USATSI_8100954_154158418_lowresAnother NHL season is upon and that means it’s time to start drowning in a sea of predictions and possibilities.

The good people at NHL.com have already sized up the competition and have landed in typically predictable fashion, calling overwhelmingly for the Stanley Cup to land in Chicago with the Blackhawks. Seven out of 12 panelists made that call, while four selected the Los Angeles Kings. Only one prognosticator had the cojones to call the Boston Bruins, the lone Eastern Conference club predicted to win it all.

Way to go out on a limb.

The Blackhawks are no doubt favourites to win it all. Under their current regime and with their current lineup, they simply will be. They’re a good hockey club, as our own analysis has pointed out. They have more depth at centre with the Brad Richards acquisition and they could put together a line with him, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane.

The Kings are also common favourites to win it all and again there are very good reasons for this. It’s been 16 years since a club repeated as Stanley Cup champs and now seems as good a time as any. The Kings are going into the season with the same roster for the most part. They inked Marian Gaborik to a seven year deal, for one, and his ability to work with Anze Kopitar has been stellar.

And then the Bruins, who again have to be favourites because that’s how things work. They’re a good hockey club, duh. They have slotted Loui Eriksson as their first line winger, at least for now, and that could help close things up. He didn’t have the best first season in Boston, but that could change in a hurry.

There are other possibilities that most prognosticators steer clear from, like, say, the New York Rangers. The case here isn’t as ironclad as it is with the Bruins, Blackhawks and Kings. They recently named Ryan McDonagh as captain and have lost some considerable stability. They also will be without Derek Stepan for four to six weeks. Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi and Tanner Glass were additions, however. And Dan Boyle. There’s always Dan Boyle.

Or what about the Pittsburgh Penguins? They’ve gone through coaching changes and got busy on July 1 by losing some key players, like Jussi Jokinen, James Neal, Brooks Orpik, and Matt Niskanen. But they also acquired Christian Ehrhoff and signed Marcel Goc and Blake Comeau to one-year deals. The Penguins also added Thomas Greiss to the goaltending contingency. There’s a 50/50 chance they’ll have Evgeni Malkin on opening night.

The St. Louis Blues are also worth putting in the mix, believe it or not. They landed Paul Stastny in free agency and punted Ryan Miller to the curb, siding instead with a tandem of Brian Elliot and Jake Allen in goal. That’s an intriguing mix and it could ride the Blues to some promising places. They’re a solid roster and are often forgotten about by those with a tendency to trend to the big name teams. Underestimate them at your peril.

Other possible contenders include the Dallas Stars, who have quietly put together one heck of a hockey team. They have two powerful scoring lines and the additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky make them especially dangerous. By all accounts they’ll have a killer power play, maybe the best in the NHL, and they’re solid in most places. They’re also young.

All things considered, the Stars, Blues, Penguins, Rangers, Bruins, Kings, and Blackhawks are safe bets to win it all this season. It looks like another sorry year for Canadian teams, as most seem in the middle of some sort of rebuild. There could be some surprises, like with the Colorado Avalanche or the New York Rangers, and there could be some upsets. But one of the above clubs will win the Stanley Cup.

Way to go out on a limb, right?

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