The LA Kings came out of nowhere to win the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They no longer fly under-the-radar, but another team may make a surprise run to the conference final this season. Here is a look at a few teams that have the potential to make some surprise noise in 2012-2013.
St. Louis Blues
Even though the Blues finished second in the Western Conference with 109 points, they still do not get the respect they deserve from observors throughout the league. They are a dark horse team not because they under-performed last season or do not have the personnel to win a cup, but because they play in a mid-sized market without any apparent superstar in their lineup. St. Louis has an extremely deep lineup, and all of their lines make significant contributions, without a major dip in talent. It is tough to get a mismatch against this team, who is consistent in the way they play “Hitch hockey” – being a two-way forward, blocking shots, and rushing the net hard. Although the Blues will not usually dazzle you with their offensive prowess, they are team that is constantly playing hard, and overachieving and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are holding the cup when it’s all said and done.
Just two years removed from their last Stanley Cup, the ‘Hawks still have the talent and veteran leadership to contend for another title. Led by captain Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s offense if full of NHL all-stars, including Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa. The Blackhawks aren’t lacking for talent on the blue line either, with a first pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who are both 40 point defensemen. The major issue with the ‘Hawks is that they
seem to be extremely fragile – both Hossa and Toews are currently injured, and that they cannot find consistent play between the pipes. Goalie Corey Crawford went 31-17-7 last season, but allowed 2.72 goals per game, and had only a .903 save percentage, one of the lowest in the NHL for starting goalies. Their backup was not any better, as Ray Emory had a 2.81 GAA and a .900 save percentage. For the Blackhawks to make a run in the coming season, they need to stay healthy, develop some depth on the blue line, and figure out their goalie situation well before the playoffs.
Dallas was one of the most active teams in free agency, picking up veteran forwards Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, both 40. Both of these players, albeit clearly out of their primes, were huge contributors to their respective playoff teams (Phoenix and Philadelphia), and should help bolster a Dallas power play that was ranked 30th in the league last year. The Stars also traded for talented center Derek Roy from the Sabres, in exchange for enforcers Steve Ott and Adam Pardy. This transaction was accomplished to fill a void left by the Mike Rebeiro trade, as the Capitals sent their 2012 second round pick and center Cody Eakin. Finally, the Stars also revamped their lineup through the 2012 draft, picking center Radek Faska with the 13th overall pick, while also adding three more players in the second round. While maintaining most of their young defense and adding still-productive veterans on the offensive end, the Stars look like they could sneak up on people this season. They are simultaneously trying to win now and build for the future, and with some contributions from younger players up front, the Stars could sneak into the playoffs and make a run, much like the Kings last season.