The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week. For some teams, the time to win a Stanley Cup is now.
Some teams have a nice combination of youth and experience that should keep them in cup contention for the near future, at least.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a great example of one of these teams. The top three players in the Penguins franchise—Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury—have won a Stanley Cup and are still in their mid-20s.
Other teams are not as lucky.
Here are five teams that should make the most of their opportunity in the 2012 NHL playoffs. If not, the window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup could shut for the foreseeable future.
The Vancouver Canucks signing Roberto Luongo to a 12-year deal prior to 2010-11 is still a mind-boggling move.
Luongo was 31 years old at the time of the deal and has a cap hit of over $5 million through the 2021-22 season.
With the Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik), Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamuis all signed for at least the next two seasons, the Canucks have very limited cap space to work with in the offseason.
There is no reason the Canucks shouldn’t contend in the next couple of seasons, but there are a lot of question marks for the future.
Playing in the Northwest division will be a major reason behind the Canucks continuing to succeed over the next couple of years. The level of competition is nowhere near that of the Atlantic and Central divisions.
The Canucks are already in the bottom half of the league in terms of average age and will continue to fall.
No Canucks team has ever won the Stanley Cup. If the franchise doesn’t win one by 2014-15, the wait will continue.
You are not hallucinating. The Chicago Blackhawks are on this list.
No age issues exist. The problem for the Blackhawks is that the organization has done a poor job of structuring contracts.
The Blackhawks are going to struggle to add an impact player in the offseason and for the foreseeable future.
According to CapGeek.com, the Blackhawks will only have about $8 million in cap space available. With six current roster spots being vacated because of free agency, they have plenty of spots to fill.
This does not bode well for a team that has questionable goaltending, at best. For as good of a rookie season as Corey Crawford had, he’s been equally as bad this season.
Depth on the front lines is also a major issue for the Blackhawks. While their top two lines are as potent as any, they lack the depth to match up with other powers in the NHL.
Don’t be surprised if the Blackhawks restructure a contract or try to move a high-salary player. It’s great to have star talent, but depth and goaltending win championships.
The Detroit Red Wings have been called “old” for years. However, they continue to win and challenge for the Stanley Cup every season.
However, there are potentially two major losses in store for the Red Wings this offseason. Nicklas Lidstrom may retire and Brad Stuart may choose to sign elsewhere as a free agent.
Lidstrom and Stuart are two of the top three defensemen for the Red Wings.
Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen are not getting any younger, either. Their age shouldn’t be an issue in the next couple of years, though. All three of them are still in their prime and have cap-friendly contracts.
The Red Wings are not higher on this list because we’ve seen this storyline before—the team has a lot of aging stars and people begin to believe the future is bleak.
But as Mike Ilitch and Ken Holland have proven, the Red Wings always find a way to reload. With salary cap room to play with, this offseason should be no different.
Every team in this slideshow has an issue with salary cap, age, or both.
The Boston Bruins fall into the both category.
Tim Thomas, the biggest reason for the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup win, will be 38 years older on April 15 and only has one year left on his contract. Even if the Bruins look to re-sign him, it will likely be a short-term deal.
The captain of the Bruins, Zdeno Chara, is also 35 years old.
There is a good chance that Chara will continue to play at a high level as he has this season (12 goals, 40 assists, and a plus-33). However, few players continue to play at an All-Star level in their upper-30s.
Another reason for concern in Boston is the struggles that the Bruins have had this season. Despite a large goal differential of plus-64, which leads the NHL, the Bruins have been very inconsistent.
The Bruins were 24-9-1 on December 28, but are only 23-20-3 since.
Tyler Seguin is a good, young player who should be in a Bruins uniform for years to come, but talent will need to be put around him for the team to be successful, too.
The New Jersey Devils have rebounded nicely in 2011-12, but the time for them to win a championship is now.
Martin Brodeur, the Devils' 39-year-old goaltender, is in the final year of his contract. More than likely, he will retire at the end of the season.
While Brodeur’s play is nowhere near the level it was in the early 2000s, this will be a major loss to the Devils. They haven’t had to worry about the goaltending position since Brodeur arrived in 1993.
To make matters worse, the Devils are the second-oldest team in the NHL.
The key for the Devils in the offseason will be to re-sign Zach Parise and find a reliable starting goaltender. There will be plenty of cap space available to do both, but will they find a player willing to play in New Jersey?
Like the Red Wings, it has been a habit to watch the Devils contend for Stanley Cup titles over the years. However, with the recent decline in success and aging players, the glory days are closing for the Devils.