Faceoff: Who is top NHL dark horse team?

Andrew McDermott:

When I think of an NHL dark horse  team to make the playoffs this year, a few teams come to my mind.

It has to be a team that has a balanced mix of veteran players who have been there before and young players just starting to come around.

They have to have a veteran goaltender who is solid under pressure.

But most importantly, this team has something to prove.

The veterans may be getting up in age, and their performance declining.

This team wants to make one last hurrah going for the Stanley Cup.

This team is the Detroit Red Wings.

The Detroit Red Wings have the potential to win a Stanley Cup.

They have so much veteran leadership on that team that they don’t know what to do with all of it.

Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall have all been to the Stanley Cup before.

They know what mentality it takes to win the big games, and how to tutor the young, dynamic players on the roster right now.

Leading the young forward group is Gustav Nyquist, who had a breakout year last year.

Joining him will be youngsters Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan. These young, skilled forwards are primed for great careers.

One young defenseman I want to mention is Danny Dekeyser, who at age 24, logs a ton of ice time.

The mix of these old and young skill players has the potential to come together for a Stanley Cup run.

However, another important aspect of a Stanley Cup run is a well-rounded team.

The Red Wings have the grinders that you need for a successful Stanley Cup run.

Daniel Cleary, Darren Helm, Drew Miller, and Stephen Weiss are all solid grinders.

These are your energy players who bring that spark to the ice.

This was one reason why Pittsburgh Penguin teams the past couple of years have failed in the playoffs.

They didn’t have those grinders who could bring the energy onto the ice.

The Penguins were a soft team and lost to more well-rounded teams that were physical.

I have a feeling that the Red Wings are a team that will not have that problem in the playoffs.

The bottom six consisting of Cleary, Helm, and Miller will be those physical players that Detroit will need to step up, kill penalties, and bring that important energy to the ice.

Last but not least, I need to talk about the goalies. Jimmy Howard is a top tier goalie who finished second for the Calder Cup in 2010.

During the 2012-13 NHL season, Howard signed a six year, $31.8 million  extension.

He’s been worth that money, too.

His resume includes a 2012 NHL All Star team selection, and he was on the 2014 United States Men’s Ice Hockey Team.

Bottom line is, he’s a Stanley Cup caliber goalie. His career record of 152-86 can back that up.

Having a goalie like him is only a plus to the team.

If this Red Wings team can put it all together and heat up at the right time, they have a serious shot to make a Stanley Cup run, and give those veterans one last hurrah.

Josh Wagner:

With  a month in the books of the NHL season, there are analysts and writers everywhere declaring their favorites and title locks.

While I acknowledge that most experts are right when they put forward championship contenders, I disagree when they leave out almost any team that isn’t Chicago or Los Angeles.

Instead I would rather focus on the dark horse of this year’s season, a non favorite that might just win it all and hold Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

That dark horse team is the Dallas Stars.

Ever since the heyday of Mike Modano, the Stars have always been missing something.

I believe that this year they have the best chance of any of the non-favorites to hoist the cup.

In this young season alone, they already boast one of the league’s top scorers in Tyler Seguin, who they acquired from the Boston Bruins not too long ago.

Seguin leads the team with 15 points, and that is also tied for the third overall point total in the league.

That is not even the best part about Seguin.

The kicker is he is only 22 years old.

In his short career, he is also a Stanley Cup champion with Boston in 2011 and has been a 30 goal scorer with Dallas last season.

Besides Seguin, this Dallas team is also stacked with veteran leadership, namely captain Jamie Benn.

Benn has been the captain of the team since early September 2013, and has not looked back.

Since being named the head of the club he has led the Stars to the playoffs, and participated with team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where he won gold with his fellow countrymen.

Benn has also been a 50 point or more scorer in three seasons and totaled a career high last season with 79 points.

Joining Seguin and Benn in the Dallas is newly acquired Jason Spezza who was a long time All-Star in Ottawa that tested free agency this past summer and found a home in Texas.

Spezza has scored over 50 points an amazing nine times in his career and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down thus far this season.

Spezza also brings valuable playoff experience to the a Stars team that greatly lacks it, he has participated in the postseason eight times in his career.

Lastly, you have the defensive side of the ice, and the leaders are clearly defenseman Alex Goligoski and goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

Goligoski was traded to the Stars in 2011 from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline and has fit in well since.

He has been named an Alternate Captain and has been a top pairing blue-liner for Dallas.

In addition to his defensive prowess he has also been known to get into the attack totaling 42 points last season.

Lehtonen is the biggest piece of the equation though because without stellar play from him the season will not go the way I’m predicting it will.

At the end of the day, picking the cup favorite is easy; it’s much harder to pick a dark horse, and that team is the  Dallas Stars,  and I have no doubt about it.

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