As we approach the midway point of this unique 2021 NHL regular season, it's time to give some attention to Stanley Cup futures. Here's a look at four 'dark horses' to consider as we flip the calendar page to March.
St. Louis Blues 23-1
I'll admit this play has a little more to do with the lofty price than the team itself. I do feel the Blues have a considerably better than 23-1 shot at hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup. While there have been some bumps in the road, St. Louis has hung in there through the first month-and-a-half of the season and should enter the playoffs in second or third spot in the West Division. It's easy to forget that this is a team that just won it all back in 2019 - which does feel like a lifetime ago. With Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester no longer in the mix, the Blues have had to change their identity but I'm confident they'll continue to find their way. Offseason acquisitions Torey Krug and Justin Faulk have helped solidify their blue line, contributing 23 points in 22 games.
New York Islanders 28-1
I'm quite surprised we're being offered such a generous price to back the Isles, who currently sit tied atop the East Division standings. Perhaps it's their reputation as a perennial loser over the last few decades - let's face it, the early-80's dynasty is nothing but a memory at this point. I like what they're building on Long Island though, and certainly believe in Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz. With the solid defensive system they have in place and their wealth of talent led by budding superstar Matthew Barzal up front, this is a team that could make some noise in what I believe is a fairly wide open field.
Pittsburgh Penguins 30-1
As long as Sidney Crosby is around, you can't count out the Penguins. While Pittsburgh currently sits on the outside looking in as far as the playoff picture goes (by percentage points only), I believe this is a team capable of going on a solid run and overtaking the Flyers for fourth spot in the East Division. We've already seen that the Pens can handle the rival Capitals, who currently sit top the East so finishing lower in the division isn't a huge concern. While staying healthy will be paramount with a lack of scoring depth and goaltender Tristan Jarry still needs to round into form, we're being offered an exceptional price to back a team that has the pedigree to go all the way this Spring.
Calgary Flames 36-1
This is a 'plug you nose and bet it' type of play as the Flames are severely wounded coming off six losses in their last eight games, including a pair of ugly blowout losses to the lowly Senators over the past week. I still like the upside they offer (especially at this price), even as they sit in fifth place in the North Division. There's no question Calgary's best hockey should lie ahead given its below-.500 record. I like the veteran leadership the Flames possess and feel they have a goaltender that is capable of getting hot and leading them on a deep postseason run (assuming they sneak in) in Jakob Markstrom.