When Will Your NHL Team Make a Stanley Cup Run?
There's a reason the same two teams have claimed the Stanley Cup in four of the last five seasons. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have used a mix of veterans and youth, speed, skill and grit to their advantage while earning appreciation as modern-day dynasties in the National Hockey League.
So looking at the other rosters and prospect pools across the league, when might the rest of the competition catch up?
Scouring through depth charts and prospect pools, looking at player trends and contracts, and using some good old-fashioned educated guesswork, we've got an idea of when you can expect your team to challenge for more than just a playoff berth — making a run for the Stanley Cup.
Keep in mind the league is as balanced as it has ever been and even a team as strong as the St. Louis Blues can be bounced in the first round with the new division format, so place bets at your own risk.
Read on to see our windows for each team's next Stanley Cup run.
Best Assets: The Anaheim Ducks look a little different than last year's top Western Conference point-getter in the regular season, but the guys who make the team one of the top contenders aren't going anywhere. Star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are locked up long-term and make the Ducks one of the most threatening offenses in the NHL after finishing first with an average of 3.21 scored per game last season.
Defenseman Cam Fowler is finally blossoming as an offensive blueliner, and the team added veterans Ryan Kesler and Dany Heatley in the hopes the team can spread the scoring out a little more this season and beyond. Rookie goaltender John Gibson will battle this year with solid sophomore Frederik Andersen to give the Ducks a stellar one-two punch in net.
What's Holding Them Back: There is some uncertainty about health and production from Kesler and Heatley, who have logged a lot of miles in the league and will need to prove they can still contribute in big support roles for the Ducks to continue to thrive in a tough Western Conference. Kesler will be counted on as another team leader but doesn't have the same spirit as the now retired Teemu Selanne, a player who had the Ducks playing for him as much as themselves the past couple of years.
Defensively, the Ducks need their young players Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm to mature relatively quickly with a cast of older and slower veterans filling up the other spots on the back end, which could lead to too much pressure on the inexperienced goaltending tandem
Stanley Cup Window: The time is now for the Ducks, whose top players—Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler—will turn 30 before the next Stanley Cup is handed out. Younger support players like Jakob Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri and Matt Beleskey still have affordable contracts underneath the sizable deals of the team's stars but that will come to a head in the next couple of seasons with the team having to focus on the defense next summer with three pending unrestricted free agents. The immediate window will likely close on the Ducks after the 2015-16 season.
Best Assets: The Coyotes should be viewed as a long-term project, and unfortunately it's unlikely captain Shane Doan will be around to enjoy any success in the desert. No, it will be prospects like Max Domi, Henrik Samuelsson, Brendan Perlini, Ryan MacInnis and current roster players Mikael Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson who form the core that makes a legitimate Cup run possible.
What's Holding Them Back: Top-end forwards have been a problem for the Coyotes for years. They've done well drafting in recent years, but the development time doesn't mesh with the contracts remaining for some of the key veterans, which pushes the window way into the future when other prospects fill in gaps for the potential stars in waiting who are set to push into the league.
Stanley Cup Window: With no real way to envision the Coyotes winning sooner than later, they may need a handful of seasons for their young players to gain experience and confidence with the club and some stellar trades and signings to complement them in their growth down the road. That puts them in 2020 and 2021 at earliest. Let's hope the Dogs are still in the desert.
Best Assets: Goaltender Tuukka Rask can cover up a lot of holes in the Bruins roster, but fortunately for the 2011 Stanley Cup champs, there aren't many that need plugging just yet. The top six forwards are as good a balance of scoring and defensive responsibility as any group in the league when healthy, led by Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic.
Prospect David Pastrnak, the team's top pick in this spring's draft, will also be given a good shot at cracking the roster early on the right side. His skill could pay dividends within the first couple of seasons, and Matt Fraser showed promise as a goalscorer in last spring's brief playoff cameo.
What's Holding Them Back: So far the ageless tower of defense, Zdeno Chara, has showed little sign of slowing down his dominant ways on the back end. But he can't keep the Bruins a contender on his own and the injury to fellow veteran Dennis Seidenberg last year showed the Boston blueline isn't as strong or deep as it should be to keep them in contention. There are promising youngsters there but the position has a steep learning curve, especially when it comes to play in their defensive zone.
Stanley Cup Window: With Chara getting up in age and salary cap restrictions putting the Bruins in a pinch with Krejci and a handful of valuable depth players set for unrestricted free agency in 2015, Boston faithful could see the 2014-15 season as the last realistic crack at contention with the current crew.
Best Assets: The fact that this spring's top pick could be the Buffalo Sabres' most talented player tells you a lot about how far into the future the team's window to win will open. The good news is Sam Reinhart, the second-overall selection in 2014, will get plenty of opportunity to grow with other youngsters the Sabres have acquired in recent years. Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko are all 24 or under, and they'll surely add another top talent in next year's draft.
What's Holding Them Back: The defense is extremely thin on top-end talent, with former first-rounder Tyler Myers a perennial disappointment at his $5-million-plus salary. Only he and Josh Gorges, a 30-year-old journeyman, are locked up beyond the next two seasons. The Sabres will have to hope Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Mark Pysyk can make strides over the next few years and peak along with the prospect forwards.
Stanley Cup Window: It won't be anytime soon. There is a nice collection of offensive talent, decent goaltenders with youth on their side and a couple of prospects on the blueline who could be part of a winning core down the road, but the Sabres will have to add some big names and key roleplayers to fill out the lower lines to get into Cup contention. Watch for them to be in the playoffs in a few years and have the potential for a Cup run between 2018 and 2019 with the current crop of youngsters the team's leaders.
Best Assets: The Flames rebuild has led to a nice little stockpiling of assets, including first rounders Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett the past two springs. Monahan made an immediate impact as a rookie last season and Bennett will add another style to a deepening pool of young centers in Calgary. The future is bright, but fans will have to be patient as they wait to see whether Sven Baertschi—the top pick in 2011—and other youngsters like Markus Granlund, Johnny Gaudreau can mature while current leaders like captain Mark Giordano are still in the fold and healthy.
What's Holding Them Back: Right now there's a lack of top-end talent at every position, outside of a handful of youngsters with real promise. There are plenty of prospects with potential but not many with experience. That will come with time.
Stanley Cup Window: If the work ethic continues and the Flames are a tough team to play against despite the holes in the roster, they could make the playoffs before most anticipate. But they won't be real Cup contenders for a while. The 2018 and 2019 seasons are realistic considering their top prospects will be entering their prime.
Best Assets: The Hurricanes have always leaned on Eric Staal for big performances but by the time Carolina is a real force to be reckoned with again, it should be younger brother Jordan Staal (25) and 22-year-old Jeff Skinner who are in a better position to lead the way up front. Top pick Haydn Fleury from last spring, 2013 draft pick Elias Lindholm and 2010 pick Justin Faulk will also factor in when this team has a chance to make some waves in the Eastern Conference.
What's Holding Them Back: The Hurricanes have been in the playoffs just once since their 2006 Stanley Cup championship and haven't found the right blend of veteran leadership and young stars in the making since then.
Stanley Cup Window: With a few more high picks in the top round of the annual draft, the retention of their current key core players and a strong deadline trade or two when the timing is right will lead the Hurricanes to a championship worthy roster in the 2019 and 2020 seasons when the elder Staal is hitting his mid-30s and the team has enough firepower around him and defensemen entering their prime to make the balance just right.
Best Assets: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the reason the Blackhawks will be contenders for the foreseeable future, but they have a strong supporting cast that makes them as dangerous as any team in the league right now. Vets Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brad Richards and youngsters Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw form the core of arguably the best forward group in the NHL.
What's Holding Them Back:Salary-cap restrictions could be the only thing to slow the Hawks in the coming years. They may have to move out one of their key support players or a top-four defenseman to get under the ceiling. Drafting low in the first round every year also makes the dominance difficult to sustain.
Stanley Cup Window: The Blackhawks window is larger than most given their incredible core and depth, but their best opportunities to reclaim the Cup are the current season and 2015-16 campaign while they still have most of their stars under contract.
Best Assets: Super rookie Nathan MacKinnon, speedster Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and, of course, goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The Avalanche is full of talented youngsters who surprised a lot of people by doing as well as they did last year. Most of these players will be a huge part of the next decade of success in Denver.
What's Holding Them Back: Their defense is atrocious and if not for the play of Varlamov, the Avs likely wouldn't even have made the playoffs. They'll have to attempt to shore up the back end through future drafts or strong trades and signings. Center depth was also affected by the loss of Paul Stastny to free agency.
Stanley Cup Window: Although it may seem as if the Avs are primed to win earlier than anyone anticipated, the team is much farther away from a championship than last year's success might lead you to believe. Near the bottom of the league in the Corsi and Fenwick advanced stats categories you can check out on stats.hockeyanalysis.com site, the Avs will need to improve and take the burden off Varlamov and the porous defense. Their prime years are more in line with the spring's of 2017 and 2018 unless they make drastic moves on defense.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Best Assets: Brandon Dubinsky has become a major leader, they've added Scott Hartnell and have an up-and-coming legion of young stars paced by Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner. The team has great chemistry and work ethic. The defensive group is solidified by veterans James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson with young star Ryan Murray only getting better.
What's Holding Them Back: Before last season's playoff performance, it was a lack of confidence and experience in the post-season. Now, however, the team appears ready to make massive steps forward. The question is whether or not they will build off of that advancement and how goalie Sergei Bobrovsky bounces back from a streaky year.
Stanley Cup Window: This season offers another learning opportunity. They will make the playoffs and maybe even win a round. And with the cast of character players and skilled guys either under contract or whose rights will still belong to the Jackets for a few years, they're building toward a real opportunity in 2016 or 2017 to represent a balanced Eastern Conference.
Best Assets: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin are the top guns and the Stars loaded up for a run by adding Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky in the offseason to offer more secondary scoring. There are some nice pieces for the third and fourth lines, too, and the Stars gave the Anaheim Ducks a good challenge last spring so there's a confidence factor now after years of uncertainty.
What's Holding Them Back: Alex Goligoski had a career year offensively from the back end but the team didn't get nearly enough production from the defense, which sees the expiry of most of its current contracts over the next couple of seasons. Draft picks haven't made immediate impacts for them on the blueline and it's unlikely their top selection from 2014, Julius Honka, will come in this year.
Stanley Cup Window: Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is 30 and has a few more years of high-level netminding in him, which means the deficiencies on the back end don't look as bad. The presence of a young and elite duo like Seguin and Benn gives the Stars a chance to become a Western Conference powerhouse with some good drafting and trading over the next decade, but it's current window may last only as long as they have Spezza—who's only committed for the coming season. It may be a temporary closure but the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns are their best bet with what's currently in the prospect pool behind the big league roster.
Detroit Red Wings
Best Assets: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were not at their best last season, but even at less than 100 percent, they were still pretty good. And in what was a bit of a down year for the Red Wings, the team still managed to extend its playoff streak to 23 years thanks to young players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco filling in nicely for the perennial superstars.
What's Holding Them Back: Health is a big issue for the veterans. including Johan Franzen, who missed a big chunk of time last season and is a critical part of the team's success. The Wings wanted to land a difference maker on defense to complement Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson but had to settle for the return of Kyle Quincey. They also have no depth behind goalie Jimmy Howard, who can't be considered among the league's elite.
Stanley Cup Window: It's open as long as Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still capable of taking over games with their talent. With their age climbing and likelihood of their bodies breaking down as the years roll on,the current version of the Wings will be a Cup competitor for the next three seasons — 2015, '16 and '17 — before overhauls may happen to help the next generation.
Best Assets: There are plenty of weapons offensively. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and their most recent top pick Leon Draisaitl will be critical to finally having success. But the role players like Teddy Purcell and Benoit Pouliot, added to fill in gaps after years of disappointment and failure to live up to potential, might be more important in determining when the window finally opens for the Oilers.
What's Holding Them Back: Immaturity and a bit of a club-house mentality has plagued the young group during the rebuild. The team is hoping the character additions made will transform the dynamic in the dressing room.
Stanley Cup Window: Realistically, it will take more than the free agent addition of Nikita Nikitin to turn shore up a leaky defense. The team needs top blueline prospects Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse to take on key roles at the NHL level to make a real run in the playoffs. That could put them on track to contend in 2018 or 2019 assuming the Oilers can continue to add the right complementary pieces to keep the forwards growing.
Best Assets: The Panthers' first-overall draft pick in 2014, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, could anchor their blueline for years down the road. Other top picks Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Quinton Howden and Erik Gudbranson will also be a big part of any future success.
What's Holding Them Back: When Dave Bolland is your highest-paid forward, you're in trouble. The Panthers have very few long-term pieces in place but not nearly enough top-end talent to compete now. At this stage of their careers, veterans like Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell and Brad Boyes should be complementary pieces as opposed to guys you rely on heavily every night.
Stanley Cup Window: It will take some consistency and maybe a couple of home runs in the draft, and some savvy trades over the next handful of seasons to get this team back on track. Fortunately, they will likely land one of the top two superstars in waiting in next year's draft — Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel — to help with that process. Maybe by 2020 and 2021 they'll have the kind of core to compete again.
Los Angeles Kings
Best Assets: This is a true modern-day dynasty. The Kings have a half-dozen key components to any Stanley Cup contender locked up for years to come in defensemen Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and forwards Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik and captain Dustin Brown. Not to mention goalie Jonathan Quick's contract running through to 2023. You could name practically the entire team here. Top star Anze Kopitar is inked for two more seasons.
What's Holding Them Back: The salary-cap situation will make it more difficult to sign up-and-comers like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson without letting a guy like Richards go, but they could make due with a couple of pending UFAs coming off the books in another year.
Stanley Cup Window: The defending champs will contend for the Cup again next season, with the window realistically remaining open for another six or seven seasons assuming they can keep Kopitar, the cap climbs and they continue to draft well. Their peak seasons, though, probably come in the next two, with 2015 and 2016 their opportunity to solidify the dynasty's place in the record books.
Best Assets: Shelling out some serious coin the last couple of years, the Minnesota Wild have built themselves a nice base for a shot at the Stanley Cup in the near future. Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu are complemented by strong prospects Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Justin Fontaine, to name a few up front. The team is no longer boring. They also have one of the league's best defenders in Ryan Suter.
What's Holding Them Back: Question marks in goal, where Josh Harding's health struggles and Niklas Backstrom's injuries leave the still unproven Darcy Kuemper in the position of having to develop at a quicker pace, are as big an obstacle as the relatively inexperienced defense outside of cornerstone Suter.
Stanley Cup Window:Once Matthew Dumba carves out a role on the defense full-time, and guys like Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin get a little more seasoning, the back end will be as dependable as the improving forward ranks and the goaltending situation will be determined by Kuemper's maturation. They should be truly competitive in the Western Conference within a few years, from the spring of 2017 to the summer of 2018.
Best Assets: Defenseman P.K. Subban's contract gives the Canadiens a Norris-Trophy contender for a long time coming but the team is built to win in the near future with much of the group that took the team to the Stanley Cup semifinals under contract for the next two seasons. Young players Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are still on entry-level deals and veteran playmakers Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais and P-A Parentau all have affordable salaries. Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the game and despite a lack of size, they have toughness as a team.
What's Holding Them Back: If there's a doubt here, it's with the back end where Subban and Andrei Markov are a solid one-two but the hope is Tom Gilbert can provide top-four play and that one of the young guys Jarred Tinordi or Nathan Beaulieu can make the jump full-time in a final-pairing position.
Stanley Cup Window: The Habs are a proven threat in the wide-open Eastern Conference, with the right mix of contracts keeping them in the hunt for a title in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs.
Best Assets: The Predators are looking to form a new identity, moving on from longtime coach Barry Trotz and focusing on a more exciting attack under Peter Laviolette. They now have sniper James Neal in the fold to give the mish-mash offensive group a legitimate gamebreaker. Mike Ribeiro is a nice playmaker. Defensive stalwarts Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Roman Josi lead the way from the blueline with Pekka Rinne an elite backstop when healthy. Colin Wilson and Craig Smith, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok and 2014 top-round draft pick Kevin Fiala will likely all be important players when the Preds finally contend.
What's Holding Them Back: It may take some time for the group to find some chemistry, and the contract situation as it stands might not accommodate that beyond this season. Their top centers are all in their early to mid 30s and younger potential pivots Colin Wilson and Craig Smith have yet to prove they can be offensive factors in the NHL.
Stanley Cup Window: While the young guys can learn from the host of new veterans, it's not likely the team will be really competitive until 2018 and 2019 when the prospects become the prosperous but Neal, the key blueliners and, of course, netminder are still under contract. Consistent roster management will be key in the interim.
New Jersey Devils
Best Assets: With only a dozen deals inked for the 2015-16 season and half of that in the following year, the Devils are built to win now despite missing the playoffs last season. The ageless Jaromir Jagr and Patrick Elias, talented Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri, and gritty Ryane Clowe and Tuomo Ruutu will lead the way on and off the ice, with young Adam Henrique growing as a middle man and plenty of veterans to lend an ear. They took a flyer on Martin Havlat and Michael Ryder, too.
What's Holding Them Back: Adam Larsson hasn't lived up to his billing as a top pick and the defense as a group is thin and lacking high skill behind Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene. Also, will Cory Schneider thrive now that he's finally, irrevocably, the No. 1 goaltender?
Stanley Cup Window: The draft hasn't been kind to the Devils, which is why they've shopped for seemingly every bargain veteran out there. Fortunately, the move could work and the team that missed the playoffs a year ago could make some waves in the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
New York Islanders
Best Assets: John Tavares is an elite talent who makes everyone around him better, as Kyle Okposo found out in his breakout season a year ago. The Islanders might have found another of those assets in Josh Ho-Sang in the first round of the last draft and added a dynamic duo of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin with multi-year deals to make the young and talented forward group even more dangerous for the next few seasons. Goaltending was improved with the addition of Jaroslav Halak.
What's Holding Them Back: The defense needs to improve beyond the top trio of Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic and and Calvin de Haan, and that means 20-year-old Griffin Reinhart will need to force his way into the lineup to boost the top end.
Stanley Cup Window: Last year's slip back out of the playoffs might have been a blip for a team that appeared to be up-and-coming while pushing the Penguins a couple of springs ago. The matchups the forward lines will enjoy after the addition of Grabovski and Kulemin should help the Islanders into the playoffs right away and make them a real threat out of the Eastern Conference in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
New York Rangers
Best Assets: The reigning Eastern Conference champs have as strong a top-six group of defensemen as any team in the league, with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein joined by newcomer Dan Boyle. Up front, Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash will enjoy an environment filled with youth thanks to Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Brassard and Derek Stepan. The goalie isn't bad, either. Henrik Lundqvist is still the king.
What's Holding Them Back: They lost some grit when Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot signed elsewhere. The key fourth-line minutes will have to be filled by others.
Stanley Cup Window: A few key contracts will expire after next season. The team will need to hammer out fresh deals as soon as possible to keep this group together after a special year in which they made an unexpected run to the final. Their window is 2015 and 2016 before the potential loss of impact players like St. Louis, Boyle and Staal.
Best Assets: It's a new era for the Senators without Jason Spezza, who is now a member of the Dallas Stars. Alex Chiasson, the key player coming back in the trade, will be a pivotal piece of the Sens' title hopes in the future, along with Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejad, Bobby Ryan, if they can hang onto him, Clarke MacArthur and Milan Michalek.
What's Holding Them Back: They have a real lack of depth and struggle defensively outside of the top pairing. Beside Curtis Lazar, there isn't much in the way of excitement in the prospect pool. Goalie Craig Anderson's best days are likely behind him.
Stanley Cup Window: It's going to take the Sens a few years to bounce back and they'll have to find a way to retain or replace Ryan as they build. 2018 and 2019 might be a generous prediction for the team to thrive again consistently.
Best Assets: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier will all play massive roles in the Flyers' next big run. The same goes for Mark Streit and Andrew MacDonald on defense, and Steve Mason in goal.
What's Holding Them Back: They're playing with fire with the salary cap, depending on Chris Pronger coming off the books on the on long term injured list every fall. Talent retention is going to be tough for the few top-tier prospects.
Stanley Cup Window: Because of the future cap uncertainty and the idea that Mason could go back to underachieving at any given moment, the Flyers window is small, with the team invested in winning as soon as possible. They should be a threat in 2015 and 2016 before some contracts are up for negotiation or end altogether.
Best Assets: As long as the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, a title run is possible. Recent disappointments however have proven how crucial the supporting cast can be. Newcomer Patric Hornqvist will have to prove capable of filling James Neal's shoes with Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis picking up where they left off on Crosby's wings. The defense needs a healthy Kris Letang and rising star Olli Maatta to lead the charge from the blueline.
What's Holding Them Back: Goaltending has been the Pens' biggest problem in recent playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury unable to be a difference-maker on the positive front. Thomas Greiss is not the answer there.
Stanley Cup Window: In spite of the goaltender woes, which they may be forced to address after the coming season when Fleury's contract is up, the Penguins have the talent to be competitive every season. With defenseman Christian Ehrhoff joining the fold, they won't feel the loss of Matt Niskanen. Their window to win is still open right now, but with a couple of young additions coming soon, it could stay open through until 2017 with a new goaltender leading the way.
St. Louis Blues
Best Assets: The Blues were a disappointment last spring, but only because the Chicago Blackhawks knocked them out in the first round in the new and tough divisional playoff battle format. They'll be back in the post-season for sure, with new center Paul Stastny offering even more support for incumbent stars Alex Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.
What's Holding Them Back: Goaltending turned out to be an unfortunate weak spot down the stretch and into the playoffs as Ryan Miller backfired as a move. The team will rely on a rotation between Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, riding the hot hand. It could turn into a strength if each play to their potential in the competition.
Stanley Cup Window: Not quite on par with the Blackhawks and Kings, the Blues need to win in the next couple of seasons before Backes becomes an unrestricted free agent and potentially changes the identity of the hard-nosed team. He's around for at least the next two years, giving them a window of 2015 and 2016 as their prime opportunity.
San Jose Sharks
Best Assets: The Sharks' top prospects are already playing for the NHL club, pushing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for ice time and leadership roles are the likes of Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Matt Neito. Joe Pavelski is 30 and no longer a player who will take anyone by surprise with his skill. They're a talented team but going through an identity crisis at a bad time.
What's Holding Them Back: A lack of killer instinct is epitomized by Thornton's easy-going attitude, which had him stripped of his captaincy this summer as the coaches look to have each player earn their letters going into the season.
Stanley Cup Window: The window is slamming shut and this may be the last year this incarnation of the Sharks exists. Last year was a prime opportunity for them to make a push to the Stanley Cup Final and the 2015 season may be their last chance before big changes take place.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Best Assets: Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Jonathan Drouin, and rookie of the year candidates Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson are the offensive headliners. The Lightning have a strong group of defensemen, too, with Victor Hedman, Matt Carle, Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman forming the top four. They have speed and finish and some sandpaper to the game, too.
What's Holding Them Back: They may be the class of the Eastern Conference for the next few years if goaltender Ben Bishop stays healthy. His loss was huge in the playoffs last spring.
Stanley Cup Window: Their prime winning window encompasses the next three years, from 2015-2017, with their key players under contract and newcomer Brian Boyle aboard to solidify a fourth-line presence. They can roll three strong scoring lines that could take advantage of mismatches. If Stamkos leaves as a UFA after 2016, all bets are off.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Best Assets: Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri could form a deadly top trio. If others live up to potential — and contracts — they could have a nice top six group for scoring. Stephane Robidas adds great leadership on the blueline, and if he's healthy he will be an asset on the ice as well. Goalie Jonathan Bernier earned his keep last year as a starter for the first time in the NHL. Top draft pick William Nylander should make his presence felt in the next couple of seasons.
What's Holding Them Back: The young defense didn't always play smart, allowing way too many stellar opportunities on whichever goalie was unfortunate enough to be dressed. Forward depth drops off in the bottom two lines and may be taken advantage of.
Stanley Cup Window: With some smart additions in the next couple of seasons, the Maple Leafs might be able to ice a competitor in 2017 and 2018, when Nylander learns the ropes and guys like Kadri, Gardiner and Rielly mature into more well-rounded players.
Best Assets: The Sedin twins Daniel and Henrik are still elite despite a down year under coach John Tortorella. Linden Vey is a talented prospect they picked up from the Los Angeles Kings. There's more grit to the Canucks now, too, with Derek Dorsett and Nick Bonino joining Zack Kassian and Tom Sestito. The defense is solid, led by the quiet Dan Hamhuis and loudmouthed Kevin Bieksa. Prospects Jake Virtanen and Bo Horvat have time to develop if needed but can easily replace a veteran if ready to allow for the acquisition of more assets or picks via trade.
What's Holding Them Back: Coaching appeared to be their biggest problem a year ago, along with a malcontent Ryan Kesler. Things should be better under Willie Desjardins.
Stanley Cup Window: The balance among the forward ranks is solid and the back end is as deep and well-rounded as it has been in years, so the Canucks are a candidate for a big bounceback after an awful year. It may take a year for the group to gel, but their little window with everyone still on board should open in 2016 and 2017. If Virtanen and Horvat learn quickly, they can pry the window open a little longer.
Best Assets: Alex Ovechkin is a premier sniper. The defense is deep and balanced with a mixture of stay-at-home defenders and offensive-minded puckhandlers thanks to the addition of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. They can even afford to deal top blueliner Mike Green for other assets if they want.
What's Holding Them Back: Selfishness has been a problem for the Capitals, with Ovechkin not only their best asset but greatest weakness. It's one of the reasons head coach Barry Trotz was brought in. That experiment could dictate the Caps' potential for success with Ovechkin.
Stanley Cup Window: That beautiful defense is under contract for three years and the same goes for the star forwards. That's the time frame for Trotz to get the Caps back to the playoffs and into the deep rounds.
Best Assets: Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little are underrated forwards. Andrew Ladd is a solid leader and Evander Kane is a potential premier power forward. Jacob Trouba developed quickly into a stellar two-way defenseman to give the Jets a strong presence back there. So why do the Jets struggle to win? Coach Paul Maurice seemed to have it figured out, at least temporarily, after taking over last season. He's one of their biggest assets right now. Long-term, the addition of 2014 ninth-overall draft pick Nikolaj Ehlers will boost the scoring ranks, as will Nic Petan, their second-rounder in 2013.
What's Holding Them Back: They're a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of talent and need a full effort on a nightly basis to succeed. They also need young center Mark Scheifele to take a leap forward and stay healthy to solidify the middle of the ice and the top six overall. The development of a few more prospects will bolster them in the long run.
Stanley Cup Window: Once Ehlers and Petan can start pushing for time in the NHL, the Jets will have more options for a third scoring line. Both of them are likely two or three years away from that point. The defensive group will only improve in that time, and if the team trades away Dustin Byfuglien before he hits UFA status in 2016, they can pick up more assets. The early window on them making a playoff run — prefaced on them being just a couple of pieces away — would be 2017 to 2019.
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