The NHL's top teams for 2013-14

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins are projected as the NHL's best this season. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins are big favorites to win the 2013-14 Stanley Cup, at least according to the calculations published in our most recent annual guide, Hockey Prospectus 2013-14. According to our projections, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins are four points up on second place. That might not sound like much, but teams 2-10 are all separated by just four points, as well.

How did we come to these conclusions? Using a statistical projection engine called VUKOTA, which makes use of the goals versus threshold (GVT) metric. Described by creator Tom Awad as "GVT's most powerful descendant," VUKOTA projects a player's likely future based on the scoring of historically comparable players. It is named after former fringe NHL player Mick Vukota as a play on words of baseball's similar PECOTA system. Awad goes on to describe how it is used to also project the NHL team standings:

"Since team GVT is simply the sum of player GVTs, the sum of the VUKOTA GVT values on a team becomes our projection for the team's goal differential, and consequently, its win-loss record as well, since teams on average record one extra point in the standings for every three goals scored or prevented."

And the results? All but five teams are within three points of a postseason position. Once in the postseason, a team's odds don't stray too terribly far from 15-1. That means that, despite Pittsburgh being our heavy favorite, the race is actually wide open. After all, the Washington Capitals had a huge projection of 105 points for 2011-12 but then had some horrific goaltending performances out of the gate that essentially derailed them.

Here's a look at some of the top contenders for the 2013-14 NHL season, for the Stanley Cup and for the draft lottery.

Stanley Cup contenders

Pittsburgh Penguins (101 points): Everyone will agree that Crosby & Co. are among the perennial favorites, but we might be the only ones to place them on top, particularly so decisively. Last season, they finished atop the Eastern Conference and led the league in goals, both of which they may well do again. They went all-in last season -- acquiring veterans Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen at the trade deadline -- but were stopped short in the conference finals when the defensive system of the Boston Bruins neutralized their top lines. Their primary weakness in terms of skaters is a lack of depth, but that is likely to be overcome by their unrivaled top lines.

But what about the goalies? Well, VUKOTA has Marc-Andre Fleury projected at 4.8 GVT over 44 games, with Tomas Vokoun at 5.0 GVT over 32 games. Even if Vokoun misses time because of his recent blood clot issue, the drop-off won't be significant. And, even with goalies performing at a league-average level, the Pens are strong enough on offense to make up for it.