Skating through the potential outcomes of the NHL season

What does it take to win a Stanley Cup?

Wednesday night saw eight teams take to the ice to kick off the 2015-16 NHL season, thus beginning the 82 game battle to reach the postseason and of course, to attain the ultimate goal: winning the Stanley Cup.

The Blackhawks have set the standard, winning three cups in five years. With a team stacked with superstars in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and culture of winning constructed, it’s going to take a lot to unseat them.

The media likes to make bets and guesses before the season’s start but so much can change between now and June, when two teams duke it out for hockey’s ultimate prize. The best team on paper might not possess the on-ice grit needed to come out on top. A ragtag group of guys that doesn’t make excuses and plays a full 60 every time they hit the ice could go the distance.

Here are the most likely opponents to challenge the ‘Hawks for Lord Stanley’s cup:

The LA Kings seemed destined for greatness and it could be argued they even achieved some. However, to go from winning two out of three titles to not even making the playoffs raises questions of consistency. Add in the fact that a myriad of players coming out of LA have dealt with off-ice issues regarding drug use and domestic violence, LA may not necessarily be the best poster-child for the NHL. But that still doesn’t explain their stunning drop-off in production from one season to the next.

Another intriguing team with rollercoaster success is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Following back to back seasons without a postseason game, the Bolts were back at it in the 2013-14 season, only to be ousted early in a first-round sweep delivered by the Canadiens. Just last season they went the distance only to lose to the Hawks in six games. They have a talented young team led by Steven Stamkos and up-and-comer Jonathan Drouin, who has shown massive potential. But with a location like Tampa, there’s always the question of inspiration. If the fans aren’t there, why should the Cup be?

And then there is Montreal, the NHL’s most storied franchise. With key players in MVP Carey Price, top defenseman P.K. Subban and young gun Brendan Gallagher, the Canadiens seem to be Canada’s most consistently delivering team. Their surprise run to the Conference Finals in 2014 proved not to be an anomaly as they won the Atlantic Division title in 2015. Their problem isn’t fan apathy — or altogether lack of attendance — but rather that their goalie is so good that it’s almost inevitable that the team over-relies on him. And while most nights Carey Price does indeed play at a level indicative of his award-winning ways, he cannot single-handedly win a championship. Offensively, the rest of the team needs to rise to the occasion if the Habs want to be playing into June.

Over in Alberta, it will be an exciting season to watch. Following last years trip to the Western Semis after ousting the Canucks in the first round, the Flames rebuild seems to be moving along quicker than anticipated. They have the additional confidence boost of having a Jack Adams award-winning coach, and young guns Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett could be the new faces of the Flames. But they’ve got competition if they want to be the province’s best team, it can’t be ignored that the Edmonton Oilers are suiting up newly drafted phenom Connor McDavid. As a fan of the rival Canucks, even I’m excited to see where McDavid takes the rebuild of the team, because this guy is one that will not be content being in last place at the season’s end.

The New York Rangers are yet another enigmatic presence in the NHL. They’ve got the talent, the history and the brand recognition to succeed in this league. Last year, they made it to the Conference Final and took the regular season title. The season prior they played the LA Kings for the Cup, ultimately losing in five. The coaching swap with Vancouver that saw Alain Vigneault take over seems to have worked out better for them than it did for the Canucks, but the question still looms, what are the Rangers missing? It’ll be quite the task to overcome fatigue, after having come so close consecutive years.

All these teams, while promising, still have to deal with the defending champs. When I look at the Blackhawks, I see a team that isn’t content winning once. They are out to prove their dominance not just for a season, but for a lifetime. They are a team comprised of talent, no question, but beyond that, I truly believe that those guys have never let their childhood love of hockey die. When I see the Blackhawks, I see a team that plays with heart and sometimes, that is the missing ingredient needed in an otherwise skilled team.

So who have I got for the Cup in 2016?

My heart will always say the Canucks, but my head has to go with history, and the Blackhawks recent history would have them poised to repeat.

Email Rachel Ruecker at [email protected]

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