Stanley Cup Favorites Nearing The Midpoint

The NHL season will be at the halfway point before we know it, and frankly it's been a season of met expectations. Most of the top teams entering the season have performed up to the standards analysts and fans predicted, with the result that there's a rock-solid crop of teams leading the way. But who looks best suited, at this point, to win the Stanley Cup? Here's a look at the top three contenders as defined by the oddsmakers, and why each presents a legitimate Cup challenge.

Chicago Blackhawks

Most have recognized all year that the Blackhawks are the rightful Cup favorites, though the NHL standings don't show them with any overwhelming performance to date. The Hawks lead the Central Division with 41 points heading into the weekend of December 13—the same point total as Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Detroit, and four less than Anaheim—but have certainly looked to be the best team in hockey at times. As of now, Betfair's odds for the Stanley Cup have the Blackhawks out front at 6/1 backing odds, though these can certainly shift over the course of a season. You can keep an eye on updated betting tips and team news here, but for now, the Blackhawks are the oddsmakers' pick.

Why They Could Win: The Blackhawks are outstanding on the road. They're a virtual lock for the playoffs, where home ice often takes care of itself to some extent, but playoff series are won on the road.

Pittsburgh Penguins

It seems like the Penguins just won't go away, and as mentioned they're tied for runner-up in the NHL in points at this stage. They should also continue to benefit from a relatively weak Metropolitan Division, where the Islanders are the only other team that presents even a slight threat. There's also the fact that Sidney Crosby appears to be as deadly as ever, currently sitting at second in ESPN's Art Ross Trophy watch behind the sensational Tyler Seguin. The Penguins currently have backing odds between 9/1 and 10/1 to win the Cup, just behind the Blackhawks.

Why They Could Win: In addition to the benefit of multiple genuine superstars, the Penguins excel like few other teams in power play situations. They're second in power play percentage and fourth in kill percentage.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks currently own the best record in the NHL at 20-6-5, but they sit just behind Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup odds, at 10/1. Anaheim, frankly, hasn't been overwhelming on either offense or defense, and their +9 goal differential is pretty unimpressive among division winners and playoff contenders. Perhaps it's all the more impressive to amass a league-leading point total without doing anything particularly noteworthy to date. There's something to be said for just being able to win games, and sometimes it's almost inexplicable what keeps a team on top.

Why They Could Win: The Ducks appear to have a strong feel for big moments and won't be an appealing team for anyone to face in the playoffs. A look at their results shows that, through December 12, Anaheim is 15-5 in games decided by one goal.

At this stage, these are the three teams the oddsmakers see as most likely to hoist the Stanley Cup, but plenty of other teams will stay in the mix. The Lightning have been better than anyone expected thus far, and Detroit appears to be another formidable playoff-bound club. But nearing the midpoint of the season, each of these teams is currently leading its division and has a clear strength or edge that could prove decisive in a playoff run.