As I look ahead to predicting a Stanley Cup winner for this upcoming season, 10 teams keep popping into my head. There is so much parity (as of now) at the top, it’s impossible to decide on just one. No disrespect to the other 20 teams, but here are the 10 that I think are head-above-shoulders everyone else…
Each week leading up to the season, I’ll eliminate 2 teams from this group to determine my Cup pick. Let’s go ahead and look at a quick rundown for these teams…
Though they lost Chris Pronger, GM Bob Murray re-loaded the offense and farm system. Acquisitions Joffrey Lupul and Saku Koivu will play big roles on the Ducks’ 2nd line, and prospects Luca Sbisa and Kyle Palmieri (26th overall) help re-stock a farm system that was starting to run dry. Their Cup hopes lay on the shoulders of goaltenders Jonas Hiller and J.S. Giguere. If just one of them can play to their capability, Anaheim has a really good chance.
With Phil Kessel still being dangled in the trade market as an RFA, the B’s could potentially lose their most potent goal-scorer. But don’t worry in Boston, as they still have a dynamite team returning under the watch of Claude Julien. Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara anchor the best defensive corps in the East, and they have great depth at forward. The Bruins fell short in last year’s playoffs, and they surely don’t want to end their season in May again.
The Flames’ back end is arguably the best in the league with Jay Bouwmeester now in the fold. New coach Brent Sutter should be able to succeed in a place where he’s more comfortable. The big question is with Calgary’s offense. Iginla and Jokinen can only do so much, and will need help from the likes of David Moss, Rene Bourque, and Dustin Boyd if they want to bring the Cup back to Canada.
Even though everyone (including myself) is suddenly having doubts about their long-term future with Hossa in town, the ‘Hawks will be a force in the West once again. Their offense is stacked with a lot of scoring and grit, and their defense has really solid depth. If Cristobal Huet can play like the goalie this team gave $5.6 million last summer, the renaissance in Chicago could continue.
After sleepwalking through the month of July, GM Ken Holland has recovered nicely this month. He’s signed 3 veterans – Williams, Bertuzzi, and Eaves – that should fit in nicely with the Wings. They still have a lot of talent on the blue line, featuring Lidstrom and Kronwall. If they can find enough secondary scoring, Detroit should once again be a power house in the league.
The Flyers have a bit of a new look this year. Chris Pronger was acquired on draft day, and is expected to lead this team to the promise land. The enigmatic Ray Emery was a questionable signing, but could pay dividends if he’s motivated in net. And Philly still boasts a deep group of forwards, including young guns Giroux and Van Riemsdyk who should be in their plans from day one. They have the make-up of a Cup-caliber team… now they have to play like it.
After knocking off the Red Wings in Game 7 at The Joe, Dan Bylsma’s bunch is looking for a 2nd straight championship. Crosby & Malkin have more toys to play with now than they did at this point last year. Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence should be at another level when the season begins, and is a darkhorse for the Vezina. For the Pens to repeat, the defense needs to step it up as a whole and they must avoid a lingering hangover.
We were expecting more drastic moves out of the Bay Area than the signings of Scott Nichol and Jed Ortmeyer. If they bring the same core group back from last year (Marleau, Thornton, Nabokov, Cheechoo), I guarantee they’ll fail once again when it counts. But you can’t overlook how good they were in the regular season in 08-09, and they can come close to repeating that success.
The Canucks’ hopes rest on the shoulders of one guy: Roberto Luongo. Going into a contract year, Luongo has to be motivated to redeem his 2nd round disaster against Chicago. Vancouver brought in Mikael Samuelsson to add depth to their group up front, and still have a solid defensive corps even though Mattias Ohlund left via free agency. Like Calgary, the Canucks will be on a mission to bring the Cup back north of the border.
This is a team that I can’t really put my finger on. I want to think they can win the Cup with Ovechkin, Semin, etc… but at the same time, I feel it’s impossible for them to go far in the playoffs until they get more defensive help for Mike Green. Jose Theodore and Simeon Varlamov will battle it out in the pre-season to see who’ll get the #1 job, but neither can be relied on just yet. Caps Nation has high hopes, but ask me in April whether they’re truly a Cup contender.
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