Every team, at one point or another, has a window opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. Some of those teams are seeing that window just opening; others are seeing it close right in front of them. Window opening: Los Angeles Kings
About three years ago, we knew this time would eventually come. Drew Doughty and Jonathan Bernier had just been drafted, Anze Kopitar was already on board and GM Dean Lombardi was piecing together a young team that was set to be formidable in the future. A couple of trades/signings later and the Kings are now legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Kopitar and Doughty, along with captain Dustin Brown, are the faces of the Kings franchise. Mike Richards was added to that group this off-season after coming over in a trade from Philadelphia. They are part of a core that will be together for the long haul. Now when you look at the roster/depth chart, they seem to have all of the ingredients to make a serious run for not only this upcoming season, but for years to come.
Kopitar, Richards and Jack Johnson are all under contract through at least 2016. Doughty, currently an unsigned RFA, will likely join them in the near future. Not to mention all of the other young talent on the team now (Bernier, Brown, Dustin Penner) or down the road (Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort, among others).
Yeah, I’d say the best is yet to come in Los Angeles.
Others worth mentioning: Tampa Bay
Window open: Vancouver Canucks
The time is now for the Canucks to win their first ever Stanley Cup. They may have lost Game 7 of the Cup final on home-ice in June, but they are still one of the best (if not, the best) teams in the NHL.
Vancouver’s core is in its prime. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, soon-to-be 31 years old, are coming off back-to-back career years. They still have a handful of great years left in them. Roberto Luongo, oft-criticized, has yet to reach the down-side of his career. He put together the best regular season of his career in 2010-11, and he’s under contract for a long, long time. And you can’t forget about Ryan Kesler, who is getting better with each passing season. Other key players, namely Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, are also locked up for many years.
The team has won three straight Northwest Division titles; and they won’t be slowing down anytime soon as the rest of the division is either rebuilding or at a crossroads.
Alain Vigneault’s group missed out on a golden opportunity last season as they were the NHL’s best from start to finish and had two chances to win the Cup. The window to win the Cup is open for at least a few more years.
Others worth mentioning: Chicago, Pittsburgh
Window closing: San Jose Sharks
This summer has proved that GM Doug Wilson is going for the jugular. He traded the team’s top prospect (Charlie Coyle) and first-round pick in a deal that brought San Jose its long-desired top-four defenseman (Brent Burns) that will take some of the burden off Dan Boyle’s shoulders. Wilson also dealt away a star forward that struggled in crunch-time (Dany Heatley) for a versatile, two-way winger (Martin Havlat).
There have been different takes on how the Sharks came out of those deals. Some pundits either feel they got worse or better; others think they were lateral moves. No matter which way you look at it, this is still an elite team that can contend for the Cup. But how many more years will that last? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the catalysts since the lockout, aren’t getting any younger. Neither is Havlat or Boyle.
The Sharks have won the division in each of the last four years. Additionally, they have reached the conference finals the last two years. However, between Los Angeles and possibly Anaheim, now they have company atop the Pacific.
It seems like the Sharks’ window has been closing for the last couple years. Their time to win it all with this group is running out.
Others worth mentioning: Detroit, Philadelphia
Window closed: New Jersey Devils
I hate to break it to Devils fans, but the team’s window to win another Cup with the current group has closed. It may have even closed two or three years ago when they underachieved in the playoffs, losing to Philadelphia and Carolina, respectively.
Let’s face it – Martin Brodeur simply isn’t the goaltender he once was. His old self may appear in some games, but he’s not consistently dominant like he has been over the last decade and a half. Much of the players from the good ol’ days have either retired or are just hanging on (ex: Patrik Elias). Though Ilya Kovalchuk is signed for the next 50 years, there’s no guarantee Zach Parise is staying past this season. Other than Adam Larsson, the team doesn’t have many promising young players coming through the ranks.
Because of what the Devils have been in the past, some people still consider them contenders. They aren’t. This season they’ll be on the fence for making the playoffs, and down the road, their future isn’t as bright as some other teams in their own division/conference.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.