Stanley Cup Predictions for the 2021 NHL Season


Isaiah J. Downing - USA TODAY Sports

Game opener of the 2021 NHL season for the Colorado Avalanche. On Jan. 13, 2021, the Avalanche players the St. Louis Blues which resulted in a 1-4 loss.

By Emily Chin, Staff Writer

After the long wait, the 2021 NHL season is officially here. This one of a kind season consists of a 56-game schedule with new division arrangements. The 31 NHL teams were reconstructed into four new divisions: West, Central, East, and North. Each division pushes to accommodate the pandemic’s limited traveling protocol. Over the offseason, some teams made drastic changes while others stayed the same. The first week has offered fans a small insight into where each team stands when it comes to the postseason. In this article, I will be discussing my predictions for cup contenders in each division.

Starting in the North division, I might be biased, but I’m hoping the Toronto Maple Leafs can win the cup one day. The roster has some of the best wingers and centers, giving the team a strong offensive group. Unfortunately, they always lack the defense needed to take them further than round one. I don’t think they compare to the stronger cup contenders, but I believe they can be the “underdog” team fans won’t see coming.

The second team from the North division with the largest likelihood of making playoffs is debated between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens. If I had to select one, it would be the Flames. Last season they lacked a reliable goaltender, but now with Jacob Markstrom, they have a stable defensive and offensive core.

A hot take from the North division is the Winnipeg Jets will make it to the postseason. If someone told me the Jets had a fair chance of winning the cup, I’d completely laugh in their face, but looking at the team today, it’s a huge possibility. Not only do they have a strong goalie, but looking at the wingers, centers, and defensemen, the team is an absolute powerhouse. Another factor in the Jet’s future success is whether the swap of Pierre Luc-Dubois and Patrik Laine was a steal or a bust. Both are elite players, but many fans believe that losing Laine was a monumental loss for the Jets. No one knows what will happen. Luc-Dubois is a young player who might fit in perfectly in Winnipeg, or he might lack the connection that the team needs. All things considered, the Jets have a decent chance of surprising fans as the playoff season approaches.

The two central division teams that have a legitimate chance at making the postseason would be the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Dallas Stars. Both made it to the Stanley Cup final last year, but neither are teams that I see winning the cup.

As for the Chicago Blackhawks, all I can say is this season might be a disaster. The first impression of the season was terrible. Jonathan Toews out. Alex Nylander out. Brent Seabrook out. Kirby Dach out. Corey Crawford retired. All announced right before the season even started.

I’ll highlight some of the injuries that are short-term, so things will start to roll again once Nylander and Dach are back on ice. But if you consider the new teams put into the Central division, the Hawks have no chance. One reason is the Lightning barely made any changes from their 2020 Stanley Cup champion team. On top of that, you add in the Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes, who have been two highly ranked contenders for the cup, the chances of the Hawks making the postseason miss the bar by a milestone.

The eyed teams with the highest probability of winning the cup come from the last two divisions, two of them being in the East. The Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders are two teams that will be dominating the 2021 season. Last year, both teams surpassed their expectations during the postseason and are still wowing fans with their current playing ability.

The Flyers are seen as the more dominant team, but I think the Isles can win the cup this year. A strength of the Isles is their depth; every single player is a crucial piece of the game. You have players like Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle, who are second and third liners stepping up to enhance the team’s win-loss record. On Jan. 16, back-up goaltender Ilya Sorokin had an unexpected debut with the Isles, which ended up being rough for fans to watch. When and if they are able to clean up their back-up goalie situation, the team will be a likely contender for winning the cup.

From the West division, there are only two really strong teams that stand out from the other eight, which is the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche. The Knights have always had a dynamic team, but by adding Alex Pietrangelo and singing long-term deals with many of their core players, the team will be set for a couple of years. A problem that can sprout from the long-term deals is that if this group of players aren’t able to win the cup, the contracts will end up being costly for the organization considering they signed multiple long-term contracts.

Finally, the team I see realistically winning the cup is the Avalanche. The team is stacked with both offensive and defensive power. Last year during the postseason, goalie Philip Grubauer got injured, which ultimately was a big end to their disappointing playoff run. Other than that, the Avalanche is an elite Stanley Cup contender. Fans could thank general manager Joe Sakic for that.

Throughout the previous years, the team has drafted together one of the best top lines consisting of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. Don’t forget they also drafted up and coming to defenseman Cale Makar in 2017, who has been playing exceptionally effective the past season. He also added powerful players to the team like Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and newly signed defenseman Devon Toews which adds even more spice to the perfection this team already has. The Avalanche possesses some of the most elite players in the league, and they aren’t even close to hitting their salary cap. Sakic has worked wonders for the team, and without him, the Avalanche’s chance of winning the cup would be considerably different than it is now.

At the end of the day, the Avalanche is my front-runner contender to win the 2021 Stanley Cup. Keep in mind the season has barely started, so a lot can happen within the next 15 weeks.