Who's got next? Best bets to win the 2011 Stanley Cup

Jun 11, 2010 |
Before Chris Pronger even had a chance to pluck the Stanley Cup-winning puck from his own net Wednesday night, oddsmakers were already putting together odds on who will be next year's NHL champion.

Here's a look at the five favorites to win the 2010-11 Stanley Cup as well as one potential sleeper.

Chicago Blackhawks (+450)

If it were even 10 years ago, the young and talented Blackhawks might be on the verge of becoming a dynasty. But the salary cap era of the NHL will make it difficult for Chicago GM Stan Bowman to keep the defending champions together for a shot at a repeat.

Captain Jonathan Toews and overtime hero Patrick Kane are both in line to make about seven times more money next year than they did this past season. Goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Duncan Keith are also due for hefty raises. Depth players like Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and John Madden might need to be dumped in order to keep Chicago under the cap.

One other thing going against the Blackhawks is that no team has won two Cups in a row since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Washington Capitals (+600)

Washington has proven that it is an excellent regular-season team, racking up 108 points two years ago and a league-high 121 this past season. But the Capitals need to figure out how to translate that success into the playoffs, where they have been a colossal disappointment.

That may mean dealing some of their offensive talent (they have tons) in exchange for some defensive help. Stars Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green are all under contract for next year.

The Caps' biggest potential weakness remains in goal as veteran Jose Theodore is an unrestricted free agent, meaning 22-year-olds Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth could be Washington's main men between the pipes.

Pittsburgh Penguins (+600)

Reaching the Stanley Cup final two seasons in a row (and winning it in 2009) may have caught up with the Penguins this year as they bowed out of the playoffs in the second round. It could be a drastically different-looking group of Pens next year as the team has eight unrestricted free agents this summer.

The good news is that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury remain under contract, and that's a hell of a nucleus to build around. Rumor has it that Malkin might be shipped out of town in order to trim the payroll and improve the supporting cast.

Detroit Red Wings (+800)

When aren't the Red Wings listed among the favorites for the Cup? Detroit had a down year this past season but its experience and talent makes it a strong candidate for a good rebound campaign in 2010-11.

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom will be back for at least one more year, taking enough of a pay cut to help the Wings resign key forwards like Tomas Holmstrom and potentially Todd Bertuzzi. Detroit showed it still has plenty left in the tank after finishing last season with a 16-3-2 run to make the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks (+900)

If nothing else, they're due. San Jose has racked up 104 points or more in five of the last six seasons but only has a pair of conference final appearances to show for it. The Sharks are optimistic that they can build on this season's postseason run, making the Wes
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