2014-15 Stanley Cup Odds and Predictions: Favorites, Dark Horses and Sleepers: The 2014 NHL season is less than a month away, and if last season taught us anything, it is that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to predicting the eventual Stanley Cup winner. After all, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins appeared to be a collision course for a rematch in the finals, but it was the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers that won their respective conferences, and it was the Kings hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the teams that seem to be best equipped to win the 2014-15 Stanley Cup heading into the NHL regular season.
The 2012-13 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks came within a win of defending their title last season, and a ton of talented players are back from a team that reached the Western Conference finals last year. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa are among the returning offensive stars for an attack that scored the second-most goals in the NHL a year ago, and veteran Brad Richards was added to the mix in the offseason. Duncan Keith is one of the best in the business on the blue line, and while goalie Corey Crawford isn’t a star in net, he is steady. Chicago’s depth and offensive firepower should have them in contention for a third title in six years.
A potential dynasty could be in the making as the Los Angeles Kings return all the key cogs from last year’s title-winning team. More importantly, the Kings have a core of players that have led the team to championships in two of the last three seasons. Defense is the calling card of the Kings, and goalie Jonathan Quick and defenseman Drew Doughty are the stars of a group that allowed the fewest points in the NHL last year. The offense isn’t explosive, but Anze Kopitar is a steady force, and the emergence of youngster Tyler Toffoli and late-season acquisition of Marian Gaborik took the attack to another level in the playoffs and should continue to bolster the unit this year.
In terms of overall balance, few teams can match what the Boston Bruins bring to the table. Last year, they ranked third in the NHL in scoring and allowed the second-fewest goals of any team. Defending Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask headlines the defense, and the Bruins still have the incredible depth on offense that has allowed them to reach the Stanley Cup Finals twice in the last four years. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are the closest thing to stars for Boston’s attack, but the Bruins can score with all four lines, and the pieces are in place for another title run.
The Dark Horses
Last season, no team in the NFL scored more than the Anaheim Ducks, and with a combination of proven veterans and rising young players lining their roster, this team figures to be a force once again in 2014-15. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are the headliners, but Matt Beleskey and Andrew Cogliano became steady contributors last year, as well. Meanwhile, the defensive tandem of Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm gives the Ducks one of the best young duos in the league. If goalie Frederik Andersen can match his numbers from a year ago when he went 20-5 in net, Anaheim could be tough to handle.
When it comes to star power, few teams can match the lineup the Pittsburgh Penguins put on the ice. Led by defending Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby and another former MVP Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins finished last year ranked fifth in the NHL in scoring and first in power play percentage. Although Pittsburgh is blessed with an array of talented weapons, injuries have plagued this team in recent years, especially on the blue line where Kris Letang and Paul Martin just can’t seem to stay healthy. That being said, this is a championship-caliber team if Crosby and company can stay close to full strength.
The St. Louis Blues were expected to have a stellar defense last season, and they didn’t disappoint as they allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL. However, their offense was also a surprising force, scoring the sixth-most goals, and the Blues finished with the third-most points in the Western Conference. This season, the Blues will try to parlay that balance into a run at the Stanley Cup, and while Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk will head the defense, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie will lead the offense. Armed with a stellar defense and burgeoning offense, the Blues should only build on last year’s success.
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