Oilers Sunday Census: Who will win the Stanley Cup?

Though the Edmonton Oilers are out of contention, the Stanley Cup playoffs continue. In the end one team will win it all, and will define excellence for the offseason ahead. Not only will the results shape our perspective of the winning franchise, but so too will it redefine how we look at the rest of the teams across the league as well.

With four teams left alive and the Conference Finals just underway, we polled Oil Country to take the temperature on who will etch their names into the silver rings of history known as the Stanley Cup.

Want to take part in Sunday Census polls? We send them out every week on our Twitter at @oilrigEDM. Follow along or send in ideas for the next poll!

Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes find themselves second in this poll, even after losing a marathon 4OT Game 1. The Hurricanes have been a strong team for eight seasons now, a perennial contender that has yet to make an appearance in the Cup Finals. The Hurricanes have operated in some less conventional ways, both on and off the ice, in achieving the successes of this era.

In a word, the theme that runs through the Hurricanes operation is that of volume. The Hurricanes trade down in the draft, valuing the population of their prospect pool more than most teams. Through the lineup, the Hurricanes are a deep team filled with mid-level salaries. Though there are some incredible players on the roster, none are pushing for the largest cap hit league wide. In net the Hurricanes have a three-headed tandem, with Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Pyotr Kochetkov contributing a substantial number of starts throughout the season.

This theme continues down to how the Hurricanes play as well. With a number of quality defensive players through the lineup the Hurricanes are happy to play with a straightforwardness. Rolling all four lines, a man-to-man style of defending, and a willingness to keep the game simple with chip-ins gives the Hurricanes a rugged and old school feel. In some ways, the Hurricanes represent the antithesis of the Oilers, a team built around highly paid superstars. Unsurprisingly, as Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis laid the foundation of the current Hurricanes era, the Kraken bear some stylistic similarities in approach.

Jacob Slavin leads a blueline that is, of course, quite deep, partnering with Brent Burns. Sebastian Aho leads a deep attack at forward that includes a share of dimension with checking forwards like Jordan Staal and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, young scorers like Martin Necas and Seth Jarvis, as well as former Oiler Jesse Puljujarvi.

Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are by far the lowest seed to reach the final four, but are anything but an underdog, leading our poll with 37% of votes. Granted, the Panthers won Game 1 of their series already, but this respect has been earned over the past three years as much as it has the past three months.

The Panthers have been a strong regular season team since the COVID-19 pandemic days of 2020–21. After winning the President’s Trophy and being swept in the second round last season, the Panthers got bold in acquiring Matthew Tkachuk.

The acquisition of Tkachuk is only part of the longer journey the Panthers have been on to add toughness to a skilled roster. Since GM Bill Zito took over, this has been a clear vector that is paying dividends, even back to before the likes of Sam Bennett and Radko Gudas were acquired.

The Panthers still have a lot of skill up front, as well as a blueline that is quite underrated. Perhaps leading the way in a swell of recognition is Brandon Montour. Once a nearly untouchable player on the Anaheim Ducks, Montour saw his stock plummet with some awful Buffalo Sabre teams. Once again well supported on a strong team, Montour is flourishing with his smooth skating and offensive disposition.

Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism on the Panthers side is the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. A two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Bobrovsky is known for particularly streaky play. After signing a lucrative UFA contract with the Panthers that has not gone as planned, the investment is paying off in a big way, and at the right time no less.

Dallas Stars

Perhaps due to an OT loss in Game 1, the Dallas Stars finished last in our poll. This comes as a bit of a surprise given that the Stars check a lot of boxes in terms of being a top tier contender, but such are the slim margins of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Up front the Stars are led by what has been one of the NHL’s best lines of the past three seasons in Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski. All three linemates bring some different elements to the table, but it has been the oft under-appreciated Hintz that has stolen the show so far. A master of zone entries and transition, Hintz has legitimate shooting talent to complement his speed.

The Stars have a lot of forward depth behind the top line, including veterans Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, as well as a talented rookie in Wyatt Johnston, a dangerous offensive talent. 

Another young player that has been a standout for the Stars on the blueline is Thomas Harley. A smooth skater with offensive abilities, Harley is coming into his own. His size and smarts give him a higher defensive upside, something he will likely grow into in future seasons.

Miro Heiskanen is the focal point of the Stars blueline, one of the finest defencemen in the league. The Stars have some veteran defensive options such as Esa Lindell and Ryan Suter that balance the group.

In net, Jake Oettinger is a highly touted goalie. Though this postseason has not been his finest, Oettinger has the skill to steal games, and even series, as he has done before. 

Stars GM Jim Nill has run an excellent program during his time in Dallas, and has proven a run to the Cup Finals in the 2019–20 bubble playoffs was no fluke. To drive home the point, the Stars’ AHL and ECHL affiliates are both in the Conference Finals of their leagues as well.

Vegas Golden Knights

Finishing third in our poll with 24% of the vote, the Vegas Golden Knights have washed themselves of last season’s disappointing performance with their fourth trip to the Conference Finals during their sixth season of existence. In the rarefied air of the Conference Finals, the Golden Knights possess an abnormal amount of experience for any team, let alone a recent expansion. Despite this, the Knights have yet to win the NHL’s ultimate prize.

To balance, this might well be the Knights strongest roster yet. With Jack Eichel fully integrated, the Knights now have their most elusive piece, an elite scoring centre. Oiler fans are well acquainted with the team that vanquished them, with their notable depth of forward talent spread across all four lines. The Knights’ blueline is no joke either, with three capable pairings. In all the Knights are content to roll their lines fairly evenly.

This might be true of their goalies as well, though the biggest reason to doubt the Knights might be their situation in net. Having used a plethora of goalies throughout the season the Knights are clearly comfortable with a number of their options, including current starter Adin Hill who took over after Laurent Brossoit was injured against the Oilers.

Oil Country is still somewhat unconvinced of the Knights’ abilities, as our poll yielded them a vote just under the market share, though clearly ahead of the Stars. With an early series lead, the Knights are off to a strong start once again, but they are still five wins away from their ultimate goal.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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