Rangers and Lightning headline East as Stanley Cup favorites


Bishop gets congrats from Lundqvist: A defeated Henrik Lundqvist congrats Ben Bishop following a heartbreaking 2-0 home loss in Game 7.  AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

Bishop gets congrats from Lundqvist: A defeated Henrik Lundqvist congrats Ben Bishop following a heartbreaking 2-0 home loss in Game 7.
AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

With prospect tournaments concluding and training camps on the horizon, the preseason Stanley Cup were released. Yahoo Sports NHL tweeted out Stanley Cup odds via bodog.ca along with who the favorites are to win the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.

Not surprisingly, the Rangers and Lightning were tied atop the East getting 10/1. The defending champion Blackhawks are first at 13/2. The Ducks, Kings, Rangers and Lightning all are 10/1. Here are the top 10:

At this juncture, I’d make the Lightning the favorite to represent the East. The Rangers got worse subtracting Martin St. Louis (retirement) and Carl Hagelin. New general manager Jeff Gorton is banking on Emerson Etem and Viktor Stalberg to fill the void on the third line. He also added former King Jarret Stoll for faceoff help. The club will look to second-year forwards Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller to provide offense helping offset the loss of St. Louis. Big things are also expected from Chris Kreider, who could crack 30 goals. A full year of Keith Yandle on the back end could result in an improvement on the power play.

For the Blueshirts, they’re led by Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. If the kids perform to expectations, then they should be there.

The Lightning boast a strong core featuring captain Steven Stamkos, Triplets Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and Valtteri Filppula. Alex Killorn, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette round out the best top nine in the East. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman headline a strong blueline. Ben Bishop is the starter and Andreij Vasilevskiy is the backup.

Even with the Caps and Pens improving, the Bolts and Rangers are viewed as the teams to beat in the East. It’s interesting to note that the Caps are 18/1 to win the Cup. They have never advanced past the second round with Alexander Ovechkin. The Rangers prevented it with an improbable rally from 3-1 down thanks to Kreider’s tying goal and McDonagh’s winner in Game 5. Stepan was the hero scoring in sudden death of Game 7 to send the Caps to a crushing loss. They should be even tougher with key additions Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie to a strong core featuring Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jason Chimera, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Braden Holtby. If Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky improve, Washington could pose the biggest threat.

The Pens are 14/1. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they added sniper Phil Kessel and traded Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino this summer. Dealing for Kessel should make their offense explosive. He should score 40 playing with Crosby or Malkin. Pascal Dupuis returns which also should help. Patric Hornqvist and David Perron round out the top six. Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr supply depth. It still hinges on the health of Kris Letang. If he stays on the ice, the Pens are contenders. Getting back Olli Maatta should help a young blueline that also features Derrick Pouliot. Ian Cole was solid after coming over from the Blues. The D is the big question. Marc-Andre Fleury needs a repeat of last year. Pittsburgh boasts a lot of talent. Once they get to the playoffs, the pressure will be on Crosby and Malkin along with Kessel.

The Canadiens at 18/1 might also be a good bet. They boast the rating Hart/Vezina winner Carey Price. They’re hoping Alex Semin can stay motivated on a one-year deal. P.K. Subban and Andre Markov anchor the defense. Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk, Lars Eller and David Desharnais comprise the forwards along with Dale Weise. How will key acquisition Zack Kassian do?

As for other notables, the Islanders are 22/1 and the Flames are 28/1. Both boast a young nucleus who should make some noise. Is this the year the Isles finally get out of the first round? The only distraction is restricted forward Brock Nelson. Captain John Tavares leads a strong core that features potential 2016 UFA’s Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner. With the Brooklyn Islanders (ugh) loaded up front with Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, that should make Grabner expendable. He has a $3 million cap hit and is due $5 million. Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy anchor a solid D that includes Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. The only question is in net with Jaroslav Halak. He still doesn’t inspire much confidence. Thomas Greiss is the backup.

Calgary made the second round last Spring. By adding Dougie Hamilton to an already strong defense corps that features captain Mark Giordano, Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Ladislav Smid, the Flames have the look of a contender. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, David Jones and former Winnipeg Jet Michael Frolik are up front along with former 2014 first round pick Sam Bennett. Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller split duties in net.

Is there any other team we’re leaving out? St. Louis is probably the best that I can think of. Until proven otherwise, they might not have the psyche to go far. Does that finally change? Ken Hitchcock remains the coach of a talented core featuring Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, David Backes, Jaden Schwartz, Paul StastnyPatrik Berglund, Jori Lehtera, new addition Troy Brouwer, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester. Hitchcock will have to play a game of “Who’s On First” with goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.

All this hockey talk finally has me looking forward to preseason. As usual, MSG will air all six Rangers games. I don’t know if I’ll watch every single one but at least it’s there for fans. I would rather have seen the prospects at Traverse City even though they finished eighth losing to the Blackhawks today.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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