Blake Coleman and especially Barclay Goodrow, the Lightning now have a bit of the snarl needed in the playoffs. Plus, they'll have learned from the humiliating loss to Columbus from last year. Vegas gelled at just the right time and is showing the team it really is. The Golden Knights will also have an easier time getting out of the overrated Pacific compared to whichever team emerges from the Central.

Ryan Kennedy, THN Senior Writer
Lightning over Golden Knights in six

The Lightning have everything you want in a Stanley Cup favorite. Vegas will give them a good test, but the Bolts are just too good at each position to beat in a seven-game series.

Brian Costello, THN Senior Editor
Lightning over Avalanche in six

The NHL's best lineup on paper got a little deeper at the trade deadline with Tampa Bay's addition of three gritty players who can play heavy hockey in the playoffs—Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Zach Bogosian. That will carry the Lightning past the aging Bruins in the East and the upstart Avalanche in the final.

Matt Larkin, THN Senior Writer
Lightning over Golden Knights in six

The Lightning will have learned their lesson from last year and crusade through the postseason. They're a team just just as talented as 2019’s but with crucial additions in the grit department. The well-rounded Golden Knights will make for a game opponent in the final, but Tampa Bay’s star power will win out.

Ken Campbell, THN Senior Writer
Boston over St. Louis in seven