SUN Hockey Pool

Who will win the Stanley Cup?

"Keeper of the Cup" Phil Pritchard poses beside the Stanley Cup. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

Remember the 1970s, when you knew the Montreal Canadiens were going to win the Stanley Cup? They had a loaded team that featured Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard and Ken Dryden.

What about the early 1980s, when the New York Islanders had the Cup sewn thanks to Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Billy Smith?

Or the later 1980s with the Edmonton Oilers and Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr?

Even since those dynasty days, there were seasons you expected to see Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings or Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche winning the trophy.

During recent years, there were still obvious favourites with Scott Niedermayer’s Anaheim Ducks, Sidney Crosby’s Penguins and last year, with the Chicago Blackhawks.

C’mon, you knew Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks were the front-runners last season because their squad was so deep. Just as you knew 2010 was their best shot because salary-cap concerns were staring them in the face.

Which brings us to the 2010-11 campaign and the question: Who will win the Stanley Cup next spring? (Or is it summer by the time the NHL season ends?)

Good question. It’s a hard one to answer.

Those of us who hated the imbalance of the pre-lockout

NHL with some teams spending three times as much money as other squads are now seeing more and more parity, which comes from life in a salary-cap world.

The Blackhawks (who yours truly predicted prior to the 2009-10 season would defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup final) were ripped apart because of the salary cap.

Gone from that team are several key players, including goalie Antti Niemi, blueliner Brent Sopel and forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, John Madden and Adam Burish.

The Hawks are still Stanley Cup contenders, but can anyone say they’re a sure thing to make the final series? Or even skate in the Western Conference final?

Not with the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks all just as strong, yet also with flaws of their own.

The Eastern Conference is no more clear. Are the Pittsburgh Penguins the team to beat? The Washington Capitals? The Philadelphia Flyers? The New Jersey Devils? The Boston Bruins?

All are in the same boat. Sure, they could win. That’s not saying they will win.

Therefore, you may as well throw a dart.

For some reason, San Jose over Washington makes sense.

The Sharks — yes, we know how long they’ve been contenders at the start of April but pretenders when the puck dropped to start the final round — have as good a chance as any.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski headline a great attack, while the blueline brigade is well rounded and goalie Niemi has done something Evgeni Nabokov couldn’t ever do — win something.

The Sharks still have holes, and a dubious history of failure, but no team in today’s NHL is bulletproof.

As for the Capitals, they’re a team ready for another step forward after a shocking first-round exit in the spring, but unless they learn to play team defence consistently — anybody think Robyn Regehr could end up there from the Calgary Flames? — they aren’t quite ready yet.

Then again, if you’re a betting man or woman, it wouldn’t hurt to check out what Vancouver, Philadelphia and even Los Angeles are paying. If it’s the 10- to 15-to-1 range, it may be worth laying down some Benjamins.

Let’s face it, there are no Lafleur-led squads any longer.

odds from bodog.com

Hawks 6/1

Capitals 13/2

Penguins 7/1

Canucks 8/1

Wings 11/1

Flyers 14/1

Bruins 14/1

Sharks 14/1

Devils 15/1

Kings 16/1

Sabres 16/1

Habs 25/1

Lightning 30/1

Flames 35/1

Blues 35/1

Ducks 35/1

Sens 35/1

Avs 40/1

Rangers 40/1

Coyotes 40/1

Stars 50/1

Preds 50/1

Leafs 60/1

Canes 65/1

Oilers 75/1

Thrash’rs 80/1

Wild 80/1

Panthers 80/1

Isles 100/1

Jackets 100/1


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