Contenders, pretenders in the NHL

The NHL season is underway as the Pittsburgh Penguins look to win a third straight Stanley Cup championship. Throughout the short season so far, there are a few excelling teams that no one is surprised about, but also a few teams that are going above and beyond, especially given their current state.

The aforementioned Penguins currently lead their division in the Eastern Conference with a record of 6-3-1, good for 13 points. No one is really surprised by this, as the team that won the previous two Stanley Cups returns with mostly the same lineup. The Penguins are loaded on both the offensive and defensive side of the ice and, to be clear, any lineup with superstar forward Sidney Crosby is going to be a contender.

Another team performing well that does not surprise most is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks, despite massive rebuilding over the past five years due to salary cap constraints, return with their core of forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. These four are the engines that keep the Blackhawk train moving, and this group presumably has a few more years left before the Blackhawks can legitimately be removed from their contending role.

Despite these two teams performing well, there are also a few teams that have been surprising in their success and are perhaps overachieving in the young season.

The Vegas Golden Knights, incredibly, have won seven of their first eight games in their inaugural season as an NHL team. While there was a general consensus that the team would be adequate, no one would have guessed that they would be this good. In fact, their hot start is unprecedented: There has never been an expansion team that has won seven of their first eight games in the 100-year history of the NHL. I imagine that the team will eventually return to Earth and miss the playoffs, but I think this is a fantastic storyline for both the NHL and for Las Vegas in general.

Another team that has performed really well is the Los Angeles Kings. They have had a wild past five seasons in southern California, winning two Stanley Cups and missing the playoffs two times. This year, they are off to a hot start as they have appeared to get back on track after missing the playoffs last season. With new head coach John Stevens at the helm, the team is poised to once again make a run for Lord Stanley’s cup.

While it is still very early for real contenders and pretenders to emerge in the NHL season, it is interesting to see the early trends and hyper-analyze the teams that are currently performing, making educated guesses on where they will be three months from now.