As far as slogans go, “You gotta believe” is always going to sell more T-shirts than, “You gotta be realistic.”
The hard truth, though, is that 16 wins only happens for one of the 16 teams that qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A lot of fanbases are more than prepared for the idea that this, in fact, won’t be the year.
And while we’re loath to bring any more pessimism into people’s pandemic-defined lives, it’s worth noting that even the biggest sporting optimists among you have to acknowledge the Stanley Cup is one hard trophy to get your hands on.
With that in mind, we thought we’d indulge in an exercise that’s sort of the spiritual opposite of Oprah’s, “You get a car! And you get a car!”
Here’s why your favourite team won’t win the Cup.
Toronto Maple Leafs
You have to walk before you run; let’s worry about winning your first playoff series in nearly 20 years — and, more pertinently, the first one in five tries with this current group — and then think about ripping off four series victories in a single spring.
We’re playing hockey, not basketball. If the NHL operated like the NBA — where a team with two studs is very much in contention — the Oilers would probably be guaranteed of a final-four appearance, at worst. As it stands, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to need help — at least after Round 1.
Because they’ve been sub-.500 for half the season. Winnipeg’s points percentage since March 15 is .446. Also, McDavid did more damage versus the Jets this year than any other squad, with 22 points in nine contests.
Because they’ve been a sub-.500 team for more than three-quarters of the season. Montreal was 8-2-2 on Feb. 6 and has gone 16-19-9 over three months since then. The Habs almost certainly would have fallen out of the playoffs over an 82-game schedule.
When things tighten up, they won’t be able to outscore their blue line and goaltending shortcomings.
Only the Philadelphia Flyers had a worse high-danger save percentage. This team can’t get the big saves.
This would be a lot easier if the Taylor Hall trade didn’t completely change the complexion of the second line. The defence isn’t the same without Zdeno Chara’s calming presence, though, especially at this time of year.
New York Islanders
It’s always going to be about squeezing out enough goals. Bless their try-hard hearts, the Islanders eventually always just run out of talent.
Philipp Grubauer has a very solid .924 save percentage in 19 post-season games with Colorado. That said, the German goalie is unproven at the upper tiers of second-season hockey and while Jonas Johansson has been a nice pickup from Buffalo, it’s fair to say Grubauer is playing without much of a safety net.
Vegas Golden Knights
There’s one area the Knights can’t match up with other top contenders and it’s down the middle. Chandler Stephenson’s emergence has been startling; William Karlsson is a solid two-way pivot, but the path to the Cup goes through the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Patrice Bergeron, Brayden Point, etc. etc.
Coincidentally, Minny’s question marks are down the middle, just like its first-round opponent from the desert. Joel Eriksson Ek has become a sturdy centre, but he still doesn’t scream top-line pivot. The Wild’s top four point-getters are wingers.
St. Louis Blues
One team — one! — had a worse high-danger Corsi than St. Louis, and that was the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues are asking too much from Jordan Binnington.
Take it as a compliment we’ll say goaltending, because there really isn’t a glaring flaw on this team. And, with rookie Alex Nedeljkovic stepping up, the crease could be just fine. It also might come as a surprise that Carolina’s five-on-five save percentage the past two playoffs is .935.
At some point, missing a Norris-calibre defenceman like Aaron Ekblad will be too much to overcome.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Bad juju; your sneaky cap circumvention with Nikita Kucherov won’t fool the Hockey Gods.
Defenceman Roman Josi led this team in scoring with 33 points and the second-highest scoring forward was Calle Jarnkrok, who played at a 47-point pace.