The Chicago Blackhawks have been installed by Bodog as the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2015 and if you listened to Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter during their Stanley Cup celebration Friday night, you might want to put a few dollars down on the Blackhawks next season.
To hear the GM and coach of the best team in the NHL this season tell it, they feel the best team in the NHL last season is the biggest obstacle between them and a Stanley Cup repeat. The Blackhawks, you might remember, battled back from a 3-1 deficit to the Kings and lost in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference final.
It’s certainly not a stretch to suggest that the Blackhawks and Kings could be jockeying for the foreseeable future to decide who represents the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup final. Sutter said he spent the entire Olympic break trying to figure out how to beat the Blackhawks, who lead the league with 7:1 odds to win next season. The Boston Bruins are second at 8:1 and the Kings come in with 9:1 odds on repeating as champion.
Lombardi said the Blackhawks are actually the ones to set the standard in the Western Conference and the Kings are actually following them. It’s almost reminiscent of the late 1980s when, in any other era, the Calgary Flames would have been a dynasty if not for the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers and Flames were engulfed in an arms race that was fascinating and exciting to watch and made for some of the most hotly contested playoff series ever. If the Western Conference final was an indication, the Kings and Blackhawks could be on a similar collision course.
“They set the benchmark,” Lombardi said of the Blackhawks. “This year we closed the gap a little, but that’s a heck of a hockey team.”
None of the Kings will say it publicly, but the Western Conference final for them was a much more difficult series to win than the Stanley Cup final. The key for the Kings was they managed to split the four games at the United Center in that series. And for anyone who hasn’t experience Chicago during the playoffs, that is an enormous feat in and of itself. “One thing our guys were talking about, you go into Madison Square Garden after going into Chicago, there nothing like it,” Lombardi said. “So your players are even prepared coming out of this conference. Playing in that atmosphere against a great team is a great experience for them.”
The Kings and Blackhawks in about the same place as organizations. They both have the bulk of their cores signed going into next season. The Blackhawks will have to get Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who have one more year on their contracts, under long-term deals and the Kings will work to sign Anze Kopitar, who has two seasons remaining, to a long-term deal. The average age of the 20 players the Blackhawks either have signed or are restricted free agents is 27.7 years old, while the 18 players the Kings have of the same status average 27.2.
“They’re similar to us,” Lombardi said of the Blackhawks. “You look at the age of their team. They did a marvelous job of turning it over after winning the Cup (in 2010). That team is right in the middle of its prime and it still has young players coming.”
That might be where the Blackhawks have it over the Kings at the moment. The Blackhawks were basically able to cut ties with Michal Handzus because they know they have Finnish World Junior sensation Teuvo Teravainen on the way and not far behind is Ryan Hartman. The Kings have two terrific young players on their roster in Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, but dealt away one of the best young prospects at the deadline when they traded Hudson Fasching to Buffalo for Brayden McNabb.
If it’s as difficult to repeat as it seems to be, logic would dictate that the Blackhawks will come out of the West next season, unless of course the Anaheim Ducks or San Jose Sharks find a way to get it done in the post-season, or the Colorado Avalanche shore up their defensive game or the Minnesota Wild continue their upward trajectory…