There at least 12 teams capable of winning the Stanley Cup this season, writes Sam McCaig.
Equality among teams makes for a competitive NHL season
Parity has been a calling card of the NHL in recent years, but this is ridiculous.
The case can be made that no fewer than a dozen teams are bona fide contenders for the Stanley Cup this season. That is to say, it would not be a surprise to see any one of 12 clubs hoisting the silver mug in June, including seven in the West and five more in the East.
Considering just eight teams per conference qualify for the post-season, that's a remarkable reality.
In the West, there's Detroit, Vancouver, Chicago, San Jose, St Louis, Nashville and Los Angeles. The Wings, Canucks, Blackhawks and Sharks have been at the top of the power structure in recent years, but it's worth noting that the Blues have been one of the NHL's best teams since Ken Hitchcock took over as the coach in early November. Meantime, the Predators went into the All-Star break riding a 9-1-0 tear, while the Kings have two of the game's top centres in Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards and an All-Star goalie in Jonathan Quick.
In the East, there's Boston, the Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. Any one of them could get hot and roll to the cup.
Beyond the top 12, there's also a few X-factors to keep in mind. The Minnesota Wild ruled the West for 30 games before being hammered by injuries. The Ottawa Senators have been the biggest surprise of the season, and show no signs of letting up. New Jersey and - dare we say it? - Toronto have the pieces to go on a run. Like never before, the old axiom holds true: if you can make the play-offs, you can with the Stanley Cup.