This week’s question is:
Which team is the best in the east and west?
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Corey: Tampa Bay had the best record in the East last season and they are still the class of the conference this year with nine wins in 13 games. The offense has been rolling and that was without a strong start from Steven Stamkos, who has begun to get going recently. The New York Islanders have been surprisingly strong this campaign and deserve a great deal of credit. They were being written off after losing John Tavares in the off-season, but that hasn't held them back at all in the early going. The Islanders are finally getting good goaltending, which has been a big part of their turnaround.
Nashville has been the cream of the crop in the West just like they were a year ago as well. The Predators lead the league with 11 wins in 14 games and own the best goal differential at plus-17. The team doesn't allow many goals and possesses the offensive ability to go toe-to-toe with the best of the NHL. Minnesota has been superb as well with eight wins through 13 matches, including seven victories in their last 10 outings. They have a deep forward group, strong goaltending and an active defense corps in the offensive end.
Brian: Hard to argue with Corey's choice in the east. Tampa is the most complete team in the NHL. It's a squad without any apparent weaknesses. In Andrei Vasilevskiy, they have the top goalie in the league, and once Victor Hedman is healthy again, their defense corps is second to none. The Bolts have four well-balanced lines with star power up front in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They are the team to best in the east.
In the west, Nashville, Winnipeg and Minnesota are all strong (I even like Dallas as a dark horse) but my choice is the Sharks. No team can match the Brent Burns/Erik Karlsson one-two punch on the blueline. The Sharks have a strong underrated netminder in Martin Jones and a very talented and diverse group of forwards led by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. I like their chances in the tough Western Conference.
Daniel: I want to be a homer and select the Toronto Maple Leafs in the East, but they're just not quite there defensively. Like the others have said, it has to be the Tampa Bay Lightning. It starts with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is doing his best Nikolai Khabibulin impression these days. They're just the most complete from top to bottom. From Steven Stamkos to Nikita Kucherov up top to guys like Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, J.T. Miller up front, they have several forwards who can hurt you. Ryan McDonagh, Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman are solid, and oh yeah, Victor Hedman will be back in the not-to-distant future, too. Only internal noise or injuries can keep the Lightning from striking.
Maybe they're not hitting on all cylinders just yet, but I expect the Winnipeg Jets to challenge the Nashville Predators for the top spot in the Western Conference. They check off all the boxes, as Connor Hellebuyck is a top-notch goalie, Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba can move the puck and score points along the blue line, etc. Blake Wheeler is a beast, especially on the power play, while Mark Scheifele is deadly accurate with his shot. A trip to his homeland appears to have jump-started Patrik Laine, too, and that's bad for his opponents. Kyle Connor has also been a big surprise, while Nikolaj Ehlers will get it going, too. I love Winnipeg's depth and coaching.
Joey: The expectations were high for the Tampa Bay Lightning coming into the season, but they've delivered so far. There's no reason to believe they'll slow down, either. The Bolts are arguably the deepest team in the NHL, as they have offensive producers like Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Alex Kilorn, J.T. Miller and the list goes on and on. No team can compete with that. On defense, they're led by Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, but they also have Anton Stralman and Mikhail Sergachev. Oh and they have one of the best young goalies in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy. So, where's the weakness on this team? Now, the question is whether or not they can put it all together in the spring.
The Nashville Predators were expected to win their first Stanley Cup last season, but they fell short when they bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. The path to the cup won't be any easier this season, but the Predators have a special group of players that are capable of getting the job done. There is no team in the league that is deeper on defense, and with Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne between the pipes, no team is deeper in goal, either. Could they use some help up front? Sure. But they can address that closer to the trade deadline.
Michael: Tampa Bay is the class of the East as everyone has stated and re-stated so I won’t rehash the obvious, but don’t forget about the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have struggled at times but their strength down the middle with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and when playoff time comes, a big thing is strength down the middle. Kris Letang is playing like a Norris Trophy challenger after a couple of tough seasons health-wise. Matt Murray has struggled but he won the Stanley Cup his first two seasons in the NHL so the experience is there from the young goaltender. I still like the Lightning the most in the East but the Penguins should not be forgotten.
In the West, I’m a big fan of the Jets. Colorado and the Predators but the Oilers have been coming on as well. The Predators are strong on the blueline as well as in net but could be lacking up front. The Jets are solid everywhere from Connor Hellebuyck in net to Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey on the blueline, to Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine et. al up front. But as I stated with the Penguins, don’t lose sight of the Oilers. After losing the first two games of the season, the Oilers are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games and have split a couple of games with the Predators while defeating Winnipeg and Boston. Oh yeah, they have Connor McDavid!!!