NHL: Who Will Win The Stanley Cup?

THE LEAD BIRD: Crosby and company are the favourites to hoist the Stanley Cup this season

BY JEFF ANGUS

Which NHL team will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2012-13? Do the Los Angeles Kings have the right ingredients for a repeat? Does a healthy Sidney Crosby lead the Penguins all the way? Do the Canucks finally break through? How about the New York Rangers – is star winger Rick Nash the missing ingredient?

THE FAVOURITES
New York Rangers (+850 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
The Rangers are absolutely stacked at forward, they boast a solid defensive group, and Henrik Lundqvist is far and away the best goaltender in hockey.

WHY NOT?
How will Rick Nash handle the spotlight of playing in New York for a Cup contender? Can Marian Gaborik stay healthy? Will one puck be enough to go around with all of the talent that the Rangers will have on the ice?

Pittsburgh Penguins (+575 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
The Penguins have the two best hockey players in the planet on their roster. They have a deep defensive group. And they have a great mix of grit and skill throughout the roster.

WHY NOT?
Like it or not, Sidney Crosby will be considered a health risk for the foreseeable future. Also, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury imploded last year in the postseason. If he does that again, can the Penguins count on Tomas Vokoun to lead them all the way to the Cup? Will the team be able to cope with the loss of Jordan Staal, who handled all of the tough even strength matchup assignments?

Los Angeles Kings (+1200 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
The Kings are returning the exact same roster that dominated the NHL en route to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011-12. Their core pieces are all young and locked up for the long term.

WHY NOT?
The Kings may be lacking a bit in motivation after winning it all last year. Starting goaltender Jonathan Quick underwent off-season back surgery, and he may need some time to get going. Top line center Anze Kopitar is expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury sustained over in Europe during the lockout. Pacific Division foes from Dallas and San Jose should be better in 2012-13.

Vancouver Canucks (+900 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
The Canucks play in arguably the weakest division in the NHL. They have talent and experience at forward, defense, and in goal. Ryan Kesler used the lockout to fully recover from multiple surgeries last summer. When Kesler is at his best, the Canucks are a really difficult team to match up against.

WHY NOT?
Kesler will be rusty to start the season. As the Canucks showed last year down the stretch, they become a one line team when he isn’t at 100%. Wingers David Booth and Mason Raymond need to prove they belong in the top six, with our without Kesler. Defenseman Alex Edler needs to take the next step to stardom if he wants the club to reward him with a lucrative long term extension. Divisional foes from Minnesota and Edmonton will be better this year, and Colorado could make some noise if they find a way to re-sign center Ryan O’Reilly. Sorry Calgary, you don’t offer much competition right now.

Boston Bruins (+1000 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
Boston has kept most of the core pieces together from the 2010-11 Stanley Cup winning squad. Tuukka Rask is ready to emerge as a star NHL goaltender, and Zdeno Chara is one of the most dominant players in the league. Forward Tyler Seguin is ready to take the next step offensively, and the Bruins are capable of wearing teams down with both their size and skill.

WHY NOT?
Rask has also been susceptible to injury during his NHL career, and the Bruins don’t have much in the way of a contingency plan if he gets hurt.

THE SLEEPERS
Washington Capitals (+3400 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
Washington’s offensive stars have to be salivating at the thought of playing under new head coach Adam Oates, who was one of the best playmakers in the game during his playing career. The Capitals are confident in both of their young goaltenders (Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth), and they upgraded their second line center spot, a roster hole that has been an issue for a few years now, with the acquisition of Mike Ribeiro from Dallas.

WHY NOT?
Star center Nick Backstrom sustained a neck injury in KHL play a few weeks ago, and although he says he will be ready for opening night, it may hamper his performance out of the gate. Talent isn’t the issue with Washington – will the Capitals be able to come together very quickly after so many coaching and systemic changes over the past three years?

Phoenix Coyotes (+4900 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
The league owns them, and nothing sells better than a winning product! Kidding aside, the Coyotes have a good team (just like last year). They also have a fantastic coach behind the bench in Dave Tippett. Phoenix is a long-shot to win the Cup as they don’t have any sort of fire power up front (although that could change with a potential Keith Yandle trade), but they have an impressive collection of talent on the blue line, and goaltender Mike Smith was unbeatable at times last season.

WHY NOT?
The Coyotes won’t be able to outgun many of their competitors in the Western Conference. They also need Smith, a relatively unproven goaltender, to repeat his impressive performance from 2011-12 to have any chance at postseason success this year.

Columbus Blue Jackets (+14900 to Win the Stanley Cup)
WHY?
To quote Kevin Malone from NBC’s The Office, “If anyone gives you 10,000-to-one on anything, you take it.”

The Blue Jackets are actually 150-to-one to win the Cup, but the point remains the same – those are really good odds for a league with only 30 teams (and 16 of them in the postseason). Columbus has a pretty decent hockey team this season, all things considered.

WHY NOT?
Logic rears its ugly head here, unfortunately. Columbus simply isn’t good enough to win right now.