Looking ahead: 10 teams that could lift Lord Stanley in 2015
With the Los Angeles Kings having wrapped up their second Stanley Cup in three years, here is an early look at the top 10 teams with a chance of claiming the Cup in 2015. -- John Manasso
Getty ImagesHarry How
10. Minnesota Wild
The Wild advanced beyond the first round for only the second time in franchise history, but their goaltending is a huge question mark. Josh Harding, who has multiple sclerosis, was one of the league's top goalies but didn’t play again after Dec. 31. Darcy Kuemper, 24, remains relatively unproven. Defenseman Ryan Suter and left wing Zach Parise (pictured) and a bevy of talented young players like Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula will be around. With Dany Heatley's $7.5 million cap figure set to come off the books, the Wild might be able to plug a number of holes, especially in net.
Getty ImagesHannah Foslien
9. Montreal Canadiens
Goalie Carey Price has shown he is about as good as any. Defenseman P.K. Subban (pictured) also proved himself a top playoff performer, but ran out of gas. Max Pacioretty had 39 goals in the regular season but slowed down in the postseason. Two of their top 10 forwards (captain Brian Gionta and Daniel Briere) and their No. 2 defenseman (Andrei Markov) are 35 or older. The Canadiens also could use an infusion of size. Brian Gionta (5-foot-7), Brendan Gallagher (5-9), David Desharnais (5-7) and Briere (5-9) give them what is probably the smallest forward corps in the league. A major question is whether the Habs will re-sign wing Thomas Vanek, their major trade deadline acquisition.
NHLI via Getty ImagesFrancois Lacasse
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have two of the best players in the game in Sidney Crosby (pictured) and Evgeni Malkin but have so many other issues surrounding them. For one, they don't have a coach yet since firing Dan Byslma. With the criteria set by new general manager Jim Rutherford it's hard to pin down the next one. The goaltending also is a problem, even though Marc-Andre Fleury won the Penguins the Cup in 2009. Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller are possibilities. If Rutherford can figure out those problems -- big ifs -- then the Penguins are likely to shoot up this list.
7. New York Rangers
Since they just made only their second appearance in the Cup Final in the past 20 years, it's going out on a bit of a limb. Henrik Lundqvist proved he is one of the league's great big-game goalies. The Rangers have a strong young cast led by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, center Derek Stepan and wingers Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin. With new funds available from a potential buyout of the underperforming Brad Richards, could they re-sign former captain Ryan Callahan, whom the Rangers traded to Tampa Bay for Martin St. Louis?
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY SportsEd Mulholland
6. St. Louis Blues
The Blues own the curse of having been one of the league's top regular-season teams for the past few seasons but postseason underachievers, especially with one of the top defense corps in the league led by Canadian Olympians Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester and an elite goaltender in Ryan Miller, who is a free agent and appears unlikely to re-sign. With the new playoff format, the Blues are going to have to figure out a way to get past the likes of Chicago, Colorado and Minnesota within their division – no easy task. In the past three years, the Blues have made it past the first round only once.
NHLI via Getty ImagesMark Buckner
5. Colorado Avalanche
With forwards like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene all under 23, the Avs might be the league's youngest and most exciting team. The Avs are poised to make a quantum leap in next year's playoffs. Semyon Varlamov, a Vezina Trophy finalist, has shown he ranks among the game's elite and Patrick Roy has demonstrated that his coaching acumen transcends the junior level. The Avs will need to retain the services of Paul Stastny, perhaps the top center available on the free-agent market, and upgrade their defense. If they can, they should be in the mix.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
4. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks were the top regular-season team in the Western Conference led by captain Ryan Getzlaf, who is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. Getzlaf and linemate Corey Perry are 29 and still will form one of the league's most dangerous combinations. Gone will be one of hockey's all-time great goal-scorers and ambassadors in Teemu Selanne but, at 43, he was slowing down anyway. Free-agent goalie Jonas Hiller also is likely to move on but the Ducks might even have an upgrade in Frederik Andersen, an NHL rookie this past season, who was 20-5, and 20-year-old phenom John Gibson.
3. Boston Bruins
The Bruins were the favorite to win the Cup when the playoffs began but hurt themselves against Montreal with silly antics by the likes of enforcer Shawn Thornton (water-bottle-squirting) and shift-disturber Brad Marchand (snowing the opposing goalie). GM Peter Chiarelli has made it sound as if both players will be gone. But 560-goal-scorer Jarome Iginla will be 37 next season, and as good as the Bruins are with players like Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic in their prime, their window for championships might be closing.
Getty ImagesFrancois Laplante/FreestylePhoto
2. Chicago Blackhawks
GM Stan Bowman said he will pay center Jonathan Toews (left) and Patrick Kane. That removes any uncertainty for the two stars, both of whom are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in July 2015. The Blackhawks and the Kings are starting to look like the '80s version of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, when each would trade off winning the championship – except they're both in the same conference.
NHLI via Getty ImagesBill Smith
1. Los Angeles Kings
Almost all of their best players are in their prime. Defenseman Drew Doughty, arguably the best in the league, is 24. Goaltender Jonathan Quick, who has now won the Stanley Cup twice, is 28. Top center Anze Kopitar is 26. Dustin Brown (29), Jeff Carter (29), Dwight King (24), Trevor Lewis (27), Jordan Nolan (24), Tanner Pearson (21), Tyler Toffoli (22), Alec Martinez (26), Jake Muzzin (25) and Slava Voynov (24) also remain. One key difference for next season could be center Mike Richards, who has six years and $26 million left on his contract, and might be gone.