TSN coach poll says Capitals likeliest to win Stanley Cup

TSN coach poll says Capitals likeliest to win Stanley Cup

Most head coaches in the NHL believe the Washington Capitals will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2016 Stanley Cup. And many think the Capitals will prevail over as champions.

Over Jan. 23-25, TSN conducted a poll of 27 NHL head coaches on Stanley Cup finalists, Cup champions, best player, best goaltender, best defenseman, best rookie and best coach. They could not vote for their own teams and players.

A total of 25 voters believed the Capitals would represent the Eastern Conference in the Cup Final – the other two votes going to the Tampa Bay Lightning, last year’s Eastern Conference champions. In the Western Conference, the Blackhawks – the defending Stanley Cup champions – received 15 votes. The Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Kings got 11 votes and the Dallas Stars one vote as teams that would represent the Western Conference in the Cup Final.

As for the Cup itself, the Capitals received 16 votes, the Blackhawks nine votes, the Kings and Lightning one vote each. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. The Capitals lead the NHL in defense, allowing 2.15 goals per-game. The Kings rank third at 2.23 goals per-game. Washington has the league’s top offense with 3.33 goals per-game with the Stars second at 3.20 goals per-game. The Capitals have never won a Stanley Cup and not gone past the second round since Alexander Ovechkin’s first season in 2005-06.

Fourteen coaches chose a Washington-Chicago Cup final, but those 14 were split right down the middle on the winner. Seven took Washington; seven took Chicago. The next most popular Cup pairing (10 votes) was Washington-Los Angeles, but nine of those 10 coaches chose the Caps to beat the Kings in the final. The Kings’ lone vote as Cup champion came from a coach who envisioned a Los Angeles-Washington final with the Kings prevailing. One coach had Tampa beating Los Angeles in the Cup final; another had Washington beating Dallas for the Cup.

The two more hotly contested voting totals involved “Best Defenseman” and “Best Rookie.”

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty received the highest totals for defensemen with 12 votes, beating Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson – the NHL’s leader amongst defenseman scoring – who had five votes. Chicago’s Duncan Keith, last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner, received three votes, Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson got two votes, and Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi, San Jose Sharks blueliner Brent Burns, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, Minnesota Wild rearguard Ryan Suter and Nashville captain Shea Weber each got one vote.

Karlsson has won two Norris Trophies to Doughy’s zero, but Doughty’s candidacy seems to have picked up some steam this year, with him taking over as one of the Kings’ leaders.

Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, the third leading scorer amongst defensemen, did not get any votes. Doughty ranks just 21st in defenseman scoring but plays 28 minutes per-night. He averages 2:57 per-game on the penalty kill and is used by coach Darryl Sutter in tough match up situations.

Karlsson’s strength is keeping the play more in the offensive zone and making the Senators a much better team when he’s on the ice. According to the website War on Ice, Karlsson’s CF% Rel is plus-8.73 5-on-5.

As far as rookies, Chicago forward Artemi Panarin edged out Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin with 12 votes to 10 for Larkin. Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi had two votes. Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere each had one vote. One coach chose not to vote. If 2015 No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid had not been injured, this list may have looked different. McDavid had 12 points in 13 games before breaking his collarbone in early November.

The 24-year-old Panarin is the runaway leader in rookie points with 46 in 53 games, playing on a line with Patrick Kane.

Eichel has made a push of late, now ranking second in rookie scoring with 34 points in 50 games played. He has seven points in his last five games played. Larkin ranks third with 33 points in 48 games and Domi fourth with 32 points for the resurgent Arizona Coyotes. Gostisbehere leads rookie defensemen with 20 points in 28 games, while averaging 18:17 of ice-time per-night.

Multiple NHL coaches wanted to vote for Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid, but a broken collarbone that has limited him to 13 games (albeit with five goals and 12 points), effectively took him out of the running.

Chicago forward Patrick Kane – the NHL’s leading scorer with 73 points – was overwhelmingly named the league’s top player by the coaches. Kane received 22 votes to three for Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, who ranks second in the NHL with 58 points. Washington Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews each got one vote. Ovechkin has scored 28 goals this year, two behind Kane for the NHL lead.

Toews has suffered through a down year with 35 points in 53 games. Still he has captained Chicago to three Stanley Cups since 2010. At 0.66 points per-game, Toews is suffering through his lowest average of his NHL career.

Three coaches did opt for the more physical approach of Dallas winger Benn, who trails Kane with 58 points. Washington’s brute force scoring winger Ovechkin, who is chasing Kane for the goal-scoring lead, picked up the only other vote.

Washington Captials goaltender Braden Holtby received 20 of 27 votes as the league’s top goaltender. Holtby leads the NHL with wins and has a 2.01 goal-against average and .930 save percentage.

New Jersey Devils netminder Cory Schneider (2.03 goal-against average and .929 save percentage) received five votes – for his help in getting the Devils (55 points and tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins) near the last Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo and Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick each got one vote.

Luongo’s had arguably the best season of his career with a 2.08 goal-against average and .930 save percentage in helping the surprising Florida Panthers to the top of the Atlantic Division. Quick ranks third in the NHL with 26 wins. He’s allowed three-or-more goals in three of his last five starts.

As for best coach, Barry Trotz’s peers overwhelmingly said Washington’s bench boss had done the top job this year with 15 votes. The Capitals are 35-8-3 and have 73 points – most in the league over the Blackhawks with 70.

Florida’s Gerard Gallant ranked second with five votes and Chicago’s Joel Quenneville was third with four votes. New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes, Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters and Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett each had one vote.

The surprising Hurricanes are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and just one point back of the last Wild Card Spot. The Coyotes held the second-worst record in the NHL last season, but currently hold the final Pacific Division postseason spot with 53 points.

Both the Devils and the Panthers have not made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season.