If the playoffs started today, which team would be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup?
Craig Custance: It's the Washington Capitals. Without a doubt. I'm not letting franchise history that has nothing to do with this current group cloud reality. This is the best team in the NHL. They're deep at every position. They have a franchise center in Nicklas Backstrom turning in a Hart-worthy season. They have a game-breaker in Alex Ovechkin. Yes, they have the burden of disappointing playoffs from the past, but they're good enough to overcome it. The San Jose Sharks had to deal with the same issues, and that didn't stop them from advancing to the Stanley Cup finals last year. I expect a similar and better breakthrough for the Capitals this spring.
Scott Burnside: It's been fashionable for many springs to pick the Capitals to win their first Stanley Cup. Hasn't happened. In fact, as is often repeated, since Ovechkin joined the team in 2005-06, they've never advanced beyond the second round. Shocking but true. That streak ends this spring. And for me, it doesn't matter whether they finish first in the Metropolitan Division or not. Too deep. Too ready. The fact that they will likely earn the Presidents' Trophy for a second straight year is just further reason to pick the Caps. But I'd pick them regardless.
Rob Vollman: When people named the Capitals as Cup favorites in previous seasons, I was always hesitant to join in because their underlying numbers didn't match their position in the standings and because there was always another more dominant team. This year, that's not the case, and I'm finally ready to join in. This is the year the Capitals can finally take it all.
Matthew Coller: By the numbers, it's tough to make a case for anyone other than the Capitals, but the Chicago Blackhawks deserve some respect. Since the beginning of February, they've scored more even-strength goals than anyone in the NHL, which should have most of the West shaking in their skates. Of course, the Capitals get credit for playing in a tough division, but the Blackhawks didn't exactly have a cakewalk in the Central. They still have superstars playing at a high level, an improved blue line from last year and a goalie who's raised the Cup twice. Even if they aren't the favorites, the Blackhawks deserve to be in the conversation.
Joe McDonald: Getting a favorable first-round matchup can mean the difference between a long or short playoff run. So since we don't know the matchups, I'm going with a surprise choice: the Columbus Blue Jackets. Success in the Stanley Cup playoffs begins and ends with goaltending, and Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been outstanding the entire season and should be in the Vezina Trophy discussion. He's also showing zero signs of slowing down. He's 8-0-1 in March, with a 0.99 goals-against average, a .970 save percentage and four shutouts. He's also reached the 40-win plateau.
Pierre LeBrun: Well, since Craig and I both picked the Tampa Bay Lightning as your Stanley Cup winner back in September, I should stay loyal. Certainly they are a long shot now, but after their run over the past six weeks, including Monday night's dramatic comeback win over the Blackhawks, anything can happen, right? Like my colleagues say, however, the numbers suggest Washington and Chicago as your top two favorites, and they're full value for that. TSN colleague Dave Poulin, the excellent former two-way NHL center for the Philadelphia Flyers, picked a Washington-Chicago Stanley Cup finals matchup before the season, folks. But this being the parity-filled NHL, being a favorite and getting to the end of things in the crazy playoffs are two different things.