Looking across the hockey landscape, a trend slowly emerged from the start of the 2010-11 professional hockey seasons until today.
The NHL, AHL, and ECHL levels could see three champions in three different leagues come from the same state. It has never been done in professional hockey history but looking at the standings in each of the three leagues one has to wonder, with all due respect to the state of Minnesota, if this is the year Pennsylvania officially becomes the new “State of Hockey. Let’s examine each team and their chances for success.
Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
Heading into Tuesday’s action, the orange and black have the NHL’s second best record in the league and the best record in the Eastern Conference with 86 points. Only the Vancouver Canucks have more points (93) but the Flyers have two games in hand on the Canucks. Despite their recent slump the flyers have been one of the most consistent teams in the league since the start of the season.
Chances: Winning the conference is very good but they will face a stiff test from whoever they play in the playoffs. Boston, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh will most likely be the other contenders for the conference crown. If the Flyers get their power play working and the defense stabilizes itself, along with the goaltending, they Flyers will be the odds on favorite to at least win the conference.
Should the Flyers get into the finals Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, and Chicago would be their toughest challenge. Detroit has given the Flyers the most fits over the years and despite Vancouver’s recent success, the Flyers have a habit of winning in Canuckland, and since Philadelphia has the league’s best road record not having home ice against Vancouver might not be a bad thing.
Overall the Flyers still stand a very good chance of winning the cup.
Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
Only two points behind Philadelphia, the Penguins have been winning lately with smoke and mirrors without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even if the Pens just get Crosby back, which it appears they will, the Penguins stand as good if not better a chance to represent the east come June.
Chances: The Pens still have what it takes to win despite losing Malkin for the season. If Crosby can play the way he’s capable than for my money make the Pens the favorites to once again come out of the east.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (AHL)
The baby Pens have been the AHL’s best team since the start of the season. Currently they have the league’s most points (90) and are seven points ahead of the Manchester Monarchs (83) for the league’s best record. The have the league’s best defense (141 goals allowed) but other teams can match up with them on offense.
Still, WBS has all the tools to win the Calder Cup this year.
Chances: The problem with the AHL’s playoff system is you begin the first two rounds of the playoffs playing teams in your own division. That will most likely mean having to get past either the Charlotte Checkers or their most hated rival’s, the current Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. Even the Norfolk Admirals or Binghamton Senators could prove to be a more than tough first round matchup for the Pens.
Still, mark down WBS as the favorite to not only win the Eastern Conference but win the Calder Cup
Hershey Bears (AHL)
As mentioned, the Bears are not only the current cup champs but have one in the past two years in a row. Overall the Bears have won the most titles in league history and three in the past five seasons. After a slow start to their season the Bears have righted their ship and will pose a threat to the rest of the AHL come playoff time.
Chances: The baby Pens look to be the team’s biggest threat to “threepeating”. The last time a franchise won three Calder Cups in a row was the Springfield Indians who did it from 1960-1962. This is the first time in three seasons they are not favored to win the cup but counting them out would be a huge mistake. If it comes down to WBS and Hershey in the second round it will become must see TV that’s for sure. If they can get past the Pens Manchester could be their only true obstacle to winning another cup.
Reading Royals (ECHL)
The Royals are tied for the most points in the league (77) with the Greenville Road Warriors. GRW began the year on a roll but eventually got passed in the standings by Reading but a recent slump now has both teams tied in points. Alaska and Las Vegas would be tough foes in the Kelly Cup finals but Greenville looks like the Royals worst possible playoff opponent, but Reading has benefited from having Toronto and Boston as NHL affiliates and is loaded with talent.
Chances: The Royals have never gotten past the Eastern Conference finals and no one in the organization is forgetting that they were one game away from the finals but a monumental collapse in losing a 3-0 series lead to the Cincinnati Cyclones has this team focused on the big prize. You can bet the Royals won’t let history repeat itself this time around. The only way the Royals lose this time around is if they get beat hands down by an opponent but that won’t happen this year.
It is a toss-up between Reading and Greenville as favorites to win the Kelly Cup but give Reading more than a fighters chance this time around.