It’s almost that time of year again when fists fly, goal horns sound and the Pittsburgh Penguins choke again. With the NHL season set to kick off this week, here are my Stanley Cup picks.
In the Western Conference, it is clear that the L.A. Kings are head and shoulders above any other team. After winning last year’s Cup, the Kings have resigned playoff hero Marian Gaborik. Gaborik, along with Conn Smythe winner, Justin Williams and sniper Jeff Carter, will be enough offense for the Kings to come out of the west. The Kings defense will return all six members who allowed the fewest goals in the league last year.
The Kings biggest competition will again be the Chicago Blackhawks, in one of the quickest growing rivalries in the game. With serious salary cap issues, the Blackhawks will have to rely on young players to add secondary scoring behind Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp.
The East is a much more open division. The Penguins, Canadians and Lightning all have a realistic chance, but I like the Bruins to win the conference in the conference finals. The Bruins have the best goalie in the game and are getting back their top-pairing defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg, from a season-long injury. The Bruins lost their leading goal scorer, Jarome Iginla, in free agency, but have the most balanced offense in the league and will cruise to another deep playoff run.
The team with the best chance to dethrone the Bruins will be the Pittsburgh Penguins. It seems like every year the Pens are the Cup favorite but choke in the first round. After surviving a first-round scare to the Blue Jackets, the Pens coughed up a 3-1 series lead and lost in seven games to the Rangers. To no one’s surprise, they cleaned house over the summer and fired their general manager and head coach, who was the real problem. The Penguins brought in Steve Downie to add some much-needed toughness. However, they lost 40-goal scorer James “the walking-suspension” Neal in a trade to Nashville. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who you put on the ice with Crosby or Malkin, because they’re due for a career year. While the coaching change will solve many problems, Marc-Andre Fleury is still a liability in the playoffs, and the Penguins have no scoring past their top two lines.
And that brings us to the Stanley Cup Finals, where the Kings will go toe-to-toe with the Bruins in a heavyweight matchup of two of the most evenly matched teams in recent memory. Both teams have superstars at every position, but I’ll take the speedy Kings over the physical Bruins in seven.