| Mon 02/10/2017 - 05:43 EDT

      Stanley Cup Best Dark Horse Bets

      Stanley Cup Best Dark Horse Bets

      Montreal Canadiens +2500

      After storming out to a strong start for the 2016-17 season, the Montreal Canadiens slowly waned down the stretch. The crisis become serious enough to merit a coaching change. When Claude Julien was fired, Montreal jumped all over the opportunity, signing the Francophone coach to a five-year, $25 million contract. Michel Therrien was shown the door.

      This didn’t get the Canadiens through the first round of the playoffs, but a second year with Julien behind the bench will help the team become accustomed to the defensive systems which made Claude a success in Boston. He’s also good at working with young talent, which bodes well for Alex Galchenyuk and newcomer Jonathan Drouin.

      The Habs signed Karl Alzner during free agency, boosting the already strong back line. However, the real reason why the Habs are great dark horse candidates is Carey Price. He’s still the best goaltender in the league, giving Montreal a chance on every single night.

      San Jose Sharks +2200

      The San Jose Sharks finally let Patrick Marleau leave. He’s chasing a cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joining elite speedsters Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Marleau’s departure, and a relatively quiet offseason, appear to be the reasons that sportsbooks don’t give the Sharks a great chance at a Stanley Cup.

      This team did make it all the way to the finals a couple of years ago, stopped only by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most of the vital personnel remain from that run, including Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Martin Jones.

      Removing Marleau gives younger forwards like Tomas Hertl a chance to establish themselves as top six contributors. Marleau’s also one of the “nicest” players in the league, and San Jose might benefit from playing with a bit more sandpaper. The Sharks have everything they need for a playoff run, making them a good dark horse candidate for the Cup.

      St. Louis Blues +3300

      Sometimes, players become fatigued when hearing the same thing over and over, even if the content of the message contains value. This is what coach Ken Hitchcock appears to have dealt with in St. Louis when he was fired in favor of Mike Yeo. The Blues did play better under Yeo, going 22-8-2 after Hitchcock vacated the bench.

      The Blues ran into a red-hot Nashville squad which blazed a trail to the Stanley Cup finals, ending St. Louis’ season in the second round of the playoffs. Kevin Shattenkirk’s absence didn’t have any negative effects on the offense, and might have boosted the defensive integrity of the team.

      This year, the Blues have an interesting mix of young prospects and established stars. Ivan Barbashev and Robby Fabbri will have a chance to show their elite offensive skills, playing alongside Victor Tarasenko, one of the deadliest scorers in the NHL. As long as goalie Jake Allen continues to play well, the Blues will have a better shot at their first Stanley Cup than the odds suggest.

      Calgary Flames +2800

      After trading for Travis Hamonic, the Calgary Flames suddenly possess one of the best blue lines in the NHL. Travis joins Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie as the top four, which should be able to handle the best forward fleets in the league.

      Perhaps more important, the Flames acquired a proven, veteran goaltender in Mike Smith. Smith has dealt with injury issues and a relatively weak lineup in Arizona. After toiling in the desert heat, he could be primed for a comeback year, especially behind an elite defense.

      Flames forwards will be able to contribute more with the added defensive support. Sean Monahan and Johnny Hockey lead an explosive young group, along with Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. Despite long odds given to them for Stanley Cup futures, the Flames may break out sooner than expected, resulting in a successful playoff run.

      New York Rangers +1600

      The New York Rangers were in position for another long playoff grind before they bumped into the Cinderella team of the 2017 NHL playoffs. Ottawa stopped the Rangers in their tracks, rendering New York’s offense ineffectual via tight defensive play and great goaltending from Craig Anderson.

      Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t have a substantial impact with Washington, but that doesn’t mean he won’t provide a ton of value with New York. The Rangers bought out Dan Girardi and inked Shattenkirk to a four-year contract worth more than $26 million. This will help make up for the loss of Derek Stepan by providing the forwards with an elite passer from the back line.

      Rangers forwards, including J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey, should be able to step up to fill in the rest of the scoring gap. Those worried about Henrik Lundqvist should note that he followed the worst regular season of his career with a vintage performance in the playoffs. As long as Lundqvist shows up in the playoffs, the Rangers have a chance to earn a ring.

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