Avalanche favorites to repeat as Cup champions as voted by NHL players

“It might win the Stanley Cup, I’d say,” MacKinnon said, laughing.

Obviously, if MacKinnon could have picked his own team, the center would have predicted the Colorado Avalanche would repeat as champions. He would have been in line with the vast majority of his colleagues around the League.

Of the 50 players NHL.com polled at NAPMT and the NHL European Player Media Tour in Paris in August, 32 picked the Avalanche to win the trophy this season.

Five chose the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes each received three votes, and the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers each received two. Two players declined to provide an answer. They chose the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So when the Avalanche raise their banner to the rafters before opening the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks at Ball Arena on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; TNT, SN NOW), they’re expected to be back there and do it again a year from now.

“Um, well, I’d like to think we would (win the Cup),” Center Maple Leafs Austin Matthews said. “But Colorado will obviously be a big favorite because they won last year and the team they have and what they’ve been able to accomplish, so I’ll have to go with them.”

Obviously, Colorado is the easy answer, and that’s part of this. The NHL remains defined by parity and unpredictability, and if you’re put on the spot by NHL.com, no one will blame you for picking the team that hoisted the Cup on June 26.

“It’s so hard,” Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. “Who knows, man? There could be 10 teams. Right now, you’d have to go with Colorado because they were the best team [three] months ago, I think. It wasn’t that long ago. They are the defending champions, you have to knock them off, then them.”

That said, for all the NHL’s parity and unpredictability since the introduction of the salary cap in 2005-06, it has become common for champions to maintain their success and even repeat.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. The Los Angeles Kings won it in 2012 and 2014. The Pittsburgh Penguins won it in 2009, then in 2016 and 2017.

Video: NHL Network predicts Stanley Cup game

The Lightning won it in 2020 and 2021, and they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2022, losing to the Avalanche in six games. It’s also a good reason to go with Tampa Bay again.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid picked the lightning and said, “They’ve just been there before.” Rangers defender Jacob Oven said the Lightning “proved they are the team.”

Avalanche defender Cale Makarwhile giving a nod to Carolina and Toronto, he said, “You can never count Tampa out because of all their stars” and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas said the Lightning are “hungry for one more, and they were right there last year.”

But if hunger wasn’t an issue for the Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins or Lightning, why should it be for the Avalanche?

“When a team gets the job done and sees what it’s like to win, some people are like, ‘Oh, they won and they’re not motivated,'” Dallas Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger said. “I think it’s the exact opposite. They want to do it again. I obviously can’t wait to play them. It’s going to be fun to play them, hopefully in the playoffs.”

Other candidates have made major changes.

Flames lost forward Johnny Gaudreau in free agency, but they added center Nazem Kadri freely and prospectively Jonathan Huberdeau via trade.

“They made some good pickups,” the Winnipeg Jets center said Mark Scheifele, one of the players who chose the Flames. “Getting Huberdeau kind of fills the Gaudreau void and getting Kadri [is important]. They have a good one [defense] corps. I just think they’re a tough team to play against.”

The Panthers pulled Huberdeau, but advanced Matthew Tkachuk via trade from Calgary. They also gained experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning a series for the first time since 1996 by defeating the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round and then being swept by the Lightning in the Second Round.

“I think they learned a lot and will be better for it,” said MacKinnon, who chose Florida when he couldn’t choose Colorado.

Rangers added forward Vincent Trocheck in free play, and the Hurricanes added defenseman Brent Burns and forward Max Pacioretty via trade. (Pacioretty is recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles, but should be back around February.)

The Avalanche is much the same though. Although they lost Kadri and goalkeeper Darcy Kuemperthey added forward Evan Rodriguez in free team and goalkeeper Alexander Georgiev in via trade and they still have their core of MacKinnon, Makar and company.

Several players said they chose the Avalanche because of how many players they have left and the Vegas Golden Knights ahead Mark Stone citing Makar and MacKinnon in particular, saying, “They still have the best defenseman on the planet, still one of the best center men on the planet.”

“If it’s not us, then maybe my old team, Colorado again,” said Kuemper, who signed with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent. “A lot of their players are coming back. Obviously, a lot of good players over there. They’ve done it before, so obviously they’re capable of doing it again.”

They are the team to beat.

“Yeah, I think so,” MacKinnon told NHL.com’s @TheRink podcast. “Yeah, I mean, obviously we have some new guys that we talked about, but I feel good. We learned a lot from last season, and it’s a long 82 games, and I know everybody cares a lot about the regular season. But playoffs [are] when it matters, and we’re excited to get there.”

The NHL.com staff contributed to this report

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