As most teams are beginning to ramp up activities in preparation for the grind that will be the next 10 months, it is time to take a look at the teams that have the best shot at winning the last game of the season, and hoisting the silver chalice that all pro hockey players dream of. I will also identify the one big question that could stop these contenders from reaching the goal.
I have looked up the current odds from a number of online betting sites and found the ranges of odds for the contenders, and they are provided in the parentheses.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (Odds Range from 13-1 to 33-2)- A core of elite forwards and a capable defense combined with timely goaltending is what the Lightning need. Time is starting to run out for some of the players (most notably Dwayne Roloson) who are aging and want a cup with the Bolts.
BIG QUESTION: Who is the real Vinnie Lecavalier, and can he achieve consistency?
9. Chicago Blackhawks (13-1 to 16-1) - With the likes of Toews, Hossa, Kane, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook, the core is there and still young enough to be around for a long time. There have been a lot of changes since the Cup season but the key players are still present and in their primes.
BIG QUESTION: Is Corey Crawford capable of taking the team deep in the playoffs, or will Ray Emery get the chance to show he is a #1 NHL goaltender?
8. Los Angeles Kings (8-1 to 18-1)- With Mike Richards and Simon Gagne joining the fold, the Kings have gained experience and grit. Is it enough to push them over the top? A defensive corps lacking household names (after Drew Doughty) raises questions but the duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier are young, good and getting better.
BIG QUESTION: Is Richards the “big move” that Kings fans and management have been waiting years for, and will finally put them into the elite?
7. Detroit Red Wings (11-1 to 14-1) – The surprising retirement of Brian Rafalski hurts, but they still have Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. This superstar core might be on its last kick at the can in this form and will be motivated to win one more for Lidstrom.
BIG QUESTION: How long can Nicklas Lidstrom really continue to play at the top of his game?
6. Philadelphia Flyers (7-1 to 23-2)- They have brought in the goaltender, but traded away much of their established offense by dealing Richards and Carter. They are still deep however, with Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and James Van Reimsdyk. If Ilya Bryzgalov is the real deal, the Flyers will be a tough out for anyone.
BIG QUESTION: How will the changes in the locker room affect the club’s performance on the ice?
5. San Jose Sharks (9-1 to 14-1) - Martin Havlat was brought in to do with the Sharks what Dany Heatley could not. Havlat is the poster boy for change in SJ, who along with Michael Handzus, James Sheppard, Brent Burns and Colin White make the Sharks a different looking club.
BIG QUESTION: Will the new look supporting cast help Thornton, Marleau et al. break through the wall?
4. Boston Bruins (9-1 to 11-1)- The toughest thing in sports is to repeat as a champion. The Bruins haven’t really taken a step back, but the fact that everything must go right to win a championship makes it unlikely that the B’s can have it happen again.
BIG QUESTION: Can Tim Thomas repeat his heroics?
3. Washington Capitals (7-1 to 10-1) – The biggest upgrade for the Caps is between the pipes, and the $1.5 M deal signed by Tomas Vokoun didn’t force any other moves for salary cap purposes. Vokoun, along with Bryzgalov have the most to prove for their respective teams after spending a majority of their careers as #1′s on inferior teams.
BIG QUESTION: How true are the comments about the lack of deisre of the Caps’ top players?
2. Vancouver Canucks (6-1 to 7-1)- The Canucks one hurdle by knocking off the Blackhawks last spring, but the final hurdle tripped them up. They have the talent and the depth to win, and as long as they learned from their mistakes, they could get back.
BIG QUESTION: Did the Canucks learn anything from the loss to the Bruins?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (7-1 to 9-1)- If – and at this point it could be a big IF – Sidney Crosby can come back at 100% at some point this season, the Penguins would be my favorite to win it all. A full season from James Neal and an opportunity for Steve Sullivan to be a part of a winner combined with the already existing talent in Pitt. Even without Crosby, the Pens are still a contender but would be down the list somewhat.
BIG QUESTION: Can Sidney Crosby return to the form he showed in the first half of 2010-11?
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The bad news for Bruins fans is that there hasn’t been a repeat winner of the Stanley Cup since Detroit managed the feat in 1997 and 1998. Parity reigns supreme in today’s NHL and in order to win a Stanley Cup, the stars must align perfectly. They did so for the Bruins last season so the odds beyond the “odds” dictate that it won’t happen again for them, and that there will be a new Champion in 10 months time.
Just for your information, the Ottawa Senators odds to win the Cup range from 49-1 to 150-1.
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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Topics: 2012 Stanley Cup Contenders, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, NHL, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals