Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks Face Tough Offseason Challenges

By: Don Best Staff | Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are the only two teams to win the Stanley Cup over the past four seasons, and the Western Conference champion has also hoisted it seven of the previous nine years as well. But like every championship team, there are many challenges in the offseason that they must deal with in order to return strong again and attempt a repeat.

The Detroit Red Wings are the last NHL team to win consecutive Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998, and Chicago's three titles in six years during the salary cap era has made the franchise a model for others to follow with the word "dynasty" also attached to the recent championship run. But the Blackhawks have struggled to stay under the salary cap after re-signing stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to a pair of massive eight-year contract extensions last offseason, needing to add young, inexpensive pieces around those cornerstone players and let others go who have contributed greatly to their most recent Cup win.

Chicago recently traded wingers Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars in an effort to get under the salary cap and stay competitive for the 2015-16 season. Saad is viewed as a future NHL star who at 22 years old commanded too much money as a restricted free agent for the Blackhawks to keep along with their core. Meanwhile, Sharp was rumored to be traded as soon as Chicago won the Cup because he is 33 and headed downhill from his prime years in the Windy City.

Despite those moves, the Blackhawks remain the favorites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup with 6/1 odds at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook because of their continued popularity with the betting public. Chicago did get some quality players in return for Saad and Sharp, and the team will always be a legitimate threat to win the Cup as long as Toews and Kane are healthy.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were not healthy against the Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, with leading scorer Tyler Johnson and goaltender Ben Bishop both battling through injuries as they lost the NHL championship series in six games. However, the Lightning are a very young team and should be back as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year, and they are the 7/1 second choice to win the 2016 Stanley Cup.

Behind this past season's two finalists on the betting board are a few other top contenders to win next year's Cup, including the aforementioned Kings (9/1), Anaheim Ducks (9/1), New York Rangers (10/1), Pittsburgh Penguins (12/1), Minnesota Wild (12/1), St. Louis Blues (12/1) and Nashville Predators (12/1). The Rangers and Penguins figure to test Tampa Bay in the East while Chicago has beaten each of those teams from the West except for LA in the postseason the last two years.

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