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Ladies and gentlemen, the favorites to hoist the Cup…

Thanks to Ryan Porth’s recent post over at Red Light District, I started thinking about who my favorites are to win the 2010 Stanley Cup. The surprising thing? Once I got past the top three, I had a hard time rounding out the field.

“When confused, blog it out” I always say. So here are my rankings of the teams most likely to hoist Lord Stanley come June.

— NUMBER 1 —
WHY THEY COULD: Have you seen their roster? It’s ridiculous. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin need absolutely no introduction. They’re all-world players who would each be the leading scorer on just about any NHL team. Each one of their top seven scorers have at least 50 points and the Capitals, as a team, have scored 47 more goals than the team withthe second most. Their epic battle withthe eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round last year was one for the ages andyou have to believe that their paths will cross again. Probably in the second round once again in a little deju vu except with a different outcome. Also, no roster since the Penguins of the early 1990’s has been as loaded as the Capitals. They are in a rare spot of having the talent to overcome poor goaltending or even poor defense any night of the week and twice on Sundays. Even if they don’t capture the Cup, it’s sure to be show.
WHY THEY WON’T: Jose Theodore may not have lost a game in regulation since January 12, but he also hasn’t done anything respectable in the playoffs since 2002. He’s a major wild card in the post season and the Caps faithful need to count their blessings that they have a guy like Semyon Varlamov to back him up in case he folds under pressure yet again. Overall, there’s very little to complain about but the one complaint is pretty a big one.

— NUMBER 2 —
WHY THEY COULD: Never count out Martin Brodeur. Oh yeah, and they’ve got these guys named Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. The Devils, never known as much of a scoring monster, addressed their single biggest need by going out and getting Kovalchuk just before the Olympic Break. All he’s done since coming over from Atlanta is score at a point per game clip. It doesn’t appear that’ll slow down once the post season starts. Another good sign for New Jersey? Kovy, a career minus player, has a plus-7 rating since donning a Devils sweater. Whew… what is this world coming to? Bottom line is with the best goalie of all-time in goal, one of the most prolific scorers of the past decade up front and a solid, no non-sense defensive corps, the Devils are the real deal.
WHY THEY WON’T: Kovalchuk (i.e. half their offense) has never played for a team with a prayer of winning anything. Oh, sure, he was on the Thrashers that one time they got to the playoffs but he only produced two points in the series. So, until he can prove otherwise, the question remains: Can Kovy be a pressure performer?

— NUMBER 3 —
WHY THEY COULD: As the greatest leader sports has ever known Mark Messier used to say: “You have to learn how to win before you can win.” I believe the Sharks did that last year. Plus, on paper, they’re stacked. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov… do I need to keep going? Cause I can.
WHY THEY WON’T: This team has drastically underachieved since 2003-04 when they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Calgary Flames. Despite four straight seasons with at least 99 points (including three straight with more than 107), the Sharks haven’t gotten past the 2nd round. Last year, rookie head coach Todd McLellanwas given a mulligan of sorts after the President Trophy winning Sharks bowed out after only one round of playoff action. Expect a complete organizational revamp if the same happens this year because this team is good enough to win the whole thing.

— NUMBER 4 —
WHY THEY COULD: Henrik Sedin just might win the Art Ross Trophy for most points scored in the NHL and, if his brother Daniel hadn’t missed 19 games, he might be competing for the award as well. Then there’s Roberto Luongo who answered any and all questions as to whether or not he can play in clutch situations when he led Team Canada to a gold medal in this years Olympics. And I haven’t even mentioned Alex Burrows yet. Oh wait… just did.
WHY THEY WON’T: Luongo might be a bit tired after carrying the workload most of the season for the Canucks anddue to playing in the Olympics (don’t forget, Canada had to play an extra game because they lost in the preliminary round to the United States). He hasn’t won back-to-back games since March 13 and 14. Additionally, since their Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1994 against the New York Rangers, the Canuckshave yet to visit the 3rd round. Without the tradition of winning, it’s going to be tough for this team to overcome any adversity like Luongo playing poorly or an injury to a major player.

— NUMBER 5 —
WHY THEY COULD: Speaking of the “tradition of winning,” the Red Wings have just that. They’ve been to the Finals each of the past two season and have four Stanley Cup victories in the last decade and a half. Gone are the days of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios but they still have key pieces to a championship puzzle like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and rookie netminder Jimmy Howard. Plus, this is probably Nicklas Lidstrom‘s swan song and, even more than themselves, they’ll want to win one last Cup for their captain.
WHY THEY WON’T: Howard has never been tested like he will be in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoffs. Three time Cup winner, 396 game winner and all-around seasoned veteran Chris Osgood is there to back him up if he falters but, let’s be honest, he’s well past his prime. Osgood might be able to win a round or two with the scoring depth and solid defense in front of him but I’m not so sure he’s got a long playoff grind in him anymore. Basically, when your biggest concern is your back-up goalie, you’re in a pretty good spot.

— NUMBER 6 —
WHY THEY COULD: They’re goal differential is HUGE! They’ve scored – count ’em – 56 more goals than they’ve allowed. Plus, young leaders Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith gained valuable experience with their run to the Western Conference Finals last year and, obviously, their respective runs to the Gold Medal Game in the Olympics this past February. With their young nucleus and solid veterans like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks have the makings of a favorite on paper. The question is, are they a favorite next season or this season?
WHY THEY WON’T: Is Antti Niemi the answer in goal for Chicago? He has been lately but he’s completely unproven in the post season. Honestly, Chicago becomes a favorite for the Cup if their goaltending becomes consistent. If they continue to be on-again/off-again between the pipes, however, their opponents will eat them alive no matter how many goals Kane, Toews and company score. And that’s not to mention puck-moving blueliner and power play quarterback Brian Campbell is out until at least the Western Conference Finals.

— NUMBER 7 —
WHY THEY COULD: They were last year’s Stanley Cup winners and the previous year’s runner-ups. Experience like that is invaluable. Especially considering the roster has only been rounded out (i.e. no major players coming or going) over that time. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin need no introduction and forwards like Jordan Staal, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin provide depth scoring if the other two phenoms are having an off day. Sergei Gonchar is averaging better than a point per every-other-game from the blueline and has 27 of his 46 points on the power play. Then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury. His goals against average this season is on par with his previous four years and, despite being a member of gold medal winning Team Canada in the Olympics, he didn’t see any action so he should be well rested.
WHY THEY WON’T: His goals against average may be hovering around normal but his save percentage is waydown. Fleury has posted a .921 and .912 save% in each of the past two years, respectively. This season, however, he’s barely above .900 which is very VERY average for an NHL netminder. Furthermore, he only has one shutout this season whereas he had at least four in each of his previous three campaigns. Make no mistake, this is not the early 90’s Penguins where they could give up six goals a game and still win. This is the new NHL and goals are a lot harder to come by. When you have guys like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens and John Cullen, a six goal deficit isn’t impossible to overcome. (Heck, Rob Brown had 115 points once for Pete’s sake!) Is this 2010 Pens team able to explode offensively? Absolutely. But they won’t be able to overcome an offensive onslaught like the early 90’s Pens teams were able to.

— NUMBER 8 —
WHY THEY COULD: Ryan Miller became a household name in Febraury when he stood on his head to lead the Americans to a silver medal at the Olympics. Tim Connolly is finally (and we do mean finally) healthy and is leading the Sabres in points while Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek continue to supply Buffalo with goal scoring. They have a well balanced attack with three lines that can chip in on the score sheet at any given time and they boast the best penalty kill in the league, both of which will be huge during the post season. And if all that wasn’t enough, rookie defenseman Tyler Myers, who’s a candidate for the Calder Trophy, has big game experience having won the WHL Championship and then playing in the Memorial Cup tournament last season in junior. Plus, let’s face it, the city of Buffalo is due. They were the victim of the Stanley Cup winning no-goal against Dallas in 1999, the Music City Miracle in 2000 and even a puck that was actually scored through the net just a few months later, propelling the Philadelphia Flyers to a series win. One day, the blue collar city in upstate New York will be able to crown a champion. Is this the year it finally happens?
WHY THEY WON’T: Yes, they’ve been to the Eastern Conference Finals in both of their last two trips to the post season, but those were their only two playoff appearances in the past seven years. Additionally, the Sabres haven’t been in the post season dance since 2006-07 so this team really doesn’t know how to win. Lindy Ruff may be a great coach and get the most out of his players in the small market Buffalo, NY market, but unless Miller plays as well as he did in Vancouver (i.e. puts his team on his back at times), only a favorable match-up gets the Sabres past round one.

— NUMBER 9 —
WHY THEY COULD: As much as I rip on the Predators for being inconsistent and as much as I blast the national media for giving too much credit to Head Coach Barry Trotz and not enough respect to the players on the roster, Nashville could be poised for a deep playoff run. (I can’t believe I just said that). They take the least amount of penalties in the league (averaging just 8.8 minutes/game) so they have the discipline to stay out of the box. Their goaltending situation is finally solved with the emergence of Pekka Rinne. They sport the best blueline in the league with Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Francis Bouillon, Cody Franson and, when healthy, Denis Grebeshkov. Even Kevin Klein can be serviceable if an injury occurs to one of the big six. They even have the definition of “a well-balanced attack” with 10 players having tallied 30 points or more, tied for most in the NHL. They have the tools to surprise a lot of people. It’s up to the coaching staff to do what they failed to do in their past four playoff appearances: make the necessary adjustments that propel this team into the 2nd round.
WHY THEY WON’T: Where do I start? 1) Before the Olympic break it was easier to predict an earthquake than it was to predict which Predators team was going to show up on any given night. If they return to the inconsistency, they’re dead in the water before the puck is even dropped. 2) Nashville doesn’t really have a go-to guy when times get tough. Yes, they have the surprise of the season in 30-goal scorer Patric Hornqvist, but he doesn’t exactly fit the bill. Most teams have one guy who they can look to when the rest of the team can’t seem to find the score sheet. The Preds, do not. 3) Mr. Pass-instead-of-shoot, JP Dumont. Dumont is on pace for his worst statistical season since 2004-05 when he was with Buffalo. He’s totalled at least 65 points in each of his first three seasons in a Preds sweater. This year he doesn’t even have 45. If Dumont wants to have the impact he should have for his team in the post season, he’ll need to be a little more greedy. You can’t score if you don’t shoot and Dumont is the epitome of that rule. 4) History. The Predators have never won a road playoff game in their franchise history. That will have to change if this team wants to advance. Literally.

— NUMBER 10 —
WHY THEY COULD: Ilya Bryzgalov is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender and rightfully so. Not only that, but his performance in the playoffs with the Anaheim Ducks is something that should have the Coyotes fanbase salivating. He burst onto the scene in his rookie year back in 2006 when he led the Ducks to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Edmonton Oilers. The next season, amidst a goaltendingcontroversy, he allowed only four Minnesota Wild goals while winning the first three games of the opening round series. After finally having a poor performance in game four, Mike Babcock elected to start Jean-Sebastien Giguere the rest of the way. It’s no secret a hot goaltender can carry you a long way in the playoffs. If Bryzgalov continues his hot play, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman might be handing himself the Stanley Cup in early June.
WHY THEY WON’T: They won’t be able to rely on their best friend because there are no shootouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Phoenix has won 13 – that’s right THIRTEEN – games via “the gimmick” this season and only five in the actual overtime session. In the playoffs, it’s just endless overtime until someone scores and the numbers certainly suggest the Coyotes won’t hold up. Aside from that, one has to wonder how Bryzgalov’s workload will factor in. He’s never played this many games (67) and this many minutes (3,960) in any one season and now he’ll have to play in plenty of hard fought games and minutes in the post season. Phoenix needs to hope he doesn’t hit a wall because, if he does, their season is over.

— NUMBER 11 —
WHY THEY COULD: The Kings have plenty of talent to go around. Anze Kopitar is one of the most amazing players in the NHL, you just never hear of him because he plays on the West Coast. Drew Doughty is only a sophomore in this league but he’s fourth in scoring among defensemen (56 points). Alexander Frolov has posted a career low 50 points but has the talent to break out at any time. Dustin Brown was a standout for Team USA in Vancouver this past February and is a force to be reckoned with. Even Wayne Simmonds is worthy of note as he has surprised just about everybody by nearly doubling his production from last season. The talent on this club is incredible and can do some serious damage to unconfident goaltenders (I’m thinking of you Chicago!).
WHY THEY WON’T: They’re a young team with zero playoff experience. Every one of the players mentioned above have yet to play a single game in the NHL playoffs. And, of their top 10 scorers, only Jarret Stoll, Michal Handzus and Ryan Smyth have seen any significant post season action. And, quite frankly, that’s not enough to carry a team. Especially when Stoll has only had one season of post season play, even if it was a Finals run. Bottom line, they’re just too young andinexperienced to make noise. Can they pull an upset in the first round? Oh yeah. Good goaltending and their scoring talent can steal a few games for them. Will they though? Probably not. Next year though…

— NUMBER 12 —
WHY THEY COULD: Goaltender Brian Elliott is on fire! He’s gone 6-1-0 in his last seven, had two shutouts in the month of March and allowed only one goal in two others. Elliott gives the Senators a chance to win every game and having confidence in your goalie can get you pretty far in pursuit of Lord Stanley. As far as leadership goes, Daniel Alfredsson has been there, done that, leading Ottawa to 11 straight playoff appearances before last year’s hiatus. And speaking of players on fire, the Ottawa captain certainly is. Alfredsson registered at least a point in every game he played in in March except for two, putting together a 3-game streak and an 8-game streak, respectively. Oh, and in those 11 games he scored 19 points. He has proven that, when he needs to, he can carry his team on his back this season. Having a leader like that in the post season is priceless.
WHY THEY WON’T: Look at the standings. If the Sens were in the West, they’d be fighting it out with Colorado for the 8th and final spot as we speak. The fact that that’s good enough for 5th place in the East is not only a joke, it tells you everything you need to know about whether or not Ottawa can make a run at the Cup. They don’t have any scoring depth at all, having only six players with more than 30 points. Yes, they have four 20+ goal scorers but seven of their top 11 point getters don’t have a positive plus/minus-rating, suggesting they’re not a threat to score and defend at the same time. Furthermore, through April 6, they’re one of only two playoff-bound teams with a negative goal differential. They’ve scored 220 goals this year but given up 229. That 229, by the way, is the most goals allowed by any team currently in the field of 16. Also, they’re a dominate team at home, going 26-10-4 on the season. Too bad they won’t have home ice advantage at any point.

— NUMBER 13 —
WHY THEY COULD: Jaroslav Halak, plain and simple. Halak has been lights out since February 1st, constructing a 12-4-2 record in his last 18 games. His two shutouts already in the month of April have him poised and confident for the post season and that can only be a good thing for the Habs. His impressive .927 save% this season is good for third best in the NHL andhis 2.32 goals-against average is good for eighth best. Even if Halak falters under the pressure of the playoffs, there’s a guy named Carey Pricewho can come in and play admirably. Price was the story of the 2008 playoffs for the Canadiens, pitching two shutouts in their opening round series win over the Boston Bruins.
WHY THEY WON’T: Everything else. They’re the other team getting into the playoffs who’s allowed more goals than they’ve scored. Brian Gionta, who was brought into create offense last summer, has only tallied 43 points, no where near his 61 point average in New Jersey the last four years. Mike Cammalleri, who was also brought in over the summer to recreate the 80 point seasons he had in Los Angeles and Calgary, has fallen short as well. He’s only scored 50 points in a Habs sweater. So while Tomas Plekanec has been a nice surprise (going from 39 points last season to a team leading 70 this season), the rest of the club has failed to live up to expectations and just flat out failed to score goals. Not a single playoff bound team in the Western Conference has scored less goals than Montreal and only two in the East have (Boston and New Jersey). The Habs will almost certainly extend their franchise record for longest drought between Stanley Cup Banners.

— NUMBER 14 —
WHY THEY COULDTuukka Rask and Tim Thomas, on paper, are very capable goaltenders and can steal a win for Boston on any given night. Rask’s 1.99 GAA is the best in the league and Thomas, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, only has a 16-18-8 record because the team in front of him can’t seem to score. After parting ways with scoring phenom Phil Kessel last September, everyone wondered if the Bruins could still manage to be a threat. Well they have managed to be a threat, but only thanks to the unbelievable goaltending. If any combination of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron can find the back of the net in each game, with Zdeno Chara and the goaltending behind them, the Bruins could go far.
WHY THEY WON’T: Offense. With less than 200 goals on the season, the Bruins will have the worst offensive production of any club making the 16-team tournament. Heck, through April 6, they have the worst offensive production of any club in the NHL, and the only team with less than 200 goals scored. So even though defense wins championships, you have to score to win games and there’s just not enough scoring on the B’s to translate into a deep post season run. Flat out, they’re just not a threat to score. They only have one 20-goal scorer on their roster and that’s the Winter Classic hero Marco Sturm. And, of playoff bound teams, only Ottawa, Nashville and Phoenix have a worse power play conversion rate than the Bruins do. Without being able to score on the man advantage, when you can’t score otherwise, spells doom. And Boston, unfortunately for Rask who is one of the stories of the year in the NHL, is doomed.

— NUMBER 15 —
WHY THEY COULD: Lots of young talent. Listen to these names: Paul Stastny. Matt Duchene. Chris Stewart. Even Ryan O’Reilly who started the season red hot. All for of those guys are under the age of 25 and the first three are the Avs top scorers. Throw young-in-NHL-career-not-in-age goaltender Craig Anderson into the mix and the city of Denver has themselves quite a nucleus of guys who can do some damage. Additionally, Colorado has only lost six games all year when leading after the first period which bodes well for them if they can score first come playoff time. Really, there are enough pieces there to make a solid run.
WHY THEY WON’T: Lots of young talent. While talent can get you far, it can also get you to fold in clutch situations due to lack of experience. Case in point, in the month of March they went 6-8-1. Even their two wins in April were each one goal wins proving one of two things: they’re either barely eeking out victories or they’re finding a way to win close games. In the post season, they’d better hope it’s the latter. A good team, like the one they’ll face in the first round, will know how to put those close games away. For the Avs to prove they belong among the Western Confernce elite, like they did at the beginning of the season, they’ll have to find themselves on the winning side of those close contests.

— NUMBER 16 —
WHY THEY COULD: Honestly, I can’t find a whole lot of good things about this Flyers team as they’re kind of backing into the playoffs since their top two netminders went down with injuries. The Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers couldn’t overcome their weaknesses down the stretch and thus basically handed the Flyers the 8th spot by default. That being said, they do have 10 players with over 30 points, tied for most in the NHL with Nashville. So, based on the numbers anyway, they can score from anywhere at anytime on any given line and that can be dangerous if their opponent comes in cocky and over-confident. Daniel Briere seems to have revitalized his career this season, rookie James Van Riemsdyk is a star waiting to happen and Jeff Carter should be in the lineup come playoff time after sitting out since March 21 with an injured foot. They have the scoring depth at forward and they have an offensive minded defensive corps that has the potential to propel them deep into the playoffs… if they’re firing on all cylinders.
WHY THEY WON’T: Goaltending, goaltending and more goaltending. Ray Emery went down. Then Michael Leighton went down. Now they’re left with Brian Boucher who can be a solid goaltender if you’re in a pinch… but not as a long term solution. Boucher is 8-17-3 this season, including the 4-5-1 record he’s posted since becoming the starter. The Flyers will need to ride Boucher through the post season and that’s just not going to work out well for them. He hasn’t played more than two minutes of playoff action since 2002 and hasn’t even been a starter in the NHL since 2004 with the Coyotes. It’s been the same story in Philadelphia since Bernie Parent left in the mid-70’s: they have no goaltending. Since then, even noteable netminders like Ron Hextall and… well… Ron Hextall haven’t been able to bring a Cup to the city of brotherly love. And, unfortunately for them, that will continue.