Well we have reached the halfway mark. Generally at this point we can see who the playoff contenders and pretender are. So let’s get the Real F*cking Deal labeler out and see which of these teams could be making a run for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

 

RFD Pittsburgh Penguins.

Over the weekend the news broke that Justin Schultz was skating for the first time after his surgery. This should strike fear into the hearts of every other team in the league. The Pens were the best team in the league in December and have rolled that momentum right into January. With Schultz returning that will sure up a shaky blue line. Add to that Matt Murray has found his game again and Evgeni Malkin has yet to heat up. The Penguins are poised to chase their third cup in 4 years.

 

RFD Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens are defying the odds. They got off to a hot start which gave them a cushion to rely on when they stumbled. They are very much in a race for a playoff spot in a stacked Atlantic Division. They are one point back of a wild card spot and three points out of the third place spot. If Price stays healthy this team could walk right into the playoffs. And once your in, who knows what Price is capable of. They have a more dynamic offense then they have had in years, it could result in a first round win.

 

Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are by no means a RFD team, but they could be a playoff team. The west is really bad this year and the Stars are no exception. They are just a little less worse then teams like the Oilers, Wild, and Canucks. Ben Bishop is a proven playoff performer so goaltending isn’t an issue. You have to wonder about their blue line, but right now they have one line that is carrying the team. If it’s good enough for Colorado to lock down a third place spot in that division it should be good enough for the Stars. Plus I think Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are dying to make the owner eat his own words.

 

RFD Top Draft Picks

The World juniors revealed a couple of things that could cause a race to tank. All top three projected picks in the NHL Draft were really good in the tournament. Kaapo Kakko gave us  flashbacks of Pettersson and Laine with the pure level of dominant scoring he displayed. Plus Jack Hughes held his own as a 17 year old in a definitively 19 years old tournament. Vasili Podkolzin maybe didn’t put up impressive numbers but all you had to do is watch a game to know he was making an impact. He was all over the ice against USA and was inches away from scoring on every shot. This draft could play out like the 2017 draft where the top three picks are impact players for their NHL teams. Kakko could be ready to go ASAP, but Hughes and Podkolzin could use a year to grow as players, get physically bigger and then join their teams at 19 year olds.

With that information out there. The teams at the bottom of the league could benefit greatly from these players.

The Ottawa Centers lost their franchise player this year in Erik Karlsson. Adding a Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko could give them that back.

Philadelphia Flyers are in desperate need of offense. They are pretty well locked at the center position so they should target Kakko, plus he is NHL ready and they need help now!

Finally Vasili Podkolzin could be a true NHL star, however his attitude worries me. His body language could be described as vulgar. Slamming his stick, sinking his head. He reminded me a lot of Ovechkin early in his career. Whichever team gets him will have a project on their hands. However if you can reel him in he could become a deadly 25 to 30 goal scorer in this league. The Blues are a dumpster fire but if they keep Tarasenko having a fellow country man could be a big help to get through to the young Russian. He could also nicely fit in on a team like Arizona or New Jersey, but I doubt either of these teams put on the tank like Buffalo did for Eichel.

 

There are a lot of teams I like headed towards the playoffs.

RFD Calgary Flames

I think Calgary could make a run if Mike Smith goes to that place in his mind where he is an elite goalie. I wouldn’t mind seeing them trying to acquire a veteran presence at the deadline. Craig Anderson from the Senators at the deadline. That guy is a legend in the postseason. Or a savvy veteran center. In the playoffs a good spine can cover up a lot of other gaps. A deadly three center combination could be the difference for a young flames team.

 

Carolina Hurricanes & RFD Buffalo Sabres

In the east the Carolina Hurricanes and RFD Buffalo Sabres are basically the same team. Young fun to watch, and a lot of promise. Carolina seems like they are a piece away from making that jump. Buffalo feels ready now. The rebuild in Buffalo has been going on for sometime now, and that city is ready for a playoff run. Home playoff games in Buffalo rival that of Montreal and Toronto. I would love to see Eichel lead the sabers in a seven game series against either of the aforementioned teams.

 

All and all my Stanley Cup favorites are the Penguins and the Jets. I think the Jets are really close this year. If they add an extra piece at the deadline, particularly at center it could catapult that team to Stanley cup favorites. The Penguins are the been there done that team. If Schultz comes back and is even half of what he was in the 16/17 cup runs it gives them a boost. Basically it comes down to this, would you bet against Sidney Crosby? Because I wouldn’t.

So that’s the halfway review. What do you think? Are these teams RFD? Or are there some pretenders who will be joining the Senators and Flyers in the Jack Hughes raffle. Comment on the post however you received it and let us know.

 

And remember always keep your stick on the ice.

  • Johnny V. –
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Written by Johnny Violence

The lead NHL/Hockey writer for Thoughts From The Bench.

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