TAMPA, FL - MARCH 27: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning dekes goalie Evgeni Nabokov #20 of the New York Islanders and scores during the shootout at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on March 27, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning

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This team has been given everything in the past few years but always falls short in the playoffs, and following their recent playoff meltdown, they have everything to prove.  They have broken records with how bad this last postseason was for them. The unfortunate part is that they wasted their best year to win a cup on a legendary 62-win season. They are now going to have to lose some key pieces because of cap space and other reasons.  Yes, they have more years in this championship window but they are starting to look a lot like the San Jose Sharks–given everything including a Stanley Cup Final appearance with no cup victory.

They are the new can’t-get-over-the-hump team. This franchise is a mess right now because of high expectations.  If they can’t overcome these ambitions soon they will be remembered as Dan Marino in football is today. A great qb but no championship and a sad story as a result.

 

Washington Capitals

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You broke the curse and won the cup last year.  Unlike the 2017-18 season, what we got this year was the same old Capitals.  The Capitals that have a great regular season, high expectations and bad playoffs.  This means one of two things for the Capitals. This was either the bad rebound most teams have after a championship or we just have the same Capitals for a long time to come. 

The Capitals may have to lose some big pieces before this is all said and done this offseason. The result? They may still be competitive next year with Alex Ovechkin but this franchise had its moment last year and that might be all they get.  Washington is always hard to read but it seems, although not at this moment, the window is closing for another championship. In five to ten years or so I would not be surprised to see a Washington Capitals team that didn’t win the big one again and wasted the rest of its window, and may well be in the basement of the league.  The clock is ticking at a second run for the cup, don’t waste it.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

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All the glory now, paying later has finally caught up to the Penguins franchise.  They were always pushing for a cup, always adding and giving away their first round picks.  The 2017-18 season was their last year in their championship window. It closed hard, pending the 2018-19 playoffs.  Barry Trotz has this team figured out and the Pens simply don’t have a team anymore. They rely on their star players to take them to victory.  This is almost never enough in the NHL, as you must have a complete squad to succeed. I would expect some dark years ahead for the Pens but not all hope is lost. 

The Penguins should still have Sidney Crosby and a couple others to build around. There are still more problems here even with a rebuild possibility. The Penguins management will have to realize that they are getting older and slower on the ice.  They would have to reestablish aspects of speed and youth to the team. In addition they will have to realize that Matt Murray doesn’t cut it at the goalie position and get a new, better goalie.

What’s the problem with that? The Penguins management is still trying to live in the glory days.  To succeed they need to first take a step back, something the Penguins would never want to do. I will give you two scenarios of how this could go down over the next five to ten years for the Pens. The first scenario is that the team endlessly tries the relive what once was and spiral down in consistent early playoff losses.  The second scenario is the Pens take a step back and in a few short years of building a true team have an open championship window again. It’s the Pens choice, choose wisely.

 

New York Islanders

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Finally, a team with some good news on this list.  The Islanders have exceeded all expectations in the 2018-19 season and playoffs.  They have a new coach, revived goalies and have proven they don’t need their star center John Tavares.  The thing I like about this team the most is just that, they are a team. They have two great goalies who work well with the team, their defense has been great and their offense was clutch in the first round of the playoffs.  Their whole core is like jelly and peanut butter. Barry Trotz seems to be able to pull the team out of a bunch of individuals and as long as he is here the possibility of a Stanley Cup is always there. I am excited to see what this team has in store for us next year.  The championship window has just opened, maybe we will see the Islanders near a cup final soon.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

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The Jackets just won their first playoff series in franchise history.  Even though this was a great victory for the team short term, it is looking to be very shallow for the long term.  You see, the Jackets loaded up on talent right before the trade deadline so they could make the playoffs and win a series.  One of the most likely reasons for such aggressiveness from the Blue Jackets coach John Tortarella nearing the trade deadline was he didn’t want to get fired and he was out of time.  The smart thing probably would have been to wait and build slowly but management seemed to be out of patience. Now they are going to lose three of their five best players due to free agency and some draft picks in the process.  This appears to be a very bad situation. The metropolitan division has been the hardest division for the best few years to play in and the Blue Jackets are about to take one giant step back. Columbus’ only hope is to replace the talent leaving with equivalent or better talent.  The team is on very shaky ground as of now.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

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All is well moving forward for this team.  The Hurricanes are finally out of the basement of the NHL with a young healthy core, led by older more experienced players. They definitely have a good team mentality and a tough hardcore way of playing the game.  My only concern is contending CONSISTENCY. The goaltending is great, until it’s not for seemingly no explanation. Once the goalies are more consistent this team has a real chance of going the distance next playoffs, so long as they keep everyone important they have around. 

If they continue to progress they could be the future of the metropolitan division. They are fun to watch and easily physical enough to play in the division. The only other thing of note that could be concerning is with young players doing so well other teams could offer them contracts better than that of Carolina in free agency.  Basically, keep your core together and patch up your goalies and you’re all good.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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On a sheet this team has looked like a cup contender. The reality is that the team has been a near perfect copy of the Minnesota Wild.  Get hyped up with great talent, grossly underperform during the regular season and get eliminated in the first round. It has become such a habit you would think it’s this team’s MO.  They have been horrible to their faithful fans and the season was no different. Unless Mike Babcock can turn things into actually playoff production there is no hope for the Leafs until he is gone. 

We are sure to see them in the playoffs again but what’s the point if they can’t win a series? They are wasting a championship window by not even being able to win one. The regular season will mean nothing, playoff time is when it will count for the Maple Leafs.

 

Boston Bruins

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You had a great regular season, outstanding playoffs, yet no cup.  You were beaten by the Cinderella story Blues. The rest of the sports world is laughing in your face because you are a Boston team and you have unlikable players.

But let’s take a step back for a moment.  You have a decent future with your core remaining intact for at least a couple years.  This cup run is not your last chance but your best players are aging. These players are beginning to break as a long list of injuries is being revealed.  This team is going to be a cup contender for the next few years but then what? Zdeno Chara is going to retire soon and a lot of the rest of your core is on the wrong side of 30. Not to mention your goalie Tuuka Rask is hated by the fans now so when his contact is up he will more than likely leave. 

The clock hasn’t struck midnight on this franchise yet but it’s not to far off. Be ready for it Boston fans, it’s coming.