You could argue that making any Stanley Cup predictions prior to the start of the regular season is a bit foolish, if not downright stupid.
After all, teams have yet to solidify their rosters. There are still battles going on for key positions and line assignments.
And, even when these things are sorted out we'll still have 82 games of potential injuries, trades, and waiver acquisitions that could vastly change the fortunes of any number of teams.
We really don't know anywhere near enough to begin predicting who will lift Lord Stanley's Cup in June, or do we?
Looking at the team's who've won a Stanley Cup, post-lockout: Carolina (2006), Anaheim (2007), Detroit (2008), Pittsburgh (2009), Chicago (2010), we can glean some useful information that could help determine who is likely to win the Cup in 2011.
First, each of these teams had significant depth on their rosters.
Be it Doug Weight in Carolina in 2006 or John Madden in Chicago last season, the presence of a talented, veteran player on your bottom two lines suggests you've got a hell of a shot at making a successful run at the Stanley Cup.
Secondly, each team was well-balanced, with significant talent at forward and defense.
Now, most people believe that "defense wins championships" and this may be true to a point.
However, if all you have is a great defense and a thin offense, recent history suggests you aren't going to make a serious bid for a Stanley Cup.
Third, each of these teams had, for the most part, "good enough" goaltending.
As the "new NHL" has become much more focused on team-wide speed and skill to win games, the need for a so-called "money goalie" has diminished to a significant extent. Having a big-name goalie certainly can't hurt, but it isn't the necessary piece that it once was.
Considering all of these factors, it seems that picking a group of Stanley Cup candidates for 2011 is a bit easier than one would have initially thought.
Suffice to say that any team that can solidly lay claim to at least two of these three criteria should be considered a potential Cup-winner and any team with less than that, can be counted out of the conversation.
Now, reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes "depth" or "good-enough goaltending," but given the past five Cup-winners, there appears to be a reliable gauge for measuring such attributes.
So, one should use such measurements when identifying a team's alignment with these attributes.
Finally, before you work your way through this list and scoff when you don't see your team or another you feel deserves to be mentioned, remember, a prediction is just a fancy way of saying "wild-ass guess."
Such guesses can be educated, as I believe these eight are, but, no one, and certainly not I, knows what the future holds.
But that doesn't mean I won't subject myself to ridicule and hostility by pretending I do.
I have to believe that somewhere in the mind of Ilya Kovalchuk, there lies some motivation to win a Stanley Cup this year in particular.
Of course every player wants to win, but, with all the idiocy and ridiculousness he and the Devils put the league through this summer, it seems like lifting the Stanley Cup in June would make it all worth it.
In Kovalchuk, the Devils now have one of the most potent offensive players in the league and a superstar center piece around which to build the rest of their forward corps.
Now, as the Devils still sit close to $3 million over the salary cap, they're going to lose some pieces of the team that will be hard to replace.
Still, key forwards such as Patrick Elias and Zach Parise aren't going anywhere, and the newly acquired Anton Volchenkov is poised to become a defensive monster alongside Colin White.
Then, there's Marty Brodeur.
Perhaps when he's retired I'll be convinced that he no longer has a chance of winning a Stanley Cup, but, until then, counting him out among Stanley Cup contenders is downright stupid.
If New Jersey wins the Cup this year, it will be because of their balance of top talent at forward and defense and, as always, Martin Brodeur. If they don't, they'll likely have their lack of significant depth to blame for it.
From the moment they emerged as Stanley Cup Finalists last season, words like "improbable" and "unexpected" started attaching themselves to the Flyers.
However, in hindsight, their trip to the Finals wasn't all that shocking.
Though they struggled with consistency throughout the regular season, had numerous players, including their expected No. 1 goalie, Ray Emery, go down to injury, and replaced head coach John Stevens with former Cup winner Peter Laviolette midway through the year, Philadelphia's roster alone suggested they had what it took to go all the way.
The Flyers had a talented and intimidating defense led by Chris Pronger, scoring depth and grit throughout the forward lines, and two goalies in Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton that managed to get hot at the right time.
The Flyers still have all of these pieces and have added the likes of Bill Guerin and Sean O'Donnell for good measure.
With the experience and talent Philly has, one can bet that no one on that team believes their run to the Cup Finals was "improbable" and certainly don't believe it to be unrepeatable.
Then again, there sill may be some legitimate questions in goal.
Though they secured Michael Leighton for another two years, he is currently sidelined with a back injury for at least one month, so starting job will be filled by Brian Boucher.
Once Leighton does return, the platooning act the two successfully played last year will ostensibly repeat itself.
Whether it will yield the same results is still up in the air.
If the Flyers win the Cup this year, it is their extreme depth and even dispersal of talent throughout the line-up that will make them the NHL's best team. If they don't, well, their gaze will likely be fixed straight between the pipes.
There are some NHL fans (yours truly included) that are more than a little fed up with the league's "All Crosby, All the Time" marketing tactics.
The NHL's perpetual Crosby Show is certainly understandable given Crosby's status in the game, but, it has created significant dislike of the man (yes, the man, not the kid) and his team among fans outside of Pittsburgh.
As such, you might be sick of seeing anything that highlights the Penguins, particularly a list counting them among the most likely to win a Cup in 2011.
Nausea aside, the Penguins are a legitimate Cup threat this season and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
The Pens didn't make many moves this offseason, but their biggest splash may just have upped their championship ability to the extent that a repeat of their 2009 championship is a very reasonable expectation.
The acquisition of defenseman Paul Martin from the New Jersey Devils reminds me of Detroit's acquisition of Martin's then teammate, Brian Rafalski, in the summer of 2007.
Detroit's resident No. 2 defender, Mathieu Schneider left Detroit for Anaheim as a free agent.
Detroit promptly replaced him with Rafalski, who raised the Cup over his head 11 months later.
Pittsburgh elected to say goodbye to their No. 1 defenseman, Sergei Gonchar, and made one of the best moves of the offseason by replacing him with Martin.
This move could yield the exact some success the Rafalski signing did for Detroit in 2008.
As always, and deservedly so, the conversation about Pittsburgh begins and ends with Sidney Crosby.
However, GM Ray Shero has assembled yet another outstanding lineup of players that will almost certainly make a deep run in the playoffs, if not be the last team standing.
If the Penguins win the Cup this year, their depth, talent and goal-tending will all contribute to the cause. If they don't, it will likely be due to a mismatch in playoff opponents or a run of bad luck at the wrong time.
Hockey fans who know anything know one thing for sure: offense, in and of itself, does not win championships.
If it did, the Washington Capitals would likely be two Cups into another NHL dynasty with no end in sight.
As they are easily the NHL's most staggeringly potent offensive team, should a playoff series turn into a "last goal wins" affair, the Caps will surely emerge the victors.
But, this certainly will not be the case for the majority of playoff series and, as such, the Capitals need to focus on how to keep the puck away from the opposition and out of their net if they have plans on lifting the Stanley Cup in June.
The Caps lack a true No. 1 defenseman (yes, Mike Green is a forward masquerading as a rearguard) which means that defense will need to be a team-wide commitment.
The Capitals know this and understand that if they are to push past previous playoff disappointments, rounding out their defensive game will be the key to doing so.
Additionally, they have a very promising yet relatively green No. 1 goalie in Semyon Varlamov.
While he's showed tremendous promise at various times in previous postseasons, he'll need a full season as the starter to round out his game in time to be a difference maker come mid-April.
Defensive flaws aside, the Capitals sport tremendous talent and solid depth with the likes of Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera.
The team's collective intelligence and experience are going to benefit them significantly this season and may be the key to solving their Stanley Cup puzzle.
If the Capitals win the Cup this year, they'll have their depth of talent and skill to thank for it. If they don't, then they'll still need to figure out that offense does not win championships.
As of now, the Stanley Cup is, quite literally, Chicago's to lose.
While any Stanley Cup prediction in any given year is almost certain to have the previous champion in the mix, including the 'Hawks here is not an automatic decision.
One of the biggest assets Chicago had last season, their depth, was systematically stripped away throughout the summer, so that creates a significant obstacle for the team to work around as they begin their Cup defense this season.
Nevertheless, their strongest players, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa have all remained with the team.
Additionally, some of the young hopefuls such as Jack Skille and Igor Makarov, that have replaced the departed are bound to pan out to be solid contributors.
Make no mistake, the 'Hawks are going to go through an adjustment period to deal with the significant losses over the summer, but they have a core as good as any in the NHL and this help the process along.
Then there's the goaltending.
With Antti Niemi gone to San Jose, the 'Hawks will be counting on veteran Marty Turco to help escort them back to hockey's promised land.
As Turco has struggled his past two seasons in Dallas, there's an understandable uncertainty about just how well he will rebound in Chicago.
The drastically better supporting cast he know has in Chicago makes the reemergence of Marty Turco a reasonable expectation.
The again, it could be the case that his best years are already behind him and he's now firmly ensconced in mediocrity.
If the Blackhawks repeat as champions this year, they'll prove once again that their talent at forward and defense is unparalleled in the league, and that Marty Turco has indeed rounded back into form.
If they fail, well, the noticeable drop off in depth will indeed have proved fatal to playoff success.
After the season, and over the summer, many observers said that the Detroit Red Wings were past their prime, too old and too dependent on veterans to be in serious Cup contention anymore.
That season was the 2000-01 season and the Red Wings have won two Cups since then.
Yes, there's no getting around the fact that the Detroit Red Wings are the NHL's oldest team and will rely on many players whose best years are behind them.
There's also no getting around the fact that, when it comes to getting the most out of over-the-hill players, Detroit wrote every chapter in every book and built the library in which they're housed.
Regardless, with several stars such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall still in their prime, Detroit isn't exactly the pitiful collection of old farts some would have you believe them to be.
Even some of the aged like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are still among the better players in the league and though the newly acquired Mike Modano has a lot of expectations to live up to, even at 40, he's more than capable of stepping up to a challenge.
Much has been made, and rightly so, about Detroit's mysterious goaltending situation.
On one end, there's the supremely promising Jimmy Howard who will begin his first season as the team's starter. At the other, is the supremely accomplished, yet rapidly diminishing, Chris Osgood.
If all goes well, Howard will quell any fears regarding a sophomore slump by holding on tightly to his starter's job, and Chris Osgood will reemerge as an able back-up stealing a game or two over the course of the season.
If this does come to pass, and Detroit can avoid the swarm of injury bugs that descended upon the team last season, you can count the Red Wings among the few in the "most likely to succeed" category this season.
However, if Howard stumbles, Osgood fumbles (again) and the veterans act their age, well, there won't be much to get excited about in Hockeytown come the post-season.
The Red Wings will win the Cup this season if they can stay healthy, capitalize on their depth and talent, and get a solid performance from Jimmy Howard in goal.
However, if Howard slips up and the Wings show their age, any Cup dreams they have will prove to be nothing but.
OK, I'll wait for you to stop laughing, or swearing, as the case may be.
You OK? Good.
Now listen up.
The Los Angeles Kings are absolutely for real and have a better chance than most at capturing a Stanley Cup in June.
Several times during last season, the Kings were flirting with a first overall position, not only in the Western Conference, but the entire NHL.
They have one of the best collections of young talent in the league in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Dustin Brown, and Wayne Simmonds.
They are also stacked with valuable veteran talent such as Ryan Smyth, Jarett Stoll, Rob Scuderi, and Willie Mitchell.
Johnathan Quick, the Kings' starting net-minder, is coming off an impressive 39-win season and his back-up this season will be Jonathan Bernier who many in and outside of LA believe is poised to become a Patrick Roy-type goal-tender.
Being tucked away on the Left Coast, far from the majority of hockey fans who reside in the North East of the country, it is easy to overlook LA and dismiss them as nothing more than an NHL after thought.
I assure you, there's no team in the league that shares this opinion.
The Kings have all the pieces they need to bring a Stanley Cup to Los Angeles for the first time in the team's 43-year history, and they can do it this year.
Like Chicago before them, they are on the fast track from basement dwelling laughing stock to Stanley Cup contenders and 2011 may well be the year the Kings put everything together and win it all.
The Kings can win the Stanley Cup by taking full advantage of their tremendous talent in each key position and their perfect balance of youth and experience.
If the Kings run into chemistry problems, or get rattled by the pressure that comes with success, LA will wait yet another year for Lord Stanley to take a trip to La-La Land.
On paper, no team in the NHL is more dangerous than the Vancouver Canucks.
They have the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner (and let's face it, captain-to-be) in Henrik Sedin, headlining a fantastic collection of forwards that includes his brother, Daniel along with Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond.
The Canucks' defensive corps is an impressive collection of rugged, offensive defenders such as Christian Ehrhoff, Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa and the newly acquired Dan Hamhuis.
Their role players aren't slouches either as they sport such shift disturbers as Rick Rypien, Shane O'Brien and new comers Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres.
Now, let's talk about the goaltending.
There is no question that Roberto Luongo is an amazingly talented goal-tender with world-class abilities.
His amazing quickness and large frame make him both an intimidating and dominating goalie to shoot on and his reputation alone is a daunting obstacle for many opponents to deal with.
Still, Luongo is one playoff series loss away from being considered a regular season hero and post-season goat.
Relative to his regular season stats, well, relative to any stats, Luongo's numbers over his past two playoff campaigns went from bad, to worse, respectively.
Luongo does not have to win a series by himself given the talent in front of him, but he does have to keep his head together long enough to give his team a chance to win, and that, apparently has been his problem the past couple of years.
Many hope that losing the weight that came with serving as the team's captain will lighten Luongo's mental load to the extent that he can finally get his mind right and play up to his ability throughout the playoffs.
This may be all Vancouver needs to bring the Cup back to Canada. Well, that, and avoiding the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs.
If Luongo can get himself squared away between the ears and allow the depth and talent in front of him to shine, the Canucks will in the Cup in 2011.
However, if Luongo follows suit on his past two playoff runs, the Canucks won't win anything but an early summer.
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