The Best Young Core in the League - The Finals

Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports

The last heat was by far the closest, but the Colorado Avalanche (Lazy Blogging Community) prevailed to move on to the finals where they'll face the Oilers, Montreal Canadiens (Eyes on the Prize), and Tampa Bay Lightning (Lazy Blogging Community, Raw Charge, is finally getting into the ranking racket). Only the Avalanche was really tested in their heat, which you'd think might make for an exciting final, but from my perspective, this is basically a two-horse race:

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I've once again highlighted the player that I like the best in each group, and as you can see by the highlighting, the two teams I've got as possible victors are the Lightning and Oilers. The other groups are obviously pretty good, but they lack Tampa Bay's high-end talent, and don't quite have the same quality depth as the Oilers.

Why should Edmonton win? The group is truly fantastic from 1-7. Even if Yakupov, and Nugent-Hopkins still need to prove themselves as elite NHL players, and even if no one Oiler becomes the kind of talent that the Lightning have in Stamkos, the group as a whole just totally outclasses everyone else. Jordan Eberle is a top-line talent. Justin Schultz is already an excellent offensive defenseman and could become an all-situations guy. Sam Gagner is at worst a second-line center. Darnell Nurse is a good bet to play in the top four for a decade. None of these guys are in the top three.

Why should Tampa Bay win? Because Stamkos and Hedman are closer to having achieved maximum potential than Hall and Yakupov. The two young Oilers may eventually eclipse Tampa Bay's top two, but it's certainly not a sure thing. The rest of the group isn't great, but it isn't that bad either. Brett Connolly may yet develop into a quality forward, Tyler Johnson was the AHL's MVP last season, and The Radko Gudas is already in the NHL. The rest of their group would need to be totally hopeless in order to negate the advantage gained by Tampa Bay's top guys, and that's just not the case.

Why should Montreal win? They received more votes than anybody else in the heats, and they're not so overwhelmed that voting for them would be completely ridiculous, so I could see ballot-stuffing save them.

Why should Colorado win? Yeah... that's not going to happen. The Blues had stronger depth and might have actually helped Tampa Bay more here by making Edmonton's depth look at least a little bit less impressive.

Finally, here's the vote share for the sixteen teams profiled in this series, which I think puts the teams in reasonably good order. Boston is clearly overvalued, and the New York clearly undervalued, but other than that, things look pretty reasonable to me. Voting for the finals will be open all weekend long, and a winner declared on Monday.

Edmonton Oilers - 97%
Tampa Bay Lightning - 60%
Montreal Canadiens - 53%
Colorado Avalanche - 48%
St. Louis Blues - 42%
New York Islanders - 35%
Florida Panthers - 26%
Ottawa Senators - 13%
Chicago Blackhawks - 9%
Winnipeg Jets - 9%
Toronto Maple Leafs - 4%
New York Rangers - 2%
Boston Bruins - 2%
Carolina Hurricanes - 1%
Washington Capitals - 1%
New Jersey Devils - 0%

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