How this year's Stanley Cup contenders mirror past winners


When the NHL playoffs start Saturday, they'll be dropping the puck on the most wide-open race for the Stanley Cup in four decades -- if not longer.

Comparing ESPN BET's title odds with historical data from earlier seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes (at +600) are on track to be the weakest pre-playoff championship favorite since at least 1984-85 -- the earliest season of SportsOddsHistory.com's archives. So even by the standards of a sport known for its chaotic postseasons, the stage could be set for an especially unpredictable path to the Cup over the next few months.

To help sort it all out, we decided to take the top contenders (every team with better than +2000 Cup odds) and look for their most similar previous Cup winners since the playoffs expanded to best-of-seven in all rounds in 1987, based on the distribution of the Goals Above Replacement (GAR) across their roster -- between offense, defense and special teams, by position and in star power versus depth.

Although no past champ is a perfect match for any of this year's championship hopefuls, these historical doppelgängers, ranked in order by their Cup odds, can provide a blueprint for how the Cup might be won this season.

Carolina Hurricanes

Stanley Cup odds: +600
League rankings: No. 1 in Elo / No. 1 in GAR

Most similar Cup winner: 1999 Dallas Stars
Cup calling card: Suffocating defense

Just like the Stars of the late '90s, the Hurricanes are an exceptionally deep, talented team that has been knocking on the door of a Cup run but haven't quite been able to get over the hump.