8 NHL Teams That Will Compete for the 2013 Stanley Cup
There are many teams in the NHL that could expect to win the Stanley Cup next season, which proves that there is an impressive amount of parity is in today's game.
Last year, we saw the Los Angeles Kings as an eight seed lift the best trophy in sports, further proving that all you have to do is make the playoffs and you have a chance for glory.
Let's look at the eight teams with the best chance to win the Stanley Cup heading into the 2012-13 season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins making this list is no surprise. Any franchise with four superstars as good as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang is a team to be feared.
While the team's offense will almost certainly be one of the 10 best in the league next year, the defensive performance of the team could be a problem. Zbynek Michalek was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes early in the offseason and has yet to be replaced. It would be surprising if general manager Ray Shero doesn't make a move for a defenseman before the trade deadline.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the team have something to prove this season, and whenever you have a team of champions with a chip on their shoulder, they're going to be difficult to beat.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings will bring most of the same team that just won the Stanley Cup back for the next season. Kings fans should not be concerned that their team hasn't made any significant upgrades this summer because there aren't many areas on the roster that need improving.
Kings fans should also expect a far better regular season performance from their team at both ends of the ice. Top defenseman Drew Doughty's great playoff run should give him the confidence needed to become a Norris Trophy finalist again.
However, the No. 1 reason why Los Angeles will have a great shot to repeat is because of goaltender Jonathan Quick. He's one of the most valuable players in the sport and capable of winning important games against the best competition by himself.
If he plays well, the Kings will be incredibly tough to beat regardless of how well their offense is playing.
Injuries to key players (Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid), and stupid distractions (Tim Thomas' White House/Facebook mess) made the challenge of repeating as champions more difficult than it had to be last year.
When you look the additions that the Bruins will make to their roster this season with Dougie Hamilton making his NHL debut and Horton returning from injury, Boston should have a stronger team than they had last year.
The Bruins' style of play will not change. They will be physical, kill penalties, play well defensively and rely on consistently strong goaltending.
Just like last year, their chance to win the Stanley Cup will be decided by health. If the Bruins aren't missing any key players heading into the playoffs, it will be tough for anyone in the Eastern Conference to stop them from making the Stanley Cup Final.
The Vancouver Canucks will be better equipped for the playoffs this season with Cory Schneider as the starting goaltender for the entire year. Schneider will be able to handle having high expectations to live up to.
Secondary scoring will be a problem for the Canucks all season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see general manager Mike Gillis add a top-six forward before the trade deadline.
Playing in a weak division that is full of teams that play poorly defensively will also help the Canucks rack up a ton of points and have a chance for a third straight Presidents' Trophy.
Even though seeding is important to the Canucks, the regular season will be all about going into the playoffs healthy, and with some momentum.
The Canucks don't have enough depth to make a Stanley Cup run if key players such as Ryan Kesler or the Sedin twins aren't at full strength in April.
Despite their inability to win when it matters most over the last few seasons, the Canucks have way too much talent to not be considered a top contender for the Stanley Cup.
New York Rangers
New York Rangers fans will be very disappointed if their team does not win the Stanley Cup next season. The pressure and expectations that the team will face next season will be as high as they've been in a long time.
While the Rangers have enough depth defensively to withstand an injury to a top defenseman or two, an injury to one of their better forwards could be an issue.
On paper, the Rangers have the roster best suited to win the Stanley Cup of all the teams in the league. The health of their top forwards could be the difference for New York next season.
The Washington Capitals will continue to be a physical team, but they also have enough skill to score goals against the best defensive squads. Not many teams have this combination.
If Backstrom and Mike Green can remain healthy for a full season, the Capitals could be one of the five best scoring teams in the NHL. Even with the loss of Alexander Semin in free agency, the Capitals have plenty of offensive firepower.
The X-factor for the Capitals is goaltender Braden Holtby, who will have a full season to prove he's more than a playoff hero.
The success Washington had in the playoffs last year was not a fluke. This is a talented team that is ready to make another deep playoff run.
The Chicago Blackhawks will be Stanley Cup contenders next season because it's hard to imagine Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith having disappointing seasons again.
If both of these stars play a bit better, and starting goaltender Corey Crawford also improves, the Blackhawks will be tough to beat in a seven-game series.
Marian Hossa is expected to be ready for training camp as he recovers from a concussion suffered in the playoffs, and captain Jonathan Toews will also enter the new season fully healthy.
Chicago was a bit unlucky in last year's playoffs. Three of its four losses to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round came in overtime. Hossa missed the final three games of the series, and rookie Andrew Shaw missed three games with a suspension.
With one of the deepest and most dangerous offenses in hockey, in addition to some very good defensive players, the Blackhawks will be a top contender for the Stanley Cup unless the goaltending is a severe issue.
St. Louis Blues
Any team that has strong goaltending, and plays well defensively, is going to be a threat to win the Stanley Cup. The Blues fit this description.
St. Louis should win the Central Division again next season and contend for the Presidents' Trophy for the first time since 2000.
The only question about the Blues is do they have enough scoring from their forwards, and in particular, their top-six group. The Blues scored just six goals in four games in their second-round series loss to the Kings last season.
They rely on their blue line to provide a lot of offense, especially from guys like Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk (who ranked third and fourth on the team in scoring, respectively), but they don't have a player who can impact games single-handedly against top goaltenders in the playoffs.
However, any Ken Hitchcock-coached team with a goaltender as good as Jaroslav Halak is going to be tough to beat in the playoffs.
The Blues won't surprise anyone this season, but they have a chance to be even better in 2012-13 as many of their young players continue to develop into legitimate stars.