These factors are like weights that hang around a defending champion’s collective neck. And they usually become too heavy not during the regular season, but instead in the playoffs.
Simply put, I don’t see the Penguins winning a second straight Stanley Cup.
It’s been 24 years since a team made three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals. That was Edmonton, from 1983-85. The Oilers did so in the era of dynasties while the Penguins and the Red Wings will by trying to do so in the era of parity, so they face a tougher task than did Edmonton.
There’s a lot still to play out in free agency, but my early-line pick to win it all is the Capitals. Let’s look at them, and some other teams that should challenge the Penguins for NHL supremacy.
The track the Capitals are on is similar to the one taken by the champion Penguins. Washington, however, is maybe a year behind the Penguins’ progression so next season could be something very special for the Capitals. Washington took a big step last season in learning how to win in the playoffs. That puts the Capitals in terrific position to capture the Stanley Cup next season.
The Capitals have a great core in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, and they witnessed the emergence of Simeon Varlamov in the playoffs.
They were unable to re-sign Sergei Fedorov, who provided a much needed element of experience to the team’s younger stars. Fedorov signed a two-year contract with Russian club Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. But still all the key parts for a championship are in place for the Capitals.
Boston finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and it will bring back the core of its team in its bid to win the Stanley Cup. They just signed their gifted young center, David Krejci, to a three-year, $11.25 million extension. Krejci was second on the Bruins in points (73). And he led the team at plus-37, so he’s an excellent player at both ends of the ice.
The next order of business is trying to cut a new deal with restricted free agent Phil Kessel, their talented young winger. Kessel scored 36 goals to lead Boston, and he’s only 20. They need to make sure he stays a Bruin. Goalie Manny Fernandez, who had a $4.33 million salary cap hit last season, won’t be re-signed for that amount of money because Boston has locked up Tim Thomas on a four-year extension.
The Flyers’ first major move of the offseason came in signing goalie Ray Emery to a one-year contract worth about $1.5 million. Emery played last season in Russia after Ottawa released the petulant goaltender, and no other NHL club signed him. From a financial standpoint, the Flyers picked up $2 million since with Emery aboard, they’ll cut ties with Martin Biron, who made $3.5 million last season. Emery has every incentive in the world to be a paragon of positive behavior and lifestyle, and to stop pucks if he wants to stick in his second chance in the NHL.
The Flyers lost to the Penguins in six games in the first round of the playoffs, but the series was much closer than most people realize. Their most notable unrestricted free agent is forward Mike Knuble, who had 27 goals last season. He’s a valuable power play guy because of his expertise in front of the net. Re-signing him would be a plus because he has a very authoritative and level-headed voice in the locker room, and because he brings a quality net presence, and there’s an art to that.
Yes, they’ll have a new coach, but because they are the Devils they can never be counted out. I’ve made the mistake so many times in my predictions of discounting the Devils that I made up my mind two years ago that I never will again.
They have three key unrestricted free agents in forwards Brian Gionta and John Madden, and defenseman Johnny Oduya. Madden has been an institution in New Jersey, but he’s 35, and it will be interesting to see if the Devils bring him back. Gionta’s a key offensive weapon, and the Devils don’t have an overabundance of goal scoring. At only 26, Oduya is a mainstay on defense, but after making $600,000 this season, he’s in line for a big raise.
The Red Wings have the most important players to their success under contract. Detroit will be a very deep, quality team. But working against the Red Wings will be the same thing working against the Penguins: the difficulty of making the Stanley Cup finals for a third consecutive year.
Probably the most interesting aspect of Detroit’s offseason is whether it can sign Marian Hossa to a long-term deal. Last summer, he turned down a lucrative, multi-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh, and instead took a one-year, $7 million contract from Detroit. He thought that was his best option for winning a Stanley Cup. I believe Hossa will go for a long-term deal this summer, so the question is can Detroit be creative enough under the salary cap to find a way to keep Hossa? But even if Hossa lands elsewhere, the Red Wings will still be an elite team.
PHT: Tuukka Rask has frustrated the Blackhawks to the tune of a 1.22 GAA and .959 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Final. Can Chicago find any luck in Game 4?
Alexander the Great
Take a look at Capitals star and two-time MVP Alexander Ovechkin
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Rask credits a team effort on defense
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