The old adage says that defense wins championships. Of course, it helps when that defense has good goaltending, offense, leadership, coaching and will to win to back it all up.
In this day and age, it takes a very well-rounded team to capture Lord Stanley's ultimate prize. Simply having the league's big shut-down defense is not enough to be victorious; neither is having a high-powered offense.
Each team can look at themselves in the mirror and see what is standing between them and a Stanley Cup. For some teams, the obstacle is oh-so-small. For others, it's tough to pick one place to start.
Here is the biggest obstacle standing between each team and a shot at Lord Stanley's prize.
Last year's Anaheim team missed the playoffs largely because of the team's inability to stop the other team from scoring.
The defense is missing a prime-time shut-down defenseman, and the goaltending has to get better. Bryan Allen is an improvement on the blue line, but not a true difference-maker.
On top of it all, Anaheim's new coach, Bruce Boudreau, has a reputation for building offense-first teams. If he fails to address the defensive zone like he did in Washington, Anaheim will never be able to turn the corner and become a true Cup competitor.
Of course, the Bruins won that Cup largely because Tim Thomas had a record-setting save percentage in the regular season and gave up only eight goals in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final. Tuukka Rask is NHL-ready for sure, but can he be the difference-maker that Thomas was?
There seems to be little doubt that Rask will keep the Bruins competitive all season, but once the playoffs roll around and he is facing the league's top offenses, he'll need Thomas's thick skin to take his team back to the Promised Land.
The Sabres have a lot of the pieces to put together a Stanley Cup team, but there always seems to be an x-factor missing.
Last season, we saw Milan Lucic bowl over Ryan Miller, and the only people who really came to Miller's defense were the Buffalo announcers. The lack of grit displayed clearly did not sit well with the Sabres' brass, as the team went out and acquired Steve Ott in exchange for skill player Derek Roy.
Now, the challenge for Buffalo is to not get bullied by the teams in the East while still allowing players like Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford to light the lamp.
Considering that the Sabres outhit the Flyers in their debut and got Vanek a five-point afternoon, they seem to be on the right track.
It's hard to put a finger on Calgary's problems, so it all begins before the season begins.
Calgary has done a terrible job of improving its team in recent years. Ever since the team forked over $33 million to bring Jay Bouwmeester to the Saddledome, Calgary has failed to make smart, significant investments.
This offseason, the team brought in Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler, role players who thrive by playing on lines with highly skilled players that the Flames simply do not have.
The Flames won't turn around their fortunes until they become smarter about the free agents they invest in.
With players like Eric and Jordan Staal, Cam Ward, Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes should have one of the league's more formidable teams, especially in a weak Southeast Division.
Unfortunately, the 'Canes have struggled for years, and there is no indication yet that the acquisition of Jordan Staal and Semin is going to turn the tides. The team simply has trouble putting together a successful 82-game campaign with the talent it has.
Perhaps the shortened 48-game season will prove to be a stroke of good luck for Carolina.
The Chicago Blackhawks have all the pieces to make a Stanley Cup run, as long as you don't place too much importance on the goaltender.
Of course, no single player on the ice is more important than the man in the net, and Corey Crawford has proven so unreliable that he has cost Chicago big games all on his own.
Or you could go with this one, from two nights later.
Take your pick.
The Avs have a plethora of issues to work through, but perhaps the most puzzling has been their inability to find goaltending since the retirement of Patrick Roy in 2003.
The team has gone through its share of no-name and washed-up netminders, from Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Jose Theodore to Peter Budaj to David Aebischer.
Currently, the team is putting its hopes in former Capital Semyon Varlamov, who had a respectable 2011-12 performance and tore up the KHL during the NHL lockout. Still, until Varlamov proves he can be a permanent fixture in net, the Avs will struggle to be postseason contenders.
Last season, the GM Scott Howson made a big stink about trading the team's only franchise fixture, Rick Nash. The saga was drawn out through the trade deadline and well into the postseason, when Howson finally dealt Nash to New York, just like we all knew he would.
His return? Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Tim Erixon.
The icing on the cake was that, in moving Nash's $7.8 million cap hit in exchange for some role players, Howson managed to lose cap space in the deal.
You have to be a special kind of terrible to pull that off.
We all saw how the Dallas Stars' decision to bring in two 40-plus players and tie up $13.5 million in their contracts paid off in the opening game, when Jaromir Jagr tallied four points in his debut.
Jagr and Whitney currently sit first and tied for second respectively in the team's point standings, but these players are not long-term solutions for the Dallas Stars. One could chalk the signings up to an attempt to influence the next generation of players if it weren't for the fact that budding superstar Jamie Benn is still not under contract with Dallas.
How Jagr and Whitney became a priority over the sharpshooting Benn is beyond me.
We heard about the challenge of replacing Nicklas Lidstrom all offseason, and the reality made itself clear immediately.
It doesn't help that the team is also playing without Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski, leaving the defense of one of hockey's proudest franchises looking confused and lacking.
The West is getting better, with teams like Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota building strong young teams. The Red Wings are going to have a lot of trouble keeping up.
We all know about the potential fireworks show that the Oilers bring on offense every night when they send Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov out on the ice.
The team's defense is even beginning to come into focus with Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid leading the way. Devan Dubnyk is Edmonton's big investment in goal.
At some point, this team is going to break through and qualify for the playoffs in a big way. At that point, the question becomes playoff experience. All the talent of Schultz, Eberle and Co. could be rendered moot if the team cannot handle the games that truly count.
It's still a growing process for the Oilers.
The Florida Panthers are the sort of unique team that does a lot with a little.
The team took some players that had been written off by other teams as bad investments, including Jose Theodore, Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell, and won the division. The team is built around depth players.
Still, they lack a true offensive leader. Without a go-to player in pressure situations, the Panthers will not be able to take their game to the next level.
The quicker the team develops Jonathan Huberdeau to reach his potential, the quicker the Panthers will finally become legitimate Cup contenders.
What's not to like about the team that has it all?
LA's offense, defense and goaltending were good enough to win it all in dramatic fashion last year, and the team's offense, defense and goaltending all remain virtually unchanged for 2013.
The only obstacle for the Kings is the Stanley Cup hangover, and it was on full display on Opening Day. The team got rocked by a hungrier Blackhawks squad, and if the Kings spend too much time coddling their memories of 2011-12, they won't be much of a factor in 2013.
Few teams were potentially hurt more by the lockout than the Minnesota Wild.
The team went big in the offseason, landing the top defenseman and top forward on the market with long-term deals, legitimizing the entire franchise for good.
However, the team's makeover was put on hold due to the NHL lockout, and the resulting shortened training camp gave the team barely a week to truly get Ryan Suter and Zach Parise integrated into the system and familiar with their teammates.
The Wild are 2-0-0, indicating that their lack of preparation hasn't been a factor yet, but the team's best days are certainly ahead of it. Whether or not they can keep up with other teams in this short, compact season is a huge question mark for 2013.
In order to compete with the big boys, the Canadiens need to get their scoring touch back.
Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais showed big-time potential with 33 goals and 44 assists respectively, but the Habs offense is very limited beyond those two. Secondary contributions from Erik Cole and Tomas Plekanec will not match their productivity from last year.
Montreal needs to address its lack of scoring in a big way. The team is optimistic about youngster Alex Galchenyuk, but relying on an 18-year-old to be the player who takes the offense to the next level is a strategy that is often doomed to fail.
Last season, Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher were Nashville's only two 20-goal scorers.
This year, finding a go-to scorer will be an issue again for the Predators, and they'll have to do it all without Ryan Suter setting them up.
The Predators got so caught up in trying to retain Suter and Shea Weber this offseason that they never had the resources to address their true problem: offense. The Predators are made up of very effective role players and depth forwards, but need a true first line in order to become an elite squad.
The New Jersey Devils have a lot to worry about for a team that came within two wins of a Stanley Cup last season.
But rather than rehash the question of Brodeur's age or Kovalchuk's ability to defend, two arguments that proved unfounded last season (to an extent), I can buy that the Devils will continue to surprise.
What I can't buy is that they have the means to replace Zach Parise. Kovalchuk is a scoring dynamo, but he was a similar one-man show in Atlanta and the team went nowhere.
Without the leadership and scoring touch of Parise, these Devils can't stand a chance...can they?
When it comes down to it, the Islanders have a lot of tools to be a very good team.
John Tavares is a given, but if players like Josh Bailey, Nino Niedereitter and Kyle Okposo actually reach their potential, the Isles would actually have a very well-rounded offense. Likewise, if players like Griffin Reinhart and Travis Hamonic live up to expectations, the team has the building blocks of a great defense.
Of course, the Isles have enough trouble simply getting their players to come to practice (via Yahoo! Sports), so don't hold your breath on this team putting together a completely cohesive unit.
The New York Rangers kicked off 2013 with a schedule that pitted them against two potential Eastern Conference Finals opponents, and the best team on paper sent a strong message in that opening weekend: the pressure might be too much.
The Rangers were supposed to be the best team in the East last season, and they only got better by adding Rick Nash during the summer. Their biggest challenge is the fact that the whole conference is gunning for them, and they failed to rise to the challenge early.
John Tortorella needs to get his team comfortable with being the favorites, because if these jitters last, no one will be worried about playing the Rangers at all.
Erik Karlsson may have a Norris Trophy under his belt, but it sure as hell wasn't thanks to his defensive prowess.
In fact, the whole Ottawa roster stars players who don't give their goaltender much help. The Senators allowed more goals per game than any team that made the playoffs last year.
Sergei Gonchar is getting too old and the team is yet to develop a new generation of defensive defensemen. Ottawa is a very talented team, but unless they make some major changes, the offense will always be tasked with outrunning the defense's flaws.
Like the Rangers, the Flyers got off to an 0-2-0 start this weekend, and despite allowing six goals, the blame cannot be placed on Ilya Bryzgalov.
Instead, it was very clear that Bryz's defense let him down. Luke Schenn found himself flat-footed and out of position. Nicklas Grossman looked confused. Even Braydon Coburn seemed decidedly average on the ice.
The Flyers have struggled to find consistency on the blue line since Chris Pronger departed from the team last winter, and with little time to work the system with Schenn and other newcomers, the Flyers look dumbfounded in their own zone.
The Coyotes are as good as they've ever been right now, but the off-ice distractions have to be weighing on the psyche of the team.
The desert might not be the perfect home for a hockey team, but at least it's a home. With the team's sale to Greg Jamison still pending and no guarantees that the franchise will remain in Arizona, the biggest stories about the Coyotes take place in front of a podium and branded backdrop rather than at center ice.
A permanent decision on the future of the team would allow Shane Doan and Co. to finally just play hockey, whether there is anyone in the stands to watch or not.
The Penguins were as well-equipped as anyone to win the Stanley Cup last season, but they failed to make it out of the first round because they didn't keep their composure against the Philadelphia Flyers.
They couldn't keep their composure as individuals as the Flyers got under their skin and threw the Pens off their game, and they couldn't keep their composure as a team, blowing multiple leads and giving up far too many scoring chances.
In 2013, the Penguins are again armed to the teeth with talent, but their emotions remain the biggest question. They are capable of outplaying teams like the Flyers and Rangers, but both rivals have proven time and time again that they can get Pittsburgh focusing on anything other than the game itself.
Anytime you watch the Sharks in a playoff game, they could just as easily be skating against their own demons instead of the actual opponent.
The Sharks have put together competitive teams for more than a decade, yet the team has never managed to win the Western Conference championship and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
That playoff reputation has followed players like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, and at this rate, they'll be passing the snakebite along to the likes of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.
On top of it all, the Sharks are no longer in the elite class of NHL teams, so the playoffs see San Jose outmatched physically as well as mentally. The team needs to overcome its demons to even have a chance at Stanley Cup glory.
With the dramatic introduction of Vladimir Tarasenko, it appears the St. Louis Blues now have a pure goal scorer to go along with their shut-down defense, impenetrable goaltending and unlimited forward depth.
The Blues may be the most complete team in hockey, but they are extremely young, and it showed last year in the playoffs. The second-ranked Blues were unceremoniously swept by the eighth-seeded and eventual champion LA Kings.
Key players like Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and David Perron are all 24 years of age or younger. St. Louis has bright days ahead of it, but sometimes it takes learning the hard way to show just how difficult it is to win a Stanley Cup, no matter how complete your team is.
With Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos manning the helm up front, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a very potent offense to worry opposing defenses.
Fortunately for the opponents, it's as easy to score on the Bolts as it is to be scored upon.
Tampa has had major issues with defense for years, and Anders Lindback isn't necessarily the sort of netminder who can bail out a struggling defense. Matt Carle is an improvement on the blue line, but the franchise needs to make true defensive depth the focus of future drafts and trades.
It's simply too easy to score on this team, which allowed an NHL-high 281 goals last year.
Sadly, in recent years, the Maple Leafs have been built like a team with much less history.
The Leafs take gambles on acquiring players with potential, like Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, and while neither of those acquisitions was necessarily a mistake, neither produced the sort of franchise player like Mats Sundin, who is featured in the photo.
This is the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey's greatest franchises. They should be developing the best leaders, the most hard-nosed centermen, the grittiest defensemen.
Instead, the team has been dragging its fans through a painfully slow rebuilding process.
So let me get this straight.
Franchise netminder Roberto Luongo sees himself pulled for backup Cory Schneider in two consecutive playoff years. Schneider is named the starter in the offseason. Schneider debuts with a stinker and Luongo is back in net halfway through the game.
Just when you thought the Vancouver goaltending sideshow was over, it's only just beginning.
The team has two very good goaltenders, yet behaves as though it can win with neither. Pick your netminder, deal the other one, and forge forward.
When playing their best, Alex Ovechkin is one of the most dangerous shooters in hockey, Braden Holtby can hold his own with the best goalies in the game, Mike Green is an offensive threat all over the ice and the Washington Capitals are one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Unfortunately, all cylinders never fire at once.
When the offense is clicking, the defense folds. When the team builds up its blue line, it can't be bothered to score goals. When goaltending is on, the rest of the team plays too safe. When goaltending is off...well, you get the picture.
The Caps have a new coach in Adam Oates, and he actually has a very simple task before him: Get this whole team playing its best all at once.
Figure that one out, and the Caps are an automatic Cup contender.
Remember, the Winnipeg Jets still have a lot of Atlanta Thrasher in them, so the road to becoming a competitor is an arduous one.
The Jets have quite a few depth players and specialized skaters to round out the roster, but few players can truly be thought of as difference-makers. There is a major distinction between a group of guys who can play good hockey and the one or two players who make everyone play great hockey.
A highly talented forward with leadership experience (like the now-unavailable Zach Parise or, more intriguingly, Florida's Stephen Weiss or Anaheim's Corey Perry) would round out this Winnipeg roster and move them toward becoming competitors, and away from looking like the Thrashers.