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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31925036 NHL teams take best shots at the Cup NHL+teams+take+best+shots+at+the+Cup NHL

The Chicago Blackhawks have won two of the last four Stanley Cups, a huge feat in this salary cap era. General manager Stan Bowman managed to keep the heart of his team together for still another run this season.

These guys hate to see the “D” word, but it keeps coming up around this team.

“I'm not really good at defining the word 'dynasty,'” Bowman said at the start of training camp. “We're striving to be a team that's competing for the Cup every year. We want to sustain this level of success not just for this season or next season, but for a number of seasons. Ultimately time will tell, but we're just getting started here.”

It is important to stay grounded in the NHL. About half the league has a reasonable shot at thwarting Chicago’s title defense. Here is how the top teams stack up . . .

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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31923990 Chicago Blackhawks Chicago+Blackhawks NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Patrick Kane: Reminder when Chicago fans tried to run him out of town because of his 'Animal House' antics off the ice? They don’t remember anymore — not after Kane (pictured) scored nine goals on 88 shots and added 10 assists in 23 playoff games last spring. He is the show now.

Player on the spot Corey Crawford: Two years ago he posted a dismal .893 playoff save percentage in six games as Chicago went home early. Last year he helped carry the Blackhawks to the Cup. So which goaltender is he?

Outlook: Coach Joel Quenneville has instilled tight team defense in the Windy City. That should help prevent another major relapse from Crawford and keep the Blackhawks atop the power rankings.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31924012 Los Angeles Kings Los+Angeles+Kings NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Jonathan Quick: He struggled for much of last season after returning from back surgery, but he was his usual brilliant self in the playoffs. His postseason save percentage (.940) has been far better than his regular season percentage (.915) over the past two seasons.

Player on the spot — Drew Doughty: His point production slid from 59 points to 40, 36 and 22 in 48 games last season. Doughty (pictured, No. 8) is getting paid like the top defenseman in the league. He needs to start playing like it.

Outlook: LA took massive injury hits on the blue line last season and still reached the Western Conference Finals. Young defensemen like Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin grew from that experience. The payoff could come this spring.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31922130 Boston Bruins Boston+Bruins NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Patrice Bergeron: His Braveheart performance in the Cup Final was one for the ages. He battled on with internal injuries while trying to will his team to victory. He ascended to the Boston Sports Pantheon, right next to Doug Flutie.

Player on the spot — Milan Lucic: After scoring 56 goals the previous two seasons, the big man scored just seven in 46 games last year. He redeemed himself in the playoffs (19 points in 22 games), but now the Bruins need him to be a go-to guy.

Outlook: Newcomers Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson are two of the most respected forwards in the game. Their arrival and the further development of defenseman Dougie Hamilton should propel this team.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31922131 St. Louis Blues St.+Louis+Blues NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Alex Pietrangelo: A whole season playing next to his new BFF Jay Bouwmeester on defense should make him a candidate for the Norris Trophy. His 118 points over the last three seasons ranks eighth among defensemen. He is capable of so much more, too.

Player on the spot — Jaroslav Halak: He went down during the playoffs two years ago. Last season he came up lame late in the regular season. Brian Elliott replaced him both times. Halak (pictured) is entering the "walk" year of his contract, so he spent this summer boosting his fitness level so that won’t happen again.

Outlook: The addition of playmaking center Derek Roy and former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow added additional skill and grit to an already formidable team. If this isn’t their year, will it ever come?


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31922134 Pittsburgh Penguins Pittsburgh+Penguins NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Sidney Crosby: He is the face of the NHL when healthy. Crosby (pictured) averaged 1.26 points per game or better in each of his first eight seasons — and he plays with an edge.

Player on the spot — Marc-Andre Fleury: He has been consistently good in the regular season. But his playoff save percentage since 2009 is sub-.900, including .834 two years ago and .883 in five games last spring. Yeech!

Outlook: Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz . . . this team has the weapons to win it all, assuming Fleury pulls himself together for the meaningful games.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31924959 Detroit Red Wings Detroit+Red+Wings NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Pavel Datsyuk: Since 2005-2006, he has scored 613 points in 570 games. Week after week, year after year Datsyuk (pictured) plays at the same brilliant level at both ends of the ice.

Player on the spot — Jimmy Howard: He has been rock steady the last two regular seasons, producing consistent ratios: 2.13 and .920 two years ago and 2.13 and .923 last season. But can he steal this perennial Cup contender some games come playoff time?

Outlook: The Wings should be just fine with their move to the Eastern Conference. They will spend less time in charter jets and more time on the ice the working on stuff.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31922132 Vancouver Canucks Vancouver+Canucks NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Sedin Twins, Daniel and Henrik: Their production has waned as they slipped into their twilight years. Now they have hard-driving coach John Tortorella barking at them. The league can’t wait to see how this turns out.

Player on the spot — Roberto Luongo: He hasn’t started more than 60 games since 2009-10. He fell into a time share with Cory Schneider. He expected the Canucks to move him. Surprise! He is still in Vancouver and expected to carry the workload.

Outlook: They were steaming toward the 2011 Stanley Cup. They won the first two games of the Final. And the bottom fell out against the Bruins. The Canucks have lost 10 of their last 12 playoff games, which is why Tortorella replaced Alain Vigneault as coach.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31923991 San Jose Sharks San+Jose+Sharks NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Joe Thornton: Jumbo Joe seldom actually looks to score goals, but his 141 assists the last three years ranks fourth in the NHL. He remains an offensive catalyst and matchup nightmare.

Player on the spot — Patrick Marleau: His point production dipped from 83 points to 73, 64 and then just 31 points in 48 games last season. But Marleau (pictured) scored five times in 11 playoff games, reminding us he could still be a difference maker next spring.

Outlook: Steady goaltender Antti Niemi and a solid two-line offense ought to earn the Sharks a high playoff seed. They been able to play with the elite teams out West, but perhaps this season they will actually fight through the bracket.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31922135 New York Rangers New+York+Rangers NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Henrik Lundqvist: Since 2010-11, King Henrik has the best goals-against average (2.11) among regular goaltenders, the best even-strength save percentage (.932) and the most shutouts (21).

Player on the spot — Brad Richards: Playing for Tortorella last season was no fun for him. Richards (pictured) fell into a checking line role, then fell out of the lineup completely during the playoffs. Oddly, the Rangers didn’t use a compliance buyout to ditch his contract. Now Vigneault, who swapped jobs with Tortorella, is trying to revive him.

Outlook: Assuming captain Ryan Callahan (shoulder surgery) and top center Derek Stepan (unsigned in camp) don’t miss too much time, this should be a high-seed team.


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NHL 142 43 Top 10 contenders for Stanley Cup 31924960 Ottawa Senators Ottawa+Senators NHL

Franchise cornerstone — Erik Karlsson: He has been the league’s most explosive offensive defenseman the last two seasons, scoring 92 points in 98 games.

Player on the spot — Craig Anderson: He led the league in save percentage (.941) and GAA (1.69) in 24 games. Anderson (pictured) starred in the first round of the playoffs by stopping 171 of 180 shots (.950 save percentage). If he keeps that up, the Senators could play for the Cup.

Outlook: Ottawa persevered through a series of major injuries last season, including the loss of Karlsson to a slashed Achilles tendon. Now they are healthy and stronger with the addition of Bobby Ryan in Daniel Alfredsson’s old spot.


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