Ranking the 10 Biggest Stanley Cup Pretenders in the NHL

Matt BauerCorrespondent IIDecember 1, 2011

Ranking the 10 Biggest Stanley Cup Pretenders in the NHL

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    It takes a significant amount of success in the NHL in order for a team to be considered a Stanley Cup contender, but it's not hard for a team to be considered a Stanley Cup pretender.

    There are a number of teams around the National Hockey League whose 2011-12 season have gotten off to a solid start, but there's a reason the NHL season is 82 games.

    It's going to take more than just a good first half of the season and a number of good bounces for teams to be considered contenders.

    Some teams, who were apparently overhyped prior to the season, were immediately considered Stanley Cup pretenders due to instant lack of success after possibly being contenders before the start of the 2011-12 season.

10. Edmonton Oilers

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    The amount of young talent mixed with veteran experience up and down the Edmonton Oilers roster has to be terrifying for just about every other team in the NHL.

    Edmonton's success in 2011 is making the organization relevant once again, but it'll be another two or three years before the Oilers can be considered Stanley Cup contenders.

    Edmonton's young players, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, still need to experience a few more things in the NHL to prepare, mentally and physically, for what it takes to be one of the NHL's elite teams.

    The Oilers are making noise, but it's a long season and inexperienced legs will tire sooner than later.

9. Minnesota Wild

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    The Minnesota Wild are looking like one of the best teams in the NHL, but the 2011-12 season is still very young.

    Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the main reason for Minnesota's success, averaging just over two goals allowed per game and stopping 93 percent of the shots he's faced.

    Minnesota's main problem is its inability to score goals.  The Wild average 2.3 goals per game.  The Wild can't rely on goaltending the entire season because anything can change over the course of a season, and that includes a goalie's success and confidence.

    The offseason acquisition of Dany Heatley was supposed to increase Minnesota's offensive production, but he's off to a slow start, tallying just 15 points through the team's first 25 games.

8. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings have the potential to be one of the elite teams in the NHL when you look at their young, talented roster, but they're nothing but a tease year after year.

    Goalie Jonathan Quick holds this team together.  He's allowed just over two goals per game, and he's stopped 93 percent of the shots he's faced.  The Kings have allowed a mere 2.2 goals per game, ranking in the NHL's top five.

    With the amount of play-makers LA has, including Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty to name a couple, you'd think the Kings would be able to average more than 2.3 goals per game, which ranks near the bottom of the league in that category.

    The potential is there for the Kings, but the results are still missing.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs can thank their forward Phil Kessel for all of their success thus far because he's currently leading the NHL in points.

    Toronto may score a plethora of goals, 3.2 per game, but they allow just as many in each game (3.1).

    It's going to be difficult for Kessel to remain this hot throughout the entire NHL season, unless of course he ends up being a Hart Trophy candidate at the end of the year.

    Another one of Toronto's problems is its penalty kill.  The Leafs kill just 77 percent of their short-handed situations, and that ranks near the bottom of the league.

    Toronto may be off to a hot start, but there's plenty for the Maple Leafs to polish up in order to be considered a Stanley Cup contender.

6. Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes' 2011-12 season is off to a fantastic start for an organization that's looking to move cities, but it's only a matter of time until the 'Yotes become irrelevant once again.

    Phoenix's roster contains a number of nice players, but it wouldn't be a complete shock if some of those players ended up being traded away prior to the NHL's trade deadline in February, including Kyle Turris and even team captain Shane Doan.

    Besides, it won't be long until Coyotes forward Raffi Torres screws things up for the entire team.

    Phoenix is looking good, but the organization is still a few years away from being taken seriously as Stanley Cup contenders.

5. St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues are one of the feistiest teams in the NHL, and they've had a nice amount of success in 2011.  St. Louis' backbone of the team is its goaltending, which has allowed a league-best two goals per game.

    The Blues have a handful of scorers on their roster, including Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, but scoring isn't the only measure of success in the NHL.

    St. Louis is ranked dead last on the power play, cashing in just over 8 percent of the time it has the man-advantage, and the Blues are ranked in the bottom half of the league in penalty kill, killing off just 81 percent of their short-handed situations.

    Just like Toronto, St. Louis has a number of things to work on before it can be considered serious contenders for the Stanley Cup.

4. Dallas Stars

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    The start of the Dallas Stars' 2011-12 season had been fairly solid until their starting goalie, Kari Lehtonen, went down with a groin injury at the end of November.

    Dallas' problem is that its goal differential is in the negative in 2011, and it's going to be pretty difficult staying relevant in the NHL if you can't score more goals than you allow.

3. Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals continue to disappoint year after year, and that trend has continued in the 2011-12 season.  Washington recently fired its head coach, Bruce Boudreau, and hired former team captain Dale Hunter.

    A new coach may be able to fix a few things for Washington, but the group of players the Capitals have obviously don't mesh well during the most crucial and trying times throughout the season.

    Even if Washington ends up being the Eastern Conference's top team, they still shouldn't be considered Stanley Cup contenders because of their tendency to choke in the playoffs.

2. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the top teams in the NHL for the past couple of seasons, but their success in the regular season has failed to transfer over into the playoffs.

    Vancouver came very close to a Stanley Cup championship in the 2010-11 season, but they lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Inconsistency has been a theme for the Canucks in the postseason, and now that theme is continuing in the 2011-12 season. 

    It's going to be difficult for the Canucks to hoist the Stanley Cup with their Olympic gold medal goalie, Roberto Luongo, sitting on the bench because of poor play.  Don't forget Luongo signed a $64 million contract extension that locked him up with the Canucks through the 2021-22 season.

1. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Despite the acquisitions the Columbus Blue Jackets made this past offseason, including Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Mark Dekanich, Radek Martinek and Vinny Prospal, they're still the worst team in the National Hockey League.

    Columbus had high expectations heading into the 2011-12 season, as it should have had considering the number of talented hockey players on its roster, but the team has lived up to none of the hype it received before the season began.

    The Blue Jackets are only taking steps backwards, and it's time to start re-evaluating the organization's needs and making the necessary moves to start heading in the right direction.