The Pittsburgh Penguins proved doubters wrong in emerging from a tough Eastern Conference during the 2015-16 season to hoist the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. The Penguins have opened as 8/1 favorites to repeat as NHL champions following the 2016-17 season at online sportsbook Bovada.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby has now won two Stanley Cups to help stake his claim as the best player in hockey. Crosby’s challenge next season will be to try and equal former Pittsburgh greats Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, who won consecutive league championships in 1991 and 1992.
He can also top Lemieux and Jagr with a third title, putting him on an elite level with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, two more top players who have won three Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Because of their recent success in winning three Cups in the previous six years before the Pens, it’s no surprise that the Blackhawks are the 10/1 second choice to take home their fourth in eight seasons along with the Washington Capitals. Led by Toews and Kane, Chicago lost to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of this past postseason, but the team always seems to reload and has another budding star in Artemi Panarin.
The Capitals fell to Pittsburgh in the second round of the playoffs, losing in six games. They won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 120 points but simply could not solve the defense of the Pens, who were able to hold Alex Ovechkin in check en route to winning the Cup.
Ovechkin’s window to win a Cup is shrinking, so next year might be his last shot, especially considering how competitive the East has become.
The Western Conference had won four straight Cups prior to Pittsburgh taking it, with the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings each winning twice. The Kings, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning are all listed at 14/1 to win the Cup in 2017 behind the St. Louis Blues at 12/1. The Blues fell to the Sharks in the Western Conference Final, and both teams will return most of their key players in hopes of making another Cup run.
The Lightning are the lone East team in that second tier of title contenders, and they are also the only one to make the conference finals each of the last two years. Tampa’s chances hinge upon the healthy return of goaltender Ben Bishop, who was injured in each of their past two postseasons, and the potential loss of free agent Steven Stamkos.
The team may let Stamkos sign elsewhere due to his injury history and also needs to figure out what to do with former first-round pick Jonathan Drouin after he was demoted to the minors at one point in the regular season. Drouin was counted on in the playoffs when Stamkos was out after he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder, and he may still be in the team’s future, especially if Stamkos is not around.
While not yet be competing for the Stanley Cup next year, Las Vegas has already hit the jackpot after being reportedly being awarded an NHL expansion franchise for the 2017-18 season. The Vegas team is expected to compete in the West’s Pacific Division and will play games at the T-Mobile Arena, which opened in April and was built to lure an NHL team to the city.
The move is set to be announced at the league’s Board of Governors meeting on June 22 if two-thirds of the vote approves the recommendation.